WHAT?! A Massive Dinosaur Family Tree Rewrite

By Gemma Tarlach | March 22, 2017 1:00 pm
A new study about the relationships between dinosaur species blows up our base understanding of the dinosaur family tree. (Credit: Gary Larson/The Far Side)

A new study about the relationships between species just knocked down our basic understanding of the dinosaur family tree. (Credit: Gary Larson/The Far Side)

Ask any obsessive dino-phile above kindergarten age to explain the dinosaur family tree and it’s likely the first thing you’ll hear is that all dinosaur species fall into one of two groups. It’s a core concept upon which our entire understanding of dinosaurs is built. But according to a new study, we got that most fundamental aspect of dinosaur evolution completely wrong. Oops. Read More

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

Earth’s Original Crust Still Hanging Around

By Gemma Tarlach | March 16, 2017 1:00 pm
New research finds bits of Earth's original crust in Canada, just north of the Great Lakes. (Credit NASA)

New research finds bits of Earth’s original crust in Canada. (Credit NASA)

Researchers who want to study the nature of Earth’s original crust find themselves between a rock and a hard place: Our planet’s top layer is constantly wearing down in one spot and building up in another, continents colliding or slip-sliding past each other in the great mosh pit of plate tectonics. You might have figured none of the early crust was even still around. New research shows you would have figured wrong. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: Canada, geology

Sharks’ Missing Link To The Past

By Gemma Tarlach | March 15, 2017 10:17 am
A slightly scientifically inaccurate illustration from 1909. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

A slightly scientifically inaccurate illustration from 1909. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

If, like me, you like fossils and you like sharks, you’re in luck. A recent re-look at a fossil found more than a decade ago has answered a big question about the story of sharks’ evolution.

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

NextGen Paleontologist: Egypt’s Catfish Hunter Sanaa El-Sayed

By Gemma Tarlach | March 3, 2017 11:26 am
Egyptian paleontologist Sanaa El-Sayed, shown here in the field, typifies the next generation of her field. Photo courtesy Sanaa El-Sayed.

Egyptian paleontologist Sanaa El-Sayed, shown here in the field, is the first woman vertebrate paleontologist from the Middle East to be first author on a paper published internationally — and her colleagues at Mansoura University are not far behind her. (Photo courtesy Sanaa El-Sayed)

Sometimes, paleontology is about looking forward. Sure, the field is focused on uncovering and understanding the past, but to continue to progress, like every other area of science, paleontology needs a constant influx of new and enthusiastic talent. And as more opportunities open up around the world for both academic studies and fieldwork, from Antarctica to the expansive deserts of Africa, the next generation of paleontologists are blazing new trails.

Here at Dead Things, I’ll be spotlighting these rising stars of the field in an occasional Q&A series, The NextGen Paleontologist. Today’s paleo-to-know: Sanaa El-Sayed, who’s making a splash for her description of an ancient fish from her native Egypt.

Qarmoutus hitanensis is the first catfish to be found at the famous Valley of Whales site, and it’s no small fry. Let’s just say that if you were fishing in the area back when Q. hitanensis was swimming around, some 37 million years ago, you’d need a bigger boat.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Woolly Mammoth DNA Mutations Piled Up Pre-Extinction

By Gemma Tarlach | March 2, 2017 1:00 pm
There's nothing but bones left of this mighty woolly mammoth, on display at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Credit: Ernie Mastroianni.

There’s nothing but bones left of this mighty woolly mammoth, now on display at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Credit: Ernie Mastroianni.

The extinct woolly mammoth lives on today as a regal symbol of the last ice age, a poster child for de-extinctionists and an occasional guest on HBO’s Game of Thrones. But new research reveals that when it made its last stand on a remote island, the species was a mess.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: de-extinction, DNA, mammals

Human Skull Fossils from China Have Surprising Traits

By Gemma Tarlach | March 2, 2017 1:00 pm
Leprechauns! Kidding. The vivid green chosen for this reconstruction of two partial human crania helps the images stand out from the background, the site where they were found. Credit: Xiujie Wu.

