Curious armoured dinosaur fossil discovered in Utah!!!!

Source:University of Utah

Fossils of a new genus and species of an ankylosaurid dinosaur — Akainacephalus johnsoni — have been unearthed in the Kaiparowits Formation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM), in Kane County, southern Utah, U.S.A., and are revealing new details about the diversity and evolution of this group of armored dinosaurs. Expected to look like other North American Late Cretaceous ankylosaurid dinosaurs with smooth bony armor on the skull, the new research suggests just the opposite and indicates that the defining features of Akainacephalus, specifically the spiky bony armor covering the skull and snout, align more closely with Asian ankylosaurids, who also have more pronounced spikes covering their skulls.

Akainacephalus was announced today in the open-access scientific journal PeerJ and unveiled on exhibit in the Past Worlds Gallery of the Natural History Museum of Utah at the Rio Tinto Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. The genus name is derived from the Greek words akaina, which means ‘thorn’ or ‘spike’, and cephalus, meaning ‘head.’ The species epithet johnsoni honors Randy Johnson, a dedicated museum volunteer who skillfully prepared its skull. Other talented volunteers helped to prepare the rest of the specimen.

“I’m a retired chemist, but I’ve always been interested in most of the science disciplines. I never thought that I would have the opportunity to actually work on fossils that could be important for paleontologists,” said Randy Johnson. “Now that I’m a museum volunteer, I’m getting the opportunity to work on a large variety of fossils and consult with top paleontologists — it’s like a dream second career. I couldn’t believe it when they told me they are naming the ankylosaur after me, a once in a lifetime honor,” said Johnson.

Ankylosaurids are a group of four-legged herbivorous armored dinosaurs with imposing bony tail clubs. Though ankylosaurids originated in Asia between 125 — 100 million years ago, they do not appear in the western North American fossil record until ~77 million years ago. The new species Akainacephalus lived 76 million years ago during the Late Cretaceous Period and offers the most complete skeleton of an ankylosaurid dinosaur found in the southwestern US. It includes a complete skull, much of the vertebral column, including a complete tail club, several fore and hind limbs elements, and bony body armor that includes two neck rings and spiked armor plates.

The unique arrangement of bony armor in the shape of small cones and pyramids covering the snout and head is the key research finding indicating that Akainacephalus is closely related to the New Mexican ankylosaurid Nodocephalosaurus kirtlandensis. Surprisingly, Akainacephalus and Nodocephalosaurus are more closely related to Asian ankylosaurids such as Saichania and Tarchia than to other Late Cretaceous North American ankylosaurids, including Ankylosaurusand Euoplocephalus. Both of the latter taxa possess flat skull armor.

“A reasonable hypothesis would be that ankylosaurids from Utah are related to those found elsewhere in western North America, so we were really surprised to discover that Akainacephalus was so closely related to species from Asia,” remarked Randall Irmis, co-author of the study.

Though ankylosaurids originated in Asia between 125 — 100 million years ago, they do not appear in the North American fossil record until around 77 million years ago. Akainacephalus once roamed the southern part of Laramidia, a landmass on the western coast of a shallow sea that flooded the central region, splitting the continent of North America in two. This caused isolation along western and eastern portions of the North American continent during the Late Cretaceous Period, between 95-70 million years ago.

Lead author Jelle Wiersma suggests that the geographic distribution of Late Cretaceous ankylosaurids throughout the Western Interior was the result of several geologically brief intervals of lowered sea level that allowed Asian ankylosaurid dinosaurs to immigrate to North America several times during the Late Cretaceous, resulting in the presence of two separate groups of ankylosaurid dinosaurs. This lowering of sea levels exposed the Beringian land bridge, allowing dinosaurs and other animals to move between Asia and North America.

“It is always exciting to name a new fossil taxon, but it is equally exciting if that taxon also provides additional insights into the bigger picture of its life, such as its diet or aspects of its behavior, and the environment it lived in,” said Wiersma. “Such is exactly the case with Akainacephalus johnsoni; not only is this the first described and named Late Cretaceous ankylosaurid dinosaur from Utah, but this unique animal also strengthens the evidence that distinct northern and southern provincialism existed during the late Campanian stage in Laramidia, because to date, we don’t see this type of ankylosaurid dinosaurs in the fossil record of northern Laramidia,” he said.

Wiersma explained that additionally, together with its close relative Nodocephalosaurus from New Mexico, Akainacephalus looks very different compared to other North American ankylosaurids such as Ankylosaurus, but instead, look much more like Asian ankylosaurids including Saichania and Tarchia. From these observations we can conclude that at least two immigration events took place during Late Cretaceous times when lowered sea levels exposed the Beringian land bridge, connecting Asia with western North America.

Ankylosaurid dinosaurs, among many other groups of animals, eventually crossed this land bridge, emigrating from Asia into western North America, resulting into two different types of Late Cretaceous ankylosaurid dinosaurs: ones that evolved flatter skull armor like Ankylosaurus and Euoplocephalus, and ones possessing very spiky skull armor such as Akainacephalus and Nodocephalosaurus.

“It is extremely fascinating and important for the science of paleontology that we can read so much information from the fossil record, allowing us to better understand extinct organisms and the ecosystems they were a part of,” concluded Wiersma.

