Baby dinosaurs were ‘little adults’

Long neck, small head and a live weight of several tons — with this description you could have tracked down the Plateosaurus in Central Europe about 220 million years ago. Paleontologists at the University of Bonn (Germany) have now described for the first time an almost complete skeleton of a juvenile Plateosaurus and discovered that it looked very similar to its parents even at a young age. The fact that Plateosaurus showed a largely fully developed morphology at an early age could have important implications for how the young animals lived and moved around. The young Plateosaurus, nicknamed “Fabian,” was discovered in 2015 at the Frick fossil site in Switzerland and is exhibited in the local dinosaur museum.

The study was published in the journal Acta Palaeontologica Polonica.

In order to study the appearance of dinosaurs more closely, researchers today rely on a large number of skeletons in so-called bone beds, which are places where the animals sank into the mud in large numbers during their lifetime. However, juvenile animals had hardly been found in these until now. Researchers described fossils of still juvenile plateosaurs for the first time just a few years ago, but these were already almost as large as the adults. One possible reason: “The smaller individuals probably did not sink into the mud quite as easily and are therefore underrepresented at the bone beds,” suspects study leader Prof. Martin Sander of the University of Bonn.

He and his team used comparative anatomy to examine the new skeleton, which was immediately remarkable because of its small size. “Based on the length of the vertebrae, we estimate the total length of the individual to be about 7.5 feet (2.3 meters), with a weight of about 90 to 130 lbs. (40 to 60 kilograms),” explains Darius Nau, who was allowed to examine the find for his bachelor’s thesis. For comparison: Adult Plateosaurus specimens reached body lengths of 16 to 33 feet (five to ten meters) and could weigh more than four tons. Because of its small size alone, it was obvious to assume that “Fabian” was a juvenile animal. This assumption was confirmed by the fact that the bone sutures of the spinal column had not yet closed. Background: Similar to skull sutures in human babies, bone sutures only fuse over the course of life.

Young and old resembled each other anatomically and in their body proportions

Researchers found that the young dinosaur resembled its older relatives both in anatomical details, such as the pattern of the laminae on the vertebrae (bony lamellae connecting parts of the vertebrae, which are important anatomical features in many dinosaurs), and in the rough proportions of its body. “The hands and neck of the juveniles may be a little longer, the arm bones a little shorter and slimmer. But overall, the variations are relatively small compared to the variation within the species overall and also compared to other dinosaur species,” stresses Nau. The juveniles of the related Mussaurus for instance were still quadrupeds after hatching, but the adults were bipeds.

“The fact that the Plateosaurus juvenile already looked so similar to the adults is all the more remarkable considering that they were ten times heavier,” emphasizes paleontologist Dr. Jens Lallensack from the University of Bonn. It is however conceivable that the morphological development differed greatly from animal to animal, depending on the climatic conditions or the availability of food. Such differences are still seen in reptiles today.

The well-known descendants of Plateosaurus, the sauropods, are the subject of a current exhibition at the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig in Bonn. The largest Plateosaurus skeleton ever found can be seen there.

Funding

The study received financial support for the excavation and preparation of the skeleton from the municipality of Frick and the Canton of Argonia (Swisslos-Fonds) of Switzerland.

Cracking the secrets of dinosaur eggshells

Since the famous discovery of dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert in the early 1920s, the fossilized remains have captured the imaginations of paleontologists and the public, alike. Although dinosaur eggs have now been found on every continent, it’s not always clear to scientists which species laid them. Now, researchers reporting in ACS Omega have narrowed down the list for an unknown eggshell from Mexico by comparing its microstructure and composition with four known samples.

