Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Two giant fossil penguins have been found in Peru and have overturned theories about the birds’ evolution. It was thought Penguins started out in cold habitats near the South Pole and migrated to equatorial regions during a cool period about 10 million years ago. These beasts, both 5 feet tall with beaks like javelins, were dated at 36 and 42 million years old, and lived in sun bleached tropics at a time before the earth had ice caps.

The oldest known evidence of animal life, remnants of steroids produced by sponges more than 635 millions years ago, have been found in Oman.

Titanuboa Cerrejonensis (big boa from Cerrejon, North East Columbia) has beaten all records for snakes, alive or dead. 180 vertebrae and ribs from a couple of dozen individuals were found at an open-pit coal mine and transported to the University of Florida Natural History Museum in Gainesville, Florida for study in 2007. They revealed a beast about 45 feet long weighing over one ton. It probably ate primitive crocodiles in its rainforest home 60 million years ago - lots of them - and spent most of it’s time in water.
The largest living snake on record was a 30ft long python, while the record for fossil snakes was a couple of feet more, held by a 40 million year old beast from Egypt.
As snakes are cold-blooded creatures their size is directly related to the climate. These fossils suggest equatorial temperatures were significantly warmer than they are now during a time when the world as a whole was warmer. In other words, contrary to common contemporary belief equatorial temperatures rose when mean global temperatures rose. This is bad news for today’s climate change!

Obesity has its roots in the dramatic growth of the human brain more than 2 million years ago. Nutritionally dense diets with higher calorie counts became necessary to fuel the energy demands of the uniquely large human brain. Modern humans use nearly ¼ of their resting energy to power up our brains....and as all men know, the more beer you drink, the cleverer you are.

A 2 ½ year research project using dozens of bones from sites in Croatia, Spain, Germany and Southern Russia, extracted enough Neanderthal DNA from 70 bones to decipher 60% of the Neanderthal genome. Dr Svante Poabo from the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany did the work and intends to use computers to fill in the gaps to explore just how closely related they were to us. Neanderthals lived from 500,000 years ago to 30,000 years ago, when it is thought our higher intelligence (!) drove them to extinction.
This research has so far shown that Neanderthals share two genetic changes with Homo sapiens, that differentiates them from Chimpanzees and enabled Homo sapiens and presumably Neanderthals, to talk.
As adults they were also lactose intolerant like the majority of modern humans so they could drink milk after childhood.

Brazilian fossils, especially the fish fauna from Ceara province (lower Cretaceous 110 million years old) are now officially legal...
The loose interpretation of the (non existent) law was that Brazilians could keep them in their home but that export on a large scale would be stamped on. This is a result of a law covering artefacts and a bunch of lazy territorial Brazilian academics who bent this law to their whims. It took a German part time resident and fossil dealer to bring the anomaly to light.
When accused of smuggling said fossils out of Brazil, he fought the case through the tangled Brazilian legal system for over 2 years until a judge declared that fossils were not man made and therefore not artefacts and were therefore not covered by said law.... or any other law.
Once out of the country however, the fossil could be traded legally ...except possibly in Australia and Canada, well known for their politically correct posture in such matters (I never used the word ‘anal’).
The fact is, the fossil beds are extensive and the fossils prolific. Furthermore, many are found as an offshoot of commercial quarrying for building stone and it would be daft (or criminal) to then destroy them. Certain fish are very common as are insects and plants. Flying reptiles, turtles, long fish etc are less common.... but not that uncommon!
British academic, plain speaking Dr Dave Martill of Portsmouth University, told a symposium some years ago how Brazilian academics warned him off the site and then offered to sell him any fossils he wanted. He subsequently visited the sites and published a number of papers which has made him a wanted man out there. He now concentrates on Moroccan fossils.
The word is that despite the new legal status of these fossils, if found with any in your possession in the area where they are found, you will have to contribute generously to the police benevolent fund if you value your freedom.

This year’s Association of Palaeontological Suppliers lecture, at Tuscan Gem Show in February, was given by the warden of Fossil Butte National Monument – the state park housing some of the Wyoming fossil fish sites. His subject was his project for calculating the climate at the time the fossils were alive, which he did by comparing the size of certain leaves found at the site to similar modern species (leafy dicods), whose size varies according to mean temperatures. By promoting good relations with the neighbouring commercial fossil quarries he was able to amass a decent study collection of leaves over the space of 5 years, as they were considered of little commercial value. The result – the average temperature of the area 50 million years ago was 22°! As Arnie the warden said, ‘it took 5 years to amass the evidence and 5 minutes to interpret it!’

APS (Association of Palaeontological Suppliers) are currently mounting opposition to a draft proposal that might go to the US senate in order to stop commercial diggers learning of new sites. No academic will be allowed to publish details of where the fossils he is studying comes from. This would make the United States the laughing stock of the academic world. Could it really pass such a law? Could someone really propose such a law? Don’t you believe me? Check the website www.aaps.net

Also at Tucson last February, the wedding of English fossil preparer extraordinaire, Terry Manning – possibly the greatest living fossil preparer today (...as he will tell you) to Claudine, a Tucson resident and polisher of dino bone. An impressively international company ate buffalo burgers, drank through the night and capered to an Arizona Celidh band.