These new findings are part of a study funded in large part by the Bureau of Land Management, as well as the Geological Society of America, and a University of Utah Department of Geology & Geophysics Graduate Student Grant. The project was led by University of Utah M.Sc. student Jelle Wiersma, now a Ph.D. student in the Dept. of Geosciences at James Cook University, Queensland, Australia. Wiersma was advised by co-author Dr. Randall Irmis, chief curator and curator of paleontology at the Natural History Museum of Utah, and associate professor in the Dept. of Geology and Geophysics, University of Utah.

Anklysaurid Dinosaurs on the Lost Continent of Southern Laramidia

Akainacephalus johnsoni was discovered in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) which encompasses a large area of high desert terrain in south-central Utah. This vast and rugged region, part of the National Landscape Conservation System administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), was the last major area in the lower 48 states to be formally mapped by cartographers.

During the Late Cretaceous, GSENM was in the southern portion of Laramidia, which stretched from the Arctic Circle to the Gulf of Mexico. Akainacephalus is part of a growing number of new dinosaur discoveries over the past 15 years demonstrating the incredible diversity of animals and plants living on Laramidia between 80-75 million years ago. One of the most exciting conclusions from this work is that nearly every species of dinosaur discovered in GSENM is new to science, and Akainacephalus is no exception. Other recently discovered species include large and small meat-eating dinosaurs (e.g., tyrannosaurs), horned dinosaurs, and duck-billed dinosaurs. “A major long-term goal of our work in southern Utah is to try and understand why the species in GSENM differ from relatives of the same geologic age found in other parts of Laramidia,” said Wiersma. Hypotheses for the differences include changes in sea level, climate differences across latitude, and physical barriers to animal movement such as mountains and large rivers.

Fact Sheet: Major Points of the Paper

(1) Akainacephalus is a remarkable new species of ankylosaurid dinosaur from the upper Campanian Kaiparowits Formation in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Kane County, southern Utah.

(2) Akainacephalus is the most complete Late Cretaceous ankylosaurid dinosaur discovered from Utah and the southwestern U.S., and is distinguished by a number of unique features, including spikes and cones of the bony exterior covering the head and snout.

(3) The spikes and cones of bony armor on the skull of Akainacephalus are similar to those found on the New Mexican ankylosaurid Nodocephelausaurus kirtlandensis but distinct from all other known Late Cretaceous Laramidian ankylosaurids such as AnkylosaurusEuoplocephalus, and Ziapelta, indicating these two species are more closely related to some Asian ankylosaurids.

(4) The new ankylosaurid Akainacephalus suggests multiple ankylosaurid emigration events from Asia to Laramidia during the Late Cretaceous.

(5) Together with some anklylosaurid dinosaurs from northern Laramidia, including Dyoplosaurus acutossquameus and Scolosaurus cutleri (both ~ 77 Ma), Akainacephalus represents one of the oldest known ankylosaurid dinosaurs from the Late Cretaceous of western North America (~76 Ma).

New Dinosaur Name: Akainacephalus johnsoni

  • The first part of the name, Akaina, is a Greek word that can be translated to spike or thorn. The second part of the name cephalus means head, and the epithet johnsoni honors Randy Johnson, a dedicated paleontology volunteer at the Natural History Museum of Utah who prepared the specimen’s skull.

Size

  • Akainacephalus, is a medium-sized dinosaur, and was 13-16 feet long (4-5 meters) and was 3 ½ feet tall (1 — 1.5 meters) at the hips.

Relationships

  • Akainacephalus belongs to a group of herbivorous armored dinosaurs called anklosaurids that lived in Asia and western North America during the Late Cretaceous Period (100-66 million years ago). One of the unique features of ankylosaurid dinosaurs is the presence of a characteristic bony tail club.

Anatomy

  • Akainacephalus walked on four legs, which were positioned directly underneath his body.
  • Akainacephalus was covered in bony armor from head to tail, with various sized and shaped bony plates, called osteoderms, which are thought to provide protection.
  • Akainacephalus is characterized by its elaborate covering of spikes and horns on the skull, as well a large bony club at the end of its tail.
  • Akainacephalus presumably had small, leaf-shaped teeth for eating plants. These fell out of the jaw after death, but before the skeleton was buried by sediment.

Age and Geography

  • Akainacephalus lived during the upper Campanian stage of the Late Cretaceous Period, which spanned from approximately 84 million to 72 million years ago. This animal lived about 76 million years ago.
  • Akainacephalus was discovered in 76 Ma old rocks of the Kaiparowits Formation, a geological/stratigraphic unit exposed in southern Utah consisting of sedimentary rocks deposited by rivers and streams.

Discovery & Excavation

  • Akainacephalus was first discovered in 2008 during a museum-led paleontological expedition in a remote area of BLM-administered Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) in Kane County, southern Utah, USA. The site was discovered by BLM employee Scott Richardson.
  • The bones of Akainacephalus that were discovered include a complete skull, bony armor that includes neck rings and spiked plates, many vertebrae, forelimb and hindlimb bones, and a near complete tail with tail club.
  • Akainacephalus was found together with skeletons of several other animals at the same site, including a duck-bill dinosaur (Gryposaurus), a recently-described species of turtle (Arvinachelys), and a yet unnamed relative of alligators and caimans).
  • Akainacephalus is permanently housed in the collections of the Natural History Museum of Utah at the Rio Tinto Center in Salt Lake City and on public display at the museum’s Past Worlds exhibit.
  • These discoveries are the result of an ongoing collaboration between the Natural History Museum of Utah and the Bureau of Land Management.