Leprechaun skulls! Kidding. The vivid green chosen for this reconstruction of two partial human crania sure does help them stand out from the background, a photograph of the site in China where they were found. Credit: Xiujie Wu.

The period about 100,000 years ago was a crucial one for our species — and a time not well represented in the fossil record. A pair of partial human skulls from Central China are helping to fill in some of the mystery, but their blend of archaic and modern Homo sapiens traits, as well as some Neanderthal characteristics, are also raising new questions.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Tuataras and The Question of Living Fossils

By Gemma Tarlach | February 22, 2017 3:35 pm
Henry the tuatara has been a resident of the Southland Museum in Invercargill, New Zealand, since the late 19th century. His lineage has been around much longer. Like, crazy longer. Credit: G. Tarlach

Seen here through the glass wall of the Southland Museum’s tuatarium on New Zealand’s South Island, Henry the tuatara has been around since the late 19th century. His lineage is much older — the species predates dinosaurs. Credit: G. Tarlach.

New Zealand’s tuataras prove the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” like few other animals on the planet (coelacanth, I’m looking at you). While paleontologists have long differed over the animal’s “living fossil” status, new research suggests the tuatara lineage got its groove some 240 million years ago and never lost it.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Mamma Mia! Fossil Is First Hint Of Live Birth In Ancient Reptile

By Gemma Tarlach | February 14, 2017 10:00 am
The pregnant Dinocephalosaurus biting a fish. Credit: Dinghua Yang & Jun Liu

What do I love most about this artist rendering of a pregnant Dinocephalosaurus? Is it capturing the marine reptile’s epic neck-to-body proportion? Is it the tasteful allusion to the offspring in her belly? No, it’s the freshly chomped fish in her mouth, and the bloody cloud around it. Nom nom nom. Don’t mess with Mom when she’s hungry. Credit: Dinghua Yang & Jun Liu.

Here’s some egg-citing news: for the first time in the fossil record, researchers have discovered a specific type of marine reptile that was carrying an advanced embryo at time of death. Why is that interesting? Because the specimen is an archosauromorph, an early member of the same gang of vertebrates that includes dinosaurs as well as pterosaurs, birds and crocodiles, all of which we thought, based on previous evidence, were exclusively egg-layers. Today that changes. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Preserved Dinosaur Protein Is 195 Million Years Old

By Gemma Tarlach | January 31, 2017 10:00 am
A slice of the 195 million year old rib of the dinosaur Lufengosaurus reveals vascular canals, many of which contain hematite, probably derived from the dinosaur's blood when it was alive. Credit: Robert Reisz.

A slice of the 195-million-year-old fossilized rib of Lufengosaurus reveals vascular canals, many of which contain hematite, probably derived from the dinosaur’s blood when it was alive. Credit: Robert Reisz.

We know the chances of finding dinosaur DNA are virtually nil. Despite recent advances, the oldest genetic material of any animal that researchers have successfully extracted and sequenced is about 700,000 years old (Note: still impressive. Most impressive). DNA degrades and gets contaminated by bacteria and other gunk; it’s unlikely researchers will push back that ancient DNA landmark much further.

But what if I told you they’ve found something potentially even better than DNA to give us insights into the Age of Dinosaurs?

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: dinosaurs, fossils, protein

Our Oldest Ancestor: It’s In The Bag

By Gemma Tarlach | January 30, 2017 10:00 am
Say hello to your little friend (and great-granddaddy to the nth), Saccorhytus coronarius.

Say hello to my little friend (and our great-granddaddy to the nth), Saccorhytus coronarius. Credit: S Conway Morris/Jian Han.

Who’s your daddy, give or take a few hundred million years? Researchers believe a 540-million-year-old creature unearthed in China is our oldest ancestor, and I can definitely see the family resemblance. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
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