Paleontology in the News

This is a selection of stories, subject to the following rules. First, I don't guarantee close daily coverage of everything that happens (because I have things to do apart from maintaining this Web page). Second, the site has to be generally accessible. (Many journals, like Science and Nature, make new papers accessible only to people or institutions who have paid a subscription to the written version.) Third, I choose newspapers and news sites that tend to keep their pages accessible for more than two weeks over those that do not. Fourth, I keep older articles archived for varying lengths of time, depending how important I think they are (or interesting, at least); whether they have been updated or made redundant; and whether the site has dropped them. For example, I've had to limit stories from the New York Times. It is a fine paper, but its new policy is to take off its stories within DAYS and then charge for access to them. I'll attach a notice to each item which says, This won't last long on free access (with free registration). If you want to keep this, DOWNLOAD IT NOW!

Similar pages on my web site are

and Here is a site for Anthropology in the News from Texas A & M.

Paleontology in the News, 2006

  • December 27, 2006. Nice survey of the controversy about Homo floresiensis. PLoS Biology. This is OPEN ACCESS, and has references that will lead you to the literature. Published online, December 12, 2006.
    Previous story, October 9, 2006: Carl Zimmer reports on a paper that again argues that the main skull is a microcephalic deformed Homo sapiens, and therefore that Homo floresiensis is not a valid species. There's also a useful concise summary of the history of publications on these creatures. Carl Zimmer's blog. For previous story see August 23, 2006.

  • December 22, 2006. The "gastroliths" associated occasionally with sauropod skeletons are NOT part of a bird-like grinding apparatus. Press release, University of Bonn. The paper is Wings, O., and P. M. Sander. 2006. No gastric mill in sauropod dinosaurs: new evidence from analysis of gastrolith mass and function in ostriches. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, online early publication.

  • December 22, 2006. A chaetognath from the Chengjiang biota, and the structure of Cambrian marine ecosystems. No Web site yet. The paper is Vannier, J., et al. 2006. Early Cambrian origin of modern food webs: evidence from predator arrow worms. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, online early publication.

  • December 21, 2006. Large sauropod discovered in Spain. National Geographic News. This is big news if you're Spanish or even European, but it doesn't rewrite the textbooks, as the TV networks were reporting last night.

  • December 20, 2006. The Precambrian "embryos" from Doushantuo may be giant bacteria. PhysOrg site. This is from Frank Corsetti's lab at USC. The largest living bacterium Thiomargarita lives off the coast of Southwest Africa, and caused a lot of excitement when it was discovered recently. The paper is apparently going to appear in Nature; that means it won't be freely available on the Web.

  • December 20, 2006. The origin of insects. No Web site: the paper is in this week's Science, so it will be on the Web in a few months. The authors claim that insects are derived crustaceans (an increasingly plausible scenario based on molecular data). In particular, the freshwater "fairy shrimps" called branchiopods may be closest. They are already in freshwater environments in the later Silurian/early Devonian, so the appearance of rare and poorly preserved insects in the Devonian is chronologically possible. Glenner, H., et al. 2006. The origin of insects. Science 314: 1883-1884.

  • December 19, 2006. A great paper from John Hawks and Gregory Cochran on the likely role of introgression in the evolution of living humans. Quick summary from John Hawks' blog. The paper, in PaleoAnthropology, is OPEN ACCESS. Here's my summary: don't blame them if I got it wrong in some places. Briefly, Hawks and Cochran discuss the likely importance of rare interbreeding events between closely related species in transferring gene changes across species "boundaries". A transferred gene might then spread quickly into a population, as long as it conferred an advantage, despite the rarity of cross-breeding events. This is a well-documented phenomenon in animals (for example, among the various species of Bos, including bison, wisent, cattle, yaks, etc.: there are few or no bison that don't have cattle genes), and it is used deliberately by plant breeders in cultivated crops. What Hawks and Cochran do is to suggest that introgression could have played an important role in human evolution. They calculate that given reasonable assumptions, the introduction of genes exchanged between the various species of Homo could have been as important as the role of mutation in giving natural selection material the raw material to act on in the affected lineages. What's more, a gene transferred from a different Homo genome would have been pre-selected for something, and that something might have been much more useful than a chance mutation. If interbreeding had been universal, the species barrier would have vanished altogether, and we would quickly see only one final morphology But clearly, (to use one possible example), humans and Neanderthals did not merge in that way. But what if advancing humans got some important gene from a very few matings with Neanderthals? That's a much more likely scenario: it's possible that Neanderthals literally cross-bred themselves out of existence! Once you start thinking in these terms, the recurring hints of human/Neanderthal hybrids become more plausible. Yet interbreeding was rare, so we don't see anything (yet) in the Neanderthal genome that proves interbreeding with humans, and evidence of "foreign" genes in the human genome is just beginning to emerge (scroll down to November 29, 2006). This field is suddenly breaking wide open....

  • December 19, 2006. Here we go again: the bacterium Deinococcus is actually Martian. BBC News OnLine. Funny that Deinococcus has DNA completely similar to thousands of its terrestrial relatives. Here's how it worked, according to this bunch. Earth bacteria were transported (on a meteorite) to Mars, where they acquired resistance to radiation. Then they were transported back to Earth (on a meteorite). These folks have never heard of Occam's Razor: the simplest hypothesis is the one you work with until it fails to explain the evidence. The corollary is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. You may safely discount this idea, and wonder to yourself why a journal would publish it. Pavlov, A. K., et al. 2006. Was Earth ever infected by Martian biota? Clues from radioresistant bacteria. Astrobiology 6, 911-918. The paper is said to be OPEN ACCESS

  • December 18, 2006. How bird shoulders work. Live Science. The study indicates that flying birds today (pigeons, at least) have a ligament that is absolutely required to keep the humerus from dislocating at the shoulder socket during the stresses of flapping flight. Archaeopteryx did not have that, according to the analysis. In the paper, the authors do not discuss the implications of that, though they simply state that Archaeopteryx was "volant" and therefore that birds were flying before the ligament evolved. Apparently, in interviews, they say vaguely that Archaeopteryx flew in some other way. It seems to me that the simplest (and therefore best) explanation is that Archaeopteryx did not fly. Of course, faithful readers will know that I have said that for years . The paper is in press in Nature, which means that it won't be accessible to the peasants.

  • December 18, 2006. A non-flying NEW ZEALAND Miocene mammal? What's more, the authors say it's so primitive-looking (they didn't use that phrase) that it must be VERY ancient. Astounding! I wonder where it came from? And having expressed this emotion, let me return to reality and say these tiny scraps are pathetic. There isn't enough to give a name. There are two fragments of jawbone, almost identical, so they came from two mouse-sized animals that were likely the same species. But the teeth aren't preserved. Then there's a fragment of the end of a femur that may or not belong to that species. With the accumulated wisdom of nine authors, what more can we say, despite the potential importance of the find? Not much. However, they are going back to the site for three years with $500,000 (Australian).

  • December 13, 2006. A gliding mammal from the Jurassic of China. Volacotherium. What it's doing looks to be much the same as the gliding of the "flying" squirrel or today's northern forests, of the gliding lizard Draco. It's exciting because it's so early. But it's not as old as the gliding lizards of the Permian and Triassic. See my Chapter 13. This is NOT powered flight: that didn't evolve in mammals until the bats appeared soon after the K/T boundary. The paper is to appear in Nature, so it won't be available to the peasants. Volacotherium is REALLY low in the mammalian cladogram, too: it was an early experiment that did not work, long-term.