Preparation

  • It required almost four years to fully prepare all of the bones of Akainacephalus.
  • Preparation of the skull was done by museum volunteer Randy Johnson, who is honored in the new name, Akainacephalus johnsoni

Credits: Sciencedaily.com

WFS News: Plant fossils provide new insight into the uplift history of SE Tibet

@WFS,World Fossil Society,Riffin T Sajeev,Russel T Sajeev

The Tibetan Plateau, the highest and largest plateau in the world, is well known as ‘The Third Pole’. Tibet has also been called ‘Asia’s water tower’ because so many of Asia’s major rivers such as the Ganges, Indus, Tsangpo/Brahmaputra, Mekong, Yellow and Yangse rivers originate there. Despite its importance, the uplift history of the plateau and the mechanisms underpinning its evolution are still unclear, largely because reliable measurements of past surface elevation are hard to obtain.

Plant fossils might seem an unlikely way of determining surface height and thus what is happening deep in the Earth to build mountains and plateaus. However, because plants live at the Earth’s surface and constantly interact with the atmosphere, their leaves are very good at recording their surroundings, including properties of the atmosphere that are related to height. This approach has shown that the rise of the Himalayas was a relatively recent phenomenon, and took place after parts of Tibet were already above 4.5 km. However, well-dated  are rare in Tibet.

Recently, a large collection of plant fossils was made from the Lawula Formation in the Markam Basin in SE Tibet. This collection was made by Tao Su and his colleagues from Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Remarkably, the fossils were preserved between volcanic ash layers that allowed them to be precisely dated using 40Ar/39Ar analysis. It turned out that the fossil assemblages were much older than their relatively modern appearance would suggest.

40Ar/39Ar sample locations and dates constrain the ages of the MK1 and MK3 leaf assemblages, for which indicative selected leaf fossils are shown to scale, together with predicted palaeoelevations. A distinct reduction in leaf size is evident between MK3 and MK1, which is situated at the onset of the Eocene-Oligocene transition (E-O). Adjusted elevations are where moist enthalpy at sea level obtained from Indian fossil floras have been transposed to the palaeoposition of the Markam Basin. The most abundant taxa in terms of specimens recovered are marked with an asterisk (*). Credit: ©Science China Press Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-06-fossils-insight-uplift-history-se.html#jCp

40Ar/39Ar sample locations and dates constrain the ages of the MK1 and MK3 leaf assemblages, for which indicative selected leaf fossils are shown to scale, together with predicted palaeoelevations. A distinct reduction in leaf size is evident between MK3 and MK1, which is situated at the onset of the Eocene-Oligocene transition (E-O). Adjusted elevations are where moist enthalpy at sea level obtained from Indian fossil floras have been transposed to the palaeoposition of the Markam Basin. The most abundant taxa in terms of specimens recovered are marked with an asterisk (*). Credit: ©Science China Press

Tao Su and his colleagues recorded several thousand fossil leaves from four different layers, but two layers have the richest plant fossils with the best preservation. The lower layer (MK3) was deposited 34.6 million years (Ma) ago and the upper layer (MK1) at 33.4 Ma. As such they spanned the Eocene-Oligocene Transition (33.9 Ma), a time when deep sea sediments show significant cooling.

Interestingly, layer MK3 is dominated by leaves of the ring-cupped oak and members of the birch family, whereas MK1 consists almost exclusively of alpine taxa with small leaves. Assemblage composition and leaf form show clearly a transition from evergreen and deciduous broad-leaved mixed forest to alpine shrub. That climate change was quantified by Climate-Leaf Analysis Multivariate Program (CLAMP), a proxy that uses leaf form to estimate a range of climate variables such as temperature and moisture, as well as surface height, in the geological past.

Using this approach, Tao Su and colleagues showed that at the E-O transition southeastern Tibet was ~3 km high and actively rising to close its present height. Their results demonstrate clearly the early onset of uplift in this region, rather than uplift beginning some 10 million years later near the start of the Miocene. The results show that the elevation of southeastern Tibet took place largely in the Eocene, which has major implications for uplift mechanisms, landscape development and biotic evolution.

Furthermore, 40Ar/39Ar analysis of the volcanic ashes bounding the Markam fossil floras adds to a growing list of Paleogene sites in southeastern Tibet and Yunnan, which are far older than previously thought based on biostratigraphy and lithostratigraphy. It is already clear that the evolution of the modern highly diverse Asian biota is a Paleogene, not a Neogene, phenomenon and took place before the E-O transition. This implies a modernisation deeply-rooted in the Paleogene, possibly driven by a combination of complex Tibetan topography and climate change.

The Xishuangbanna group are continuing to collect spectacular plant fossils in different parts of the Tibetan Plateau. In the coming years, it would expect to see a revolution in the understanding of Tibetan uplift and its relationship to climate and biotic evolution in Asia.