Because many dinosaur eggs are similar in size and shape, it can be difficult to determine what type of dinosaur laid them. Clues can come from fossilized embryos (which are rare), hatchlings in the same nest or nearby adult remains. Scientists also have identified microscopic features of eggshells that differ among groups of dinosaurs. In addition, researchers have studied the elemental composition of fossil eggshells to learn more about the paleoenvironment and conditions that led to the eggs’ fossilization. Abel Moreno and colleagues wanted to compare the microstructure and composition of five dinosaur eggshells from nests in the El Gallo Formation of Baja California, Mexico. Based on the eggs’ shapes and sizes and the fossil record of the area, the researchers had concluded that three of the eggs were laid by ornithopods (bipedal herbivores) of the hadrosaur family (duck-billed dinosaurs) and one by a theropod (bipedal carnivores) of the troodontidae family (small, bird-like dinosaurs). The remaining sample was too damaged to classify by the naked eye.

Using scanning electron microscopy, the team examined the external and internal surfaces and a cross-section of each eggshell. In contrast to the smooth outer surface of the theropod shell, the shells from the ornithopods and the unknown sample had nodes at different distances across the shell. Images of shell cross-sections from the ornithopods revealed that mammillary cones — calcite crystals on the inner surface of the shell — formed thin, elongated columns arranged in parallel, with irregular pores. In contrast, the eggshell from the theropod showed thicker, shorter cones arranged in a bilayer, with wider pores. The unknown sample more closely resembled the ornithopod eggshells, leading the researchers to hypothesize that it was probably also from the hadrosaur family. In addition, the researchers conducted an elemental composition analysis, which they say is the first such analysis on dinosaur eggshells collected in Mexico. They say the findings might help reveal how the fossilization process varied among species and locales.

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Antarctica yields oldest fossils of giant birds with 21-foot wingspans

Fossils recovered from Antarctica in the 1980s represent the oldest giant members of an extinct group of birds that patrolled the southern oceans with wingspans of up to 21 feet that would dwarf the 11½-foot wingspan of today’s largest bird, the wandering albatross.

Called pelagornithids, the birds filled a niche much like that of today’s albatrosses and traveled widely over Earth’s oceans for at least 60 million years. Though a much smaller pelagornithid fossil dates from 62 million years ago, one of the newly described fossils — a 50 million-year-old portion of a bird’s foot — shows that the larger pelagornithids arose just after life rebounded from the mass extinction 65 million years ago, when the relatives of birds, the dinosaurs, went extinct. A second pelagornithid fossil, part of a jaw bone, dates from about 40 million years ago.

“Our fossil discovery, with its estimate of a 5-to-6-meter wingspan — nearly 20 feet — shows that birds evolved to a truly gigantic size relatively quickly after the extinction of the dinosaurs and ruled over the oceans for millions of years,” said Peter Kloess, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley.

The last known pelagornithid is from 2.5 million years ago, a time of changing climate as Earth cooled, and the ice ages began.

Kloess is the lead author of a paper describing the fossil that appears this week in the open access journal Scientific Reports. His co-authors are Ashley Poust of the San Diego Natural History Museum and Thomas Stidham of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. Both Poust and Stidham received their Ph.Ds from UC Berkeley.

Birds with pseudoteeth

Pelagornithids are known as ‘bony-toothed’ birds because of the bony projections, or struts, on their jaws that resemble sharp-pointed teeth, though they are not true teeth, like those of humans and other mammals. The bony protrusions were covered by a horny material, keratin, which is like our fingernails. Called pseudoteeth, the struts helped the birds snag squid and fish from the sea as they soared for perhaps weeks at a time over much of Earth’s oceans.

Large flying animals have periodically appeared on Earth, starting with the pterosaurs that flapped their leathery wings during the dinosaur era and reached wingspans of 33 feet. The pelagornithids came along to claim the wingspan record in the Cenozoic, after the mass extinction, and lived until about 2.5 million years ago. Around that same time, teratorns, now extinct, ruled the skies.

The birds, related to vultures, “evolved wingspans close to what we see in these bony-toothed birds (pelagornithids),” said Poust. “However, in terms of time, teratorns come in second place with their giant size, having evolved 40 million years after these pelagornithids lived. The extreme, giant size of these extinct birds is unsurpassed in ocean habitats,””

The fossils that the paleontologists describe are among many collected in the mid-1980s from Seymour Island, off the northernmost tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, by teams led by UC Riverside paleontologists. These finds were subsequently moved to the UC Museum of Paleontology at UC Berkeley.

