Behold Thylacoleo, Australia’s Extinct Giant Marsupial “Lion”

By Gemma Tarlach | December 12, 2018 1:00 pm
An artist's rendering of Thylacoleo carnifex, Australia's massive marsupial "lion," based on earlier fossil evidence. A new, nearly complete skeleton of the animal, announced today, refines our understanding of its body plan and biomechanics. (Credit: Wikimedia/Jose Manuel Canete)

An artist’s rendering of Thylacoleo carnifex, Australia’s massive marsupial “lion,” based on earlier fossil evidence. A complete skeletal reconstruction, announced today, refines our understanding of its body plan and biomechanics. (Credit: Wikimedia/Jose Manuel Canete)

Multiple recently discovered specimens of Thylacoleo carnifex have allowed researchers to reconstruct the extinct animal’s entire skeleton for the first time, revising what we know about how Australia’s largest-ever carnivorous mammal moved. Spoiler alert: It appears that, despite weighing in excess of 200 pounds, the animal was an adept climber. Add that skill to the list of traits, including unique flesh-shearing teeth and a lethal thumb claw, that make Thylacoleo so fascinating. Read More

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Fossil Ichthyosaur Blubber Is Evidence They Were Warm-Blooded

By Gemma Tarlach | December 5, 2018 12:00 pm
ichthyosaur

A roughly 180-million-year-old ichthyosaur fossil includes preserved skin, with pigmentation, and blubber. (Credit: Johan Lindgren)

For the first time, researchers have identified blubber, and other soft tissue, preserved in an Early Jurassic ichthyosaur. The new interpretation of the 180-million-year-old fossil suggests that the extinct marine reptiles were warm-blooded. Read More

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Tool And Butchery Site in Algeria Is 2.4 Million Years Old

By Gemma Tarlach | November 29, 2018 1:00 pm

An Oldowan core freshly excavated at Ain Boucherit from which sharp-edged cutting flakes were removed. [Credit: M. Sahnouni

Ain Boucherit, a site in Algeria, has yielded numerous stone tools, such as this Oldowan core. The tools are up to 2.4 million years old and were found with hundreds of animal bones, several of which show signs of butchery. (Credit: M. Sahnouni)

Stone tools and animal bones with cut marks, excavated at a site in eastern Algeria, are up to 2.4 million years old, the oldest archaeological evidence in North Africa and one of the oldest known examples of butchery. The finds suggest hominins, members of the human family tree, were living in the region almost half a million years earlier than previously thought.
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Tool Trove in Saudi Arabia Tells New Story Of Early Humans

By Gemma Tarlach | November 29, 2018 8:00 am
Stone tools found at Saffaqah, in central Saudi Arabia, include (a), (b), (c) and (d). (Credit: Scerri et al 2018, doi:10.1038/s41598-018-35242-5)

Stone tools found at Saffaqah, in central Saudi Arabia, include (a) a large flake with a smaller flake created during tool manufacture still attached, (b) other large flakes, (c) a handaxe and (d) a large core. (Credit: Scerri et al 2018, doi:10.1038/s41598-018-35242-5)

Hundreds of stone tools and related materials, found in central Saudi Arabia, reveal new information about early migrations of archaic humans into Southwest Asia. The discovery suggests multiple waves of tool-makers may have passed through the region, at least some by following waterways now lost to the desert.
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Oldest Long-Necked Dinosaur Found in Brazil

By Gemma Tarlach | November 20, 2018 6:00 pm
A newly-described dinosaur from Brazil is the oldest long-necked dino ever found, dating back 233 million years. (Credit: Müller et al 2018)

A newly-described dinosaur from Brazil is the oldest long-necked dino ever found, dating back 225 million years. (Credit: Müller et al 2018)

