Ingentia Prima: A Dinosaur Making It Big On Its Own Terms

By Gemma Tarlach | July 9, 2018 10:00 am
Reconstruction of Ingentia prima from the Late Triassic (205- 210Ma) of Argentina. Total length 8-10 metres. Credit: Jorge A. González

Ingentia prima, which lived more than 200 million years ago during the Late Triassic, heralded the gigantic dinosaurs that followed. Researchers say I. prima‘s surprising anatomical traits reveal there is more than one evolutionary path to greatness. (Credit: Jorge A. González)

Before their lineage reached its pinnacle, pun intended, with enormous, aptly named titanosaurs, the sauropodomorph dinosaurs — best known as those long-necked, whip-tailed, four-legged herbivores — started small.

The sheer size of the later behemoths of the Jurassic and Cretaceous worlds have made many of us puny humans wonder how they got so big. Paleontologists thought they had it figured out. But new Triassic fossils from Argentina say hang on, there is more than one way to go big, and our lineage did it first.
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Hunting For The Lost Dogs of the Americas

By Gemma Tarlach | July 5, 2018 1:00 pm
They are all dog burials from the Koster site in Illinois, dated c. 10,000 years ago. Earliest known dogs in the Americas. Photographs by Del Baston, courtesy of the Center for American Archeology.

The earliest dogs of the Americas: Skeletal remains from canine burials at the Koster site in southwestern Illinois are about 10,000 years old. (Credit: Del Baston, courtesy of the Center for American Archeology)

Their skeletal remains curled into sleep-like positions familiar to any dog owner, the 10,000-year-old canines found at a site in Illinois are the earliest known dogs of the Americas. Ever since they were unearthed nearly a half-century ago, the animals have been at the heart of a debate: Were the dogs of the New World descended from Eurasian wolves and then brought here by humans, or were they locally domesticated from American wolves?

New genetic research answers that question — and reveals what became of them.
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The Toddler Who Climbed: Hominin Foot Unique In Evolution

By Gemma Tarlach | July 4, 2018 1:00 pm
The Dikika foot is one part of a partial skeleton of a 3.32 million-year-old skeleton of an Australopithecus afarensis child. (Credit: Zeray Alemseged)

The fossilized remains of a 3.32 million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis child included a mostly complete skull and foot. The juvenile hominin foot retains traits of tree-climbing, surprising some researchers. (Credit: Zeray Alemseged)

At some point in the last 4 million or so years, our hominin ancestors climbed down from the trees and got grounded. The transition between arboreal and terrestrial was, like just about everything in evolution, gradual. For decades researchers have debated, often heatedly, which hominin species was the first to be fully bipedal, walking and running rather than climbing.

Today, great answers come in small packages: A rare, mostly-complete juvenile hominin foot reveals new and unprecedented details of the transition from tree to ground.
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The Earliest Horse Dentist Was Just…Sawful

By Gemma Tarlach | July 2, 2018 2:00 pm
Horse tooth

More than 3,000 years old, this tooth from a young horse shows clear signs of sawing. It’s one of the earliest examples of horse dentistry, which appears to have originated on the Mongolian steppe. (Credit: PNAS)

Out on the Mongolian steppe, where the horse remains the primary mode of transport, modern herders regularly remove certain teeth from yearlings to avoid potential problems. The herders typically use pliers or screwdrivers for the task. If that makes you squirm, you might want to stop reading — because archaeologists have found the earliest evidence of horse dentistry, and it’s even more cringe-inducing.

If you’re not too squeamish, however, read on, because researchers discovered not only the oldest patients but also how equine chomper care changed over time as the horse’s role in the ancient world evolved.
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The Silkworm Road: How A Moth Became An Economic Powerhouse

By Gemma Tarlach | July 2, 2018 10:00 am
The humble silkworm has built global trade networks, but the full story of how it came to be an economic powerhouse has remained uncertain, until now. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Fastily)

Bombyx mori, the humble silkworm, has built global trade networks — but the full story of how it came to be an economic powerhouse has remained uncertain. A new genetic study spins a more detailed backstory. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Fastily)

The Silk Road moved more than silk. Spices, grain, livestock and a thousand other items were on offer along the loose network of roads and maritime routes that also played a central role in the movement of religious and cultural ideas across the ancient and medieval worlds. But we don’t call it the Spice Road, or the Grain Road. While the term “Silk Road” is a 19th century invention, it reflects the importance of the silkworm that produces the raw material for what’s arguably the most famous fabric in the world.

