These may be the oldest remains of life on Earth ever found

These eyelash-sized bits of minerals found in rock from northern Quebec may be the oldest traces of life ever found. The tubes of hematite are 4.28 billion years old, beating out 3.7 billion year old microbial remains found in Greenland. Nadia Drake tells the story at National Geographic:

The microfossils also lend support to the idea that the warm, watery, mineral-rich neighborhoods around submerged vents are prime places for life to emerge, whether on this planet, on the seafloors of icy moons, or elsewhere in the universe....

“If indeed their analyses and interpretations are correct, then life arose rapidly on Earth, soon after the planet itself began to stabilize,” says astrobiologist Kevin Hand of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “As the froth of geology began to cool, biology established its role as a planetary process.”

But while the fossils are clad in iron, they might not be iron-clad evidence of ancient life. Some scientists doubt that they are the remains of microbes at all. Others note that the age of the crystals cradling the potential microfossils is controversial, and the structures may be more than a billion years younger than reported.

"This May Be the Oldest Known Sign of Life on Earth" by Nadia Drake (Nat Geo) Read the rest

The mystery of the Tully Monster continues

In 1958 in an Illinois creek bed, an amateur fossil collector named Francis Tully discovered the fossilized remains of a bizarre creature that resembled a mollusk, insect, and worm yet was none of those things. Since then, thousands of 300 million-year-old fossilized "Tully Monsters" have turned up and the creature was officially named as the Illinois state fossil.

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Meet Saccorhytus, bloblike human ancestor that shat through its mouth

Behold the 540 million-year-old fossil remains of the earliest-known human ancestor! Saccorhytus was "likely an egg-shaped creature that ate and expelled from the same gaping orifice," just like Senior Counselor to the President Stephen Bannon.

"This may represent the primitive beginnings of a very diverse range of species, including ourselves," said co-author Simon Conway Morris, a professor at Britain's University of Cambridge. Saccorhytus belongs to a broad category of organisms called deuterostomes, and is the most ancient specimen unearthed so far...

The sack-like animal's most distinctive feature is a large -- relative to the rest of its body -- mouth ringed by concentric circles of raised bumps. It probably ate by engulfing food particles and microscopic creatures. Intriguingly, the researchers did not find anything corresponding to an anus.

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Texas man finds fossils from Noah's flood in his backyard

Wayne Propst says that the snail fossils he unearthed in his backyard landed there during Noah's Flood. According to 60abc, Joe Taylor, director of the Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum in Crosbyton, Texas, "analyzed" the fossils and says that Propst is correct. Taylor is an expert in such matters, arguing on the museum web site that the "fossil record speaks of catastrophic events happening several thousand years ago rather than slow processes taking place over millions or billions of years as is held by the popular establishment."

James Sagiebiel of the University of Texas's Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory says Propst's fossils are 35-40 million years old. But what does he know.

"From Noah’s flood to my front yard, how much better can it get?” Propst said. Read the rest

Gorgeous 3D printed trilobites

D. Allan Drummond, the University of Chicago biologist who recently 3D printed and cast a fascinating model of a yeast cell dividing, also creates exquisite bronze sculptures of trilobites, marine arthropods that went extinct 250 million years ago. Images and video below.

See more at Professor Drummond's Instagram feed.

(via SciAm)

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Nicolas Cage returns stolen dinosaur skull he paid $276,000 for

In 2007 Nicolas Cage and Leonardo DiCaprio got into a bidding war for a 67-million-year-old tyrannosaurus bataar skull. Cage won, but later found out the skull had been illegally smuggled into the United States. He will return it to the Mongolian government.

According to a 2013 story in the Telegraph, “the skull was obtained by IM Chait from Eric Prokopi, a self-described ‘commercial palaeontologist’ who pleaded guilty last year to illegally importing fossils from Mongolia and China.” Read the rest

Realistic chocolate dinosaur fossil teeth: choco-megaladon/T-Rex

Sarah Hardy's megaladon (£28) and T.Rex (£28) teeth are full size, convincing, and made from gorgeous, single-origin chocolates. Read the rest

Velociraptor claw for sale

This fine Velociraptor Claw could really level up your wunderkammer. It's just $12,500. Read the rest

World-beatingly giant fossil poo for auction

It may be the longest coprolite ever found, a truly magnificent turd, virtually a relief casting of a horribly constipated dinosaur's ancient animal's colon.

This truly spectacular specimen is possibly the longest example of coprolite - fossilized dinosaur feces - ever to be offered at auction. It boasts a wonderfully even, pale brown-yellow coloring and terrifically detailed texture to the heavily botryoidal surface across the whole of its immense length. The passer of this remarkable object is unknown, but it is nonetheless a highly evocative specimen of unprecedented size, presented in four sections, each with a heavy black marble custom base, an eye-watering 40 inches in length overall.