There’s a lot missing from the fossil record when it comes to the earliest dinosaurs. That makes the discovery of not one but three well-preserved skeletons, two of them nearly complete, all the more significant. Even better: The new species they represent, Macrocollum itaquii, is the oldest long-necked dinosaur known. The trio gives us a snapshot of a lineage in transition from small and swift meat-eaters to the mightiest animals ever to walk Earth.
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Elephant Birds, Biggest Ever, Were Creatures Of The Night

By Gemma Tarlach | October 30, 2018 6:01 pm
Giant nocturnal elephant birds are shown foraging in the ancient forests of Madagascar at night. CREDIT John Maisano for the University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences

Madagascar’s recently extinct elephant birds, once thought to be active during the day, were actually nocturnal, according to new research. (Credit: John Maisano for the University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences)

They were enormous, the biggest of the big, and, say authors of a new study reconstructing bird brains, the elephant birds of Madagascar were also nocturnal. The new research reveals surprising details about the animals, their habitats and their closest evolutionary kin.
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Chocolate Was A Thing 1,500 Years Earlier Than Thought

By Gemma Tarlach | October 29, 2018 11:00 am
Millennia before chocolate fountains were mainstays at wedding receptions, the cacao-derived ingredient was an important element for people living in Central and South America. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Millennia before chocolate fountains (above) were mainstays at wedding receptions, the cacao-derived ingredient was important to people living in Central and South America. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

It’s time to rewrite the history of chocolate. Using both archaeological and genomic data, researchers have revealed that consumption of the now globally-loved ingredient started much earlier than thought — and has a different birthplace than many assumed.
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First Americans: Pre-Clovis Projectiles Hint At Multiple Migrations

By Gemma Tarlach | October 24, 2018 1:00 pm
A 15,000-year-old projectile of the stemmed point tradition. (Credit: Center for the Study of the First Americans, Texas A&M University)

A 15,000-year-old projectile may provide indirect evidence for how and when people first arrived in the Americas. (Credit: Center for the Study of the First Americans, Texas A&M University)

Thousands of artifacts from a site in Central Texas, including a dozen projectile points, have provided researchers with new clues about the arrival and spread of First Americans on the continent. The items, which are up to 15,500 years old, hint that the Americas may have been populated in multiple waves of migration via different routes.
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Earliest Flesh-Ripping Fish Found (With Nibbled Victims)

By Gemma Tarlach | October 18, 2018 10:00 am
This funky-colored fish was nothing to trifle with: Researchers say newly-described Late Jurassic Piranhamesodon pinnatomus was the piranha of its day. (Credit: The Jura Museum)

This funky-colored fish was nothing to trifle with: Researchers say newly-described Late Jurassic Piranhamesodon pinnatomus was the piranha of its day. (Credit: Jura Museum)

Jumping right out of nightmares and into my heart (it’s kind of cute, isn’t it?), meet Fincutter, the Bavarian Piranha. Less than three inches long, the Late Jurassic fossil is the earliest ray-finned fish with flesh-ripping teeth — and paleontologists say it was preserved alongside some of its prey.
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Oldest Trace Fossils Ever Found Might Not Be Fossils

By Gemma Tarlach | October 17, 2018 12:00 pm
Trace fossils indicating an earlier start to life on Earth or just deformed rock? Seven anomalies (yellow arrows) found in 3.7 billion-year-old rock as trace fossils of early life, but a new study that focused on one portion (blue box) questions the previous findings. (Credit Allword et al 2018)

Trace fossils indicating the first signs life on Earth or just deformed rock? Researchers previously interpreted several anomalies (yellow arrows) found in 3.7 billion-year-old rock as the oldest evidence of life, but a new study, which focused on one portion of the sample (blue box), questions the previous findings. (Credit Allwood et al 2018)

Fossil or faux pas? A 2016 study that interpreted rock anomalies as the oldest evidence of life on our planet got it wrong, say researchers behind a new analysis of some of the same rock. The deformities aren’t relics of early microbial life, says the team, but rather a snapshot of geological forces shaping and reshaping our world.
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