Citation: Tao Su et al, Uplift, Climate and Biotic Changes at the Eocene-Oligocene Transition in Southeast Tibet, National Science Review (2018). DOI: 10.1093/nsr/nwy062
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WFS News: Scientists have discovered the oldest colors in the geological record

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 1.1-billion-year-old porphyrins establish a marine ecosystem dominated by bacterial primary producers.

 N. Gueneli, A. M. McKenna, N. Ohkouchi, C. J. Boreham, J. Beghin, E. J. Javaux, and J. J. Brocks.

             PNAS, 2018 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1803866115

The average cell size of marine phytoplankton is critical for the flow of energy and nutrients from the base of the food web to higher trophic levels. Thus, the evolutionary succession of primary producers through Earth’s history is important for our understanding of the radiation of modern protists ∼800 million years ago and the emergence of eumetazoan animals ∼200 million years later. Currently, it is difficult to establish connections between primary production and the proliferation of large and complex organisms because the mid-Proterozoic (∼1,800–800 million years ago) rock record is nearly devoid of recognizable phytoplankton fossils. We report the discovery of intact porphyrins, the molecular fossils of chlorophylls, from 1,100-million-year-old marine black shales of the Taoudeni Basin (Mauritania), 600 million years older than previous findings. The porphyrin nitrogen isotopes (δ15Npor = 5.6–10.2‰) are heavier than in younger sedimentary sequences, and the isotopic offset between sedimentary bulk nitrogen and porphyrins (εpor = −5.1 to −0.5‰) points to cyanobacteria as dominant primary producers. Based on fossil carotenoids, anoxygenic green (Chlorobiacea) and purple sulfur bacteria (Chromatiaceae) also contributed to photosynthate. The low εpor values, in combination with a lack of diagnostic eukaryotic steranes in the time interval of 1,600–1,000 million years ago, demonstrate that algae played an insignificant role in mid-Proterozoic oceans. The paucity of algae and the small cell size of bacterial phytoplankton may have curtailed the flow of energy to higher trophic levels, potentially contributing to a diminished evolutionary pace toward complex eukaryotic ecosystems and large and active organisms.

Biogeochemistry Lab Manager Janet Hope from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences holds a vial of pink colored porphyrins representing the oldest intact pigments in the world. Credit: The Australian National University

Biogeochemistry Lab Manager Janet Hope from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences holds a vial of pink colored porphyrins representing the oldest intact pigments in the world.
Credit: The Australian National University

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WFS News: Evidence for arboreal radiation of stem primates in the Palaeocene

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Oldest skeleton of a plesiadapiform provides additional evidence for an exclusively arboreal radiation of
stem primates in the Palaeocene

Stephen G. B. ChesterThomas E. WilliamsonJonathan I. BlochMary T. SilcoxEric J. Sargis

Hypothesis of evolutionary relationships of Torrejonia wilsoni and other eutherian mammals. (Left) Resulting single most parsimonious cladogram based on modified morphological dataset of Bloch et al. [4], sampling a total of 240 morphological characters (68 postcranial, 45 cranial and 127 dental) with Primates sensu lato indicated in blue and Torrejonia wilsoni supported as a stem primate and indicated in orange. Numbers below branches represent Absolute Bremer Support values. See the electronic supplementary material for detailed methods, descriptions of morphological characters, specimens examined (also see [5]), and the taxon-character matrix in TNT format. (Bottom) Simplified subset of resulting tree topology focused on Primates. Boxes (a–f) illustrate tarsals of select primates with great mobility at the upper ankle joint (yellow: lateral tibial facet extends distally onto neck of astragalus in dorsal view), lower ankle joint (red: sustentacular facet extends distally onto body of calcaneus in dorsal view) and transverse tarsal joint (orange: round, concave cuboid facet of calcaneus in distal view) indicating arboreality. Boxes (a–f) also illustrate micro X-ray CT scan reconstructions of (a) purgatoriid Purgatorius unio p4-m3 (UCMP 107406) with tall molar cusps in buccal view, (b) micromomyid Dryomomys szalayi cranium (UM 41870) in right lateral view with large IOF, (c) Torrejonia wilsoni partial skeleton (NMMNH P-54500), (d) paromomyid Ignacius graybullianus cranium (USNM 421608) in right lateral view with relatively large olfactory bulbs (OB) of endocast (violet), (e) carpolestid Carpolestes simpsoni cranium (USNM 482354) in right lateral view and tarsals (UM 101963) and (f) notharctid Notharctus tenebrosus cranium (AMNH 127167) in right lateral view. Some elements reversed for clarity. See figure 3 legend for specimen numbers of tarsals not listed above. See the electronic supplementary material for institutional abbreviations.