  • December 11, 2006. Late Cretaceous plesiosaur from Antarctica. Further proof that Cretaceous seas were warmer than today, and that the Antarctic was positively temperate.

  • December 5, 2006. Neanderthal women hunted alongside men. And that had all kinds of repercussions when they came into contact/competition with modern humans. The news story is in the National Geographic News. The paper is in the December Current Anthropology. I like the idea! But although I think it's very attractive and powerful, there can't be a lot of evidence on the issue, so it will likely be argued over a lot!
    For example, John Hawks doesn't like it at all, and explains why. Let me just say in a little tiny whine about Hawks' argument. I'd argue that perhaps the demise of the Neanderthals may have been like the demise of the Vikings in Greenland. Sure, the Norse could have changed their lifestyle to be more like Inuit, but they didn't, and they went extinct. Perhaps the Neanderthals could have changed their lifestyle to be more like modern humans, but they didn't, and they went extinct.

  • December 4, 2006. Dinosaur nest sold for $420,000. Outrageous, on several levels. BBC News OnLine

  • December 4, 2006. Neanderthals as cannibals (again). The idea has been around for years: this is a new example.

  • December 3, 2006. Troody the robot theropod, on YouTube. YouTube. Thanks to Dan Varner for this URL!

  • November 30, 2006. Confirmation that there was one (and only one) asteroid strike at the K-T boundary. National Geographic News. Only a few scientists have been arguing for two or more strikes, but it's important to get it right.

  • November 30, 2006. A meteorite with organic molecules older than the Solar System. This is not surprising as long as organic molecules can form in interstellar space. It is surprising that we can identify them as such. The paper is in Science this week. National Geographic News

  • November 29, 2006. Human brains and the Neanderthal connection. The paper came out in print in PNAS yesterday. It seems to me to be a brilliant paper. Briefly, about 70% of living humans have genes that help to control brain development, yet they are not from our own genetic heritage. They must have come from some other Homo in the past. The candidates include Neanderthals. The implications are fundamental, and yet to be fully explored. Fortunately, the paper is on open access.

  • November 29, 2006. The bite of a Dunkleosteus. The paper is on-line in Biology Letters.

  • November 27, 2006. Most North American Pleistocene mastodons had tuberculosis. This is a nice paper by Bruce Rothschild and Richard Laub, published in the November 2006 issue of Naturwissenschaften. Rothschild is Mr. Paleopathology, and the authors document very high amounts of bone damage in mastodons of all ages and throughout North America. That implies that the whole population was riddled with TB. So the authors call it hyperdisease. That's technically correct, but "hyperdisease" in a Late Pleistocene concept is also a loaded buzzword that connotes association with Ross McPhee's hypothesis that the Pleistocene extinctions were all caused by "hyperdisease". Rothschild and Laub are careful to say that they are NOT jumping on that bandwagon. The evidence is that all mastodons had been getting TB for the whole length of their North American record, from 30,000 BP until their extinction close to 10,000 years BP. So TB didn't kill them off: but obviously it didn't help them either! A companion paper notes TB in Holarctic bovids also, again with no mandatory connection with Pleistocene extinctions.

  • November 25, 2006. The alleged aftermath of the Permo-Triassic mass extinction. Data are data, but interpretations are guesses. I'm not convinced that today's oceans would still be Paleozoic looking if it were not for the P-Tr extinction. That is clearly what the journalists are getting from the authors. Yet we have known about the patterns of change in marine faunas since the 1980s. Charles Thayer in 1983 documented the dramatic fate of what he called IMOUS and ISSOS, the immobile benthos of the Paleozoic; and he linked the change in marine ecology to the P-Tr boundary. Steve Stanley and Gary Vermeij documented the impressive but non-catastrophic rise of the modern marine fauna in the "Marine Mesozoic Revolution" during the Cretaceous. That says to me that the modern marine fauna would be modern, whatever had happened at the P-Tr boundary... These patterns are more likely related to nutrient supply to the oceans (Richard Bambach's sea-food hypothesis, also described by Gary Vermeij in his latest big book) than they are to the P-Tr extinctions. This train of thought is also reflected in the recent paper in the October issue of Geology by Frank McKinney and Steven Hageman. I am astounded that none of the authorities I refer to above are referenced in the paper, though the authors do cite another paper in the volume in which Thayer published his work. The offending paper was published in Science.

  • November 22, 2006. A new Silurian ostracod: and she was pregnant. Well, she had eggs in her brood pouch, which is the ostracod equivalent. Another find from the Silurian lagerstätte in Herefordshire in England. The paper is in he Proceedings of the Royal Society B. PhysOrg site

  • November 20, 2006. Robert Hazen summarizes his work on the origin of life (on mineral surfaces). Carnegie Institution press release on SpaceflightNow site

  • November 16, 2006. In evolution, shifts in behavior may often drive shifts in morphology. This idea isn't new: I remeber reading it in grad. school in the 1960s, though I can't remember who said it. But what we have here is a brilliant experiment that is the best illustration yet for the idea. And it works quickly. National Geographic News

  • November 16, 2006. Two new papers on Neanderthal DNA (and comparison with living human DNA). The papers appear this week in Nature and Science. It's not quite true that the studies find NO evidence of human/Neanderthal interbreeding. They say that if it happened, it must have been on a small scale, and there are hints that if it happened, it was gender-biased [human male/Neanderthal female]. So the door is not quite closed! (see this previous story from National Geographic News, October 30, 2006).

  • November 16, 2006. Very early burial of twin newborns, found in Austria. The tentative date is 27,000 BP. Scientific American news

  • November 14, 2006. Aliens from space again. This is a revival of an old story: that Earth is bombarded by extraterrestrial microbes that cause disease. Originally suggested by astrophysicist Fred Hoyle, noted scientist and science fiction writer, and his colleague Chandra Wickramasinghe, promoter of creationism, as part of a Panspermia idea, it has never been anything but a wild idea (IMHO). [Did you know that influenza epidemics come from interstellar arrivals?!?] The publication was back in 2003, and is linked to the BBC story. The "cells" are probably fine desert dust: that's why you can boil them without harming them!. It's bizarre that Wickramasinghe, who has lots of laboratory experience with "pre-biotic" chemistry, didn't or wouldn't take samples back to his lab and work with them properly. Note that this story is part of a BBC teaser for one of their Horizon TV shows. Bloody nonsense! And self-serving hypocrisy. BBC News OnLine

  • November 14, 2006. The science of pack-rat paleontology and Pleistocene climate change. New York Times. This page won't last long. If you want it. download it now.

  • November 9, 2006. The sea urchin genome is analyzed. National Geographic News. Once again, terrible headline from a National Geographic editor. It's not that sea urchins have a genome like humans: they have a genome that is like that of vertebrates. And we have known for a long time that echinoderms are deuterostomes (the supergroup that includes vertebrates).

  • November 9, 2006. Varied diet of Australopithecus robustus. Well, this doesn't surprise me, and it shouldn't surprise anyone wh actually knows something about animals. Foxes, which are "carnivores", eat a lot of berries, and sheep and squirrels, which are "vegetarians", have been known to eat birds. None of these factoids alter the concept that there is a major preferred dietary style, but variety of diet should not be called "surprising".