The question: Where did those little worms start spinning?
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How To Hunt Like A Neanderthal

By Gemma Tarlach | June 25, 2018 10:00 am
A fallow deer relaxes in a European forest...120,000 years ago, two of his distant kin were victims of a Neanderthal hunt. (Credit: http://www.hvozd.eu/en//Wikimedia Commons)

A fallow deer relaxes in a European forest…120,000 years ago, two of his distant kin were quarry during a Neanderthal hunt. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Jiří Nedorost)

Our hominin family tree includes plenty of meat-eaters, going back a couple million years at least — this is not news. But it’s one thing to find evidence of animals that were butchered and consumed by our ancestors and closest kin. It’s another to figure out how they got their groceries.

Deer bones excavated from a site in Germany and dated to 120,000 years ago are the earliest clear evidence of how our evolutionary siblings, the Neanderthals, hunted.
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First Ancient Syphilis Genomes Reveal New History Of The Disease

By Gemma Tarlach | June 21, 2018 1:00 pm
reponema pallidum, the bacteria that cause syphilis.Credit: NIAID

Three reconstructed ancient genomes of Treponema pallidum, the corkscrew-shaped bacterium that causes syphilis, reveal new details of its evolution. (Credit: NIAID)

The bacterium Treponema pallidum is a nasty critter. It can lead to a number of conditions, collectively called treponemal diseases, that you definitely don’t want to have. They include syphilis, a typically sexually transmitted disease that still infects millions annually. The origins of the disease have long been the subject of controversy, attempts to find its roots hampered by a lack of ancient genetic material.

Today, researchers announce the first successful reconstruction of ancient T. pallidum genomes. The bacterial DNA came from human remains that date to Mexico’s Colonial era, the period just after syphilis was first recorded as a global threat, and arguably where the controversy over its origins begins.
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A Lot Of Dinosaurs Couldn’t Stick Out Their Tongues

By Gemma Tarlach | June 20, 2018 1:00 pm
Here's a big Nope-asaurus for ya: Reconstructions of dinosaurs with their tongues out like this guy are wrong, according to a new study. (Credit: Spencer Wright)

Here’s a big Nope-asaurus for ya: Reconstructions of most dinosaurs with their tongues out and wriggling like this guy’s are wrong, according to a new study. (Credit: Spencer Wright)

When it comes to fleshing out dinosaurs, so to speak, based on their nearest living relatives, paleontologists can look to birds or the crocodilians. But a new study says depicting most dinosaur tongues like those of birds with particularly mobile mouthpieces, well, that’s just a crock.
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Dating Do-Over For Anzick-1, Famous First Americans Burial

By Gemma Tarlach | June 18, 2018 2:00 pm
A white post near the cliff base marks the location where Anzick-1's remains were found half a century ago. Credit: PNAS.

A white post to the left of the cliff base marks the location where the grave of Anzick-1 was found half a century ago. (Credit: PNAS)

He is arguably the most famous ancient American baby: an infant First American whose partial remains were found 50 years ago on a Montana ranch. But while Anzick-1, as the child is known, changed our understanding of the human history of the Americas, critics have complained the dates around the burial are messy, and throw the significance of the site into question.

Today, researchers announce the results of a second look at the dating discrepancy that’s caused controversy over the famous grave.
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Earliest Rainforest Frogs Preserved in Amber

By Gemma Tarlach | June 14, 2018 8:00 am
Frog from Cretaceous Burmese amber Credit: Lida Xing

One of four frogs preserved in amber for nearly 100 million years and formally described today in Scientific Reports. (Credit Lida Xing)

Frogs in a rainforest? Sure, rainforests are home to tons of them. Nothing new there — except that researchers just found four, preserved in amber and nearly 100 million years old, that suggest frogs have been hanging out in that environment much longer than previously shown.
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