Hypothesis of evolutionary relationships of Torrejonia wilsoni and other eutherian mammals. (Left) Resulting single most parsimonious cladogram based on modified morphological dataset of Bloch et al. [4], sampling a total of 240 morphological characters (68 postcranial, 45 cranial and 127 dental) with Primates sensu lato indicated in blue and Torrejonia wilsoni supported as a stem primate and indicated in orange. Numbers below branches represent Absolute Bremer Support values. See the electronic supplementary material for detailed methods, descriptions of morphological characters, specimens examined (also see [5]), and the taxon-character matrix in TNT format. (Bottom) Simplified subset of resulting tree topology focused on Primates. Boxes (a–f) illustrate tarsals of select primates with great mobility at the upper ankle joint (yellow: lateral tibial facet extends distally onto neck of astragalus in dorsal view), lower ankle joint (red: sustentacular facet extends distally onto body of calcaneus in dorsal view) and transverse tarsal joint (orange: round, concave cuboid facet of calcaneus in distal view) indicating arboreality. Boxes (a–f) also illustrate micro X-ray CT scan reconstructions of (a) purgatoriid Purgatorius unio p4-m3 (UCMP 107406) with tall molar cusps in buccal view, (b) micromomyid Dryomomys szalayi cranium (UM 41870) in right lateral view with large IOF, (c) Torrejonia wilsoni partial skeleton (NMMNH P-54500), (d) paromomyid Ignacius graybullianus cranium (USNM 421608) in right lateral view with relatively large olfactory bulbs (OB) of endocast (violet), (e) carpolestid Carpolestes simpsoni cranium (USNM 482354) in right lateral view and tarsals (UM 101963) and (f) notharctid Notharctus tenebrosus cranium (AMNH 127167) in right lateral view. Some elements reversed for clarity. See figure 3 legend for specimen numbers of tarsals not listed above. See the electronic supplementary material for institutional abbreviations.

Palaechthonid plesiadapiforms from the Palaeocene of western North America have long been recognized as among the oldest and most primitive euarchontan mammals, a group that includes extant primates, colugos and treeshrews. Despite their relatively sparse fossil record, palaechthonids have played an important role in discussions surrounding adaptive scenarios for primate origins for nearly a half-century. Likewise, palaechthonids have been considered important for understanding relationships among plesiadapiforms, with members of the group proposed as plausible ancestors of Paromomyidae and Microsyopidae. Here, we describe a dentally associated partial skeleton of Torrejonia wilsoni from the early Palaeocene (approx. 62 Ma) of New Mexico, which is the oldest known plesiadapiform skeleton and the first postcranial elements recovered for a palaechthonid. Results from a cladistic analysis that includes new data from this skeleton suggest that palaechthonids are a paraphyletic group of stem primates, and that T. wilsoni is most closely related to paromomyids. New evidence from the appendicular skeleton of T. wilsoni fails to support an influential hypothesis based on inferences from craniodental morphology that palaechthonids were terrestrial. Instead, the postcranium of T. wilsoni indicates that it was similar to that of all other plesiadapiforms for which skeletons have been recovered in having distinct specializations consistent with arboreality.

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WFS News: Early African Fossils Elucidate the Origin of Embrithopod Mammals

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Long before rhinoceros, giraffes, hippos, and antelopes roamed the African savannah, a group of large and highly specialized mammals known as embrithopods inhabited the continent. The most well known is Arsinoitherium, an animal that looked much like a rhinoceros but was in fact more closely related to elephants, sea cows, and hyraxes. Now, researchers reporting in Current Biology on June 28 offer a glimpse into this ancient past with the discovery of the earliest and most ancient embrithopod yet described.

The approximately 55-million-year-old fossilized dental remains found in the first lower Eocene levels of the Ouled Abdoun phosphate basin in Morocco represent two new species in the genus Stylolophus, the researchers report. The earliest embrithopods were previously known from 48-million-year-old fossils collected in Africa and Turkey.

This figure show the lower jaw of Stylolophus minor, holotype of the new species. C is 3-D model reconstructed from CT scans. It shows by transparency the teeth roots, and especially those of the anterior incisors that are enlarged and oriented (tilted) horizontally as in the early proboscidean Phosphatherium. Length of M1-3 series: 38.5 mm. Scale bar, 10 mm. Credit: Photographs by Philippe Loubry (MNHN). Drawing by Charlène Letenneur (MNHN)

This figure show the lower jaw of Stylolophus minor, holotype of the new species. C is 3-D model reconstructed from CT scans. It shows by transparency the teeth roots, and especially those of the anterior incisors that are enlarged and oriented (tilted) horizontally as in the early proboscidean Phosphatherium. Length of M1-3 series: 38.5 mm. Scale bar, 10 mm.Credit: Photographs by Philippe Loubry (MNHN). Drawing by Charlène Letenneur (MNHN)

“The embrithopods were large and strange extinct mammals that belonged, together with hyraxes and elephants, to the early megaherbivorous mammalian fauna that inhabited the island Africa, well before the arrival about 23 million years ago of the Eurasian ungulate lineages such as the artiodactyls, including giraffes, buffalos, hippopotamus, and antelopes, and the perissodactyls, including zebras and rhinoceros,” says Emmanuel Gheerbrant of CNRS-MNHN in Paris, France. “They belong to the old endemic African fauna.”

Gheerbrant said that the origins of embrithopods had been uncertain, with two known co-existing families: one in Africa and the other in Turkey and Romania. It’s been unclear what the exact relationships of the embrithopods were with respect to sea cows and elephants.

The new phylogenetic study of the two species of Stylolophus found in Morocco confirms that they are basal embrithopods. It also shows that the extinct Embrithopod order is ancient, predating the divergence of the sea cows and elephants.