  • November 6, 2006. Producing organic chemicals that might have fed early organisms. National Geographic News The paper is published in PNAS.

  • November 6, 2006. A dolphin with extra fins. National Geographic News First, we don't need a deformed dolphin to "prove" terrestrial origins for whales. Second, a dolphin with a birth defect doesn't prove anything about evolution. My daughter's sixth toe on one foot doesn't "prove" that humans once had eleven toes. Why do writers, or more likely, their editors, produce such misleading headlines?

  • November 7, 2006. Neanderthals in our midst.

  • November 1, 2006. Microbe evolution: making food stink so that no-one else would want it. Phys.Org site. This is evolution rather than paleontology, but I couldn't resist posting it.

  • November 1, 2006. New Oligocene elephant from East Africa may be yield valuable information about the origin of modern elephant lineages. The paper is published in PNAS.

  • October 30, 2006. The K-T extinction may not have been caused only by an asteroid impact. National Geographic News. Well, OK, we know very well that there were giant eruptions going on at the same time. BUT it will take a lot more evidence to convince me that we need an extraordinarily complex scenario.

  • October 25, 2006. The oldest fossil bee (found in Cretaceous amber from Myanmar).

  • October 25, 2006. A new phorusrhacid from Argentine: these birds were slimmer and faster than older reconstructions would imply. The paper is in Nature, so won't be generally available on the Web.

  • October 25, 2006. A new fossil lamprey, Priscomyzon, from the Devonian of South Africa underscores the fact that these are "living fossils". National Geographic News The paper is in Nature, so won't be generally available on the Web.

  • October 25, 2006. Early Mars oceans were too hostile to have had life. Discovery Channel Canada

  • October 24, 2006. Worm burrows found in the gut contents of a dinosaur. The rest is speculation. Live Science

  • October 19, 2006. The Devonian fish Gogonasus has some tetrapod-like features. Specifically, they suggest that it was air-breathing, and that it had strong fins. The paper is on-line on Nature's web site, which means that the peasants don't get access to it.

  • October 19, 2006. A fin is a limb is a wing: by Carl Zimmer. National Geographic Magazine This is a feature article in the November issue: thanks to NGS for making it public access. There is also a fine picture gallery.

  • October 19, 2006. Project to put all of Darwin's writings on the Web. BBC News OnLine. The site is here

  • October 18, 2006. The Bering Land bridge was submerged earlier than we thought. This indirectly adds credibility to the idea that humans invaded North America from Asia by boat. (Se Erlandsons's summary under the story on October 5, 2006.) National Geographic News.
    Related story: The work of Jon Erlandson of the University of Oregon, on the importance of coastlines for early human subsistence (and migration). BBC News OnLine, October 5, 2006.

  • October 17, 2006. Dwarf buffalo evolved in the Philippines. National Geographic News The main story is just fine. But Victoria Gilman should have looked at an atlas before she wrote that Flores is a Philippine island, and all the proof readers and fact checkers should be demoted. This IS National Geographic, after all!!! So read the Live Science story, which got it right.

  • October 17, 2006. Bloody rubbish contribution #5,742. BBC News OnLIne. Note: 1) this is from an economist with a Ph.D. in "Government", and we know how good those folks are at prediction; 2) it was presented not in a scientific journal, but on a "men's" satellite TV channel (BRAVO: a televisual broadcaster for the modern gentleman", with a special section on LADIES, "our friends with an aversion to fabric"). This could be a good exam question: "Describe everything that's nutty about this proposition. Correct criticisms get credit; incorrect or facetious answers earn a deduction." John Hawks doesn't like it either!.

  • October 17, 2006. Stiffening the fins of ichthyosaurs with collagen. Live Science. The story says that publication is forthcoming in Naturwissenschaften.

  • October 13, 2006. More fossil embryos from the late Proterozoic of China. This is the latest from the Doushanto Formation. There's nothing really surprising in the new study, which is in Science this week (see the link to the 2004 news story). BBC News OnLine

  • October 11, 2006. Mass extinctions and ocean crises. I've only just found this. It's in the October issue of Scientific American, but it's also freely available on the Web (Thank you!). Peter Ward summarizes current evidence about the possibility that ocean crises bring anoxic waters loaded with hydrogen sulfide to the surface, with massive impications for atmosphere and for global climate change. He argues that most mass extinctions are not impact related, but ocean-related. His treatment tends to hide the message that gigantic eruptions set off the oceanic crises, so what he is presenting is a new twist on the major role of massive eruptions, which is certainly not a whole new Kuhnian revolution in our thinking. Even so, it is clear that I shall have to revise Chapter 6 to take account of that new twist. Article by Peter Ward in Scientific American

  • October 11, 2006. Article on Svante Paabo and the quest for the complete genome of a Neanderthal. Smithsonian Magazine, October 2006

  • October 10, 2006. The function of Triceratops horns. DISPLAY!!! Live Science. The paper, by Jack Horner and Mark Goodwin, is in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B.

  • October 10, 2006. Giant prehistoric camel found in Syria. BBC News OnLINE You get the impression that the correspondent couldn't understand what these folks were trying to say. OK, they found a 4-meter high camel from deposits aged around 100,000 years. The rest is jumbled. I'll have to wait for the paper which is NOT in this week's PNAS.

  • October 5, 2006. An amazing find of Jurassic marine reptiles in Spitsbergen. The score so far is 21 plesiosaurs, 6 ichthyosaurs, and a giant pliosaur.

  • September 22, 2006. Discovery of a pregnant Cretaceous ichthyosaur fossil in northern Canada. The paper, by Mike Caldwell's team, is in Palaeontology.

  • September 20, 2006. The fossil of a very young Australopithecus afarensis. If it had been a gorilla baby, it would have been about 3 years old, but who knows how that estimated age carries across to an Australopithecus. At any rate, this is a remarkable find, with much more detail to follow as the specimen is painstakingly cleaned. I refuse to call it "Lucy's baby". The paper is in Nature, and there will be a feature about the find in National Geographic in the November issue.

  • September 20, 2006. The little dinosaur Coelophysis was not a cannibal. The bones in its gut are those of small crododilians.

  • September 19, 2006. A new hegetothere from South America. It's a notoungulate. It is not a "dog-hare hybrid" as the National Geographic reporter puts it, and our science is not "archeology". The paper is in the Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology. National Geographic News

  • September 13, 2006. The Neanderthals' last stand was in Gibraltar, suggest some new dates. The paper is on-line with Nature, and I haven't seen it yet. This would not be a surprise; Iberia is biogeographically a peninsula unless an invader is going to cross from Africa. John Hawks (see URL below) raises questions about the data that should have been caught during the review process.