Kloess stumbled across the specimens while poking around the collections as a newly arrived graduate student in 2015. He had obtained his master’s degree from Cal State-Fullerton with a thesis on coastal marine birds of the Miocene era, between 17 million and 5 million years ago, that was based on specimens he found in museum collections, including those in the UCMP.

“I love going to collections and just finding treasures there,” he said. “Somebody has called me a museum rat, and I take that as a badge of honor. I love scurrying around, finding things that people overlook.”

Reviewing the original notes by former UC Riverside student Judd Case, now a professor at Eastern Washington University near Spokane, Kloess realized that the fossil foot bone — a so-called tarsometatarsus — came from an older geological formation than originally thought. That meant that the fossil was about 50 million years old instead of 40 million years old. It is the largest specimen known for the entire extinct group of pelagornithids.

The other rediscovered fossil, the middle portion of the lower jaw, has parts of its pseudoteeth preserved; they would have been up to 3 cm (1 inch) tall when the bird was alive. The approximately 12-cm (5-inch-) long preserved section of jaw came from a very large skull that would have been up to 60 cm (2 feet) long. Using measurements of the size and spacing of those teeth and analytical comparisons to other fossils of pelagornithids, the authors are able to show that this fragment came from an individual bird as big, if not bigger, than the largest known skeletons of the bony-toothed bird group.

A warm Antarctica was a bird playground

Fifty million years ago, Antarctica had a much warmer climate during the time known as the Eocene and was not the forbidding, icy continent we know today, Stidham noted. Alongside extinct land mammals, like marsupials and distant relatives of sloths and anteaters, a diversity of Antarctic birds occupied the land, sea and air.

The southern oceans were the playground for early penguin species, as well as extinct relatives of living ducks, ostriches, petrels and other bird groups, many of which lived on the islands of the Antarctic Peninsula. The new research documents that these extinct, predatory, large- and giant-sized bony-toothed birds were part of the Antarctic ecosystem for over 10 million years, flying side-by-side over the heads of swimming penguins.

“In a lifestyle likely similar to living albatrosses, the giant extinct pelagornithids, with their very long-pointed wings, would have flown widely over the ancient open seas, which had yet to be dominated by whales and seals, in search of squid, fish and other seafood to catch with their beaks lined with sharp pseudoteeth,” said Stidham. “The big ones are nearly twice the size of albatrosses, and these bony-toothed birds would have been formidable predators that evolved to be at the top of their ecosystem.”

Museum collections like those in the UCMP, and the people like Kloess, Poust and Stidham to mine them, are key to reconstructing these ancient habitats.

“Collections are vastly important, so making discoveries like this pelagornithid wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t have these specimens in the public trust, whether at UC Riverside or now at Berkeley,” Kloess said. “The fact that they exist for researchers to look at and study has incredible value.”


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Dino teeth research prove giant predatory dinosaur lived in water

A discovery of more than a thousand dinosaur teeth, by a team of researchers from the University of Portsmouth, proves beyond reasonable doubt that Spinosaurus, the giant predator made famous by the movie Jurassic Park III as well as the BBC documentary Planet Dinosaur was an enormous river-monster.

Research published today in the journal Cretaceous Research proves that Spinosaurus aegyptiacus, a 15 metre long, six-tonne beast was in fact the most commonly found creature in the Kem Kem river system, which flowed through the Sahara Desert 100 million years ago.

Until recently it was believed that dinosaurs lived exclusively on land. However, research published earlier this year showed that Spinosaurus was well adapted to an aquatic lifestyle, due to its newly discovered tail. This latest research of 1,200 teeth found in the same region further supports this theory.

Scientists from the University of Portsmouth collected the fossilised remains from the site of an ancient river bed in Morocco. After analysing all of them it was discovered there was an abundance of Spinosaurus teeth, which are distinct and easily identifiable.

