Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Palaeoblog Now At

After 12 years of blogging here, I've migrated the Palaeoblog over to Facebook at This blog will remain here as an archive.

Please join us there for faster, more up to date Palaeo info, with the same odd bits of pop culture thrown into the mix.

Thanks for all of your support!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Palaeoblog Now on Facebook

Palaeoblog is now on Facebook: Palaeoblog

This will probably be a more or less permanent move, so please check us out at the new address.

Published This Day: Steno Recognizes Fossils as The Remains of Once Living Animals

From Today In Science History:

In 1667, a classic paleontological paper by Nicolaus Steno was published by the Royal Society, London. His topic, Head of a shark dissected, represented the first such scientific paper to recognise that fossils were the remains of creatures who had died and subsequently had become petrified. Controversy resulted as the same claim had been made in the time of the ancient Greeks, two millennia earlier.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Mendel's 1st Paper Published & Ignored

In 1865, Gregor Mendel, who first discovered the laws of genetics, read his first scientific paper to the BrĂ¼nn Society for the study of Natural Sciences in Moravia (published 1866).

He described his investigations with pea plants. Although he sent 40 reprints of his article to prominent biologists throughout Europe, including Darwin, only one was interested enough to reply.

Most of the reprints, including Darwin’s, were discovered later with the pages uncut, meaning they were never read.

Fortunately, 18 years after Mendel's death, three botanists in three different countries researching the laws of inheritance, in spring 1900, came to realize that Mendel had found them first. Mendel was finally acknowledged as a pioneer in the field which became known as genetics. Info from Today In Science History

Read the paper HERE.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Born This Day: G. Hardy

Hardy (Feb. 7, 1877 – Dec. 1, 1947) was an English mathematician known for his work in number theory and mathematical analysis. Although Hardy considered himself a pure mathematician, he nevertheless worked in applied mathematics when he formulated a law that describes how proportions of dominant and recessive genetic traits will propagate in a large population (1908). Hardy considered it unimportant but it has proved of major importance in blood group distribution. As it was also independently discovered by Weinberg, it is known as the Hardy-Weinberg principle.

The Hardy-Weinberg equation

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Born This Day: Mary Leakey

Mary Douglas Nicol Leakey (Feb. 6, 1913 – Dec. 9, 1996) was in London, England. She meet her future husband, Louis Leakey, when he asked her to illustrate his book, 'Adam’s Ancestors'. Mary and Louis spent from 1935 to 1959 at Olduvai Gorge in the Serengeti Plains of northern Tanzania where they worked to reconstruct many Stone Age cultures dating as far back as 100,000 to two million years ago. They documented stone tools from primitive stone-chopping instruments to multi-purpose hand axes.

In October of 1947, while on Rusinga Island, Mary unearthed a Proconsul africanus skull, the first skull of a fossil ape ever to be found. It was dated to be twenty million years old. An Australopithecus boisei skull was uncovered in 1959. Not long afterwards, a less robust Homo habilis was found. In 1965 the duo uncovered a Homo erectus cranium.

After her husband died in 1972, Mary continued her work at Olduvai and Laetoli. She discovered Homo fossils at Laetoli which were more than 3.75 million years old, fifteen new species and one new genus. From 1978-81 Mary and her staff worked to uncover the Laetoli hominid footprint trail which was left in volcanic ashes 3.6 million years ago. From the Minnesota State University site

Image from HERE where you will also find a slightly more colourful account of her life with Louis.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Born This Day: Sir Arthur Keith

Keith (Born 5 Feb 1866; died 7 Jan 1955) was a Scottish anatomist and physical anthropologist who specialized in the study of fossil humans and who reconstructed early hominid forms, notably fossils from Europe and North Africa. After graduating from university (1888), he travelled as a physician on a gold mining trip to Siam. There, he dissected monkeys and became interested in racial types.