  • September 18, 2006. What are the odds of a dinosaur being preserved? Greg Erickson tells us. Scientific American's Ask an Expert series

  • September 12, 2006. Hind-limb "wings" on Archaeopteryx? Web essay by Nick Longrich. This is the bacjground to his new paper: Longrich, N. 2006. Structure and function of hindlimb feathers in Archaeopteryx lithographica. Paleobiology 32: 417­431. He says he sees "flight feathers" (his words) on Archaeopteryx, and infers that it was "four-winged" (his words). I don't believe it. The whole interpretative construct depends on the assumption that Archaeopteryx flew pretty well, and as I've argued too many times, that's highly unlikely. Those feathers could have been for display, or for aerodynamic turning in an agile runner and hunter. Obviously, this question is going to go on and on until there's a resolution.
    Story on National Geographic News

  • September 10, 2006. Ochre: used by humans earlier than ever. The latest date is around 200,000 years: much older than Homo sapiens. The localities are in southern Africa. It's difficult to imagine that ochre use did not include art and symbolism. BBC News OnLine

  • September 7, 2006. Computer simulations generate Earth-like planets. This specific study suggests that even stars that have close hot Jupiters could also have "habitable" planets maybe one-third of the time. The paper is in Science today, and will be generally available on the Web in a few months.

  • September 7, 2006. Even more super-tall redwoods are found in Redwood National Park, in northern California. There are now 350 known redwoods over 350 feet tall, and four are 370 feet or more. San Francisco Chronicle

  • September 5, 2006. Britain: on the fringe of habitable Earth during the Ice Ages. BBC News OnLine

  • August 23, 2006. Latest on Homo floresiensis: it may be a pygmy Homo sapiens. The paper is in PNAS: it will be formally published early in September. It's the latest shot in a long-running battle. John Hawks' post is long, detailed, and well argued. The paper (open access) is well argued, and I shall accept its conclusions until the inevitable counter-arguments appear.

  • August 23, 2006. What were oxygen levels at 2.8 Ga? In the book, and generally accepted, is the thought that the atmosphere didn't become reasonably oxygenated until about 2.3 Ga. However, evidence from sulfur isotopes now suggests an ozone layer (therefore oxygen) in the atmosphere at 2.8 Ga. The idea has to be tested further, because lots of geochemical indicators point to the 2.3 Ga date. The paper is in Nature, so it won't be generally available on the Web.

  • August 17, 2006. A dramatic genetic difference between chimps and humans is discovered. This is from David Haussler's research group at UC Santa Cruz. The DNA of chimps and humans is close to identical (not surprising considering that they had a common ancestor perhaps 6-7 million years ago. However, a major difference has been found in a regulator gene that's involved in brain development in the early months of pregnancy. The paper is published on-line by Nature, so it won't be generally accessible on the Web. The BBC story is a fair summary, however.

  • August 16, 2006. An early predatory mysticete whale. All living mysticete whales are "baleen whales: that is, they filter krill from seawater. However, this early mysticete from Australia had a vicious array of teeth and was undoubtedly a top-level carnivore like the other great group of whales, the toothed whales. So baleen was evolved AFTER "baleen" whales split off from the others. The paper is an on-line publication in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London.

  • August 10, 2006. The US is second worst among first-world nations in believing that evolution is false. Who could possibly be worst, you ask? Turkey. Who's best? Japan and Iceland.

  • August 7, 2006. Peroxide snow on Mars: not conducive to life!. National Geographic News. Previous story: After ten years, NASA's claim to have found life on Mars is bankrupt. ABC News August 6, 2006

  • July 28, 2006. Puertasaurus, a gigantic sauropod from Argentina. National Geographic News. Here is a photo gallery of Puertasaurus, from National Geographic News.

  • July 27, 2006. Pterosaur crests as display structures. BBC News OnLine. The paper is in Palaeontology.

  • July 27, 2006. More on Australian Cretaceous plesiosaurs. The stress this time is on the fact that Australia was far south at the time, so the plesiosaurs were swimming in relatively cool water. BBC News OnLine. For previous story, see July 5, 2006.

  • July 27, 2006. Shark fins and human limbs are molded by the same family of developmental genes. The paper is in Nature this week, so won't be generally accessible on the Web.

  • July 25, 2006. The Paleocene/Eocene boundary warming, and the intercontinental migrations it allowed. This particular case study features the little primate Teilhardina, which was able to spread around the Northern continents in a geological instant, because the climate changed dramatically to warm those regions. Teilhardina was the first genuine primate to reach North America. The paper is in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

  • July 25, 2006. Fresh-looking bone marrow found in 10-million-year-old frogs and salamanders from Spain. If thin-section histology tells the same story, then this could be a very important find. The paper is in the August issue of Geology, which is not generally accessible.

  • July 25, 2006. New reconstruction of Baryonyx is completed. (It is a fish-eating theropod dinosaur.) There once was a plumber from Dorking, who found some old claws when out walking; I'll complete this some time. AHN site

  • July 25, 2006. Here come the killer kangaroos again; AND the demon duck of doom too! National Geographic News

  • July 23, 2006. Darren Naish blog about metriorhynchids (Mesozoic marine crocodiles). His blog site

  • July 24, 2006. The fear of snakes played a major role in human evolution. So suggests Lynn Isbell of the University of California, Davis. I was, of course, skeptical when I read the title, but in a long detailed paper, she makes a defensible case. I'm not sure I believe it, but this is not arm-waving science; it is a real hypothesis. The paper is in the Journal of Human Evolution.

  • July 20, 2006. Jack Horner finds a baby Triceratops. Discovery Channel News

  • July 20, 2006. Project to sequence the Neanderthal genome. 454 company Very nice Web site, with important links.

  • July 20, 2006. Increasingly convincing evidence that there was life on Earth at 3.8 Ga. UCLA press release. The evidence is based on carbon isotopes, and supports the ideas based on the Isua Formation already set out by Minik Rosing (and used in my text). The new paper will be published in the American Journal of Science.

  • July 19, 2006. The Triassic reptile Sharovipteryx was a delta-wing flier. Live Science site. Judging by this news article, the authors apparently claim they have inferred some spectacular new feature for this fossil. That's simply not true. The canard in front of the front limbs was suggested in 1987 by Carl Gans and two Russian colleagues, though you'd never guess it from the way that Dyke et al. discuss that paper, and draw a reconstruction said to be that of Gans et al.: (b) on the diagram on the LiveScience story, which is straight from Dyke et al.'s paper. If you have library access, look at Gans, C., I. S. Darevski, and L. P. Tatarinov. 1987. Sharovipteryx, a reptilian glider? Paleobiology 13: 415-426. What Dyke et al. did is simply to add the Gans canard to Sharov's original reconstruction of 1971. Look at Sharov's original reconstruction [it's (a) on the diagram on the LiveScience story, which is straight from Dyke et al's paper]. Now remember that Gans et al. suggested a canard back in 1987. Now Google "Sharovipteryx", and in the second of all 9,680 hits that come up, look at the colored reconstruction of Sharovipteryx on Sharov's son's Web site. Make that neck canard more projecting, as Gans et al. did back in 1987, and what you have is the reconstruction that Dyke et al. claim as new. The only difference is that they arbitrarily attach the main flight surface to the ribs, not the forelimb, for a reason that seems weak to me. The final insult to Sharov is that Dyke et al. in their abstract and in their introduction claim that no previous reconstruction of Sharovipteryx was based on examination of the fossil!!! Sharov found that fossil and described it in 1971. But he's dead, and can't in person protest that insult. The Dyke et al. paper has just been published in Journal of Evolutionary Biology 19: 1040-1043. These are well-known people, and they do not need to boost up their own research by downplaying the work of others. It's sad, really.