“Comparative anatomy of the new Moroccan species shows that the highly specialized embrithopod teeth derived from the ancestral dental morphology of all paenungulates, a clade including elephants, sea cows, and hyraxes, with the W-crested molars seen in some of the oldest hyracoids,” the group including hyraxes, Gheerbrant says. “The specialized design of the teeth with two transverse ridges, known in the most advanced forms such as Arsinoitherium, is a convergence of the embrithopods and the extant group of tethytheres, including manatees and elephants, towards leaf eating, which was favored by the ancient herbivorous niches available on the African island.”

The new species S. minor — which was unusually small at about the size of a sheep — is also the first to show the presence in embrithopods of enlarged and anteriorly inclined incisors, in the form of incipient tusks, as seen in the early ancestors of the group including elephants.

The early age and primitive state of Stylolophus, together with the high-level relationships (paenungulate and afrotherian), all support an African origin of the order Embrithopoda, the researchers say. The findings suggest that the Paleoamasiidae family found in Turkey arrived on the Eurasian shores of the Tethys Ocean (an ocean during much of the Mesozoic Era and the Paleogene period located between the ancient continents of Gondwana and Laurasia), after an early dispersal of an African ancestor resembling Stylolophus across the sea.

The researchers say that they’ll continue to search for paleontological evidence elucidating the evolutionary history and relationships of African ungulate-like mammals and insectivore-like afrotherian mammals, including golden moles, elephant shrews, tenrecs, aardvarks, and hyraxes. They’ll also continue the search for the enigmatic early roots of all placental mammals in Africa, going back even further in time to the Cretaceous Period.

  1. Emmanuel Gheerbrant, Arnaud Schmitt, László Kocsis. Early African Fossils Elucidate the Origin of Embrithopod MammalsCurrent Biology, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.05.032

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WFS News: Birds of a Feather: Neanderthal Exploitation of Raptors and Corvids

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Birds of a Feather: Neanderthal Exploitation of Raptors and Corvids

Citation: Finlayson C, Brown K, Blasco R, Rosell J, Negro JJ, Bortolotti GR, et al. (2012) Birds of a Feather: Neanderthal Exploitation of Raptors and Corvids. PLoS ONE 7(9): e45927. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0045927

Editor: Michael D. Petraglia, University of Oxford, United Kingdom

Examples of cut-marks from Gibraltar sites. a) distal diaphysis of Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax humerus (Gor'96 No. 87); b) proximal diaphysis of Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax humerus; c) proximal diaphysis of Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax humerus (GOR'96 NO. 299); d) distal diaphysis of Milvus milvus radius (GOR'00/B8/NIV/205); e) middle shaft of Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax tarsometatarsus (Ibex 94 No. 24); f) middle shaft of Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax femur (Ibex 94 No. 166); g) proximal diaphysis of Pyrrhocorax graculus ulna (GOR'00/B5/NIV/57); h) distal diaphysis of Gyps fulvus ulna (Van 96 No. 209A).

Examples of cut-marks from Gibraltar sites.
a) distal diaphysis of Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax humerus (Gor’96 No. 87); b) proximal diaphysis of Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax humerus; c) proximal diaphysis of Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax humerus (GOR’96 NO. 299); d) distal diaphysis of Milvus milvus radius (GOR’00/B8/NIV/205); e) middle shaft of Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax tarsometatarsus (Ibex 94 No. 24); f) middle shaft of Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax femur (Ibex 94 No. 166); g) proximal diaphysis of Pyrrhocorax graculus ulna (GOR’00/B5/NIV/57); h) distal diaphysis of Gyps fulvus ulna (Van 96 No. 209A).

The hypothesis that Neanderthals exploited birds for the use of their feathers or claws as personal ornaments in symbolic behaviour is revolutionary as it assigns unprecedented cognitive abilities to these hominins. This inference, however, is based on modest faunal samples and thus may not represent a regular or systematic behaviour. Here we address this issue by looking for evidence of such behaviour across a large temporal and geographical framework. Our analyses try to answer four main questions: 1) does a Neanderthal to raptor-corvid connection exist at a large scale, thus avoiding associations that might be regarded as local in space or time?; 2) did Middle (associated with Neanderthals) and Upper Palaeolithic (associated with modern humans) sites contain a greater range of these species than Late Pleistocene paleontological sites?; 3) is there a taphonomic association between Neanderthals and corvids-raptors at Middle Palaeolithic sites on Gibraltar, specifically Gorham’s, Vanguard and Ibex Caves? and; 4) was the extraction of wing feathers a local phenomenon exclusive to the Neanderthals at these sites or was it a geographically wider phenomenon?. We compiled a database of 1699 Pleistocene Palearctic sites based on fossil bird sites. We also compiled a taphonomical database from the Middle Palaeolithic assemblages of Gibraltar. We establish a clear, previously unknown and widespread, association between Neanderthals, raptors and corvids. We show that the association involved the direct intervention of Neanderthals on the bones of these birds, which we interpret as evidence of extraction of large flight feathers. The large number of bones, the variety of species processed and the different temporal periods when the behaviour is observed, indicate that this was a systematic, geographically and temporally broad, activity that the Neanderthals undertook. Our results, providing clear evidence that Neanderthal cognitive capacities were comparable to those of Modern Humans, constitute a major advance in the study of human evolution.

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WFS News: Fossils of Pufferfish species unearthed in Germany

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Scientists in southern Germany have discovered the fossilized remains of a previously unknown pufferfish.

