Fatty Tissues Preserved In Fossil for 48 Million Years

By Gemma Tarlach | October 17, 2017 6:00 pm
Researchers confirmed fatty tissues had been preserved in the preen gland of a 48-million-year-old bird fossil. (Credit O'Reilly et al 2017, doi:10.1098/rspb.2017.1050)

Researchers confirmed fatty tissues had been preserved in the preen gland (in box) of a 48-million-year-old bird fossil. (Credit O’Reilly et al 2017, doi:10.1098/rspb.2017.1050)

It really is true: fat hangs around a long time whether you want it to or not.

Okay, so we’re not talking about stubborn love handles and saddlebags, but researchers have confirmed that fatty tissues were still identifiable in the partial fossil of a 48-million-year-old bird. The new research hints that similar soft tissues might be found in fossils sitting in museum archives around the world. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: fossils, paleontology

Easter Island Ancient DNA Shoots Down One Rapanui Theory

By Gemma Tarlach | October 12, 2017 11:00 am
The massive carved Moai of Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, are as mysterious as the people who made them. (Credit Terry Hunt)

Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, is best known for its giant carved moai. (Credit Terry Hunt)

Thanks to its geography, the southeastern Pacific island of Rapa Nui — also known as Easter Island — has been in the center of a long-running debate about how early people may have sailed back and forth across the planet’s biggest ocean. One theory suggested that, long before Europeans arrived, the island was a meeting point for Polynesians and Native Americans.

Spoiler alert: a new study of ancient DNA from early residents of Rapa Nui says otherwise.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Oldest African DNA Offers Rare Window Into Past

By Gemma Tarlach | September 21, 2017 11:00 am
Mount Hora in Malawi, where the oldest DNA in the study, from a woman who lived more than 8,000 years ago, was obtained. Photo by Jessica Thompson, Emory University.

Mount Hora in Malawi, where researcher Jessica Thompson obtained the oldest African DNA ever successfully sequenced. (Credit Jessica Thompson/Emory University)

A great irony about Africa is that, even though it’s the birthplace of our species, we know almost nothing about the prehistoric populations who lived there: the bands of hunter gatherers who moved across the massive continent, interacting with and sometimes replacing other groups.

Today that changes.

Thanks to new research that includes the oldest African DNA ever successfully read, we’re seeing Africa’s prehistory like never before. Archaeologists and paleogeneticists are finally starting to fill in some crucial gaps about the human story.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Dinosaur Diet Discovery: “Plant-Eater” Snacked On Crustaceans

By Gemma Tarlach | September 21, 2017 8:00 am
Are researchers as wrong about the dinosaur diet as famed illustrator Charles Knight was about hadrosaurs? (Credit American Museum of Natural History)

Have researchers been as wrong about the dinosaur diet as famed illustrator Charles Knight was about hadrosaurs in this rather sketchy 1897 rendering? Duckbilled dinosaurs like this fella usually put four on the floor, and no dino dragged its tail or had the sprawling posture shown here. (Credit American Museum of Natural History)

Like that vegetarian friend of yours who sneaks a piece of bacon when no one’s looking, it appears that at least some dinosaurs previously thought to be dedicated herbivores occasionally consumed critters. That’s at least according to new research that involved getting up close and investigative with those goldmines of lifestyle information: coprolites.
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Breaking: 5.7 Million-Year-Old “Hominin Footprints” In Jeopardy

By Gemma Tarlach | September 15, 2017 10:44 am
Is this depression and others like it at a site in Crete actually footprints? If so, what made them? Researchers believe they are indeed footprints — and were made 5.7 million years ago by hominins. (Credit Andrzej Boczarowski)

Is this depression and others like it at a site in Crete actually hominin footprints? (Credit Andrzej Boczarowski)

12:02 p.m.: “In the context of the field, it’s the equivalent of blowing up the Sphinx in Egypt. It’s a big deal,” says Bournemouth University’s Matthew Bennett, confirming that several of the footprints he and colleagues described in a paper published in August as belonging to an early hominin have been destroyed or stolen. But Bennett adds: “At the same time, no scientific data has been lost.” Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Viking Warrior In Famous Grave Was A Woman