  • July 14, 2006. The history of Paleozoic wildfires. BBC News OnLine. This story is based on an electronic preprint dated July 10th. Here is the abstract, the only component I can access today. I would like to be reassured about sampling. We know that we would expect to see more wildfires when (geochemically modeled) oxygen levels are thought to have been high.The sampling is said to give a quantitative appraisal of charcoal concentrations over time. Was the sampling concentrated in the periods and the facies likely to yield charcoal, and therefore gave the expected answer? I have no prejudices on this topic, just want to make sure the science was done properly.

  • July 13, 2006. "Strange" life history for tyrannosaurs. Mortality was greater once they reached maturity than it was in "adolescence". The paper is in Science, so will be freely available on the Web later this year. The result is not as surprising as it first sounds. I would imagine that you would find the same thing among young raptors: and I mean birds, not dinosaurs. Young hawks are fed in the nest by their parents, and are fed after they have fledged for a while, while they learn to hunt for themselves. In fact, the hawks in our pine tree have raised three youngsters this year, and they are flying strongly now, and beginning to hunt. However, the crunch comes for young hawks when they leave or are evicted from the home territory and have to go out and find their own. I suspect that's the story for young tyrannosaurs, too. If true, this implies long parental fostering, but would that surprise anyone?

  • July 12, 2006. The Burgess fossil Odontogriphus is a problem no more: it's a stem mollusc. The paper is in Nature, so it won't be on the Web. Canadian Broadcasting Company

  • July 11, 2006. Dinosaur thermoregulation: a new appraisal. The authors argue that dinosaurs were poikilothermic, but that big ones mostly used inertial thermoregulation (gigantothermy), and had REALLY high body temperatures. This is going to generate a lot of discussion, much of it probably pointless, because the authors' logic is so faulty. Big dinosaurs, like any other animals that size, have gigantothermy whether they like it or not. But the inferred temperatures, as well as a dramatic shift in body temperature within a few years of a dinosaur's life, look biologically dubious to me. (And that means there's something drastically wrong with the methodology and/or the inferred equations.) The paper is in PLoS (link below). A link to my vicious comment on the paper is also below.

  • July 7, 2006. An elephant kill in Britain, 400,000 years ago. This would have been done by Homo heidelbergensis .

  • July 6, 2006. A red-haired gene in woolly mammoths. Well, it's not as clear-cut as that. The paper is a one-page brief report in Science this week.

  • July 5, 2006. Eric the crested plesiosaur, preserved in opal in South Australia. Eric's official name is now Umoonasaurus. The paper is Kear, B. J., et al. 2006. An archaic crested plesiosaur in opal from the Lower Cretaceous high-latitude deposits of Australia. Biology Letters (of the Royal Society), published online for those with subscriber access. What's neat is not the crest (which is rather low), but the fact that Eric occurs with other plesiosaurs at a paleolatitude of about 70°S. And that confirms (if you were in doubt) that there's a high probability that plesiosaurs were endothermic.

  • July 5, 2006. The common ancestor of all living humans lived 5,000 years ago???? Absolutely not: this is COMPLETE RUBBISH!!!! But then it's on Fox News. The fact is that this item refers to a paper in Nature published back in 2004. And Jotun Hein's commentary pointed out at that time that the statisticians involved used completely unrealistic assumptions about human biology. Why is Fox re-running this nonsense?? Maybe just plain ignorance. Fox News. Here is a comment by John Hawks, who at least knows what he's talking about.

  • July 4, 2006. Carl Zimmer on the new dodo finds on Mauritius. New York Times . If you want to keep it, DOWNLOAD IT NOW!!! Previous story: BBC News OnLine, June 26, 2006.

  • July 1, 2006. Excellent vision inferred for Tyrannosaurus rex. Science News

  • June 26, 2006. Elephant seals lived on the Antarctic coast fairly recently. Today they live on islands further north. National Geographic News

  • June 22, 2006. Orb-web spiders were spinning their webs and catching flies 110 million years ago. A paper in Science (freely available on the Web later this year) documents a web fragment in Cretaceous amber from Spain, with prey still stuck to it. Furthermore, a paper in Biology Letters (of the Royal Society) describes an orb-web spider, also from Cretaceous amber from Spain. These two papers are featured in two news stories:

  • June 22, 2006. The oldest jewelry/jewellery (depends whether you write American or English). The paper is in Science, so will be freely available on the Web by following this link later this year. Meanwhile use these stories:

  • June 22, 2006. The Flores hominids might be pygmy Homo sapiens. Blog by John Hawks about a new paper in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology.

  • June 20, 2006. Evolution of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Well-written article by Carl Zimmer. New York Times. This won't last long on free access (with free registration). If you want to keep this, DOWNLOAD IT NOW!

  • June 20, 2006. Huge, beautiful handaxes made by pre-humans (probably Homo heidelbergensis) in Pleistocene England. BBC News OnLine

  • June 17, 2006. Humans, cats, and Helicobacter pylori. H. pylori is a microorganism that is associated with stomach ulcers in humans. (However, about half of us have the bug, and only a few per cent have stomach ulcers.) But big cats have a closely related Helicobacter. It turns out that most likely, the big cats originally got their bacteria by eating humans. The paper is in PLoS, and I'll give that URL when I read it. Meanwhile, here is Carl Zimmer's blog: on his new blog page.

  • June 21, 2006. Sahelanthropus is not a hominid (it's an "ape"). Blog by John Hawks, with link to a freely accessible paper of which he is a co-author. Sounds good to me.

  • June 15, 2006. The oldest ornithurine bird This is Gansus, now known from half a dozen superb 3-D specimens and dozens of others. They are Early Cretaceous, about 110 Ma, but from northwest China, not from the famous Liaoning region. Gansus was a flying bird with aquatic adaptations. It is too low on the modern-bird tree to be a member of any living group, though ecologically it was likely a diver and foot-propelled swimmer. Unfortunately the skull is not preserved, though you'll find it, complete with teeth, in the reconstructions. The aquatic adaptations mean to the authors that ornithurines had a nearshore origin. The paper is in Science, so it will be freely available on the Web later this year. Meanwhile,

  • June 15, 2006. Review of the state of research on positive natural selection in the human lineage. This was a paper in Science this week, Sabeti, P. C., et al. 2006. Positive natural selection in the human lineage. Science 312: 1614-1620. Here is an On-line slide show with commentary by two of the authors

  • June 12, 2006. Oldest modern crocodile found in the mid-Cretaceous of Australia. This is neat. The paper is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Isisfordia is small (about a meter long), but is in the process of evolving the strength in the skull that allowed and allows all modern crocodilians (Eusuchia) to bite and roll to help rip prey apart. This allowed early eusuchians to take larger prey, and led quickly to the evolution of very large size (as in Deinosuchus in the late Cretaceous, which National Geographic loves to call Supercroc). ABC = Australian BC

  • June 7, 2006. Confirmation that eukaryotes were present before the "Snowball Earth" of 2.3 Ga. There are biomarkers for eukaryotes at about 2.45 Ga. The paper is in Geology, which is not freely available on the Web.

  • June 7, 2006. Organisms built stromatolites at 3.43 billion years ago. There's been little doubt about it, in my opinion, and in my textbook. But there have been claims that early stromatolites were built purely by chemical precipitation, so can tell us nothing about Archaean life. Well, forget it: this new paper (in Nature, so not freely available on the Web) demonstrates beyond all doubt that stromatolites were organic, and were abundant and varied in normal carbonate environments at 3.4 Ga. And there's a very well written commentary by Stan Awramik, as a bonus.