A team from the Bamberg Museum of Natural History made the find in a stone quarry in nearby Wattendorf.

Matthias Mäuser, the head of the museum, said the pufferfish lived around 150 million years ago.Similar to pufferfish living today, the fossilized remains showed that the fish had teeth.

The previously unknown pufferfish species lived around 150 million years ago. A number of interesting finds have been unearthed at the same stone quarry in northern Bavaria.

The previously unknown pufferfish species lived around 150 million years ago. A number of interesting finds have been unearthed at the same stone quarry in northern Bavaria.

Scientists from the museum regularly excavate the Wattendorf stone quarry and have unearthed many interesting finds to date.In 2011, they discovered the remains of a previously unknown flying dinosaur species known as pterosaurs.

The pufferfish find will be on display at the Bamberg Museum of Natural History before being sent to the Institute of

Palaeontology at the University of Vienna for further research.

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WFS News: New species of sponge-like fossil from the Cambrian Period

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Scientists have discovered the fossil of an unusual large-bodied sponge-like sea-creature from half a billion years ago.

The creature belongs to an obscure and mysterious group of animals known as the chancelloriids, and scientists are unclear about where they fit in the tree of life.They represent a lineage of spiny tube-shaped animals that arose during the Cambrian evolutionary “explosion” but went extinct soon afterwards. In some ways they resemble sponges, a group of simple filter-feeding animals, but many scientists have dismissed the similarities as superficial.

The new discovery by a team of scientists from the University of Leicester, the University of Oxford and Yunnan University, China, adds new evidence that could help solve the mystery.

The new species of fossil chancelloriid: an enigmatic animal from the Cambrian Period with a tube-like body, 'minotaur-horn' spines, and doughnut-shaped scars. Credit: Derek Siveter/Tom Harvey/Peiyun Cong

The new species of fossil chancelloriid: an enigmatic animal from the Cambrian Period with a tube-like body, ‘minotaur-horn’ spines, and doughnut-shaped scars.Credit: Derek Siveter/Tom Harvey/Peiyun Cong

The researchers have published their findings in the Royal Society journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The Leicester authors are Tom Harvey, Mark Williams, David Siveter & Sarah Gabbott.The new species, named Allonnia nuda, was discovered in the Chengjiang deposits of Yunnan Province, China. It was surprisingly large in life (perhaps up to 50 cm or more) but had only a few very tiny spines. Its unusual “naked” appearance suggests that further specimens may be “hiding in plain sight” in fossil collections, and shows that this group was more diverse than previously thought.

Furthermore, the new species holds clues about the pattern of body growth, with clear links to modern sponges. It is too soon to say the mystery has been solved, but the discovery highlights the central role of sponge-like fossils in the debate over earliest animal evolution.

Dr Tom Harvey, from the University of Leicester’s School of Geography, Geology and the Environment, explained: “Fossil chancelloriids were first described around 100 years ago, but have resisted attempts to place them in the tree of life. We argue that their pattern of body growth supports a link to sponges, reinvigorating an old hypothesis. We’re not suggesting that it’s “case closed” for chancelloriids, but we hope our results will inspire new research into the nature of the earliest animals.”

Dr Peiyun Cong, from the Yunnan Key Laboratory for Palaeobiology, Kunming, China, and The Natural History Museum, UK, added: “The Chengjiang deposits of Yunnan Province continue to reveal surprising new fossils we could hardly have imagined. Together, they provide a crucial snapshot of life in the oceans during the Cambrian explosion.”

  1. Pei-Yun Cong, Thomas H. P. Harvey, Mark Williams, David J. Siveter, Derek J. Siveter, Sarah E. Gabbott, Yu-Jing Li, Fan Wei, Xian-Guang Hou. Naked chancelloriids from the lower Cambrian of China show evidence for sponge-type growthProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2018; 285 (1881): 20180296 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2018.0296
University of Leicester. “Strange sponge-like fossil creature from half a billion years ago.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 June 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180619230853.htm>.
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WFS News: A new Miocene pinniped Allodesmus from Japan

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A new Miocene pinniped Allodesmus (Mammalia: Carnivora) from Hokkaido, northern Japan
Wataru TonomoriHiroshi SawamuraTamaki SatoNaoki Kohno
Reconstruction of Allodesmus skeleton. Blue parts indicate preserved bones of the holotype (AMP 25) of Allodesmus uraiporensis.

Reconstruction of Allodesmus skeleton. Blue parts indicate preserved bones of the holotype (AMP 25) of Allodesmus uraiporensis.

A nearly complete pinniped skeleton from the middle Miocene Okoppezawa Formation (ca 16.3–13.9 Ma), Hokkaido, northern Japan, is described as the holotype of Allodesmus uraiporensis sp. nov. The new species is distinguishable from other species of the genus by having the palatine fissure (incisive foramen) that is located anterior to the canine, an anteriorly located supraorbital process of the frontal, and by having the calcaneum with a developed peroneal tubercle. Our phylogenetic analysis suggests that the subfamily Allodesminae are represented by two genera, Atopotarus and Allodesmus, and the latter genus is represented by at least six species; AlkernensisAlsinanoensisAlnaoraiAlpackardi, Al. demerei and Al. uraiporensis sp. nov. Allodesmus uraiporensis sp. nov. is one of the oldest and the northernmost record of the genus in the western North Pacific, and it suggests that the diversification of the genus in the western North Pacific was synchronous to the time of their diversification in the eastern North Pacific.

