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  • feedwordpress 08:01:06 on 2019/04/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , Edward Drinker Cope, , , , , paleontology, Robert DePalma, ,   

    “Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.”*… 


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    fossil record

    In one fell swoop, Robert DePalma may have filled in the gap in the fossil record

     

    On August 5, 2013, I received an e-mail from a graduate student named Robert DePalma. I had never met DePalma, but we had corresponded on paleontological matters for years, ever since he had read a novel I’d written that centered on the discovery of a fossilized Tyrannosaurus rex killed by the KT impact. “I have made an incredible and unprecedented discovery,” he wrote me, from a truck stop in Bowman, North Dakota. “It is extremely confidential and only three others know of it at the moment, all of them close colleagues.” He went on, “It is far more unique and far rarer than any simple dinosaur discovery. I would prefer not outlining the details via e-mail, if possible.” He gave me his cell-phone number and a time to call.

    I called, and he told me that he had discovered a site like the one I’d imagined in my novel, which contained, among other things, direct victims of the catastrophe. At first, I was skeptical. DePalma was a scientific nobody, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Kansas, and he said that he had found the site with no institutional backing and no collaborators. I thought that he was likely exaggerating, or that he might even be crazy. (Paleontology has more than its share of unusual people.) But I was intrigued enough to get on a plane to North Dakota to see for myself…

    Douglas Preston recounts what he found: the young paleontologist looks increasingly likely (as other scientists assess his work) to have discovered a record of the most significant event in the history of life on Earth, the missing fossil evidence that recounts the almost-instant extinction of most life on the planet: “The Day the Dinosaurs Died.”

    See a second-by-second visualization of the event here.

    And for more on the threat that asteroids still present, and how we can protect the Earth from a repeat of that mass extinction, visit the B-612 Foundation.

    * Carl Sagan, The Varieties of Scientific Experience

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    As we extricate heads from the sand, we might spare a thought for a scientific forebearer of DePalma’s, Edward Drinker Cope; he died on this date in 1897. A paleontologist and comparative anatomist (as well as a noted herpetologist and ichthyologist), Cope led many natural history surveys in the American West for the precursors of the U.S. Geological Survey, making important finds on his trips, including dinosaur discoveries.

    220px-Cope_Edward_Drinker_1840-1897 source

     

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:20 on 2019/02/06 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , Hoover Dam, Louis Leakey, Mary Leakey, paleontology, star map, ,   

    “The years teach much the days never know”*… 


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    Hoover Dam

    On the western flank of the Hoover Dam stands a little-understood monument, commissioned by the US Bureau of Reclamation when construction of the dam began in 01931. The most noticeable parts of this corner of the dam, now known as Monument Plaza, are the massive winged bronze sculptures and central flagpole which are often photographed by visitors. The most amazing feature of this plaza, however, is under their feet as they take those pictures.

    The plaza’s terrazzo floor is actually a celestial map that marks the time of the dam’s creation based on the 25,772-year axial precession of the earth…

    Hoover diagram

    Alexander Rose, Executive director of The Long Now Foundation, on the star map of “Safety Island,” a Hoover Dam feature that has baffled visitors for decades: “The 26,000-Year Astronomical Monument Hidden in Plain Sight.”

    * Ralph Waldo Emerson

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    As we watch our step, we might send unearthed birthday greetings to Mary Douglas Leakey; she was born on this date in 1913.  An archaeologist and  paleoanthropologist, she made several of the most important fossil finds subsequently interpreted and publicized by her husband, the noted anthropologist Louis Leakey. For every vivid claim made by Louis about the origins of man, the supporting evidence tended to come from Mary’s scrupulous scientific approach.

    220px-Mary_Leakey source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:21 on 2018/09/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , Niles Eldridge, paleontology, punctuated equlibrium, , , Stephen J. Gould,   

    “We sometimes think, and even like to think, that the two greatest exertions that have influenced mankind, religion and science, have always been historical enemies”*… 


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    http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsc.00267

    Methodist Camp Meeting, early 19th century. Source: Library of Congress

    The contrast between the cold logic of science and the emotionality of religion is a seemingly unshakable binary today. But back in the early nineteenth century, people saw things very differently. Historian Jeffrey A. Mullins examines the religious revivals of the Second Great Awakening in the 1830s.

    At that time, Mullins writes, Americans did not see science and religion as opposites. Instead, they were “two aspects of the same universal truth.” And that truth was not based in pure logic. Emotions were a key to human behavior, and controlling and channeling emotions was a job for scientifically- and morally-grounded experts.

    This perspective led to a wealth of reformist interventions, from Sunday schools to penitentiaries to graham crackers. Preachers who led religious revivals around the country in the 1830s saw the need for a highly engineered emotional experience…

    During the Second Great Awakening of 1830, science and religion were seen as “two aspects of the same universal truth”: “When Science and Religion Were Connected.”