In 1892, he returned to Britain and studied anatomy. In 1915, he published The Antiquity of Man, an anatomical survey of all important human fossil remains, at which time he believed that moderns humans are as old as extinct forms of humans. In 1931, New Discoveries was published in which he admitted that modern humans probably arose from types already separate in the early Pleistocene. From Today In Science History

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Born This Day: Raymond: Dart

Dart (Feb. 4 1893 - Nov. 22, 1988) was an Australian-born, South African physical anthropologist. In 1924, working with students in the Taung limestone South Africa, they discovered the first Australopithecus africanus. Dubbed "missing link" at the time, skull is also known as the 'Taung child', and was only three years old at the time of death. More on Dart here

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Born This Day: Gideon Mantell

Mantell (Feb. 3, 1790 – Nov. 10, 1852), a physician of Lewes in Sussex in southern England, had for years been collecting fossils in the sandstone of Tilgate forest, and he had discovered bones belonging to three extinct species: a giant crocodile, a plesiosaur, and Buckland's Megalosaurus. But in 1822 he found several teeth that "possessed characters so remarkable" that they had to have come from a fourth and distinct species of Saurian. After consulting numerous experts, Mantell finally recognized that the teeth bore an uncanny resemblance to the teeth of the living iguana, except that they were twenty times larger.
In this paper, the second published description of a dinosaur, he concluded that he had found the teeth of a giant lizard, which he named Iguanodon, or "Iguana-tooth."

Mantell illustrated his announcement with a single lithographed plate. Mantell included at the bottom of the plate a drawing of a recent iguana jaw, which is shown four times natural size, and for further comparison, he added views of the inner and outer surface of a single iguana tooth, "greatly magnified."

The traditional story that Mantell's wife found the first teeth in 1822, while the doctor was visiting a patient, appears, alas, to be unfounded.

Info and plate from HERE.

Died This Day: Ernst Mayr

Any student of biology, or anyone with an interest in the natural world, will be familiar with Ernst Mayr who passed away on February 3rd, 2005 in Bedford, Mass. Born in Kempton, Germany he joined the American Museum of Natural History as a curator in 1931. In 1953 he left the museum to work at Harvard University where he stayed until his retirement in 1975.

While working on the problem of speciation in the birds of New Guinea, Mayr realized that the multitude of species and and subspecies that he saw could best be explained as being a snapshot of evolution in action. He suggested that new species could arise when the range of one species was fractured long enough for members in different parts of the range to evolve characters that would not allow individuals to reproduce when they were brought back together again. This lead to him developing the “biological species concept” in which species are defined as populations of interbreeding organisms rather than just a collection of characters. This idea, along with his theory of “allopatric speciation” was published in his book “Systematics and the Origin of the Species” (1942) and later contributed to the “Punctuated Equilibrium” theory of Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould.

Ernst Mayr was himself inspired by the work of geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky on the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster and his book “Genetics and the Origin of the Species” (1937). These two men, together with the paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson, combined the sciences of genetics, zoology and paleontology into what is now known as “the new synthesis” that provides the modern experimental underpinning to the concepts that Charles Darwin presented in his book, “On the Origin of the Species” .

For anyone interested in learning more about modern evolutionary theory I’d recommend Mayr’s recent book “What Evolution Is” (2002). It’s written in an engaging and readable format from the perspective of someone who’s thought about evolution all his life.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Published This Day (1868): Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication by Darwin

From Today In Science History:

In 1868, Charles Darwin's book - Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication - was published. He was 58. It is probably the second in importance of all his works. This was a follow-up work, written in response to criticisms that his theory of evolution was unsubstantiated. Darwin here supports his views via analysis of various aspects of plant and animal life, including an inventory of varieties and their physical and behavioral characteristics, and an investigation of the impact of a species' surrounding environment and the effect of both natural and forced changes in this environment.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Died This Day: Dunkenfiled Henry Scott

Painting by Mary Parrish
Scott (Nov. 28, 1854 – Jan. 29, 1934) was an English paleobotanist and leading authority of his time on the structure of fossil plants, one of those who laid the foundations of paleobotany. He conducted experiments in the Jodrell Laboratory in Kew Gardens, where he became its honorary keeper (1892-1906). In collaboration with W.C. Williamson, he wrote three papers on fossil-plant morphology (1894-95).

Scott continued writing papers after Williamson's death and in which he described many otherwise unknown fossil plants. He wrote the classic Studies in Fossil Botany, which greatly popularized the subject.
From Today In Science History

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Prehistoric Rodents With Brains The Size of Primates!

