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paleo

Down to Earth With: Paleontologist Gerta Keller

The mass extinction that did in the dinosaurs is one of the best-known events in geology. It’s also one of the most contentious.

27 Apr 2017

Mastodon bones point to significantly earlier human presence in North America

In 1992, paleontologists from the San Diego Natural History Museum discovered a set of fossil bones, tusks and teeth from a single mastodon next to state highway 54 south of San Diego. Archaeologists were soon called to investigate the site, which also featured several large cobblestones — unique in the otherwise sandy matrix surrounding the bones — that seemed to have been used to break open the mastodon’s long bones, hinting at human activity soon after the animal’s death. A reliable age for the intriguing find has eluded scientists for more than two decades, but in a study released today in Nature, researchers who successfully dated the bones have come to a sensational conclusion: The site appears to date back roughly 130,000 years, more than 100,000 years before humans are thought to have lived in North America.

26 Apr 2017

Tiny dinosaur-era marsupial packed a big bite

Newly described fossils from one of the earliest-known marsupials are shedding light on the evolution of mammals during the Mesozoic and revealing an animal with an impressive bite, perhaps strong enough to take down a dinosaur.

19 Apr 2017

Scientists crack the secret of dinosaurs' incubation time

Paleontologists have long thought that the eggs of dinosaurs — like those of their living bird relatives — probably hatched after short incubation times, up to a few weeks at most. But surprising results from a new study suggest that nonavian dinosaurs spent anywhere from three to six months inside an egg, incubation times similar to reptiles like crocodiles and alligators.

18 Apr 2017

Lucy liked hanging out in trees

Lucy, the 3.2-million-year-old human ancestor discovered in Ethiopia in 1974, is one of the most complete early hominin skeletons ever found. Still, despite the skeleton’s completeness, debate continues about how Lucy got around: Did she spend most of her time walking on the ground or climbing in trees? In a new study, scientists studying Lucy’s upper limb bones have found that she likely spent more time in trees — and was a more capable climber — than later hominin species like Homo erectus and Homo sapiens.

13 Apr 2017

Did the first humans arrive in North America a lot earlier?

New dating of artifacts recovered from a site in the northern Yukon, on the Alaskan border, may push back the hypothesized entry date of the first American colonizers via a northwestern route — long thought to have occurred over the Bering land bridge between 18,000 and 14,000 years ago — by several thousand years.

10 Apr 2017

Dental plaque reveals later start date for hominin cooking

Ancient teeth have long been a source of information about ancient diets, mainly through analyses of isotopic compositions and wear patterns. In a new study published in the Science of Nature, researchers studied microfossils of food particles extracted from the teeth of a 1.2-million-year-old unidentified hominin found at the Sima del Elefante site in northern Spain. The microfossils include traces of raw animal tissue, uncooked starch granules from grasses, pollen grains from a species of pine tree and insect fragments. The lack of charring of the recovered fibers and an absence of micro-charcoal suggest the bearer of the teeth neither cooked his or her food nor spent significant time around a fire source.

30 Mar 2017

Tiny fish illuminates tooth fairy mystery

When kids lose their milk teeth, the roots shrivel up and just the outer enamel falls out — a process known as basal resorption. Now, the discovery of a tiny jawbone from a 424-million-year-old fossil fish is shedding light on the origin of our modern mode of tooth replacement.

08 Mar 2017

Early fossils demonstrate dinosaurs' slow rise

Dinosaurs were so dominant through much of the Mesozoic that it’s easy to forget that wasn’t always the case. The discovery of a specimen of an early small dinosaur alongside a lagerpetid — a precursor to the dinosaurs — is giving scientists a glimpse into the slow-paced early stages of dinosaur evolution.

23 Feb 2017

Discovered: One of the last-surviving Asian dinosaurs

Paleontologists have discovered a new species of oviraptorosaur, a group of strange bird-like dinosaurs without teeth. The species, Tongtianlong limosus, has been described based on a specimen preserved in mudstone dating to the end of the Cretaceous. The find adds to a growing list of newly unearthed and similarly aged oviraptorosaur species, suggesting the group flourished during the last few million years of the Age of Dinosaurs before all nonavian dinosaurs were killed off in the end-Cretaceous mass extinction.

21 Feb 2017

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