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)

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!

Juggler for Jesus selling dad's huge fossil collection

Fosssillll

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!)

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.

Ancient money shot, caught in chert

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

Fossil hunting on Rockaway Beach

The ocean has not always met the land at the same place it does today. In fact, during Ice Ages, when more of Earth's water was trapped in glaciers, large swaths of what is now the Atlantic Ocean were dry ground. Things died there. In some cases, they fossilized. And when a big storm like Sandy hits, those bits of fossils can get broken out of the stones they're embedded in and washed up on our modern shores.

In this video, paleontologist Carl Mehling wanders Long Island's Rockaway Beach looking for fossils unearthed by Superstorm Sandy. It's a great video — and a handy "how to" as Mehling explains the basics of beach-based fossil hunting and how to tell the really old dead things from the simply dead things.

Via Mindy Weisberger

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

Archaeopteryx (photo)

Retinal neuroscientist and photographer Bryan Jones sends in this gorgeous shot of an archaeopteryx fossil displayed in the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, Germany.

"As a biologist, seeing this fossil represents something of a pilgrimage," says Bryan, "[Visiting this museum is] a journey that all biologists would benefit from making."

Snip from his blog post:

This particular sample was found in the Solnhofen limestone formation in Bavaria and is the basis for the link between the dinosaurs and the feathered birds. Archaeopteryx itself is a feathered theropod, but is though of as the oldest documented bird dating back approximately 150 million years ago.

The fossil was found in 1874 by Jakob Niemeyer who traded it to Johann Dorr for a cow. Johann then sold the fossil to Ernst Haberlein for 2,000 German Marks. This sale was then turned around to the founder of Siemens, Werner von Siemens for 20,000 German Marks for the University of Berlin which has provided this specimen to scientists around the world as the best preserved specimen found with elegant feathers and an exquisitely preserved skull.

Turtles killed, fossilized while doing it

Teenagers, beware! Here is another very good reason to never, ever have sex. Like these 50-million-year-old turtles, you could get so caught up in the act, that you don't notice you are sinking into a bog full of toxic volcanic gasses. It's a real risk! This happened to more than one pair of filthy, sex-having turtles. And condoms will not save you.

The researchers analyzed nine pairs of the turtles. Each pair was apparently made up of a male and a female — the females are slightly larger than males, have shorter tails and apparently had a hinged lower shell that may have helped them lay large eggs.

In addition, the turtles in each pair always had their rear ends oriented toward one another. Finally, in two of the pairs, "the tails of the partners are aligned with each other," Joyce said. "This is the very position in which the tails are held when living turtles mate. This observation is the true smoking gun.

"No other vertebrates have ever been found like these, so these are truly exceptional fossils," Joyce said.

Read the rest of Charles Q. Choi's story at MSNBC

Via Emily Anthes

Bones of Turkana: Meave and Richard Leakey on human ancestors and the Leakey legacy

The Leakey family is like the Kennedys, but for paleoanthropology instead of politics. Think about any hominin fossil or artifact you can name.

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The song of a Jurassic cricket

Re-creation of Jurassic Cricket song, from Bristol University in the UK by qparker

Listen to this recording. It sounds a little like Sputnik, but it's actually a noise that's not been heard in 165 million years.

This is the song of an extinct species of bush cricket, the fossils of which have been found in China's Inner Mongolia region. Researchers recreated the sound by studying the fossil remains of the crickets' sound-producing organs. From the BBC:

A "plectrum" on one wing was dragged along a microscopic comb-like structure on the other. This produces a continuous "chirp" as the male insects rub, or "stridulate" their wings in a scissor-like motion. Dr Zapata described this stridulation as similar to playing a tiny violin.

Dr Zapata then set out to calculate the frequency of the tone, which denotes how high- or low-pitched it sounded. To to this, he simply compared the size and shape of its music-making or "stridulatory" instruments to those of living cricket species

There are modern bush crickets, but their songs are played at a higher pitch. The low tones produced by this extinct cricket imply that it might have been best adapted to do its singing on the ground, rather than elevated on branches or tall stalks of grass. Lower pitched sounds travel further from that elevation than a high-pitched one would.

Read the full paper at PNAS

Thanks for Submitterating, arkle!

A dinosaur's teeth can be a map of its travels

Bones can tell you a lot about a creature, but there's much more they can't tell you. Bones are not behavior. We know what the skeletons of dinosaurs looked like. But there's a great deal about their appearance and behavior that we can only guess at.

Sometimes, though, bones can surprise you. Sometimes, they carry secrets locked inside. At Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong writes about a new study that's uncovered evidence about dinosaur behavior, using information stored in the dinosaurs' teeth. The paper suggests that the North American Camarasaurus had a seasonal migration.

Reptiles replace their teeth throughout their lives and the dinosaurs would have been no different. Whenever they drank, they incorporated oxygen atoms from the water into the enamel of their growing teeth. Different bodies of water contain different mixes of oxygen isotopes, and the dinosaurs’ enamel records a history of these blends. They were what they drank.

It’s easy enough to measure the levels of oxygen isotopes in dinosaur teeth, but you need something to compare that against. How could anyone possibly discern the levels of such isotopes in bodies of water that existed millions of years ago? Local rocks provide the answer. The oxygen also fuelled the growth of minerals like calcium carbonate (limestone), which preserve these ancient atoms just as dinosaur teeth do. If dinosaur enamel contains a different blend of oxygen to the surrounding carbonates, the place where the animal drank must be somewhere different from the place where it died.

Palaeontologists have used oxygen isotopes to infer all manner of dinosaur traits, from the fish-eating habits of spinosaurs to the hot body temperatures of sauropods to the chilly conditions endured by Chinese dinosaurs. These atoms have acted as menus and thermometers. Now, Fricke has turned them into maps.

6-year-old finds rare fossil

So, it's not a T-Rex skeleton, but otherwise I think this little girl is pretty much living out the childhood dreams of you, me, and everyone we know.

Video Link

Thanks, Kimberly Clarke!