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Fossil Bulletin #61 Available for Download

Fossils For Sale Bulletin #61

Fossils For Sale Bulletin #61

Just released is our new Fossil Bulletin #61. Click below to download!

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ScienceDaily (Nov. 21, 2011) — A nest containing the fossilized remains of 15 juvenile Protoceratops andrewsi dinosaurs from Mongolia has been described by a University of Rhode Island paleontologist, revealing new information about postnatal development and parental care. It is the first nest of this genus ever found and the first indication that Protoceratops juveniles remained in the nest for an extended period.

The findings were reported in the most recent issue of the Journal of Paleontology.

David Fastovsky, URI professor of geosciences, said the bowl-shaped nest measuring 2.3 feet in diameter was found in the Djadochta Formation at Tugrikinshire, Mongolia.

“Finding juveniles at a nest is a relatively uncommon occurrence, and I cannot think of another dinosaur specimen that preserves 15 juveniles at its nest in this way,” he said.

The analysis of the 70-million-year-old nest by Fastovsky and his colleagues found that all 15 dinosaurs — at least 10 of which are complete specimens — were about 

the same size and had achieved the same state of growth and development, suggesting they represent a single clutch from a single mother. The discovery also indicates that the young dinosaurs remained in the nest through the early stages of postnatal development and were cared for by their parents.

Protoceratops grew to about 6 feet long and may have taken as long as 10 years to reach full size. Those Fastovsky found in the nest were likely less than one year old when they died.

“I suspect that the preserved animals were rapidly buried by the shifting, accumulating sands that must have constituted the bulk of sedimentation in this setting,” he said. “Death likely occurred during a desert sandstorm. My guess is that the initial and present-day dryness contributed significantly to the superb preservation, not just of Protoceratops, but of all the fossils from this unit.”

Fastovsky calls Protoceratops “a fascinating and unexpected mass of contradictions.” It is an herbivore that lived in a sand sea much like the Sahara Desert and likely bestowed significant parental care on a relatively large number of offspring, perhaps because it lived where mortality was quite high.

A wide variety of theropod dinosaurs lived in Mongolia at the time, some of which, including the notorious Velociraptor, probably ate young Protoceratops‘.

“Juvenile Protoceratops mortality may have been rather high, not only from predation but from a potentially stressful environment, and large clutches may have been a way of ensuring survival of the animals in that setting,” he said. “Nonetheless, if preservation is any indicator of abundance in life, then during the time represented by the Djadochta Formation, Protoceratops were a very common feature of Mongolian Late Cretaceous desert landscapes.”

Volcanoes and Meteorites deliver one-two punch to Dinosaurs


Princeton University researchers found that massive, prolonged eruptions of the Deccan Traps in India gradually eliminated species and resulted in the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Marine sediment trapped between Deccan lava flows revealed that a species known as planktonic foraminifera — widely used to gauge the severity of prehistoric disasters — succumbed to lava mega-flows and volcano-induced environmental stress such as acid rain and drastic climate changes. As conditions on Earth worsened, large, varied species  were eliminated. The no more than seven or eight smaller species that remained dwarfed further.

New Fossil Bulletin #61

Our new fossil bulletin #61 is back from the printer.  We hope to have them ready for mailing next week, and they should be up on the web site in a downloadable form by next week.  If you would like a printed version, they will be available for $10.  Order one today and we will also include a gift certificate that is good for $10 on your next purchase from us.

Oldest Fossils Found

Team Claims It Has Found Oldest Fossils

Published: August 21, 2011

A team of Australian and British geologists have discovered fossilized, single-cell organisms that are 3.4 billion years old and that the scientists say are the oldest known fossils on earth.

David Wacey

Their assertion, if sustained, confirms the view that life evolved on earth surprisingly soon after the Late Heavy Bombardment, a reign of destruction in which waves of asteroids slammed into the primitive planet, heating the surface to molten rock and boiling the oceans into an incandescent mist. The bombardment, which ended around 3.85 billion years ago, would have sterilized the earth’s surface of any incipient life.

The claim is also a new volley in a long-running conflict over who has found the oldest fossil.

The new microfossils are described in Sunday’s issue of Nature Geoscience by a team led by David Wacey of the University of Western Australia and Martin D. Brasier of the University of Oxford. The fossils were found in sandstone at the base of the Strelley Pool rock formation in Western Australia.