David Martill, Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Portsmouth, said:

“The huge number of teeth we collected in the prehistoric river bed reveals that Spinosaurus was there in huge numbers, accounting for 45 per cent of the total dental remains. We know of no other location where such a mass of dinosaur teeth have been found in bone-bearing rock.

“The enhanced abundance of Spinosaurus teeth, relative to other dinosaurs, is a reflection of their aquatic lifestyle. An animal living much of its life in water is much more likely to contribute teeth to the river deposit than those dinosaurs that perhaps only visited the river for drinking and feeding along its banks.

“From this research we are able to confirm this location as the place where this gigantic dinosaur not only lived but also died. The results are fully consistent with the idea of a truly water-dwelling, “river monster.” “

Professor Martill worked alongside two students studying for their Masters Degree in Paleontology at the University of Portsmouth.

Thomas Beevor said: “The Kem Kem river beds are an amazing source of Spinosaurus remains. They also preserve the remains of many other Cretaceous creatures including sawfish, coelacanths, crocodiles, flying reptiles and other land-living dinosaurs. With such an abundance of Spinosaurus teeth, it is highly likely that this animal was living mostly within the river rather than along its banks.”

Aaron Quigley, explained the process of sorting through the teeth: “After preparing all the fossils, we then assessed each one in turn. The teeth of Spinosaurus have a distinct surface. They have a smooth round cross section which glints when held up to the light. We sorted all 1200 teeth into species and then literally counted them all up. Forty-five per cent of our total find were Spinosaurus teeth.”


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Graduate student names new trace fossil discovered during coursework

University of Alberta graduate student Scott Melnyk made an intriguing fossil find during a graduate level course — and ended up identifying the fossilized tracks of a newly discovered wood-boring organism in a new study.

Apectoichnus lignummasticans is unique in that it is only the third wood-boring trace fossil associated with marine environments,” explained Melnyk, graduate student with the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and member of the Ichnology Research Group.

Trace fossils, which include tracks, burrows, and tunnels, are the fossilized evidence of the activities of past life, explained Melnyk, who conducted the research under the supervision of Professor Murray Gingras in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.

“Trace fossils are very useful to interpret environmental characteristics of Earth millions of years ago,” said Melnyk. “The marine origin of these fossils, for example, provides evidence that the shallow sea that covered much of Western Canada — the Cretaceous Interior Seaway — extended into west-central Saskatchewan roughly 100 million years ago.”

Melnyk came across the fossil during a graduate-level sedimentology course in one of the cores of the University of Alberta’s Drill Core Collection. The collection was donated by Shell Canada and contains more than 6,000 metres of drill cores that the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences uses for teaching and research.

“The following year I became a teaching assistant for the course, and brought the fossil to the attention of my advisor, Murray Gingras,” said Melnyk. “From there we set out to study whether or not the trace fossils were in fact unique and determine their geological significance.”

And while the fossils are significant for their geological rarity, they’re also a cause to celebrate the research of graduate students.

“This is only the second time in 20 years that a University of Alberta graduate student has named a new trace fossil,” said Gingras. “The fossils are similar in many respects to modern borings in wood by marine isopods — this was a remarkable find and a testament to the importance of our students’ work.”


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First complete dinosaur skeleton ever found is ready for its closeup at last

The first complete dinosaur skeleton ever identified has finally been studied in detail and found its place in the dinosaur family tree, completing a project that began more than a century and a half ago.

The skeleton of this dinosaur, called Scelidosaurus, was collected more than 160 years ago on west Dorset’s Jurassic Coast. The rocks in which it was fossilised are around 193 million years old, close to the dawn of the Age of Dinosaurs.

This remarkable specimen — the first complete dinosaur skeleton ever recovered — was sent to Richard Owen at the British Museum, the man who invented the word dinosaur.

So, what did Owen do with this find? He published two short papers on its anatomy, but many details were left unrecorded. Owen did not reconstruct the animal as it might have appeared in life and made no attempt to understand its relationship to other known dinosaurs of the time. In short, he ‘re-buried’ it in the literature of the time, and so it has remained ever since: known, yet obscure and misunderstood.