  • June 7, 2006. The little sauropod Europasaurus. A paper in Nature that won't be freely available on the Web. We know this little sauropod was about as tall as a horse at the shoulder. But its bone structure tells us that it was an adult at this size, and there are much smaller juveniles. They seem to have lived on an island in the Jurassic in what is now Germany; and like some island animals today, had evolved to be much smaller than their counterparts on larger land masses. Cute story.

  • June 7, 2006. Trichoplax is the most basal metazoan (based on its mitochondrial DNA). This paper is in PNAS: Full text. Trichoplax is a tiny flat blob of a creature, but its mtDNA is large and complex. It is thought now to be more basal than sponges and choanoflagellates, which share the (derived) character of filter-feeding. Since Trichoplax is all on its own at the base of metazoans in this scheme, it doesn't affect our reading of the fossil record much, especially as we don't know how fast and how much genetic change has occurred, and in whom, since the basal metazoans appeared. However, having said that, no discussion of the origin of metazoans can ignore Trichoplax now.

  • June 6, 2006. The Cretaceous bird Confuciusornis ate fish. This is a paper published on-line, that will be printed in Naturwissenschaften soon. Dalsätt, J. et al. 2006. Food remains in Confuciusornis sanctus suggest a fish diet. Naturwissenschaften, in press. The fish bones are not in the gut area, but are in a bolus next to the neck vertebrae, as if they were on their way to be regurgitated as a pellet. This may, of course, mean that only suicidal Confuciusornis ate fish :-) Nice short paper. Wikipedia article on Confuciusornis, with link to the abstract of this paper.

  • June 6, 2006. Archaeopteryx could not fly. Readers of my text-book have known that for 15 years. But this is a welcome new thorough re-examination of the issue, and in it Phil Senter establishes beyond doubt that theropods and basal birds could not life their arms above the horizontal. Senter does not go beyond this point in this paper, except to say that flapping flight arose later than Archaeopteryx, within basal birds; but again, readers of History of Life have been exposed to the further implications for a long time. The paper is Senter, P. 2006. Scaoular orientation in theropods and basal birds, and the origin of flapping flight. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 51: 305-313. .pdf of the paper

  • June 6, 2006. We have to stop using "prokaryote" and "eukaryote" as names for evolutionary groups. Norm Pace published a brief opinion piece last week with this message, and I'm only just getting around to posting this note. Pace, N. R. 2006. Time for a change. Nature 441, 289. Because it's in Nature, the piece will not be freely available on the Web. Pace says forcefully what we already know: that prokaryotes consist of two very different groups, Archaea and Bacteria, and eukaryotes are an amalgam. But he follows through with the implcation: that we are fooling ourselves to keep using the old pro/eukaryote dichotomy as if it meant something fundamental.

  • June 1, 2006. Giant asteroid crater found under the Antarctic ice sheet: the rest is speculation. Science Daily. OK, what's this about? First, it's science by poster session and press release (this one's from Ohio State). The research group found in a gravity survey a giant crater in the rock floor a mile under the Antarctic ice sheet. It's 300 miles across, apparently, which puts it into the mega-impact category, larger than Chicxulub. The rest is speculation, because we have no data from the rocks. The researchers claim a connection with the Permo-Triassic impact. I wouldn't be surprised, but the evidence for the connection is just not there, even though a large part of the press release is devoted to it.

  • May 31, 2006. The tools of Homo floresiensis. The paper is in Nature, so it will not be freely available on the Web. The tools of H. floresiensis very much like 800,000 year-old tools also found on Flores (say the authors). This would point to a really ancient tradition, passed down on an isolated island; and if so, this is another blow to the "pathological human" interpretation of these people.

  • May 23, 2006. Complete mammoth skeleton found in Siberia, but... BBC News OnLine

  • May 19, 2006. The "hobbits" from Flores were diseased modern humans, not a new species, says a new paper. There will be more about this. The National Geographic news story is very bad science reporting: it does not mention that there was a strongly argued reply, and a news story about new details of the anatomy of the Flores people, in the same issue of Science. The exchange and the new article are in Science, so will be freely available on the Web later this year. Anatomical details of the shoulder of Homo floresiensis are like Homo erectus, not Homo sapiens, as the original authors argued for other aspects of anatomy. My bet would be with the "ancient, small, new" species interpretation until further notice.

  • May 18, 2006. Humans and chimps may have interbred long after they were supposed to have diverged. The paper is in Nature, so won't be generally available on the Web. I don't believe it. Its whole thesis is based on the same molecular-clock arguments that have been spectacularly wrong before. And another subsidiary hypothesis is based on the rate at which X-chromosomes evolve. So the basis for this extreme claim is suspect, unless there are some new constraints on dating estimates that I'm not familiar with. If there was a change of evolutionary rate during the divergence (and do not forget that selection plays a role, not just mutation), then all assumptions are invalid and results based on them are not significant. NOTE ADDED: Barton, N. H. 2006. How did the human species form? Current Biology 16: R647-650, shows that the study cannot distinguish between this complex hypothesis and the simple one that human and chimp ancestors diverged cleanly in a normal speciation event. Barton's paper appeared in August 2006.

  • May 17, 2006. Discovery of a distant solar system with three large "rocky" planets. The paper is in Nature, so won't be generally available on the Web. I've placed it here because of the knee-jerk reaction about "habitable" planets. National Geographic News

  • May 16, 2006. Nuclear DNA from a Neanderthal. This is a first: all previous Neanderthal DNA was mitochondrial. There are no details in this news story, but there are hints that seem to confirm the conclusion that Neanderthals and humans did not interbreed. BBC News OnLine

  • May 12, 2006. A new National Natural Landmark is named: Ashfall Fossil Beds, in Nebraska. National Geographic News

  • May 10, 2006. Dale Guthrie blames climate change for changes in Alaska Pleistocene faunas. National Geographic News. Dale Guthris is a superb ecologist and paleoecologist ("Blue Babe"). But scroll down to May 1, 2006 for a different interpretation. There, a team of scientists found that the radiocarbon dates that Guthrie relies on are subject to sampling errors which take away his main conclusion about the timing of events. Sure, there was climatic change: humans arrived; and many animals went extinct. But there had been climatic change before, without extinction. That's the smoking gun.

  • May 8, 2006. The "Great" Transition: a brilliant essay by Neil Shubin on the discovery of Tiktaalik. The Edge site. Thanks to Carl Zimmer for pointing this out, and to John Brockman for allowing it to be published on the Web. For more on Tiktaalik, scroll down to April 6, 2006.

  • May 2, 2006. Doug Erwin's new book on the Permian extinction. National Geographic News. Last time, Doug could not decide what the cause was. Now, sufficient evidence has accumulated so that he blames the Siberian Traps basaltic eruption. Other sites:

  • May 1, 2006. Humans killed off North American horses in the Pleistocene extinction. National Geographic News. And lots of other animals as well. I can't see why this is so difficult: the evidence has been there for years. Anyway, I suppose that one more study is good.