The sandstone, 3.4 billion years ago, was a beach on one of the few islands that had started to appear above the ocean’s surface. Conditions were very different from those of today. The moon orbited far closer to earth, raising huge tides. The atmosphere was full of methane, since plants had not yet evolved to provide oxygen, and greenhouse warming from the methane had heated the oceans to the temperature of a hot bath.

It was in these conditions, the geologists believe, that organisms resembling today’s bacteria lived in the crevices between the pebbles on the beach. Examining thin slices of rock under the microscope, they have found structures that look like living cells, some in clusters that seem to show cell division.

Cell-like structures in ancient rocks can be deceiving — many have turned out to be artifacts formed by nonbiological processes. In this case, the geologists have gathered considerable circumstantial evidence that the structures they see are biological. With an advanced new technique, they have analyzed the composition of very small spots within the cell-like structures. “We can see carbon, sulfur, nitrogen and phosphorus, all within the cell walls,” Dr. Brasier said.

Crystals of fool’s gold, an iron-sulfur mineral, lie next to the microfossils and indicate that the organisms, in the absence of oxygen, fed off sulfur compounds, Dr. Brasier and his colleagues say.

Microfossils — the cell-like structures found in ancient rocks — have become a highly contentious field, both because of the pitfalls in proving that they are truly biological and because the scientific glory of having found the oldest known fossil has led to pitched battles between rival claimants.

The honor of having found the most ancient microfossil has been long been held by J. W. Schopf, a paleobiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1993, Dr. Schopf reported his discovery of fossils 3.465 billion years old in the Apex chert of the Warrawoona Group in Western Australia, about 20 miles from where the new fossils have been found. Those would be some 65 million years older than the new find, but Dr. Schopf’s claim was thrown in doubt in 2002 when Dr. Brasier attacked his finding, saying the fossils were not biological but just mineral artifacts.

With the new discovery, Dr. Brasier has dropped the second shoe, claiming to find microfossils that are or may be the oldest known, if and when Dr. Schopf’s are knocked out of the running.

The Nature Geoscience article published on Sunday does not claim discovery of the earth’s oldest microfossils. That assertion was made in a press release issued by the University of Oxford, where Dr. Brasier is a professor in the department of earth sciences.

Dr. Brasier said the article submitted to Nature Geoscience had made such a claim, but the reviewers questioned the advisability of doing so, and the senior author, Dr. Wacey, “decided to acquiesce on this particular point.”

Dr. Schopf did not respond to an e-mail seeking his comments. “Bill Schopf still very strongly defends his original claim, and is working to validate it,” said Roger Buick, an earth scientist at the University of Washington.

Dr. Buick said there was no consensus on Dr. Schopf’s microfossils, but that “the majority opinion is that they are probably not biological and probably not as old as claimed.”

The team led by Dr. Wacey and Dr. Brasier has made a “pretty good case,” Dr. Buick said, because the many different analytic techniques they have used “lend credence to the argument in a way that many other previously reported discoveries of particularly ancient microfossils have not.”

Does that mean the new microfossils are the oldest known? “If these are valid, and if we discount the Schopf microfossils, these would be the oldest known, though not by much,” Dr. Buick said.

Rocks older than 3.5 billion years have been so thoroughly cooked as to destroy all cellular structures, but chemical traces of life can still be detected. Chemicals indicative of life have been reported in rocks 3.5 billion years old in the Dresser Formation of Western Australia and, with less certainty, in rocks 3.8 billion years old in Greenland.

“This struggle to be the owner of the world’s oldest microfossils is really not the crux of the battle for understanding the early development of life anymore,” Dr. Buick said.

Andrew H. Knoll, an earth scientist at Harvard, said in a brief e-mail from a Moscow airport that the researchers had not proved their point that the fossils, when alive, fed on sulfur compounds. But he did not take sides on the dispute between Dr. Brasier and Dr. Schopf.

Dr. Buick said: “You’ve got to realize how divisive this microfossil war has been over the last decade. Most people just want it to be over. If claim and counterclaim go back and forth for a decade, it sounds like we don’t know what we’re doing.”

A version of this article appeared in print on August 22, 2011, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Team Claims It Has Found Oldest Fossils.