Down to Earth With: Scott Sampson

During a recent public lecture at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, dinosaur paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Scott Sampson was making a point as he walked up the aisle when a preschooler charged the stage, grabbed hold of his leg and wouldn’t let go until her mother retrieved her.

19 May 2014

Ancient skeleton found in underwater cave reveals DNA of earliest Americans

The 12,000- to 13,000-year-old remains of a teenage girl — the oldest, most complete, genetically intact human skeleton discovered in the New World — were found in the Hoyo Negro cave on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.

15 May 2014

Fieldwork revises ice-free corridor hypothesis of human migration

The existence of an ice-free corridor through Canada during  the climax of last glaciation, which allowed the first Americans to cross the Bering land bridge from Siberia and move south (about 13,000 years ago), has long been postulated in North American archaeology. Now, research based on the exposure ages of glacial rocks found in the corridor suggests a puzzling conclusion — that the open pathway closed several thousand years prior to 20,000 years ago and didn’t open again until between 13,000 and 12,000 years ago, well after  first Americans were in the Americas.

13 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

From boom to bust in Neolithic Europe

As agricultural practices spread from the Fertile Crescent across Europe, gradually expanding west and north starting about 8,500 years ago, they brought increased and localized food production to a continent where nomadic hunter-gatherers had long made their living subject to the whims of climate and the environment. With agriculture, long-term settlements developed, fertility rates rose and, thus, populations grew steadily. Or at least that’s been the conventional wisdom.

20 Mar 2014

Brooks Ellwood and the unusual applications of magnetism

The call came out of the blue. Geophysicist Brooks Ellwood was sitting in his office in the geology department at the University of Texas at Arlington in 1990 when the telephone rang. On the other end was Doug Owsley, a forensic anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution, who was calling to ask for Ellwood’s help to find the grave of “Wild Bill” Longley. Little did Ellwood realize that this seemingly straightforward request would set him off on a 10-year quest and a career he never anticipated.

10 Mar 2014

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

July 28, 1996: Kennewick man is discovered

On the evening of July 28, 1996, archaeologist James Chatters received an unexpected call at his home in Richland, Wash., from the local coroner. Two spectators at the local hydroplane races had found a skull in Columbia Park on the banks of the Columbia River near Kennewick, Wash. The coroner wanted Chatters, a paleontologist and forensic anthropologist affiliated with Central Washington University who often consulted for Benton County, to look at the skull and determine if it belonged to a recent murder victim. When the coroner arrived with the skull in a 5-gallon bucket, Chatters had scant notion that the discovery would end up challenging the reigning theory of the origins of the first Americans and would embroil scientists in a protracted, precedent-setting legal battle against the federal government.

27 Jul 2013

Blogging on EARTH: New lessons from antiquity, this time on construction

Each year, millions of visitors flock to Italy to wander among the remains of ancient Rome, where Cicero strolled and Augustus celebrated his expanding empire. Vestiges of the historic city center lie sprawled around the forum grounds like the abandoned playthings of a distracted giant: vertebrae of toppled columns, a crossword puzzle of ancient foundations, towering doorframes granting access to long-gone buildings. Above everything soars the lopsided profile of the Roman Colosseum, a structure as tough and stubborn as the gladiators that once battled in its ring.

20 Jun 2013