Thursday, 7 January 2010

Fossil News

The largest dinosaur footprints ever discovered in Europe were found by a team from Basel National History Museum information in Ela Nature Reserve, Switzerland. They were alerted by private fossil collectors who were checking out the area which had recently been cleared of trees.
The prints were 15 inches across from the upper Triassic period Circa 210 million years and were made by an animal that must have been about 20 foot long.

Three 7 foot long burrows found in 106 million year old rocks in Victoria Australia support the theory that dinosaurs living in cold climates burrowed underground to stay warm. The only other dinosaur burrow was found 4 years ago in 95 million year old rocks in Montana USA. Burrows have also been found that were used by mammal like reptiles that survived the permian extinction 240 million years ago.

One of the building blocks of life, an amino acid essential to the creation of proteins found in the cellstructors of living organisms has been discovered in dust and gas collected from the tail of a comet.

The Cove Rotana Resort in Ras Al Khaimal United Arab Emirates is using a picture of Durdle Door on Dorsets Jurasic Coast to advertise itself.

Google Earth on coordinate’s latitude 57’ 12’52. 13’ North Longitude 4’ 34’ 16’ West shows a block under the surface of Loch Ness not unlike a 65 foot tadpole or plesiosaur!

More Manchester Museum madness……

Before taking early retirement (which he will tell you that he was definitely not forced to take) director Tristan Besterman (His real name, honest) proved wrong malicious rumours that having put the entire collection into storage when the building was being renovated he ran out of funds to bring the collections out of storage again. It is however true that a custom built display case, costing around £8000 to house a very expensive quartz group was thrown away by mistake. The Quartz group was put on open display anyway, until too many pieces of it found there way into visitors pockets. It is not on display anymore.

A professional museum hermit was employed for a while he sat in the top of a tower and thought lofty thoughts, his previous job involved going without food for ten days in a wooden box. I am not making this up.

Best of all, Archaeologist Assistant Director Piortr Bienkowski is a Pagan and in his spare time chairman of HAD (Humans After Death) such are his beliefs his efforts to cover up the mummy's on display were only thwarted by a popular outcry. He has been trying to have the fossil collection re-patriated and reburied in the exact places that the fossils were dug up in the first place. He has equally strange views on the living creatures, the Vivarium containing small Reptiles, Fish and Snakes is to popular for him to close down as he would like, So he is starving it of funds and gradually killing off all the creatures through neglect.

There will be more Manchester Museum Madness next issue, marvels of mess, mayhem mean misinformation and murky misanthropy.

Since writing this piece Piortr has found another job, like Mr Besterman he denies any rumours that he was asked to leave.

The commonly held belief that Pterosaurs were tree top gliders has been thrown into doubt by a researcher who has constructed a new model for winged flight based on pterosaurs pivoting on the ground on their wings
‘elbows’ and then hurling themselves into the air. He has come to this conclusion after studying the construction of their wing bones which seem too heavy and strong just for gliding.

Amid a blaze of publicity, ‘The Holy Grail’ ‘a Rosetta Stone‘ Deal in Hamburg led scientist to 8th wonder of the World, a partially complete early primate fossil was revealed to the world at the America Museum of Natural History last May. A book and a documentary narrated by David Attenborough was timed to coincide with the event.

The fossil was actually found in 1983 at a disused quarry at Messel near Darmstadt Germany. Although the site is now protected at that time plans were afoot to turn it into a rubbish dump. It had yielded an amazing array of exquisitely preserved fossils, including more than 60 pygmy horses, 8 species of crocodile, more that 1000 bats, insects with colour markings preserved on their wings and birds and fish a plenty.
Two years ago the counterpart to the fossil was sold to Thermopolis Dinosaur Museum Wyoming, but it did not have the fine detail of its counterpart and was not recognised as a significant fossil (they do have an archaeopteryx as well though!).
When the private collector who owned the piece decided to sell it, his fellow collector, who just happened to be a fossil dealer as well, had a discreet word with Dr Jørn Hurum of Oslos Natural History Museum at the Hamburg Fossil and Mineral show. More discreet words followed that evening in a local bar, a 20 minute sighting of the fossil and £1,000,000 pledge to buy the fossil.

Forged Messel fossils are not uncommon but xray analysis confirmed the genuineness of this trail.

Most hominid fossils are incomplete. Sometimes theories are based on a single tooth or jaw fragment. Lucy the most significant humid fossil so far found (in Ethiopia) is 40% complete. Ida named after Hurum’s
6 year old young daughter, is 95% complete.
Its real name is Darwinius Masillae in honour of Charles Darwin’s 200th anniversary and an old name for Messel.
She is reckoned to have been 6 – 9 months old at the time of her death 47 million years ago and probably 60% of her adult weight of one Kilogram. She possesses milk teeth, unerrupted adult teeth, finger nails rather than claws, opposite thumbs and big toes and a particular shaped ankle bone and that makes her out as a link to apes, monkeys and humans, not an early lemur. She does not have a grooming claw on her second finger like lemurs either.
Her sex has been determined by the lack of penis bone. Her left wrist shows evidence of a partially healed fracture. Impressions of fur and remains of her last meal seeds and leaves are also preserved, large eye sockets suggest she was nocturnal.
Some academics hold that Ida belongs to the family tree of lemurs and bush babies as she lacks the bony wall at the back of the eye socket. If so her relevance in tracing back our evolution is limited.
Dr Hurum chose to publish his findings on Plos One an open access on line journal that doesn’t charge people to read its papers. He commented ‘’I am paid by the taxpayers of Norway to do this research. I’m not paid by Nature or Science (the most prestigious journals in this field) and still they charge money for other people to read my scientific results’’

One hominid tooth found in the Ethiopian dessert in 1992 sparked off a two year search and a 15 year research project involving 47 researchers resulting in the appearance of 11 papers in one edition of the journal Science. A partial skeleton with elements of skull, pelvis, hands and feet represent the oldest human ancestor ever found.

