Fossils

fossil

Did tidal zone trilobites lead the way onto land?

With their Cambrian-defining ubiquity, 270-million-year longevity and impressive diversity, trilobites often rank as people’s favorite sort of fossil. Now a set of 500-million-year-old trace fossils found in Tennessee is potentially expanding the trilobites’ territory from the deep ocean all the way inland to the resource-rich Cambrian tidal flats. But whether the tracks mean that trilobites were part of an ecological bridge that helped animals transition from the sea onto land to colonize the empty continents is up for debate.

22 Jun 2014

New burgess shale fossil site found in Canada's Kootenay National Park

With its plethora of ancient and exquisitely preserved soft-bodied fossils, the Burgess Shale in Canada’s Yoho National Park is one of the world’s most famous fossil sites. Now a sister site has been discovered just 40 kilometers away in Kootenay National Park, and the new find may prove even richer than the original.
 

18 Jun 2014

Down to Earth With: Martin Lockley

Shortly after a young Martin Lockley — a British paleontologist specializing in marine fossils — arrived in Denver in 1980 to begin a new job as a geology professor at the University of Colorado (CU), a student asked if he would like to check out some interesting dinosaur tracks. The tracks were located near the town of Gunnison, Colo., about four hours southwest, on the ceiling of an underground coal mine. Lockley and the student drove down to the site, and, agreeing that the impressions in the rock were tracks but not knowing much about them, Lockley carefully documented the site. At the time, little scientific literature existed on ancient tracks, so after publishing the information, Lockley — much to his own surprise — immediately became known as a dinosaur track expert.

17 Jun 2014

Dueling dinosaurs hit the auction block

In 2006, fossil collector Clayton Phipps (a Montana rancher known as the “Dinosaur Cowboy”) and his crew discovered a rare fossil on private land in Montana’s Hell Creek Formation: the bones of two fully articulated dinosaurs that appeared to have died together, locked in battle. The fossil duo — a small, pony-sized carnivorous tyrannosaurid and a slightly larger herbivorous ceratopsian, both now preserved in plaster — became known as the “Montana Dueling Dinosaurs.” Last November, the fossils were put on the block at Bonhams auction house in New York City — but they did not sell. Had the set fetched the nearly $9 million it was expected to, it would have set a record for a fossil sale. For now, the Dueling Dinosaurs remain locked in an unidentified warehouse somewhere in the United States — along with any scientific information the unique specimens may reveal.

09 Jun 2014

Travels in Geology: Gubbio, Italy: A geologist's mecca

The author makes a pilgrimage to the medieval Apennine mountain town of Gubbio, Italy, where studies of the limestone layers just outside the town’s encircling walls produced one of the greatest geological discoveries of the 20th century.
02 Apr 2014

The trouble with turtles: Paleontology at a crossroads

Turtles are the last big vertebrate group to be placed firmly on the tree of life, and the arguments are getting messy. Scientists in three fields in particular — paleontolgy, developmental biology and microbiology/genomics — disagree about how, and from what, turtles may have evolved. 

31 Mar 2014

The Lizard King rises

The trouble with being a lizard is that your mammal neighbors are always trying to eat your dinner, or make you into their dinner, wielding a competitive advantage scientists have long attributed to their warm-blooded metabolism. For this reason, large lizards like the Komodo dragon are extremely rare, and only occur in isolated island environments that lack other predators. Now, a giant fossil species of herbivorous lizard that appears to have happily coexisted with various large mammal species has been identified in Eocene-aged rocks from Myanmar.

11 Nov 2013

Down to Earth With: Kirk Johnson

In 1967, at a family picnic in Casper, Wyo., 6-year-old Kirk Johnson stumbled across a fossil that looked to him like an ancient rattlesnake tail (it turned out to be a brachiopod). Not long after, while hiking in his home state of Washington, he accidentally knocked over a piece of shale, fortuitously discovering a fossil leaf. The ensuing epiphany that he had a knack for finding fossil treasures led to what he now calls his “paleo obsession.”

16 Oct 2013

Benchmarks: August 3, 1769: The La Brea Tar Pits are described

Long before Los Angeles’ infamous traffic packed the pavement of Wilshire Boulevard, the area teemed with hundreds of species of Ice Age animals that became trapped in an asphalt quagmire of a different sort: the La Brea tar pits.

03 Aug 2013

Down to Earth With: Adrian Hunt

Adrian Hunt grew up in England, but after earning his undergraduate degree in geology at the University of Manchester, he began looking for somewhere foreign to attend graduate school. At the time, Hunt says, he thought, “If it doesn’t work out, at least I’d see somewhere exotic.” He ended up in New Mexico, where his brother was working at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Large Array in Socorro. It worked out and Hunt stayed to complete a master’s degree at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, followed by a doctorate at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

18 Mar 2013

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