Virtual endocasts of Eocene Paramys (Paramyinae): oldest endocranial record for Rodentia and early brain evolution in Euarchontoglires. 2016. Royal Society B.

If new U of T research on the brains of an ancient rodent tells us anything, it's that bigger does not necessarily mean better.
Paramys was a large rodent by modern standards - about three kilograms, roughly the size of a small cat - that lived during the mid-Eocene, some 47 to 49 million years ago.

"The brain was certainly larger than we expected considering the time period," says Bertrand. "Even more surprising is that it [the brain] was almost as large, and in some cases larger, than primitive primates of the same time period."

The key difference is that Paramys was relatively smaller than even the most primitive primates in the neocortex region, the part of the brain that deals with "higher" brain functions like sight and hearing.

"This tells us that something is going on in the neocortex of early primates that is not observable in early rodents. " says Bertrand. "The changes in the neocortex of rodents occurred later in time and with less intensity than in primates." PR

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Exceptional Preservation of the Eye of an Arthropod from the Jurassic

Exceptional preservation of eye structure in arthropod visual predators from the Middle Jurassic. 2016

Zoologists have succeeded in discovering the internal structure of an approximately 160 million year old compound eye of Dollocaris ingens from the Middle Jurassic.
Abstract[edit]: We reconstruct with unprecedented resolution the three-dimensional structure of the huge compound eye of a 160-million-year-old thylacocephalan arthropod from the La Voulte exceptional fossil biota in SE France.

This arthropod had about 18,000 lenses on each eye, which is a record among extinct and extant arthropods and is surpassed only by modern dragonflies.

Combined information about its eyes, internal organs and gut contents obtained by X-ray microtomography lead to the conclusion that this thylacocephalan arthropod was a visual hunter probably adapted to illuminated environments, thus contradicting the hypothesis that La Voulte was a deep-water environment.

Read more about it at Earth Archives

Died This Day: Adam Sedgwick

Adam Sedgwich (March 22, 1785 - January 27, 1873) was an English geologist who first applied the name Cambrian to the geologic period of time, now dated at 570 to 505 million years ago. In 1818 he became Woodwardian Professor of Geology at Cambridge, holding a chair that had been endowed ninety years before by the natural historian John Woodward.

He lacked formal training in geology, but he quickly became an active researcher in geology and paleontology. Many years after Sedgwick's death, the geological museum at Cambridge was renamed the Sedgwick Museum of Geology in his honor. The museum is now part of the Department of Earth Sciences at Cambridge University. From Today In Science History.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Born This Day: Roy Chapman Andrews

Photo from Parade of Life Through The Ages, by Charles Knight, Nat. Geo., Feb. 1942.

From the American Museum of Natural History web site:

Adventurer, administrator, and Museum promoterAndrews (Jan. 26, 1884 – March 11, 1960) spent his entire career at the American Museum of Natural History, where he rose through the ranks from departmental assistant, to expedition organizer, to Museum director.

He became world famous as leader of the Central Asiatic Expeditions, a series of expeditions to Mongolia that collected, among other things, dinosaur eggs. Although on these expeditions, Andrews himself found few fossils, and during his career he was not known as an influential scientist, he instead filled the role of promoter, creating immense excitement and successfully advancing the research and exhibition goals of the museum.

Learn about the Roy Chapman Andrews Society HERE.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Born This Day: Theodosius Dobzhansky

Dobzhansky (Jan.25, 1900–Dec. 18, 1975) is noted for being one of the architects of the modern Synthetic Theory of evolution. During the first 20 years of the 20th century, Darwin's theory of natural selection had fallen out of favor among scientists. Many thought it insufficient to explain the origin of adaptations, while new discoveries of gene mutations seemed to them to be incompatible with Darwinian models of change.

But in 1937 Dobzhansky published his book, Genetics and the Origin of Species, that was the first systematic overview view encompassing organic diversity, variation in natural populations, selection, isolating mechanisms (a term he coined) and species as natural units.

Later, working with Sewall Wright, he went on to demonstrate how evolution can produce stability and equilibrium in populations rather than constant directional change. link. image.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Premiered This Day (1956): The Animal World

“2 Billion Years in the Making!”

