Fossils

fossil

Oldest human remains outside Africa found in Israel

The recent discovery of a jawbone belonging to Homo sapiens, and associated stone tools, in Israel may push back the timing of the earliest human migration out of Africa by as much as 50,000 years.

28 May 2018

Flightless dino had bright, rainbow-colored feathers

In recent years, many dinosaurs have gotten a fabulously feathered makeover, but for the most part, scientists still aren’t sure what colors the animals were. A new discovery of a finely preserved feathered dinosaur fossil in China suggests that some dinosaurs were as brightly colored as modern-day hummingbirds.

10 May 2018

Down to Earth With: National Park Service senior paleontologist Vincent Santucci

When Vincent Santucci was hired in 1985 to work as a seasonal ranger in South Dakota’s Badlands National Park, he assumed the most formative part of the experience would be sharing his unbridled enthusiasm for fossils with park visitors. But as Santucci explored the colorful badlands on his days off, he sometimes stumbled across people who were illegally collecting fossils. Following the first of these encounters, Santucci raced back to headquarters to report the illicit activity with the expectation that the chief ranger would rush out and arrest the perpetrator. Much to Santucci’s surprise, the ranger instead put a hand on his shoulder and drawled, “You ain’t from around here, are you, boy?” After several repeat episodes, Santucci learned that when rangers had previously caught illegal collectors and brought them before the local magistrate, the judge had refused to prosecute, citing a lack of fencing or signage that clearly informed the fossil hunters they’d been on federal land.

30 Apr 2018

How Borneo got its elephants

Elephants may not seem like islanders, but a small population lives on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo. How and when the animals arrived on the island has long been a mystery. A new DNA analysis points to colonization at the end of the Pleistocene, when a land bridge may have connected Java, Borneo and Sumatra to the Malay Peninsula and mainland Asia.

28 Apr 2018

Lidar preserves record of destroyed theropod tracks

In 2011, the first theropod dinosaur tracks ever discovered in Arkansas were uncovered at an active gypsum quarry near Nashville in the southwestern part of the state. Over two weeks, researchers collected a set of high-resolution digital scans of the trackway that has now allowed scientists to piece together its 100-million-year-old story, even though the tracks have long-since been destroyed by mining operations.

26 Apr 2018

Origins of plant photosynthesis illuminated

Photosynthesis, the process by which plants harness sunlight to make their food, is a defining feature of plants and an important evolutionary development. But when photosynthesis evolved in ancient plant ancestors is not clear. The Precambrian fossil red alga Bangiomorpha pubescens, discovered in the Canadian Arctic in 1990 by University of Cambridge paleobiologist Nicholas Butterfield, displays evidence of traits that suggest it photosynthesized the way plants do, but the exact age of the fossil was also unknown. In a new study, researchers report an age for the alga of about 1.047 billion years, making it the oldest-known direct ancestor of plants.

25 Apr 2018

Whatever happened to thagomizers and other tail weapons?

Stegosaurus wielded a spiked tail — dubbed a “thagomizer” by cartoonist Gary Larson and informally adopted by paleontologists — which the herbivorous dinosaur likely used for defense against hungry predators. Other extinct animals also sported foe-clobbering tail weapons: Ankylosaurus had a tail club, as did extinct mammals like the glyptodonts, giant armadillo-like animals that once roamed the Americas. Today, though, thagomizers and bony tail clubs are things of the past. In a new study, paleontologists have found that extinct animals with such weapons all shared a now-antiquated set of traits: They were large, herbivorous, and had body armor and a stiff torso.

23 Apr 2018

Hot tropics drove out ancient reptiles, but they came back

About 252 million years ago, massive volcanic eruptions in what is now Siberia rapidly warmed Earth, resulting in the end-Permian mass extinction that saw most terrestrial and marine species die off. It’s been thought that surviving reptiles and fish fled the hot tropics and didn’t return for millions of years. But according to new research, the tropical evacuation may not have lasted so long after all.

21 Apr 2018

Travels in Geology: Underground awe in France: The caves of the Causses

The Causses du Quercy region in south-central France has been transformed into a karstic wonderland by the slow dissolution of limestone. The resulting caves, which served as shelters for early humans who left their bones, tools and art for us to ponder, are both geologically and paleoanthropologically fascinating.

06 Apr 2018

Pairing geoheritage and economic development: China's Guizhou Province offers a modern model

China’s pace of landscape protection has been as dizzying as its pace of development and the country has emerged as a global leader in geoheritage preservation. Guizhou shows how to recognize and protect geoheritage while also boosting economic development.

27 Mar 2018

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