Over the past three years, Dr David Norman from Cambridge’s Department of Earth Sciences has been working to finish the work which Owen started, preparing a detailed description and biological analysis of the skeleton of Scelidosaurus, the original of which is stored at the Natural History Museum in London, with other specimens at Bristol City Museum and the Sedgwick Museum, Cambridge.

The results of Norman’s work, published as four separate studies in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society of London, not only reconstruct what Scelidosaurus looked like in life, but reveal that it was an early ancestor of ankylosaurs, the armour-plated ‘tanks’ of the Late Cretaceous Period.

For more than a century, dinosaurs were primarily classified according to the shape of their hip bones: they were either saurischians (‘lizard-hipped’) or ornithischians (‘bird-hipped’).

However, in 2017, Norman and his former PhD students Matthew Baron and Paul Barrett argued that these dinosaur family groupings needed to be rearranged, re-defined and re-named. In a study published in Nature, the researchers suggested that bird-hipped dinosaurs and lizard-hipped dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus evolved from a common ancestor, potentially overturning more than a century of theory about the evolutionary history of dinosaurs.

Another fact that emerged from their work on dinosaur relationships was that the earliest known ornithischians first appeared in the Early Jurassic Period. “Scelidosaurus is just such a dinosaur and represents a species that appeared at, or close to, the evolutionary ‘birth’ of the Ornithischia,” said Norman, who is a Fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge. “Given that context, what was actually known of Scelidosaurus? The answer is remarkably little!”

Norman has now completed a study of all known material attributable to Scelidosaurus and his research has revealed many firsts.

“Nobody knew that the skull had horns on its back edge,” said Norman. “It had several bones that have never been recognised in any other dinosaur. It’s also clear from the rough texturing of the skull bones that it was, in life, covered by hardened horny scutes, a little bit like the scutes on the surface of the skulls of living turtles. In fact, its entire body was protected by skin that anchored an array of stud-like bony spikes and plates.”

Now that its anatomy is understood, it is possible to examine where Scelidosaurus sits in the dinosaur family tree. It had been regarded for many decades as an early member of the group that included the stegosaurs, including Stegosaurus with its huge bony plates along its spine and a spiky tail, and ankylosaurs, the armour-plated ‘tanks’ of the dinosaur era, but that was based on a poor understanding of the anatomy of Scelidosaurus. Now it seems that Scelidosaurus is an ancestor of the ankylosaurs alone.

“It is unfortunate that such an important dinosaur, discovered at such a critical time in the early study of dinosaurs, was never properly described,” said Norman. “It has now — at last! — been described in detail and provides many new and unexpected insights concerning the biology of early dinosaurs and their underlying relationships. It seems a shame that the work was not done earlier but, as they say, better late than never.”


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Early Cambrian fossil: Bizarre half-billion-year-old worm with tentacles solves evolutionary mystery

New research undertaken by scientists at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and University of Montreal, has uncovered fossils of a new species of marine animal, Gyaltsenglossus senis, (pronounced Gen-zay-gloss-us senis) that provides new evidence in the historical debate among zoologists: how the anatomies of the two main types of an animal group called the hemichordates are related. The fossils are over half-a-billion years old and were discovered at a Burgess Shale site in the Canadian Rockies. This discovery was published August 27, 2020, in the science journal Current Biology.

With the early evolution of hemichordates being contentious among researchers the discovery of Gyaltsenglossus senis is significant. It provides direct fossil evidence connecting the two major groups of hemichordates: the enteropneusta and pterobranchia.

Although enteropneusts and pterobranchs appear to be quite different types of animals they are closely related. This close relationship is supported by DNA analysis of present-day species. More broadly, the role of Gyaltsenglossus in understanding hemichordate evolution helps us understand the origins of a larger group of animals called deuterostomes (which includes humans) by clarifying what characteristics they may have shared with hemichordates early in their history.

