When I was little, my big brother would take me fossil-hunting on a quest for trilobites, marine arthropods that have been extinct for around 250 million years. Occasionally we'd find lone specimens but never a bunch of them in a conga line as seen above. Paleontologists at France's Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1 studied lines of nearly two dozen trilobytes from Moroccan fossil beds to gain insight into the origins of collective social behavior. From the New York Times:
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These trilobites lived during the Great Ordovician Biodiversification Event, a period defined by a dramatic increase in the variety and complexity of marine life. It was the evolutionary sequel to the first major diversification event, the so-called Cambrian explosion, which established most animal groups in the fossil record some 541 million years ago.
Before the Cambrian, there is “no evidence for group behavior” in animals, (paleontologist Jean) Vannier said, because Precambrian life-forms lacked sophisticated nervous systems.
Ampyx trilobites, in contrast, had an anatomy that could have enabled chemical communication and sensory stimulation. Though they were visually blind, the trilobites had long spikes protruding from their rear ends. These appendages clearly overlap and link individuals in the fossilized chains, and perhaps allowed tactile or pheromone signals to be exchanged.
Well, sort of. Paleontologists have identified a 430 million-year-old fossil of a multi-tentacled sea creature as a new species and dubbed it Sollasina cthulhu after HP Lovecraft's Great Old One. From Yale University:
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The new cthulhu, Sollasina, had 45 tentacle-like tube feet, which it used to crawl along the ocean floor and capture food. The creature was small, about the size of a large spider. It was found in the Herefordshire Lagerstätte in the United Kingdom, a site that has proven to be a trove of fossilized ancient sea animals.
“In this paper, we report a new echinoderm — the group that includes sea urchins, sea cucumbers, and sea stars — with soft-tissue preservation,” said Yale paleontologist Derek Briggs, a co-author of the study. “This new species belongs to an extinct group called the ophiocistioids. With the aid of high-resolution physical-optical tomography, we describe the species in 3D, revealing internal elements of the water vascular system that were previously unknown in this group and, indeed, in nearly all fossil echinoderms.”
In the early 20th century, Arthur Earland and Edward Heron-Allen volunteered at what's now called the Natural History Museum, London (NHM). The two men spent their time researching fossils of single-celled organisms with shells, called Foraminifera, cataloging the various species, and creating microscope slides of the specimens. But each year when Christmas came around, they transformed their unique interest and skill into a fantastically fun gift exchange. From Smithsonian:
These Christmas-themed slides, which the two exchanged over their years of collaboration, had personalized greetings spelled out with microfossils (a term for fossils measuring under 1mm in size) that would be visible under a microscope. One from 1912 has Earland’s initials (“AE”), “XMAS,” and the year in an arrangement that measures about 1cm across.
Several examples of their Christmas slides are now in the collections of NHM. The 1912 slide is a part of the museum’s touring exhibition Treasures of the Natural World alongside birds studied by Charles Darwin and an Iguanodon bone described by Richard Owen. More humble than these illustrious objects, the slide is still an incredible work of art and science, with each small fossilized shell carefully selected and delicately attached to the slide using a fine paint brush and Tragacanth gum...
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D. Allan Drummond is a a professor of biochemistry, microbiology, and human genetics who has a penchant for trilobites, the marine arthropods that first appeared more than 500 million years ago and went extinct 245 million years ago for unknown reasons. Drummond creates 3D renderings of his trilobite fossils and then has them cast in bronze. Now, Drummond has added insects to his practice, modeling jumping spiders, praying mantises, and stag beetles.
Seattle's reborn Roq La Rue Gallery is presenting Drummond's first show of his work until January 6: D. Allan Drummond: "Curiosity"
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New scanning methods have helped determine an already well examined fossil is actually a separate species of Archaeopteryx, the evolutionary bridge between bird and reptile. Named Archaeopteryx albersdoerferi, only further research will show if it is truly a stand alone species and not just plain old Archaeopteryx lithographica or Archaeopteryx siemensii.
This particular fossil was discovered in 2009 (it’s referred to as number eight), but a new scanning technique was used for the analysis, so it’s classic case of an old fossil being view through new eyes. That the authors of the new study would declare the specimen a distinct species shouldn’t come as a surprise. Virtually every new fossil of Archaeopteryx has, at first, been declared a new species before eventually being slotted back into one of the two known species, either Archaeopteryx lithographica or Archaeopteryx siemensii, after further scrutiny. The same could happen to Archaeopteryx albersdoerferi, but only time will tell.
Archaeopteryx is one of the most intriguing dinosaurs in the paleontological record. Discovered back in the 1860s, this Jurassic-era dinosaur was celebrated as being a conspicuous demonstration of evolution in action. Not quite lizard and not quite bird, it seemed to show, almost literally, lizards evolving into birds. Archaeopteryx was thus branded a “transitionary” species—a so-called missing link between extinct dinosaurs and modern birds.
I once spent a fantastic day trying to find the "London specimen" in the British Museum. The woman I was with wanted to see the Archaeopteryx, and regardless how hard it seemed for us to find we were gonna! Read the rest
Amateur fossil hunter Phil Mullaly was exploring Jan Juc in south Australia's Victoria's Surf Coast when he noticed a shark's tooth poking out of a boulder on the beach. According to paleontologists at Museums Victoria, that tooth and two others found are 25-million-years-old and came from a Great Jagged Narrow-Toothed Shark (Carcharocles angustidens), a species that could be as much as 30 feet long. From CNN:
"If you think about how long we've been looking for fossils around the world as a civilization -- which is maybe 200 years -- in (that time) we have found just three (sets of) fossils of this kind on the entire planet, and this most recent find from Australia is one of those three," (Museums Victoria researcher Erich) Fitzgerald told CNN...
"That doesn't happen. That just doesn't happen. That's only happened once before in Australia, and that was a totally different species of shark," he said.
When Mullaly told him the boulder he found was still on the beach, Fitzgerald said "my jaw sort of dropped."
"Man stumbles upon rare 25-million-year-old teeth of mega-toothed shark" (CNN) Read the rest
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
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. Read the rest
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.
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"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.
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
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.
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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
Sarah Hardy's megaladon (£28) and T.Rex (£28) teeth are full size, convincing, and made from gorgeous, single-origin chocolates. Read the rest
This fine Velociraptor Claw could really level up your wunderkammer. It's just $12,500. Read the rest
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
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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
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