Produced and directed by Irwin Allen, whose long career included such TV hits as Lost In Space and Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, and movies like The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno.

The Animal World was one of the first films to present dinosaurs in the quasi-nature documentary so beloved by the Discovery Channel today. Rarely seen now, it featured about 10 minutes of great dinosaur stop-animation by Ray Harryhausen with Willis O’Brien. The entire sequence was released as an extra on the 2003 DVD release of The Black Scorpion.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Eotrachodon orientalis, A New Hadrosaurid from Appalachia

A primitive hadrosaurid from southeastern North America and the origin and early evolution of 'duck-billed' dinosaurs. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 2016.

This new discovery shows that duck-billed dinosaurs originated in the eastern United States, what was then broadly referred to as Appalachia, before dispersing to other parts of the world. PR

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Dracoraptor hanigani, 200 Million Year Old Theropod from Wales

The Oldest Jurassic Dinosaur: A Basal Neotheropod from the Hettangian of Great Britain. PLoS ONE 11(1): e0145713.

Art by Credit Bob Nicholls

Dracoraptor hanigani from south of Wales is possibly the oldest known Jurassic dinosaur from the UK.

The 200 cm long specimen appears to be a juvenile animal, as most of its bones were not yet fully formed or fused. PR

Left premaxilla with tooth in lateral view.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Prospea holoserisca, A Burrowing Frog From the Late Paleocene of Mongolia

A burrowing frog from the late Paleocene of Mongolia uncovers a deep history of spadefoot toads (Pelobatoidea) in East Asia. 2016. Scientific Reports

Abstract [edit]: Crown-group spadefoot toads (Anura: Pelobatoidea) are the best-known fossorial frog clade to inhabit arid environments, with species utilizing a characteristic bony spade on their foot for burrowing. Here we report a rare fossil of a crown-group spadefoot toad from the late Paleocene of Mongolia.

The late Paleocene age and other information suggestive of a mild climate cast doubt on the conventional assertion that burrowing evolved as an adaptation to aridity in spadefoot toads.

Quantitative biogeographic analysis suggests that Scaphiopodidae, despite originating in North America, dispersed into East Asia via Beringia in the Early Cenozoic.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Notocolossus gonzalezparejasi, A Giant New Sauropod From Argentina

Argentina and the evolution of the sauropod hind foot. 2016. Nature.

Notocolossus gonzalezparejasi has a humerus 1.76 m (5 ft 9 in) in length, and an estimated mass of 40,000–60,000 kg. It is one of the largest dinosaurs, and indeed, one of the largest land animals, yet known to science.

One of the two known Notocolossus specimens preserves the hind foot in its entirety, providing the first complete look at this important part of the skeleton in a super-massive dinosaur. The Notocolossus hind foot shows distinctive features not found in any other sauropod that appear to constitute adaptations for supporting extremely great weight. PR

Congrats to Matt Lamanna and his colleagues on this great new paper!

Died This Day: Frank Reicher

Frank Reicher (Dec. 2, 1875 – Jan. 19, 1965) was born in Munich,Germany and had a long career in Hollywood. He appeared in over 200 films, often playing small roles in minor films, and he directed over three dozen silent movies.

He is best know for playing Capt. Englehorn in King King (1933), and it’s quickie sequel Son of Kong from later that same year.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Mammoth Skeleton Reveals Human Hunting 45,000 Years Ago

Early human presence in the Arctic: Evidence from 45,000-year-old mammoth remains. 2016. Science
The remains of a mammoth that was hunted down about 45,000 years ago have revealed the earliest known evidence of humans in the Arctic.
Marks on the bones, found in far northern Russia, indicate the creature was stabbed and butchered. The tip of a tusk was damaged in a way that suggests human activity, perhaps to make ivory tools.

With a minimal age estimate of 45,000 years, the discovery extends the record of human presence in the Arctic by at least about 5,000 years.

Read more at: Phys Org.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A Baby Chasmosaurus from Alberta

A juvenile chasmosaurine ceratopsid (Dinosauria, Ornithischia) from the Dinosaur Park Formation, Alberta, Canada. JVP

Life reconstruction of the baby chasmosaur, by artist Michael Skrepnick.