Ardi short for Ardipithecus ramidus, was a hairy female, 4 foot tall with long arms for climbing trees, but able to walk on two legs.
She lived 4.4 million years ago and sheds light on a critical period of evolution after our ancestors split from chimpanzees. She may be a direct ancestor of 3.2 million year old lucy. Both show a potential human ancestor that could walk upright despite having a small brain.
Her teeth point to a diet of figs other fruit, leaves and small mammals and were quite small suggesting that unlike chimpanzees baboons and gorillas male ardipithecus did not bare their teeth in aggressive displays over female but lived in more harmonious social groups.

Eye surgeon Henry Kriegstein donated a new species of predatory dinosaur from Chinese Mongolia that he bought on the open market to the University of Chicago and won the honour of choosing its name Raptorex Kriegstein is named In honour of his parents, both Holocaust survivors.
‘’This fossil has survived for 125 million years My parents came close to not surviving. This name symbolically represents that they have survived despite the odds’’
This fossil will go to a collection in Inner Mongolia but Dr Kriegstein has a life size cast (8 foot long) to keep in his Massachusetts home.

The latest BBC Natural History unit blockbuster series Life was planned as a celebration of Einstein to honour the 200th anniversary of Darwin but co producers, American Discovery channel feared the backlash from its sizeable creationist lobby and insisted on changing this central theme.


One of the most complete T rex skeletons ever found failed to reach its reserve at an auction in Las Vegas recently. Bidding stopped at $3.5 million.
Despite its widespread fame and popularity less than 20 specimens of T rex are known.
An almost complete mounted Edmontosaurus skeleton sold for $450 000 a mother and offspring pair of small ceratopsian dinosaurs for $440 000, a whole Siberian mammoth for $97 000, a complete mounted 35 million year old cat for $61 000 and some outrageously opalescent Canadian ammonites for over $30 000 each.
The worlds largest known set of shark jaws from the fossil giant shark Carcharocles, the largest carnivorous fish ever to have existed (up to 20 metres long) with over 300 5”+ nasty sharp teeth failed to reach it’s reserve, estimate $900 - - $1.2 million.


The great and the good of British palaeontology (myself included) gathered in the dozy little Somerset town of Street last July to drink gossip, talk ichthyosaurus and celebrate the retirement of Sir Arthur Cruickshank Cambridge university, Leicester museum and visiting professor in far flung places like South Africa and New Zealand.
150 years ago the quarries around Street produced as many ichthyosaur and plesiosaurs as Lyme Regis.
An ichthyosaur is part of the towns coat of arms and a cast of a Pterosaur is to be seen in the wall of the public library.
An impressive collection can sometimes be seen by appointment on application to Clarkes Shoe Museum.
The undisputed world expert on ichthyosaurs Professor Ryosuke Motani was flown over from California to open proceedings, local finds including Lyme specimens collected by professional collector Chris Moore were on display and a positive note of cooperation between academic and commercial communities was sounded. ‘we want you out there finding more material for us to study’ was the (albeit not unanimous) keynote.

If the vertebrate fossil movers and shakers of the country descended on Street, those of the whole world invaded Bristol 2 months later for the first joint meeting of the UK and American vertebrate palaeontology association.
1400 delegates from all over the world, and a few gatecrashers like myself attended the 3 days of talks.
Topics covered dinosaurs, earlier primitive reptiles, marine reptiles, flying reptiles, birds, eggs, tracks, diet, feathers, --- from Oklahoma Texas, Utah, Kansas, South Dakota, Montana in the USA. Also Canada, China, Brazil,
Argentina, Uruguay, Columbia, India, South Africa, Niger, Morocco, Madagascar, Russia, Australia, Kazakhstan and Spitsbergen, got a look-in European countries included the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal and the Czech Republic.
David Attenborough, a keen fossil collector since childhood, gave the welcome presentation.
The highest profile news was the announcement by a Chinese delegate of the earliest yet discovered feathered dinosaur, from China of course!
English professional collectors were invited to display significant finds but this invitation was rudely withdrawn with no explanation when the American organisers got to hear of the arrangement. There are almost as many academics opposed to commercial collectors in the states as there are creationists.
Scottish commercial collector and living legend Stan Wood, being a member of the Vertebrate PalSoc.(as well as dealer) was able to bypass the controversy and displayed his latest undescribed, new to science, animal from the Scottish carboniferous along with photos of himself collecting it in the middle of fast flowing stream.

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