Reconstruction of skull of the holotype (AMP 25) of Allodesmus uraiporensis. (a) dorsal, (b) ventral and (c) lateral views. Solid lines indicate those elements that are preserved on at least one side of the holotype, and other missing parts are represented by dashed lines.

Reconstruction of skull of the holotype (AMP 25) of Allodesmus uraiporensis. (a) dorsal, (b) ventral and (c) lateral views. Solid lines indicate those elements that are preserved on at least one side of the holotype, and other missing parts are represented by dashed lines.

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WFS News:Fossil Anemone Tracks Don’t Fit Evolution

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Fossil Anemone Tracks Don’t Fit Evolution

Interesting markings were recently found on a rock in Newfoundland. A study concluded that they were trails left by seafloor-dwelling animals around 565 million years ago. But such a find is difficult to reconcile with the evolutionary teaching that muscles, and therefore animal locomotion, did not evolve until much later.

Before they could suggest that evolutionary history ought to be rewritten on this point, researchers first had to be quite certain that they were looking at some kind of animal track. They found over 70 tracks up to 13mm wide and 17cm long. At the end of some of the marks in siltstone was a circular kind of “footprint.” The traces cannot be scratch marks, because they show curves and “directional changes.”1 Does any living animal make similar markings on today’s seafloors?

Fossil Anemone Tracks Don't Fit Evolution

Fossil Anemone Tracks Don’t Fit Evolution

In their study published in the Geological Society of America’s journal Geology, British and Canadian paleontologists determined that the tracks were comparable to those made by certain modern sea anemones. They wrote, “Anemones are capable of crawling across sediment and can exhibit swimming and burrowing behavior.”1 And anemones have a tubular body plan, which is consistent with the creature that made these tracks.

If correct, this extends muscular animal locomotion “five million years earlier”1 than previous evolutionary thinking had held. Fossil finds consistently cause a rewriting of evolutionary history. There are often as many versions of it as there are scientists looking into the relevant fossils.

For example, a recent find of tracks made by a four-legged creature in Poland demonstrated that animals with fully operable legs were walking long before their supposed ancestors, such as Tiktaalik, “emerged.”2 That highly debated fossil was initially hailed as one of the earliest creatures to make the evolutionary transition from water to land. Although the Polish tracks should erase Tiktaalik’s transitional status, the removal of its accompanying story from textbooks and museums promises to be painstakingly slow.

The Geology study’s authors concluded their report on the Newfoundland tracks with, “We consider that these impressions are consistent with locomotion traces produced by a cnidarian-like organism.”1 Cnidarians are animals that include jellyfish and sea anemones. But how cnidarian-like was it? Since it was presumably able to live, reproduce, consume, metabolize, and move around enough to leave behind a trail, there is no empirical reason to believe that it was anything less than a real and complete sea anemone, perhaps like those living today.

If so, sea anemones may take the prize for the most stable animal life form over the longest evolutionary period of time. Though a body fossil found nearby―either horizontally or below―would provide higher quality evidence that these tracks were indeed made by sea anemones, the evidence at present is convincing.

That would mean that not only do anemones appear suddenly and fully formed in the fossil record, but they were able to leave behind prints of their characteristic circular footpad and have retained the same form since. The anemone has therefore not evolved significantly in “565 million years,” a wildly unlikely assertion in the context of macroevolution.3

The evidence may not fit the evolutionary story, but it does not conflict with biblical history. Ediacaran deposits like the one the tracks were found in can be thought of as remains from the pre-Flood ocean floor. Though in many places it would have been ripped up, reworked, and re-deposited by the great Flood, it appears that some of it was covered over and preserved by flood-borne sediments. Most often, this material lies far beneath vast fossil-bearing flood deposits, but it crops up in a few places around the globe.

In any case, the animal that made these tracks definitely had the ability to move. And moving animals today must use a fully intact suite of precisely specified muscle proteins, including actin, myosin, and a host of supporting enzymes for construction and operation. In jellyfish, which are often transparent, there are no muscle cells. They do have, however, the same muscle proteins as muscle cells have, although the protein suite resides in their skin cells.

Interdependent, complicated systems like these never spontaneously “emerge.” They are always intentionally constructed. And sea anemones, if they are indeed responsible for these tracks, were apparently constructed correctly from the start of creation only thousands, not billions, of years ago.4

References

  1. Liu, A. G., D. McIlroy, D. and M. Brasier. 2010. First evidence for locomotion in the Ediacara biota from the 565 Ma Mistaken Point Formation, Newfoundland. Geology. 38 (2): 123-126.
  2. Sherwin, F. Banner Fossil for Evolution Is DemotedICR News. Posted on icr.org January 27, 2010, accessed February 18, 2010.
  3. The same problem is evident with the damselfly and other living fossils. See Thomas, B. New Population Found of Damselfly ‘Living Fossil.’ ICR News. Posted on icr.org January 19, 2010, accessed February 19, 2010.
  4. DeYoung, D. 2005. Thousands, Not Billions. Green Forest, AR: Master Books.

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