  • April 20, 2006. Mars was wet early on, but has been DRY for 3.5 billion years. Now that that's resolved, by the Europeans, maybe NASA will shut up and concentrate on science rather than wishful thinking. The paper was in Science: Bibring, J.-P., et al. 2006. Global mineralogical and aqueous Mars history derived from OMEGA/Mars Express data. Science 312: 400 - 404. That means it will be freely available on the Web later this year. Note the neat trick by John Mustard and Ray Arvidson, who managed to be named twice in the list of authors! Does that mean they get two citations for their CVs? National Geographic News.

  • April 19, 2006. A new Cretaceous snake with well-developed hind limbs. This is Najash, from Patagonia. The authors say that this is the most basal snake yet found, and its morphology shows conclusively that snakes evolved from terrestrial lizards, not marine ones. These early snakes may not have been actively burrowing in the sense that they constructed burrows, but it would make sense that they could negotiate burrows to find prey (early mammals and so on.) It's tempting to associate the evolution of snakes from carnivorous lizards with an opportunity to prey on a new food source: the radiating small mammals of the Cretaceous. But that's (my) speculation. News report: National Geographic News

  • April 17, 2006. A new "biggest theropod": Mapusaurus, from Argentina.

  • April 16, 2006. A Triassic archosaur from China that was almost certainly marine-adapted. No Web site yet. Qianosuchus has a long and vertically flattened tail, plate-like shoulder-blade, long neck, long but slender ribs; and it was found in unambiguously marine sediment along with fishes, nothosaurs, and ichthyosaurs. It was certainly the earliest marine-adapted archosaur. Li, C., et al. 2006. An unusual archosaurian from the marine Triassic of China. Naturwissenschaften, on-line publication.

  • April 16, 2006. A new easier way of making pyrimidines in pre-biotic conditions. Make them in freezing conditions. This continues a trend in which experiments in freezing conditions are proving very productive in forming and accumulating complex pre-biotic organic molecules. No Web site (yet). The paper is Cleaves, H. J., et al. 2006. The prebiotic synthesis of pyrimidines in frozen solution. Naturwissenschaften published online March 22, 2006. The abstract

  • April 16, 2006. Best-yet modern analogs of Precambrian stromatolites. No Web site that I have found. This is a new paper in a German journal: Kazmierczak, J., and S. Kempe. 2006. Genuine modern analogues of Precambrian stromatolites from caldera lakes of Niuafo'ou Island, Tonga. Naturwissenschaften 93: 119-126. These caldera lakes are heavily alkaline. Abstract

  • April 16, 2006. Potential life forms that are not carbon-based or water-based. A theoretical review: Schulze-Makuch, D. and L. N. Irwin. 2006 The prospect of alien life in exotic forms on other worlds. Naturwissenschaften, published on-line ahead of the print version.

  • April 15, 2006. More hominid fossils from the 4+ Ma time period in Ethiopia. This is Tim White's group reporting on pre-Australopithecus hominids. The new fossils mean that Australopithecus itself must have evolved from Ardipithecus within only 200,000 years, between 4.4 Ma and 4.2 Ma. The paper is in Nature, so it won't be freely available on the Web.

  • April 12, 2006. African catfish eats beetles on land. Neat story. But the relevance to Devonian pre-tetrapod fishes is zero. Tiktaalik, for example, is many times the size (2 meters long and strongly built), has nowhere near the flexibility, and there were no reasonable small invertebrates as prey on land. Besides, Tiktaalik will prove to have fish-eating teeth as soon as we have a CT scan of its skull (prediction). It ate fish in the water and (in my opinion) came up on the bank to bask. But if you want speculation, here's some better stuff (all mine): if you accept the possibility that snakes had an aquatic ancestor (as Michael Lee proposes), then this is a very reasonable analogy. The paper itself is in Nature, so won't be freely available on the Web.

  • April 11, 2006. Earliest penguin dates to just after the KT boundary. To 62 Ma, to be precise. Given that penguins evolved or diverged from some other sea-bird stem group, that puts modern birds (Neornithines) back into the Cretaceous. But how far back? The rest of the paper (in Molecular Biology and Evolution) uses mitochondrial DNA of living birds to try to get a date. Given that mtDNA evolved at unknown rates during the early radiation of modern birds, this part of the paper is speculative, as is the date (90 Ma) the authors derive.

  • April 10, 2006. The year of the mammoth. Review by Alan Cooper on mammoth DNA and its implications. Freely available at PLoS It's been out for a month, but I've only just found it.

  • April 10, 2006. Enceladus may be the best bet for extraterrestrial life in our solar system. BBC News OnLine If so, good luck!! Previous stories from March 10, 2006:
    Discovery of water geysers at the south pole of Enceladus, a little moon of Saturn. NASA can't wait to jump on the "life" bandwagon again (sigh). The story itself is really neat, and there are many papers on it in today's Science.

  • April 7, 2006. New oviraptor found in Utah. I wish they wouldn't call it "turkey-like". And there were NO (count them) feathers on this fossil! There were very few pieces of it, too. The paper is in JVP, and I haven't read it yet.

  • April 5, 2006. An early link in the fish-to-tetrapod sequence. This is Tiktaalik, from late Devonian rocks in the Canadian Arctic. The fish is 3 meters long. The papers (two plus a commentary) are in Nature, so won't be freely available on the Web. Great images in these Web sites:

  • April 3, 2006. How difficult would it be to make a minimal cell? BBC News OnLine. This is a rather confusing report about a new paper in Nature. Probably it's difficult to explain the paper in 200 words or less. (I've tried to read it and can't understand it either!) The summary says that the "minimal genome" is bigger than we think. For me, the bottom line is the point that this new assessment is based on a computer model. So the answer is only as good as the computer model! There are perfectly good experimental studies on this topic, however, that (in my view) are a better pathway toward truth!

  • March 26, 2006. A new cranium from Ethiopia dating from the time just between Homo erectus and Homo sapiens. Let's wait until it's properly cleaned, and the data are published for us all to see.

  • March 23, 2006. Neanderthals and cave bears used the same caves, but not at the same time! National Geographic News. The paper is in the Journal of Human Evolution.

  • March 22, 2006. Advantages of being one of a few left-handers, episode 334. You already know (I hope) that left-handed fencers, boxers, pitchers, and cricket batsmen have an advantage over right-handers. But now it turns out that it's true for snails as well, at long as the crabs trying to eat them are right-handed. BBC News Online.

  • March 21, 2006. New sauropod (titanosaur) with air sacs in its long neck. This is Erketu from Mongolia. Air spaces are typical in sauropod skeletons, of course, but this new one has more than expected in its neck bones.

  • March 18, 2006. Earth may have seeded Titan with life. Another no-hoper of a presentation. The crux is that the Earth rocks have to be "life-bearing", yet in this scenario they are the fragments blown out by the K-T impact. We actually know about such fragments, because some of them fell back to Earth and are there in the rock record. What were they? Molten. Give me a break. BBC News

  • March 15, 2006. How Tyrannosaurus didn't run. John Hutchinson and Steve Gatesy wrote a piece in Nature on their efforts to come up with a reasonable animation of a moving Tyrannosaurus rex. Nature does not make its content generally available on the Web, so Hutchinson has posted a summary of the piece and a supporting Web site (with movies!). Here it is, and thanks!.