The enteropneusta are a group of animals known commonly as acorn worms, which are long, mostly mud-burrowing animals, that can be found today in oceans around the world from the tropics to Antarctic. The other main group of animals within hemichordates are pterobranchs, which are microscopic animals that live in colonies, each protected by tubes they construct and which feed on plankton using a crown of tentacled arms

“Acorn worms and pterobranchs look so different from each other that understanding the origins of their evolutionary relationship has been a major historical question in zoology,” said Dr. Karma Nanglu, Peter Buck Deep Time post-doctoral fellow at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and lead author on this paper. “Answering this question has been made much harder by the extreme lack of fossils of these soft-bodied hemichordates. Throughout the half-billion-year-long history of hemichordates you can count on one hand the number of exceptional preserved fossil species.”

Despite being just two centimeters in length, the remarkably preserved soft tissues of the Gyaltsenglossus fossils reveal incredibly detailed anatomical structures. These details include the oval-shaped proboscis of acorn worms and a basket of feeding tentacles similar to those of pterobranchs. The age of these fossils, combined with the unique morphological combination of the two major hemichordate groups, makes this discovery a critical find for understanding early hemichordate evolution.

“An ancient animal with an intermediary anatomy between acorn worms and pterobranchs had been hypothesized before but this new animal is the clearest view of what the ancestral hemichordate may have looked like,” says Dr. Christopher Cameron, Associate Professor at the University of Montreal and a co-author on this study. “It’s exciting to have so many new anatomical details to help drive new hypotheses about hemichordate evolution.”

In the case of Gyaltsenglossus, the exceptional preservation of these fine details can be attributed to the unique environmental conditions of the Burgess Shale, which rapidly entombed ancient animals in underwater mudslides. Through a combination of factors, including slowing the rate of bacteria decaying the entombed animals’ bodies, the fossils of the Burgess Shale are preserved with far greater fidelity than typical fossil sites

“The Burgess Shale has been pivotal in understanding early animal evolution since its discovery over 100 years ago,” says co-author Dr. Jean-Bernard Caron, Richard M. Ivey Curator of Invertebrate Palaeontology at the ROM and Associate Professor at the University of Toronto. Dr. Caron led the field expedition in 2010 which collected the 33 fossils of Gyaltsenglossus.

“In most localities, you would be lucky to have the hardest parts of animals, like bones and teeth, preserved, but at the Burgess Shale even the softest body parts can be fossilized in exquisite detail,” says Dr. Caron. “This new species underscores the importance of making new fossil discoveries to shine light on the most stubborn evolutionary mysteries.”

In this particular case, Gyaltsenglossus suggests that the ancestral hemichordate may have been able to use the feeding strategies of both of the modern groups. Like acorn worms, the long proboscis may have been used to feed on nutrient-filled marine mud, while at the same time, and like the pterobranchs, the array of six feeding arms was probably used to grab suspended food particles directly from the water above where it was crawling.

Hemichordates belong to a major division of animal life called Deuterostomia, which includes chordates like fish and mammals, and not the division of animal life called Protostomia, that includes arthropods such as insects and annelids such as earthworms. Dr. Nanglu explains, when looking at Gyaltsenglossus, we’re actually looking at a very, very distant relative of our own branch of vertebrate and human evolution.

“The close relationship between hemichordates and our own evolutionary group, the chordates, is one of the first things that made me excited to research them,” Nanglu explains. “Understanding the ancient connections that join animals like fish and even humans to their distant cousins like sea urchins and acorn worms is such an interesting area on the evolutionary tree and Gyaltsenglossus helps bring that link into focus a little bit more clearly.”

The original 1909 discovery and research about the Burgess Shale was made by Charles Walcott, who was Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution at the time. The Burgess Shale fossil sites are located within Yoho and Kootenay National Parks and are managed by Parks Canada.


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Fossils reveal diversity of animal life roaming Europe 2 million years ago

A re-analysis of fossils from one of Europe’s most significant paleontological sites reveals a wide diversity of animal species, including a large terrestrial monkey, short-necked giraffe, rhinos and saber-toothed cats.

