Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The fossil of a monster, 5 foot tall, Penguin, from the late Eocene period has been found in Peru. There is some preservation of its feathers, which, unlike modern penguins, appeared to be grey and reddish brown.

Possible evidence of the ‘Great Oxidation Event’ 2.4 billion years ago, that resulted in a rise in atmospheric oxygen that jumpstarted life on earth, has been found by French researchers in Gabon.
Using x-ray microtomography they claim to have identified microscopic colonial organisms in 2.4 billion year old rocks.

Zhejiang Museum of Natural History, China, has purchased a unique fossil, found by a local farmer of a pterosaur lying next to a fossil egg. It is assumed that the pterosaur laid the egg.
Subsequent research suggests that pterosaurs behaved more like reptiles than birds when it comes to laying and looking after eggs. Current theory is that they buried their eggs and left them unlike birds who invest considerable energy in incubating their eggs.
The egg itself had a relatively soft parchment like shell, which was not strongly mineralised.

Four upper cheek teeth and two lower incisors are evidence of the first fossil porcupines to be found in Iran. They date from the late Miocene.

How about this for bad translation: from the tourist brochure for the Lascaux Cave Paintings in France, ‘A highly technological achievement and a strictly scientific approach allowed a restitution of the deep emotion given by the most famous Palaeolithic sanctuary in the world’…The Dutch version sounds even sillier.

A set of tracks from marine sediments in Poland from the early Devonian period (395 million years) are upsetting established beliefs about the chronology of life emerging from the sea onto land. The tracks are 18 million years older than any known Tetrapods (the first true land creatures) and 10 million years older than the first known fish to use its lobefins to scoot overland from one pool to another.
The largest print was 26cms suggesting an animal 2.5 meters in length.

The recent discovery of a 4.4 million year old primate skeleton from Ethiopia is causing considerable debate about human origins.
Ardipithecus-Ardie for short-has been describes as ‘evolutions’ bad girl’ as she upsets some long held beliefs about human evolution. This primate had the appearance of an early hominid-large body, chimpanzee-like hands and feet, flattened face and upright stance and seemed equally at home in the trees as with both feet on the ground.
Ardie was a four-foot tall adult, weighed 110lbs,had a chimpanzee sized brain (smaller than Lucy) and lived in the forest.
Her small canines were capable of grinding seeds, fruit and insects.
Don’t give up on the Royal Scottish Museum if you visit Edinburgh, like I nearly did.
The modest but significant fossil display is housed in the poorly lit basement of the weird new building, a maze of corridors and dead ends.
I almost gave up at this point but stumbled by chance in to the old museum, which is an absolute joy, a grand Victorian edifice on 3 floors with a huge glass roof. It’s full of STUFF and fossils and minerals are to be found in a number of places, which adds to the thrill of discovery.
Kids, small or grown-up, will love it.

Treasures of the December Bonham’s Natural History Auction in December include a 6.25” T Rex tooth (estimate $2500), a small but complete Protoceratops skeleton (estimate$150000+) a Diplomistus fish trying to swallow a Priscacara fish
(estimate $15000+), a big sabre tooth cat skull (estimate$50000+) a fossil camel leg bone from the La Brea tar pits(Estimate $1000)and some Siberian mammoth hair
(estimate $600+).

Workers at a limestone quarry making tiles at Nuovo Ollinde, Brazil used to enjoy a mildly lucrative pastime of fossil collecting from economically useless beds above the tile layer. Many new species of insects have been found and described from there
Since new laws have been passed making private fossil collecting illegal and ceding possession of all fossils to the state, workers have been ordered by the management to throw away anything they find.

Last July’s episode of New Tricks an ITV detective series called Old Fossil reinvestigated the death of a particularly sleazy curator at the Natural History Museum. Did he fall or was he pushed…or was he bludgeoned to death with a dinosaur bone? Was he drunk, as usual? Had he seduced one postgrad student too many? Was an ex employee covering up his thefts that funded his upmarket fossil gallery and had he been secretly living in the cellars of the museum to escape the notice of the cops…. All fiction of course.

If you missed the most complete display of Archaopteryx specimens brought together under one roof at the Munich Mineral show 2 years ago you can see it a t The National Museum of Wales in Cardiff until March.

Friday, 20 May 2011

May 2011

A piece of ‘moon rock’ on display for the last 40 years at theRijksmuseum in Amsterdam was actually a piece of fossil wood.
It was presented to the nation during a world tour by Neil Armstrong.

For the first time experts have been able to determine the sex of a flying reptile after the discovery of a fossil from Liaoning Province,north east China,with the egg she was about to lay.
This pterosaur had no head crest so it is reasonable to deduct that pterosaurs with head crests are male.They also,predictably,have smaller hips.
Some head crests were particularly spectacular so the team at Leicester University that carried out the study deduced they were as likely to be used for display to attract mates as to ward off other males.