  • March 15, 2006. Juravenator, a theropod dinosaur without feathers (gasp!). The National Geographic article exaggerates the differences between the authors and Xing Xu. There are several equally good reasons why this creature may not have had feathers. Xu and other Web commentators think it may not belong within coelurosaurs where the authors think it does. The authors themselves think there may have been different degrees of deveopment of early feathers in coelurosaurs. Either is possible, the former is more likely, and we'll sort it out. No big deal. The paper is in Nature, so it won't be generally available on the Web.

  • March 10, 2006. Human-chimpanzee differences are mainly in regulatory genes. Press release. The paper is in Nature, so won't be on the Web. My only quibble is the length of time the authors say their study covers. (What they're doing is adding up the length of the four branches of the cladogram.) This is only on genes asociated with liver function, but there's no reason they'd be abnormal.

  • March 9, 2006. The Polynesians and their rats wrecked Easter Island a lot faster than we had thought. National Geographic News. The paper is in Science.

  • March 9, 2006. The locomotion of salamanders and tuataras. Press release from Ohio University. But give me a break! Read the first sentence of the press release. IT IS UTTER RUBBISH. OK, so it was written by Ohio University's publicity flack. But didn't the authors read it? And if not, why not? Has neither author heard of Eudibamus? And if not, why not? The actual paper is OK but not great. (It's in press with the Proceedings of the Royal Society.)

  • March 9, 2006. Laonastes, the strange rodent from Laos, is actually the last of a family of Miocene rodents thought to have been extinct. BBC News OnLine The paper is in Science.

  • March 8, 2006. A lot of recent evolution within Homo sapiens. Exactly as you would guess. And if we looked at (say) dogs, we'd see it in spades, and that artificial selection would give us a yardstick on rates of evolution within a species. And so much for punctuated equilibrium: maybe we can now see that for the hyperbole it always was.

  • March 7, 2006. Kennewick Man makes the cover of TIME magazine. Well, a speculative face does. Kennewick-man.com site. This site has a lot of material, both background and links. Previous story: Finally, some new information about Kennewick Man. Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 24, 2006. Most interesting (to me): he was buried.

  • March 7, 2006. Kate Wong summarizes the state of play on the little people of Flores, before she attends a meeting with new presentations on the issue. Scientific American blog site

  • March 6, 2006. The smallest baby triceratopsian (so far). Press release from UC Berkeley. The skull is described by Mark Goodwin in the new JVP. Officially described in the press release as "cute as a button".

  • March 6, 2006. Snake fangs from the Miocene of Germany. These are beautifully preserved, and are indistingushable from the highly advanced venom-delivery fangs of modern vipers. This shows that "modern" snake venoms and venom delivery had been "perfected" over 20 million years ago. The paper is in Naturwissenschaften. Rightly or wrong, it is posted here on a herpetology site.

  • March 5, 2006. Clays and the late Precambrian rise in oxygen. I've been waiting for Science to actually publish this paper, which has been electronically available for a month. Surely it will appear soon.... It's by Martin Kennedy at UC Riverside and colleagues including Mary Droser. Here is the press release. Obviously this is a very important paper, and I'll try soon to compose an update that would fit into Chapter 4.

  • March 1, 2006. Spinosaurus may be the largest carnivorous dinosaur. Live Science

  • February 24, 2006. Why sex is maintained. Discover magazine. The paper is in Science. This is NOT about the origin of sex, which is a different matter.

  • February 24, 2006. If life re-evolved from the beginning, would the story be the same? Steven J. Gould famously asserted that it would not; and as often, Gould was wrong. Here is a better-argued (and better) story, from Gary Vermeij. Press release

  • February 24, 2006. A Jurassic mammal with aquatic adaptations: Castorocauda. It is a docodont, the largest of its group, and it has a beaver-like swimming tail, feet that would have allowed it to dig well, and fish-eating teeth. So it's most likely an "otter" if you want an ecological counterpart, NOT a beaver (as the authors point out). It looks as if early mammals that weren't little insectivores were exploring ways of life that wouldn't compete with those of dinosaurs. All this stuff about living "alongside" dinosaurs paints an unreal picture. So ant-eating or otter-like ecologies would have been OK. And burrowing is a good idea, too. Another thought: do not forget that all these early experiments did not work, in the sense that the lineages went extinct. I wonder why? (Bad genes or bad luck, again.)

  • February 21, 2006. Doing fieldwork in the Afar of Ethiopia, hunting for human ancestors. San Francisco Chronicle.

  • February 19, 2006. Maybe the "Kelp Highway" brought humans to North America. MSNBC. Nothing new scientifically, but a pleasing image.

  • February 17, 2006. New discussion about T. rex. One study says it had an inner ear that would have been excellent for hearing and balance; another says it had a close-to-rigid spine. Are these results compatible? BBC News OnLine

  • February 16, 2006. Review of whale origins by Darren Naish. Nothing new, but nice summary, with E-references. Naish blog site

  • February 16, 2006. Yurlunggur, a Miocene snake from Australia related to Montypythonoides. (Would I lie to you?) San Francisco Chronicle

  • February 13, 2006. David Deamer has more evidence favoring Darwin's "little warm pond". To be precise, he has evidence casting doubt on hydrothermal springs. BBC News OnLine

  • February 11, 2006. A new, very early tyrannosaur: Guanlong from the Jurassic of China.

  • January 26, 2005. A Triassic crocodilian, Effigia, that had evolved anatomy very similar to the much later ornithomimid dinosaurs. That is, is was toothless and bipedal. Yet it was a crocodilian (crocodilian ankles are quite different from those of dinosaurs). It's part of a radiation of early crocodilians into Triassic forms that looked like later dinosaurs: Postosuchus looks much like a carnosaur, for example. Mixed in with these crocodilians were the archosaurs that were the real ancestral dinosaurs, but they didn't become the dominant terrestrial archosaurs until the Jurassic, by which time the remaining crocodilians were taking on amphibious and aquatic ways of life. This sort of convergence is seen elsewhere, between marsupial and placental sabertooth predators, for example. It's unusual but not unprecedented.

  • January 24, 2006. Habitable conditions on the early Earth (says NASA). NASA Astrobiology Institute

  • January 19, 2006. Neanderthals were just as good at hunting as early modern humans. Press release. The paper is in Current Anthropology.

  • January 12, 2006. The Taung child (Australopithecus africanus) may have been killed by a large raptor.

  • January 11, 2006. Akidolestes, a new mammal from the Lower Cretaceous of China. As Tim Williams said, "The Yixian Formation coughs up another furball." It is a eutherian, but it had sprawling hind limbs rather like those of monotremes. The paper is in Nature, so it won't be freely available on the Web.

  • January 6, 2006. New dates for Croatian Neanderthals. Press releaseThis makes them 32,000 BP rather than the 28,000 announced in 1999. They still overlap with modern humans, but not for so long.

  • January 4, 2006. New study denies that there is genetic evidence of ancient human cannibalism. Press release. Previous story: A genetic legacy of cannibalism in modern humans.BBC News OnLine, April 10, 2003.

    For stories archived from 2005, see Paleontology News 2005

    For stories archived from 2004, see Paleontology News 2004

    For stories archived from 2003, see Paleontology News 2003

    For stories archived from 2002, see Paleontology News 2002

    For stories archived from 2001, see Paleontology News 2001

    For stories archived from 2000, see Paleontology News 2000

    For stories archived from 1999, see Paleontology News 1999

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