Our baby Chasmosaurus paper is finally published - hurrah! Read the PR here

Monday, January 11, 2016

Machimosaurus rex, Giant Marine Crocodile from Tunisia

Brian Switek covers some nice work by our colleague, Federico Fanti:

The biggest sea-dwelling crocodile ever found has turned up in the Tunisian desert. The whopper of a prehistoric predator grew to over 30 feet long (nearly ten meters) and weighed three tons.

Paleontologists have dubbed the new species Machimosaurus rex and describe it Monday in the journal Cretaceous Research.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Died This Day: Noble Johnson

“Meanwhile, the light-skinned Noble Johnson (April 18, 1881 – Jan. 9, 1978) was heavily made up for his role as the village chief [in 1933's, KING KONG]—he was a leading black actor of the era (known as “America’s premiere Afro-American screen star” in the black press) and therefore worth the extra consideration. Johnson, an ex-cowboy, horse trainer, and boxer, had quite a resume before portraying the Chief of Skull Island.

He was a student of all aspects of movie making from directing to distribution, and instrumental in the 1916 formation of the Lincoln Motion Picture Company, created to produce what were called “race movies.” Johnson left the company after it had released three films, rumored to have been “encouraged” by Universal to do so or lose any opportunity for parts at the bigger studio.

Johnson - a childhood friend of Lon Chaney - portrayed a variety of ethnicities in his long career; one of the few black actors of Hollywood’s early era to be allowed any diversity in roles.” From Kong Is

Friday, January 08, 2016

Born This Day Alfred Russel Wallace

Wallace (Jan. 8, 1823 – Nov. 7, 1913) was a British naturalist and biogeographer. He was the first westerner to describe some of the most interesting natural habitats in the tropics. He is best known for devising a theory of the origin of species through natural selection made independently of Darwin.

Between 1854 and 1862, Wallace assembled evidence of natural selection in the Malay Archipelago, sending his conclusions to Darwin in England. Their findings were jointly presented to the Linnaean Society in 1858. Wallace found that Australian species were more primitive, in evolutionary terms, than those of Asia, and that this reflected the stage at which the two continents had become separated. He proposed an imaginary line (now known as Wallace's line) dividing the fauna of the two regions. From Today In Science History:

The Alfred Russel Wallace page HERE. More HERE.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Died This Day: Gregor Mendel

From Today In Science History:

Mendel (July 22, 1822 – Jan. 6, 1884) was an Austrian pioneer in the study of heredity. He spent his adult life with the Augustinian monastery in Brunn, where as a geneticist,
botanist and plant experimenter, he was the first to lay the mathematical foundation of the science of genetics, in what came to be called Mendelism.

Over the period 1856-63, Mendel grew and analyzed over 28,000 pea plants. He carefully studied for each their plant height, pod shape, pod color, flower position, seed color, seed shape and flower color. He made two very important generalizations from his pea experiments, known today as the Laws of Heredity. Mendel coined the present day terms in genetics: recessiveness and dominance.

Born This Day: George Ledyard Stebbins

From the U Calif., Berkeley:

Along with Dobzhansky (1900 - 1975), animal systematist Ernst Mayr, and paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson (1902 - 1984), Stebbins (Jan. 6, 1906 - Jan. 19 2000) is considered one of the "architects" of the modern evolutionary synthesis of the 1930s and 1940s, an intellectual watershed and historic turning point that brought together research in cytology, genetics, systematics, paleontology into a common evolutionary framework. This synthesis, which had the effect of reconciling the often opposing views of laboratory-oriented geneticists and natural history oriented systematists, made Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection the centerpiece of the new discipline of evolutionary biology.

In this role, Stebbins is credited with bringing a modern framework to the study of plant evolution, and he is perhaps best known for his book Variation and Evolution in Plants, published by Columbia University Press (NY) in 1950. In the 1940s, Stebbins also played an important role in organizing the nascent Society for the Study of Evolution, of which he became the third president in 1948, and used his position to speak out for the botanical side of evolutionary studies, a field that had been dominated by zoologists. Photo .