Fossil Find Is First Evidence Of Arctic Hyenas

By Gemma Tarlach | June 18, 2019 5:00 am
An artist’s rendering of ancient Arctic hyenas belonging to the genus Chasmaporthetes, now known to have roamed Canada’s Yukon Territory. (Credit: Julius T. Csotonyi)

You might associate hyenas with Africa’s sprawling savannas, but the animals were once right at home above the Arctic Circle.

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

Catching A Whiff Of T. Rex’s Sense Of Smell

By Gemma Tarlach | June 11, 2019 6:01 pm
Did Sue the T. rex and other members of the species have a great sense of smell? (Credit: The Field Museum)

As fascinating and awe-inspiring as fossils are, the ancient bones tell us only so much about how an animal actually lived.

Take T. rex, for example: How did the animal find food, through sharp sight, great hearing or a keen sense of smell? The nose knows, say authors of a new paper on the iconic dinosaur’s olfactory ability.

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

Ancient DNA Study Reveals Deep Roots of Modern Grapevines

By Gemma Tarlach | June 10, 2019 10:00 am
New research into the genetic backstory of ancient French grapevines reveals that some varieties cultivated today haven’t changed for centuries. (Credit: Victor Grigas/Wikimedia Commons)

Consider this the next time you toast a friend and wish them long life: The wine swishing around your glass may have come from grapevines with very long-lived lineages indeed. Researchers analyzing genetic material from ancient grape seeds turned up evidence of varieties almost unchanged for nearly 2,000 years. Another variety cultivated today is identical to grapevines propagated 900 years ago.

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MORE ABOUT: viniculture, wine

Billion-Year-Old Fossil Fungi, Oldest Known, Revises Broader Evolution Timeline

By Gemma Tarlach | May 22, 2019 12:00 pm

fungi

A billion-year-old fungi microfossil includes the earliest documented presence of chitin, a fibrous substance found today not only in fungi cell walls but also arthropod exoskeletons and fish scales. (Credit: Loron et al 2019, DOI:10.1038/s41586-019-1217-0)

The fungus among us is a key player in the ecosystem — and was part of the world hundreds of millions of years before we were. Hold on, make that potentially a billion years before we came along. Fungi microfossils from the Canadian Arctic are 900 million-1 billion years old, pushing back the fossil record for these organisms by at least 450 million years.

This discovery is about more than the very distant evolutionary kin of mushrooms, however. The microfossils include the earliest documented presence of a fibrous substance called chitin, found in living fungi and animals as varied as insects and fish. The fossils change our story, too: Their age pushes back the broader timeline for the evolution of not just fungi, but also animals.
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Amber Preserves Rare Snapshot Of Coastal Life 99 Million Years Ago

By Gemma Tarlach | May 13, 2019 2:00 pm

Amber from Myanmar, dated to be about 99 million years old, preserves a rare snapshot of coastal life, including an ammonite (at right). (Credit: NIGPAS)

Amber from Myanmar preserves a rare snapshot of coastal life 99 million years ago, including a marine mollusk called an ammonite (at right). (Credit: NIGPAS)

Amber, being fossilized tree resin, usually preserves scenes from an ancient forest. The latest stunning find from Myanmar, however, is a souvenir from a day at the beach 99 million years ago, including the first ammonite, a marine animal, preserved in amber. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Was Australopithecus Sediba Our Ancestor?

By Gemma Tarlach | May 8, 2019 1:00 pm

Composite reconstruction of Au. sediba. For comparison, a small-bodied female modern H. sapiens is shown on the left, and a male Pan troglodytes on the right. (Credit: Lee R. Berger/University of the Witwatersrand)

Australopithecus sediba (center) has a unique mix of anatomical traits that has led to debate over its proper place in the hominin family tree. For comparison: a small-bodied female modern human (left), and a male chimp (right). (Credit: Lee R. Berger/University of the Witwatersrand)

Remember Australopithecus sediba? The convention-challenging South African hominin, announced with much fanfare in 2010, has gotten lost in a torrent of other recent fossil finds from our family tree. A new study adds insult to injury, stacking the odds against A. sediba‘s place in our distant evolutionary past.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

History of the Horse: Ancient DNA Reveals Lost Lineages

By Gemma Tarlach | May 3, 2019 11:00 am

Today's Icelandic ponies are among the last vestiges of a European lineage nearly wiped out by horses from Persia. (Credit: G. Tarlach)

The history of the horse is not quite what we thought: Among the findings of an unprecedented analysis of ancient DNA, today’s Icelandic ponies (above) are some of the last vestiges of a European lineage nearly wiped out by horses from Persia. (Credit: G. Tarlach)

In the largest-ever ancient DNA study of its kind, researchers have pieced together the history of the horse: It’s an epic saga sprawling across continents and 5,000 years of evolution and domestication, and yes, it has plot twists.

Among the finds: researchers uncovered two lost lineages of the animal on opposite ends of Eurasia and determined that the modern horse is very different than even its recent ancestors, thanks in part to geopolitics.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: aDNA, evolution, horses, mammals

Hualongdong Skull Is Latest Challenge To Dominant Human Evolution Model

By Gemma Tarlach | May 1, 2019 12:20 pm

Researchers created a virtual reconstruction of the mostly complete Hualongdong skull (yellow) by mirror imaging the missing pieces (gray). Stone tools found at the site appear in lower corners of the image. (Credit: Wu Xiujie)

Researchers created a virtual reconstruction of the mostly complete Hualongdong skull (yellow) by mirror-imaging the missing pieces (gray). Stone tools found at the site appear in lower corners of the image. (Credit: Wu Xiujie)

A largely complete, roughly 300,000-year-old skull from southeastern China appears to be the latest evidence challenging the dominant model of human evolution. The Hualongdong skull’s unique combination of features make the fossil a tantalizing clue to East Asia’s diverse hominin history.
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Is This The Oldest Human Footprint In the Americas?

By Gemma Tarlach | April 29, 2019 11:28 am

Described as the oldest human footprint in the Americas, the impression, found in Chile, is 15,600 years old. (Credit Moreno et al 2019, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0213572)

Described as the oldest human footprint in the Americas, the impression, found in Chile, is about 15,600 years old. (Credit Moreno et al 2019, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0213572)

It may look more like the impression of a jellybean in Play-Doh, or excavations for a kidney-shaped swimming pool, but researchers say the find, at about 15,600 years old, is the oldest human footprint in the Americas — and the latest evidence that people were living throughout the New World much earlier than thought.
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Simbakubwa: Mega Carnivore Hiding In A Museum Drawer

By Gemma Tarlach | April 18, 2019 7:00 am

simbakubwa

Simbakubwa kutokaafrika, was the lion-like king of Kenya 22 million years ago. The enormous carnivore, not actually a feline, is known from recently rediscovered partial fossils, including most of its jaw and pieces of skull, that had been languishing in a museum drawer. (Credit: Mauricio Anton)

Take a polar bear. Take a lion. Mash them together and chuck them in a time machine, sending them back 22 million years to what’s now Kenya and you’ve got the massive carnivore Simbakubwa kutokaafrika. The enormous bitey mammal was identified only after researchers rediscovered partial fossils of it, forgotten in the backroom of a museum.
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
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