These and other species roamed the open grasslands of Eastern Europe during the early Pleistocene, approximately 2 million years ago. Ultimately, the researchers hope the fossils will provide clues about how and when early humans migrated to Eurasia from Africa. Reconstructions of past environments like this also could help researchers better understand future climate change.

“My colleagues and I are excited to draw attention back to the fossil site of Grăunceanu and the fossil potential of the Olteţ River Valley of Romania,” said Claire Terhune, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Arkansas. “It’s such a diverse faunal community. We found multiple animals that hadn’t been clearly identified in the area before, and many that are no longer found in Europe at all. Of course, we think these findings alone are interesting, but they also have important implications for early humans moving into the continent at that time.”

About 124 miles west of the Romanian capital of Bucharest, the Olteţ River Valley, including the the important site of Grăunceanu, is one of Eastern Europe’s richest fossil deposits. Many Olteţ Valley fossil sites, including Grăunceanu, were discovered in the 1960s after landslides caused in part by deforestation due to increased agricultural activity in the area.

Archeologists and paleontologists from the Emil Racoviţă Institute of Speleology in Bucharest excavated the sites soon after they were discovered. Fossils were recovered and stored at the institute, and scholarly publications about the sites flourished in the 1970s and 1980s. But interest in these fossils and sites waned over the past 20 to 30 years, in part because many records of the excavations and fossils were lost.

Since 2012, the international team, including Terhune and researchers from Romania, the United States, Sweden and France, has focused on this important fossil region. Their work has included extensive identification of fossils at the institute and additional field work.

In addition to the species mentioned above, the researchers identified fossil remains of animals similar to modern-day moose, bison, deer, horse, ostrich, pig and many others. They also identified a fossil species of pangolin, which were thought to have existed in Europe during the early Pleistocene but had not been solidly confirmed until now. Today, pangolins, which look like the combination of an armadillo and anteater and are among the most trafficked animals in the world, are found only in Asia and Africa.


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Cliff collapse reveals 313-million-year-old fossil footprints in Grand Canyon National Park

Paleontological research has confirmed a series of recently discovered fossils tracks are the oldest recorded tracks of their kind to date within Grand Canyon National Park. In 2016, Norwegian geology professor, Allan Krill, was hiking with his students when he made a surprising discovery. Lying next to the trail, in plain view of the many hikers, was a boulder containing conspicuous fossil footprints. Krill was intrigued, and he sent a photo to his colleague, Stephen Rowland, a paleontologist at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

The trailside tracks have turned out to be even more significant than Krill first imagined. “These are by far the oldest vertebrate tracks in Grand Canyon, which is known for its abundant fossil tracks” says Rowland. “More significantly,” he added, “they are among the oldest tracks on Earth of shelled-egg-laying animals, such as reptiles, and the earliest evidence of vertebrate animals walking in sand dunes.”

The track-bearing boulder fell from a nearby cliff-exposure of the Manakacha Formation. The presence of a detailed geologic map of the strata along the Bright Angel Trail, together with previous studies of the age of the Manakacha Formation, allowed the researchers to pin down the age of the tracks quite precisely to 313 +/- 0. 5 million years.advertisementhttps://www.swoop-assets.com/Epclusa_NPI/Q3/Treater2_Treater_300x250/index.html

The newly discovered tracks record the passage of two separate animals on the slope of a sand dune. Of interest to the research team is the distinct arrangement of footprints. The researchers’ reconstruction of this animal’s footfall sequence reveals a distinctive gait called a lateral-sequence walk, in which the legs on one side of the animal move in succession, the rear leg followed by the foreleg, alternating with the movement of the two legs on the opposite side. “Living species of tetrapods―dogs and cats, for example―routinely use a lateral-sequence gait when they walk slowly,” says Rowland. “The Bright Angel Trail tracks document the use of this gait very early in the history of vertebrate animals. We previously had no information about that.” Also revealed by the trackways is the earliest-known utilization of sand dunes by vertebrate animals.


