PALEO

paleo

Cretaceous amber suggests societal behavior in insects is at least 100 million years old

Many insects are social animals. Some, including ants, form colonies with complex social hierarchies, wherein specific roles like reproduction and colony construction are assigned to specific groups of ants, like queens or workers, for example. This kind of sociality, known as eusociality, is found in many other insects, like beetles, honeybees and termites. When it evolved, however, has remained unclear. Until now, the earliest evidence of eusociality came from 20-million-year-old fossils, even though the insect lineages were known to be much older. But two new fossil discoveries have pushed the first known appearance of eusociality back by 80 million years.

04 Jul 2016

Could early Homo pass the sniff test?

Like modern humans, early hominins walked upright and had opposable thumbs, but their faces were more ape-like, with flattened noses and protruding foreheads. It wasn’t until the evolution of the genus Homo that hominin faces began to look more human — flatter overall but with protruding noses. Along with changes in external appearance came internal changes as well, though these are less well understood as soft-tissue structures preserved in the fossil record are hard to come by. In a new study, researchers comparing both modern human and nonhuman primate nasal cavities offer some clues as to how our respiratory system evolved on the inside to compensate for the changes on the outside.

01 Jul 2016

Saving Mongolian wildlife, 80 million years after extinction

In the time of Velociraptor, 80 million years ago, southern Mongolia looked surprisingly like the Gobi Desert that exists there today. Animals roamed, nested and fought amid an arid climate while sand-soaked winds battered rocky outcrops. Today, walking along the Flaming Cliffs of Bayanzag, you may only notice one stark difference: Where Velociraptor and other dinosaurs once thrived, there are now only a few fossilized remains. And even those are endangered. Because of this, a small team of scientists, hired staff and volunteers is heading to Mongolia this fall to try to save them. 

27 Jun 2016

Giant armadillo look-alikes really were giant armadillos

Due to coincidences of evolution, extinct creatures sometimes resemble living animals, even if they’re not actually related. But in a new study looking at the family tree of glyptodonts, armored beasts resembling giant armadillos that once roamed South America, researchers have found that the animals actually were early relatives of modern armadillos.

24 Jun 2016

Statistics shine light on T. rex family tree

Tyrannosaurus rex is one of the most recognizable dinosaurs, but the tyrannosauroid family tree is also occupied by many lesser-known cousins — such as Xiongguanlong and Lythronax — along with some large holes. Now, researchers have produced a new phylogenetic family tree including all of the known tyrannosauroid species that highlights the largest remaining gaps and provides clues as to how they might be filled.

22 Jun 2016

Fossil dinosaur illuminates evolution of tyrannosauroid body sizes

Tyrannosauroid dinosaurs were the dominant predators of the terrestrial ecosystems in which they roamed for much of the Late Cretaceous, from about 80 million to 66 million years ago. Some, like Tyrannosaurus rex, reached lengths up to about 13 meters and heights of nearly 4 meters. Their large size and keen senses — relatively large nasal passageways suggest a heightened sense of smell — are considered to have been keys to their success.

 
22 Jun 2016

New fossils illuminate 'hobbit' evolutionary history

Scientists first discovered fossils of Homo floresiensis — a species of extinct 1-meter-tall hominins nicknamed “hobbits” — in Liang Bua cave on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2004. Until now, H. floresiensis, thought to have lived between about 95,000 and 50,000 years ago based on recent evidence, was the only extinct hominin known to have lived on Flores, although artifacts discovered on the island dating to 800,000 to 1 million years ago pointed to earlier hominin habitation. In two new studies published in Nature, however, researchers announce the discovery of hobbit-like hominin fossils found elsewhere on the island that are roughly 700,000 years old. 

08 Jun 2016

Ancient Indonesian tools made by mysterious inhabitants

The island of Sulawesi is one link in a chain of islands between mainland Asia and Australia, and was likely an important stepping stone in human dispersal from Eurasia through Oceania to Australia. Previous research has placed modern humans on Sulawesi as early as 40,000 years ago, but scientists have now dated a set of stone tools to at least 118,000 years ago, suggesting humans occupied the island far earlier than thought.

01 Jun 2016

Underwater archaeology reveals pre-Clovis people butchered mastodon in Florida

Evidence has been mounting for cultures older than the Clovis people, with archaeological sites and artifacts older than 14,000 years found as far south as Chile and genetic evidence dating the first incursions into North America to about 15,000 years ago. Now, a new study reporting on an underwater archaeological excavation at a site in Florida that dates to 14,550 years ago is adding more evidence of pre-Clovis people, and shedding light on how they may have spread across the Americas.

13 May 2016

Benchmarks: May 12, 1905: Andrew Carnegie donates 'Dippy the Dino'

As one of the world’s wealthiest philanthropists, Andrew Carnegie had come to expect that people would praise and honor him, but May 12, 1905, would be an unusual day for the Pittsburgh steel magnate. Never before had he been honored for donating a dinosaur. Carnegie’s contribution of a massive plaster model of a Diplodocus — at the time the largest-known animal to have ever trod the planet — to London’s Natural History Museum was part of the Scotsman’s dream to rid the world of war, which he called “the foulest blot upon our civilization.”

12 May 2016

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