By Gemma Tarlach | September 8, 2017 1:07 pm
Fierce warrior Lagertha on the show "Vikings" is fictional, but a genetic study confirms the warrior buried in a Viking-era grave was a woman. (Credit History Channel)

Fierce warrior Lagertha on the show “Vikings” is fictional, but a genetic study confirms the warrior buried in a Viking-era grave was a woman. (Credit History Channel)

This one goes out to all my fellow shieldmaidens: researchers have confirmed through ancient DNA testing that the warrior buried in a famous Viking grave was a woman.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: aDNA, archaeology, Viking

New Dates For Neanderthals Shakes Up Long-Held Theory

By Gemma Tarlach | September 4, 2017 2:00 pm
Neanderthal remains previously found in Croatia's Vindija Cave return to the spotlight in new research that claims earlier studies got their age wrong. (Credit Ivor Karavani)

Dating of Neanderthals gone awry? Remains of our hominin cousins previously found in Croatia’s Vindija Cave return to the spotlight with new research that claims earlier studies got their age very wrong. (Credit Ivor Karavani)

With every new find, our understanding of the twilight of the Neanderthals, our nearest hominin kin, advances. Or not.

New research on some of the most famous Neanderthal fossils, from Croatia’s Vindija Cave, suggest earlier analysis about their age and significance may be all wrong. Oops.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

What Made These Footprints 5.7 Million Years Ago?

By Gemma Tarlach | September 1, 2017 12:14 pm
Is this depression and others like it at a site in Crete actually footprints? If so, what made them? Researchers believe they are indeed footprints — and were made 5.7 million years ago by hominins. (Credit Andrzej Boczarowski)

Is this depression (and others like it) at a site in Crete actually a footprint? If so, what made them? Researchers believe they are indeed footprints — and were made 5.7 million years ago by hominins. If they’re right, it changes much of what we thought about human evolution. (Credit Andrzej Boczarowski)

UPDATE, 15 September: Reports are beginning to surface that the site may have been destroyed by a vandal, but details are slim and conflicting. Follow this developing story here.

UPDATE, 6 September: Had a great chat with Uppsala University paleontologist Per Ahlberg, the corresponding author for the study, who clarified what the landmass situation was at the time the trackways were made. Turns out I was jumping the gun in the original version regarding the amount of exposed land; see below for clarification and some additional thoughts from Ahlberg (in bold), and watch for a story in print soon.

It’s the Friday before a long weekend (at least for most of us in the U.S.) and I get it: You’re thinking about your plans for the next few days, wrapping up some stuff before slipping out of the office maybe a little early. You’re not in the mindset of having your paradigm shifted. Sorry. A new study suggesting hominins were walking across a Greek island 5.7 million years ago is here to blow your mind.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: human evolution

No Filter: Ancient Whales Were Wolves of the Sea

By Gemma Tarlach | August 29, 2017 6:00 pm
My, what sharp teeth you have, Janjucetus. New research finds ancient whales like "The Juce" here had teeth more similar to land carnivores than today's filter-feeding whales. (Credit: Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons)

My, what sharp teeth you have, Janjucetus. New research finds ancient whales like “The Juce” here had dentition more similar to land carnivores than today’s filter-feeders. (Credit: Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia Commons)

The biggest animals on the planet right now are baleen whales, which upped their size thanks to efficient filter-feeding. How they got that specialized system has long been a mystery, but a new study nixes some theories about it evolving out of ancient whales’ dentition. Those earlier animals, say researchers, were bitey predators with sharp teeth made for tearing things up.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

New Evidence for That Huge Dinosaur Family Tree Rewrite

By Gemma Tarlach | August 15, 2017 6:00 pm
Artist's rendering of Chilesaurus diegosuarezi, a dinosaur at the heart of a controversial dinosaur family tree rewrite. (Credit Gabriel Lío)

Chilesaurus diegosuarezi, a Jurassic herbivore at the heart of a controversial dinosaur family tree rewrite. (Credit Gabriel Lío)

Remember that paper that dropped a few months ago completely rewriting the dinosaur family tree? Well, the researchers are back, this time using one of the odder dinos out there as evidence for their explosive claim. Is it legit or just hype? Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
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