The ability to stand upright was a major step in our evolution that probably allowed us to develop bigger brains.
When this happened has been under debate as the skeleton of Lucy(Australopithicus afarensis) lacked crucial footbones.
A single metatarsal(foot bone)connecting the fourth toe to the ankle of one of Lucy’s 3.2 million year old contemporaries has been found and it seems to confirm that Australopithecus spent most of its time upright.
The bone shows signs of an arch which could absorb shock and bear the weight of an animal that stood upright for long periods.It is stiffer than those found in most apes’ flexible handlike feet which are designed for gripping branches and climbing.
Climate cooling 3 million years ago caused the dense lush forests of eastern Africa to give way to grasslands where walking would have been a more useful skill than climbing.

In order to preserve the unique Precambrian fossils of Charnwood Forest,Leicestershire from the ravages of natural erosion and the occasional climber, Natural England(they used to be English Nature which used to be the Nature Conservancy Council)and the British Geological Survey have made a150 square meter mould of some of the fossils.
This is reckoned to be the largest 2 dimensional fossil mould in the world(so far).
It is twice the size of a recent mould of Precambrian fossils made at Mistaken Point in Canada and much larger than mould taken recently of blocks weighing several tons at The Wren’s Nest,Dudley,Worcestershire.

Hats off to The Eden Project for being so polite and engaging…also for being a cracking day out,especially the Tropical Dome on a cold day.
On a recent visit I noticed an ammonite has been wrongly dated to the tune of 15 million years so I emailed them.I received a grateful and appreciative reply almost immediately.
I remember telling the Royal Festival Hall that a spectacular fossil shell group in their lobby donated by their neighbours Shell Petroleum was ludicrously wrongly dated…by perhaps 100 million years if memory serves.
I never got an acknowledgement from them but I noticed on a recent visit that they now display the correct information.

My book of the week is’Boneheads.My Search for T Rex’ by Richard Polsky, an entertaining account of fossil dealers and diggers in America..
In this extract he describes a gathering of fossil dealers at the Tucson Show:”It dawned on me that few dealers were as intriguing as their fossils.The scene was male dominated with beer bellies galore.Many dealers were in desperate need of a shower and a shave.Most wore jeans.Shoes were either work boots or inexpensive cowboy boots.Overall they were a scruffy lot,but a few dapper merchants sported western shirts with bolo ties,one with a real scorpion encased in a clear plastic clasp.”

I like to think I raise the tone myself with my hawaian shirts and Birkenstocks.

The book mentions many of the fossil guys that I have known for years so I have to recommend it.
I mention no names but…
one T rex finder nearly drowned with me canoing in Colorado

another who may have served an undeserved jail sentence after finding the best T Rex in the world worked for me one morning setting up my display because his young helpers who should have been working for me that morning were all too hung over to wake up

I saved the marriage of another by finding the valuable wedding ring he dropped in a restaurant a week before his wedding.His wife of 15 years never knew.

The proprietor of a major private dinosaur museum mentioned in the book discovered coriander and pomegranit soup at my dinner table.(Recipe available on request from Mrs.Cohen)

I saved a prominent dinosaur egg specialist mentioned in the book from a good kicking in central America by driving off muggers by trying to poke my lit cigarette in their eyes.(Smoking can sometimes be good for your health…but I have given up the habit now)

I have frequently slaughtered another dino eggman featured in the book at Table Tennis.

The Manhatten shopkeeper and auction consultant gave my wife and I a ghastly tour of his basement where insects were busy stripping the flesh off dead animals before their skeletons went on sale in the shop.In return I took him to some gruesome bars in Munich when the Munich rock show was on.

On the subject of Tucson :this years’ highlights included a stunning 20foot Ichthyosaur giving birth with babies inside and outside her body($500,000+)and an equally large and pricey german Jurassic cocodile,also on matrix.Ideal for the wall in your study(if your study is the size of a small cinema)Mounted skeletons of a plesiosaur and a mosasaur from Morocco were also pretty spectacular.As was a complete mounted skeleton of a Florida Pleistocene sloth….a placque with about 30 turtles ,all with cute little heads and feet poking out of their shells also took my fancy.

Twent years ago when Japan’s economy was booming their museums were the major customers for such pieces.Korean museums made their appearance in the market about 10 years ago and predictably a Chinese museum or two is starting to spend some money on major pieces.

If you want a fossil named after you get in touch with |Dr.David Penney of Siri Scientific Press.
He frequently finds new species of insects in amber which he gets to publish and name.
This is an expensive activity for him.Not only is it a labour of love but in order for his work to be published he has to donate said specimens to a museum.
So he is happy to name any new species after anyone prepared to pay him and has advertised this service on ebay.

