PALEO

paleo

Travels in Geology: Mesozoic masterpiece: England's Jurassic Coast

England's southwestern shore is renowned for the nearly continuous 185-million-year record of Earth's history exposed in its sensational seacliffs, which record one of the world's best stratigraphic sequences from the Mesozoic Era.

18 Jun 2018

Down to Earth With: Geologist and paleontologist David Wilcots

When David Wilcots was 4 years old, his parents took him to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City where he encountered his first giant dinosaur skeleton: a roughly 27-meter-long sauropod named Apatosaurus (though at the time it was still popularly known as Brontosaurus). “That just blew my mind,” he remembers. His passion for paleontology grew, branching from dinosaurs into early mammals, and led him to major in geology at Temple University in Philadelphia. In 1988, he earned a master’s in geology at Fort Hays State University in Kansas. But then, things didn’t go as planned. “When I got out of grad school, I looked for jobs in paleo, but couldn’t find any,” he recalls. “Environmental geology was the next best thing.” He began consulting with business and government agencies, and as time went on, his second choice of career grew on him.

29 May 2018

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

A new look at Cheddar Man

In 1903, a skeleton was found in a limestone cave in Cheddar Gorge, near Somerset, England. Radiocarbon dating in the 1970s revealed the remains to be more than 10,000 years old, making it the oldest near-complete human skeleton found in Britain. Now, as yet unpublished research suggests Cheddar Man’s genome reveals a surprisingly different appearance for the Mesolithic man from what’s long been thought, according to researchers who analyzed DNA from the skeleton.

23 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

Pages