    * “We sometimes think, and even like to think, that the two greatest exertions that have influenced mankind, religion and science, have always been historical enemies, intriguing us in opposite directions. But this effort at special identity is loudly false. It is not religion but the church and science that were hostile to each other. And it was rivalry, not contravention. Both were religious. They were two giants fuming at each other over the same ground. Both proclaimed to be the only way to divine revelation” — Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind

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    As we puzzle over perspective, we might send dynamically-evolved birthday greetings to Stephen Jay Gould; he was born on this date in 1941.  One of the most influential and widely read writers of popular science in his generation (e.g., Ever Since Darwin, The Panda’s Thumb), Gould was a highly-respected academic paleontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science.  With Niles Eldridge, he developed the theory of “punctuated equilibrium,” an explanation of evolution that suggests (in contrast with the gradualism that was prevalent until then) that most evolution is marked by long periods of evolutionary stability, which are interrupted– “punctuated”– by rare instances of branching evolution (c.f., the Burgess Shale).

    Scientists have power by virtue of the respect commanded by the discipline… We live with poets and politicians, preachers and philosophers. All have their ways of knowing, and all are valid in their proper domain. The world is too complex and interesting for one way to hold all the answers.

    Stephen Jay Gould, Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:23 on 2017/09/07 Permalink
    Tags: Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, , , Hoyo Negro, Ice Age, , paleontology, ,   

    “In a scientific pursuit there is continual food for discovery and wonder”*… 


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    An ancient bear skull sits on the floor of Hoyo Negro, a flooded cave on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula

    Some 13,000 years ago in what’s now the Yucatán Peninsula, a deep pit inside a cave became the final resting place for a menagerie of exotic animals.

    Now, their exquisitely preserved bones, trapped for centuries under water, are offering some of the first solid clues to how large Ice Age beasts were mixing and migrating between North and South America after the Isthmus of Panama connected the two continents.

    “We’re going to go from a place with no records to having the best records for a lot of megafauna from Mexico, Central America, and northern South America,” says East Tennessee State University’s Blaine Schubert, who presented the findings this week at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s annual meeting in Calgary.

    The animal bones are also painting a more detailed picture of the strange world inhabited by Naia, an Ice Age girl found in the cave who is the oldest, most complete human skeleton yet discovered in the Americas…

    A remarkable discovery sheds new light on the exchange of life that occurred when the Isthmus of Panama rose from the ocean to connect two continents that had been ecologically separate for tens of millions of years: “Ice Age Predators Found Alongside Oldest Human in Americas.”

    * “In other studies you go as far as other have gone before you, and there is nothing more to know; but in a scientific pursuit there is continual food for discovery and wonder.”   – Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Frankenstein

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    As we re-trim our family trees, we might send illuminating birthday greetings to Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden; he was born on this date in 1829.  Trained as a physician (who served with the Union Army during the Civil War), Hayden was a practicing geologist and paleontologist noted for his work in the Badlands in the mid 19th century– it is believed he made the first North American discovery of dinosaur remains (1854)– and for his pioneering surveying expeditions of the Rocky Mountains later in that century, which helped lay the foundation of the U.S. Geological Survey.  Hayden is credited with having the Yellowstone geyser area declared the first national park (1872).

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:54 on 2016/08/15 Permalink
    Tags: Coninental Drift, , , , , Megalosaurus, paleontology, Pangea, tectonic, , William Buckland   

    “The metabolic rate of geology is too slow for us to perceive it”*… 


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    email readers click here for video

    Researchers modeled continental drift, going back 240 million years ago, on the scale of millimeters per year. It starts really slow and as if the supports give way to the separating pressure, there’s a relative burst of movement.

    The full paper is in Nature, and the interactive version, which is a bit rough around the edges, can be found here. Select the time, rotate the planet around, and press play to watch the continents break apart.

    From Flowing Data: “Continental drift, from 240 million years ago to present.”

    (While the changes are slow, they are in fact detectable in the course of a human life; c.f., “Australia’s Entire GPS Navigation is Off By 5 Feet.”)

    * Russell Banks, Continental Drift

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    As we slip and slide, we might spare a thought for William Buckland; he died on this date in 1856.  A English theologian who became Dean of Westminster, he was also a paleontologist (who wrote the first full account of a fossil dinosaur, which he named Megalosaurus) and a geologist (who was known for his effort to reconcile geological discoveries with the Bible and anti-evolutionary theories).  A gentleman of some eccentricity, Buckland undertook his field work wearing an academic gown.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:01 on 2014/05/28 Permalink
    Tags: , , dinosaurs, , , is not a dinosaur, John Lubbock, paleontology, ,   

    “Dinosaurs did not walk with humans. The evolutionary record says different. They gamboled”*… 


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    Emily Graslie, host/writer of the educational YouTube series The Brain Scoop, has branched out to manage the wonderful Tumblr “…is not a dinosaur.”

    This blog is a result of an erroneous mistake; one day I referred to Dimetrodon as a mammal-like reptile in front of a vertebrate paleomammalogist. These animals are not at all members of Reptilia; they are Synapsids – four-legged, back-boned animals that span back 315 million years on a completely different evolutionary branch on the tree of life.