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New species of dinosaur discovered on Isle of Wight

A new study by Palaeontologists at the University of Southampton suggests four bones recently found on the Isle of Wight belong to new species of theropod dinosaur, the group that includes Tyrannosaurus rex and modern-day birds.

The dinosaur lived in the Cretaceous period 115 million years ago and is estimated to have been up to four metres long.

The bones were discovered on the foreshore at Shanklin last year and are from the neck, back and tail of the new dinosaur, which has been named Vectaerovenator inopinatus.

The name refers to the large air spaces in some of the bones, one of the traits that helped the scientists identify its theropod origins. These air sacs, also seen in modern birds, were extensions of the lung, and it is likely they helped fuel an efficient breathing system while also making the skeleton lighter.

The fossils were found over a period of weeks in 2019 in three separate discoveries, two by individuals and one by a family group, who all handed in their finds to the nearby Dinosaur Isle Museum at Sandown.

The scientific study has confirmed the fossils are very likely to be from the same individual dinosaur, with the exact location and timing of the finds adding to this belief.

Robin Ward, a regular fossil hunter from Stratford-upon-Avon, was with his family visiting the Isle of Wight when they made their discovery. He said: “The joy of finding the bones we discovered was absolutely fantastic. I thought they were special and so took them along when we visited Dinosaur Isle Museum. They immediately knew these were something rare and asked if we could donate them to the museum to be fully researched.”

James Lockyer, from Spalding, Lincolnshire was also visiting the Island when he found another of the bones. Also a regular fossil hunter, he said: “It looked different from marine reptile vertebrae I have come across in the past. I was searching a spot at Shanklin and had been told and read that I wouldn’t find much there. However, I always make sure I search the areas others do not, and on this occasion it paid off.”

Paul Farrell, from Ryde, Isle of Wight, added: “I was walking along the beach, kicking stones and came across what looked like a bone from a dinosaur. I was really shocked to find out it could be a new species.”

After studying the four vertebrae, paleontologists from the University of Southampton confirmed that the bones are likely to belong to a genus of dinosaur previously unknown to science. Their findings will be published in the journal Papers in Palaeontology, in a paper co-authored by those who discovered the fossils.advertisementhttps://www.swoop-assets.com/Epclusa_NPI/Q3/Treater2_Treater_300x250/index.html

Chris Barker, a PhD student at the university who led the study, said: “We were struck by just how hollow this animal was — it’s riddled with air spaces. Parts of its skeleton must have been rather delicate.

“The record of theropod dinosaurs from the ‘mid’ Cretaceous period in Europe isn’t that great, so it’s been really exciting to be able to increase our understanding of the diversity of dinosaur species from this time.

“You don’t usually find dinosaurs in the deposits at Shanklin as they were laid down in a marine habitat. You’re much more likely to find fossil oysters or drift wood, so this is a rare find indeed.”

It is likely that the Vectaerovenator lived in an area just north of where its remains were found, with the carcass having washed out into the shallow sea nearby.

Chris Barker added: “Although we have enough material to be able to determine the general type of dinosaur, we’d ideally like to find more to refine our analysis. We are very grateful for the donation of these fossils to science and for the important role that citizen science can play in palaeontology.”

The Isle of Wight is renowned as one of the top locations for dinosaur remains in Europe, and the new Vectaerovenator fossils will now go on display at the Dinosaur Isle Museum at Sandown, which houses an internationally important collection.

Museum curator, Dr Martin Munt, said: “This remarkable discovery of connected fossils by three different individuals and groups will add to the extensive collection we have and it’s great we can now confirm their significance and put them on display for the public to marvel at.

“We continue to undertake public field trips from the museum and would encourage anyone who finds unusual fossils to bring them in so we can take a closer look. However, fossil hunters should remember to stick to the foreshore, and avoid going near the cliffs which are among the most unstable on the Island.”

Isle of Wight Council Cabinet member for environment and heritage, Councillor John Hobart, said: “This is yet another terrific fossil find on the Island which sheds light on our prehistoric past — all the more so that it is an entirely new species. It will add to the many amazing items on display at the museum.”


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