You have to visit Venice once in your life and if you do(as I did recently)the Natural History museum there is worth a visit,especially if you have children in tow(… and yes it does have one of my fossils on diplay)
It is housed in an elegant Palazzo and is extremely well signposted from all directions.
The story of its patron reflects the merchant adventurer spririt of Venice.
John Carlo Ligabue’s father was a poor venetian who earned his money on the water and gradually built up a successful business supplying all the needs of the cruise boats that visit Venice.His son studied marine biology before going into the business and making it even more successful…His office is on the edge of old Venice and has3,yes 3 parking spaces.That is real wealth in Venice!
As patron of the museum he went on expeditions to exotic places such as Mongolia,New Guinea and Mali.The dinosaurs he collected there 20 years before anyone was collecting fossils in Morocco are proudly displayed.
He has also established scholarship projects all over the world.
The real charm of the museum is that it posseses and proudly displays proper old fashion dead animals.Lots of them,from an era before political correctness . Kids love
All that gruesome stuff..
As well as a fine fossil collection there are ethnographical African collections(lots of weapons),stuffed animals big and small and all sorts of things in bottles of formaldehyde.
You can only take in so much art,even in Venice.Give it a go.

A new discovery of well preserved new to science fossils from the ediocaran period(about 565 million years) has been made in Newfoundland.These particularly weird early lifeforms were probably tethered to the sea floor.They resemble nothing at all that exists today.

The earliest known Australian bird fossil remains have been found in lower cretaceous sediments of South East Australia,pushing evidence of bird life in the area back by 10 million years.This area would have been inside the Antarctic circle at the time which meant the bird would have to have survived minus temperatures and 3 months of continual darkness

Living among the enormous marsupial wolves,giant rat kangaroos and monster possums of the Australian Pleistocene was a giant tortoise that weighed over 500 kgs and had big spikes on its head and tail.

289 gastroliths were found in and around a nearly complete 32 foot long plesiosaur from Southern Utah.This is unusual but not unique.

In order to study Mosasaur tooth variation Marcus Ross of Rhode Island University accessed 1800 museum and private collections from Europe,Asia,Antartica,Africa,New Zealand and North and South America.

The oldest fossil aphid yet known has been found in middle Triassic sediments(220 million yrs)in Shaanxi province,China.It is 14mm long(big for an aphid!)

A complete skeleton of a new type of therapod dinosaur has been found at Ghost Ranch,New Mexico.It is about 215 million years old,when dinosaurs were still finding their feet.Fossils have been found at Ghost Ranch for over 100 years.
It is called Taura halla after the Hopi sun god and Ruth Hall who found the first fossils at Ghost Ranch.

Pterosaur tracks have been found for the first time in Alaska.

With the help of an electric micrographit has been possible to determine the original colour of feathers preserved as brown and black stains on a new dinosaur from Liaoning ,China.The crown was brownish red,the long limb feathers were white with black spangles and the body was dark grey with found red speckles.The conclusion was that colour evolved to play a role in sexual selection or other communication.

An exceptionally well preserved nearly complete three dimensional bird like dinosaur about 160 million years old has just been found inJingjiang,China.It is about 2 metres long,including tail and thought to be that of a young adult.It is older than Archaeopteryx and reinforces the premise that birds arose from dinosaurs.It is also 60 million years older thab similar birdlike dinosaurs.

There are only 4 known locations where fossil trees are preserved in upright postions:
Queen Elizabeth Island in arctic Canada,the Rhein valley near Bonn,Germany,Dunarobba in Umbria,Italy andBukkabrany,Hungary(discovered in 2007).
Drawings of the ian wood were made shortly after their discovery in 1620.100 years later they were bought by Geoge 111 and are now housed in Windsor Castle library.

A new lower Jurassic sauropod dinosaur skull has been found in South Africa.More than 80 similar skulls have been found in the past and are in south African and English museums.

How about this for an exciting title:Chaniella,a new lower Tremadocian brachiopod from northwestern Argentina and its phylogenic relationships with basal Rhynconelliforms published by Palaontologische Zeitshrift vol83 no3 pages393-405.
Makes you want read more !

Here is another one:’Dessert Sharks’-a story of fossil hunting in the Peruvain wilderness.

The Tulley Monster was named after its finder Francis Tulley.The first specimen was found in an ironstone nodule from Mazon Creek,Indiana ,an area of abandoned coal mines,in 1958.There is no agreement about the nature of the beast-possible worm,squid or shellless gastropod.A Norwegian palaeontologist has pointed out that Tull means nonsense in Norwegian.
It is now the state fossil of Illinois.