Full Details for Lot 340 (via JWZ) Read the rest

Fossil Necklace: chronologically ordered beads from the planet's history

Katie Paterson's Fossil Necklace is a gorgeous piece whose each bead is a chronologically ordered artifact from a significant moment in our planetary history, signposting events like the cretaceous, the rise of hominids, and more. (this PDF has detailed, piece-by-piece labels) Read the rest

A proper Victorian poop table

This table is not for pooping. It's for tea. But it is made of poop — specifically fossilized hunks of fish poop, encased in a crunchy shell of clay and rock. The fossilized poops — called coprolites, which is basically just fancy Latin for "fossilized poop" — are the spiny-looking bits in the center of each circular inlay on the table top. (Technically, the name translates as "dung stone".)

The table belonged, appropriately, to the Rev. William Buckland, the man who gave coprolites their fancy name and proved that they were, in fact, fossilized poops.

The table resides at England's Lyme Regis Museum. You can read more about Buckland's work and the details of the craftsmanship and restoration behind the table at their website. Earth Magazine also has a lovely article on coprolites, including important information that will help you distinguish between fossilized poop and stuff that just looks like fossilized poop.

Via The Earth Story. Thanks to my Dad for forwarding this to me! Read the rest

Juggler for Jesus selling dad's huge fossil collection

David Cain of Middletown, Ohio is selling off his late father's massive collection of fossils that takes up several rooms in an unmarked storefront. Cain says the most valuable items are 200 megalodon teeth, and a dozen dinosaur egg nests. He'd like to get around $250,000 for the whole lot. The challenge, says Dale Gnidovec, collection manager at Ohio State University's Orton Geological Museum who checked out a video of the collection, is that what he saw is "readily available at any large fossil shop and many of them have been ‘enhanced’ by the craftsman. It is also very depressing to see so many fossils that have been stripped of their scientific value by not having exact locality and geologic information.” Interestingly, Cain is selling the fossils so he can grow his own collection of historical juggling props. It's apparently the third-largest in the world. Cain is a professional juggler whose act is called "Juggler for Jesus."

"Juggler has hands full with dad's fossil collection" (Cincinnati.com, thanks, Charles Pescovitz!) Read the rest

Scientists sequence the coelacanth genome

The coelacanth is one of a small handful of living fishes that are probably closely related much more ancient, extinct creatures — including, the first fish to haul itself up onto land. Now scientists have sequenced its genes and are digging through the data in search of genetic clues to how fish and land-dwelling animals are connected to one another. Among the finds so far, a gene that seems to be connected to how animals grow placentas. Coelacanths don't have placentas, but they do have eggs that hatch inside their own bodies. Read the rest

Ancient money shot, caught in chert

In a fossil of 400-million-year-old plants, the world's oldest sample of ejaculate. Read the rest

Fossil hunting on Rockaway Beach

Superstorm Sandy brought fossils up from the ocean depths.

Fossils in storage: How do you sort through the backlog?

Yesterday, I posted about Pegomastax africanus, a parrot-like dinosaur whose fossil was discovered not in a remote waste in some far corner of the world, but in a rock that had sat in storage at Harvard University for 50 years.

In the post, I tried to explain why something like that could happen. The simple fact of the matter: A successful archaeological or paleontological dig will produce far more material than the original scientists have time (or money) to sort through, process, and examine. So lots of stuff ends up sitting in storage.

That led BoingBoing reader Matt Fedorko to some interesting speculation:

"...This seems like a perfect opportunity to exploit 3D scanning technology to put the shapes of fossils, at least, into some kind of digital storage area where other researchers could look at a dig's haul and start to work with them spatially, or beside any of the other data that is collected in the field or logged during the cataloging procedure."

Now, Charles Q. Choi, a journalist who wrote about the discovery of Pegomastax africanus, says that Matt's idea isn't all that far-fetched. In fact, scientists already do something like this with the fossils that do get closely examined. Read the rest

Cool ceramic jewelry for scientists, skeptics, and fossil lovers

A friend pointed me today toward the awesome work of Surly Amy (aka Amy Davis Roth), who makes really neat ceramic jewelry with science/skeptic themes. Some of her pieces are really simple and not super artsy—a pendant that says "This is what an atheist looks like", for instance. That's fine, but it's not the stuff I'm super excited about.

Instead, I really dig Roth's work that focuses on archaeology and paleontology—like a necklace printed with the silhouette of an archaeopteryx fossil on a crackled background that makes me think of broken stone; earrings decorated with ammonites; and a kick-ass bracelet that manages to make trilobites look just a little punk rock.

I also enjoyed reading Roth's bio on her Etsy page. It's long, but the two key takeaways are great:

1. I'm not as surly as I used to be. 2. Life is hard and it often sucks but sometimes, if you keep trying, things will get better!

Surly-Ramics wearable art Read the rest

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