    Since then, I’ve found Dimetrodon partying with members of Dinosauria across the pages of coloring books and frolicking in the aisles of toy stores, surrounded by lifeforms which evolved some 66 million years after those ancient mammalian relatives…

    And she’s shared; for example…

    aurusallos:

    isnotadinosaur:

    This is one of my favorites – I’ll reblog whomever points out all of the discrepancies in this one image. You’ll also get a puppy*
    *probably not

    Upper-left feathered thing: probably an Archaeopteryx, but they have been proven to have black feathers. Although kudos to the authors/artists for allowing feathered dinosaurs to somewhat grace the cover! (Darn publishing logos)

    Left green thing: an aetosaur, most likely. NOT DINOSAURS

    Dimetrodon: PELYCOSAUR, NOT A DINOSAUR, SYNAPSID NOT A DIAPSID, UGHHHHHHHH. DIDN’T EVEN LIVE IN THE MESOZOIC.

    Stegosaurus: head shape wrong, and dopey tail is not anatomically correct

    Blue Ornithomimus thing: FOUR TOES ON THE GROUND? I don’t think so! And pronated wrists, not to mention the lack of feathers…

    Protoceratops: legs sprawled out to the side instead of underneath, also missing the lower beak

    Velociraptor pair: NO FEATHERS, TOO BIG, BROKEN HIPS (Sauruschian hips followed a 90 degree rule, meaning the femur does not bend back more than 90 degrees), more pronated wrists, wrong skull shape, and what are toe claws

    Assumed Pteranodon: wimpy arm and shoulder musculature, missing pyncofibers, and wrong skull shape (although it might be viable, I’m scared to continue going through and trying to find pterosaur skeletals right now because of David Peters and his misleading work).

    Also, many of these creatures are geographically misplaced, so even if they weren’t all from different time periods (Permian-Cretaceous), they probably wouldn’t have interacted much.

    And, of course, the slightly off-center type of the title of the book is bugging me as a graphic design freak, but oh well.

    ETA: More about the Dimetrodon: This illustration shows it with erect legs when it actually had sprawling legs, and the skull/mouth shape is not accurate either.

    They just messed up bad with this one.

    ETA2: While I do not know that much about paleobotany, I believe that most of the plants presented are fairly accurate.

    I’m so proud I could cry.

     More disambiguation of the distant past at … is not a dinosaur.

    * Steve Martin

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    As we make Jurassic judgements, we might spare a thought for The Right Honorable John Lubbock, 1st Baron Avebury PC FRS DCL LLD; he died on this date in 1913.  A banker by trade (and family tradition), Lubbock was an avocational scientist who made significant contributions to ethnography, several branches of biology, and– as a friend and advocate of Darwin– the debate over evolution, and was a central force in establishing archaeology as a scientific discipline.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:37 on 2014/04/16 Permalink
    Tags: , , , oviraptorosaur, paleontology, Raymond Moore, Treatise of Invertebrate Paleontology,   

    “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens”*… 


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    A newly discovered dinosaur species that paleontologists have dubbed the “chicken from hell” is among the largest feathered dinosaurs ever found in North America.

    The 11-foot-long (3-meter-long), 500-pound (225-kilogram) Anzu wylieiis an oviraptorosaur—a family of two-legged, birdlike dinosaurs found in Central Asia and North America. These dinosaurs ranged in size from a few pounds to over a metric ton, according to a study published March 19 in the journal PLOS ONE.

    With its toothless beak, long legs, huge feet, and claw-tipped arms, A. wyliei looked like a devilish version of the modern cassowary, a large ground bird found in Australia.

    It was “as close as you can get to a bird without being a bird,” said study leader Matt Lamanna, a vertebrate paleontologist at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. (See “Pictures: Dinosaur’s Flashy Feathers Revealed.”)

    The dinosaur’s well-preserved skeletons suggest it was a wide-ranging eater, munching on a variety of vegetation and perhaps small animals.

    The species emerged from three 66-million-year-old skeletons excavated from the fossil-rich Hell Creek formation of South and North Dakota, starting in the late 1990s.  The third skeleton was found more recently, and it took years to identify and study all the remains…

    Read the whole story at “New ‘Chicken From Hell’ Dinosaur Discovered.”

    * Song title and lyric by Alex Kramer and Joan Whitney; recorded in 1946 by Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five

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    As we rethink those chicken wings, we might spare a thought for Raymond Cecil Moore; he died on this date in 1974.  A geologist and paleontologist, Moore did pioneering work on Paleozoic crinoids, bryozoans, and corals (invertebrate organisms existing 570 to 245 million years ago). Among other things, he showed that fossil stemmed forms, sometimes called “sea lilies,” while they bear a superficial resemblance to flowers, were actually animals.  Moore is probably best known as the founder and editor of the landmark multi-volume Treatise of Invertebrate Paleontology. 

    Moore (on left), with William W. Hambleton, and Frank C. Foley.

     source

     
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