Paleontology in the News, 2007

This selection of stories is 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.

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, 2007

  • December 28, 2007. Gigantopithecus and pandas competed for bamboo. That's a piece of speculation. It's certainly not clear (to me) that either, and especially Gigantopithecus, were as dependent on bamboo as today's giant panda. Even so, the co-occurrence of ancient pandas and Gigantopithecus is fascinating. There doesn't seem to be a publication yet. National Geographic News

  • December 27, 2007. Indohyus, the long-sought ancestor of whales. The fossil is from the Eocene of Kashmir. The paper is in Nature, which does not allow its papers on general access.

  • December 21, 2007. Impacts and the history of life: a pop review and perspective from Carl Zimmer. The impetus for writing it came from a paper in Nature Geoscience that linked meteorite impacts in the Ordovician with an INCREASE in benthic diversity on the sea floor. Wired

  • December 19, 2007. A Miocene kangaroo from Australia. This seems to be a "stem" kangaroo, a very early lineage that is related to but not ancestral to living forms. The paper is in the Journal of Paleontology. National Geographic News

  • December 17, 2007. Evolution by gene LOSS: a neat idea from David Haussler's group at UC Santa Cruz. (They even have actual examples (gasp!)). The paper is in PLoS Computational Biology.

  • December 14, 2007. Yet another case in which an impact is said to have blasted Ice-Age mammals in North America. The last one was alleged to have occurred 13,000 years ago; this one is allegedly 34,000 years ago. Paradoxically, the more that are reported, the less likely they are to be real (in my opinion). National Geographic News. Previous stories: September 25, 2007, and May 24, 2007.

  • December 13, 2007. A fossil carnivorous fungus discovered in Cretaceous amber. This nasty habit has evolved several times in different lineages of fungi. Well, I'm not a nematode, so it doesn't bother me that much. National Geographic News

  • December 12, 2007. How the human backbone evolved along with bipedalism to help pregnant women carry babies in the new upright posture. The idea neatly explains the sexual dimorphism in spine structure between men and women. Now we can look for comparable evidence in australopithecines. The paper is in Nature, which doesn't place its papers on general Web access. National Geographic News

  • December 12, 2007. A new Miocene glyptodont, from Chile. It looks primitive (for a glyptodont,even), and its discovery high in the Andes might say something about the timing of the uplift of that mountain range. The paper is in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. National Geographic News

  • December 12, 2007. A new sauropod from the early Jurassic of Antarctica. Glacialisaurus probably weighed about 5 tons. I don't care how equable the climate was: if Antarctica was down near the South Pole at the time, there was little or no light for many weeks of the year, therefore no photosynthesis. What did the sauropods eat in the winter -- or did they migrate? The paper is online in Acta Paleontologica Polonica.

  • December 12, 2007. A new species of Carcharodontosaurus from the Cretaceous of Africa. The paper is in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. National Geographic News

  • December 11, 2007. More data on evolution in modern human populations: an overview. National Geographic News

  • December 11, 2007. More data on evolution in modern human populations: why are pygmies small? National Geographic News

  • December 10, 2007. "Dinosaur graveyard" from the Late Cretaceous of Spain: a hurry-up excavation. National Geographic News

  • December 10, 2007. Did life begin inside mica crystals? I read this twice. Is there any actual evidence? NO. Is there a publication, or a hint of one? NO. Tut tut. Not what I would expect from an NSF program director!

  • December 6, 2007. Dwarf hippos on Cyprus, and human arrival there. Many Mediterranean island had dwarf populations of mammals that were much larger on the European mainland in Pleistocene times. That's a well-understood effect on adaptation to life on small islands. But these animals became extinct when humans arrived. The new discovery might help us to understand when humans arrived on Cyprus after the ice age. AP story on National Geographic News

  • December 3, 2007. European brown bears, DNA, hunting, and climate. A new interpretation suggests a large role for (human) hunting in causing their patchy distribution in ancient Europe. The new scenario is speculative, of course, but one hopes that since it explains more data than the old one, it is closer to the reality of history. The paper is in the journal Molecular Ecology. National Geographic News

  • December 3, 2007. Mummified hadrosaur discovered in North Dakota.

  • November 29, 2007. Suggestion that the robust australopithecine Paranthropus robustus had a society with huge males and submissive female harems. The paper is in Science, so it will be freely available on the Web in a few months. It's based largely on speculation, of course, with a little comparative data described in the news story. National Geographic News

  • November 29, 2007. The biology of polar dinosaurs. Smithsonian magazine

  • November 29, 2007. Genetic evidence suggests one main migration populated the Americas about 12,000 years ago. That does not deny the possibility of other, smaller, migrations, in particular smaller earlier ones. The paper is in PLoS Genetics.

  • November 29, 2007. A prehistoric forest dug up on a Michigan farm. Terra Daily

  • November 27, 2007. Peasants versus police in China, and dinosaurs and paleontologists are the losers. National Geographic News

  • November 27, 2007. New update of flowering plant phylogeny. No shocks in the new work, but it doesn't clear up the details as well as the press release claims. The papers are in PNAS.

  • November 26, 2007. More from the USC research group on the Permo-Triassic extinction. This new paper claims to document a rapid but non-catastrophic rate of extinction, fuelled by upwelling toxic deep water in the oceans. The paper itself is in Geology, which does not make its papers generally available on the Web. National Geographic News

  • November 21, 2007. Gigantic Devonian eurypterid found in Germany. The find consists of the claw, but the estimated body length would have been 2.5 m (8 feet). The paper is in Biology Letters.

  • November 19, 2007. Did life evolve more than once on Earth? I'm posting this here in case you should come across it by accident and believe any of it. It is unadulterated speculation without observational or experimental fact. Paul Davies has done a lot of this sort of thing before. I'm surprised that Scientific Aemrican would publish it. Scientific American

  • November 15, 2007. Nigersaurus, another sauropod dinosaur discovery by Paul Sereno. This is a superb paper!

  • November 14, 2007. The latest on biofilms. This is relevant to the behavior of the very early bacterial communities that formed stromatolites over 3 billion years ago (see my Chapter 2). Terra Daily

  • November 13, 2007. Nakalipithecus is a new Miocene ape from Kenya that may be on the lineage that later split into chimps, gorillas, and humans. The paper is said to be in this week's issue of PNAS, but as usual with these claims, it isn't. I can't comment further until I see the paper: who knows when?

  • November 8, 2007. Shark ate amphibian ate fish: a Permian drama. And there's a fossil to prove it!

  • November 8, 2007. The feet of small theropods and early birds are much more like those of ground-running birds than tree-dwelling birds, implying that flight arose from the ground. The paper is in Current Biology.

  • November 7, 2007. Uncinate processes on the ribs of theropods are homologous to those in birds, with implications for an advanced respiratory system in theropods. Nice paper: it's in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

  • November 5, 2007. New dates for Deccan Traps eruptions place them immediately before the KT extinctions. Well, this isn't revolutionary: there has always been a tight correlation between the eruptions and the end of the Cretaceous. And the eruptions have been known as huge for a long time (see all editions of History of Life). I don't see a problem in assigning the KT extinction to the double whammy of asteroid impact AND Deccan eruptions. Let's see what the details are when this research is published. Meanwhile, let's heed the comments. We need dates from all over the enormous expanse of the lavas. National Geographic News

  • November 1, 2007. Colugos, "flying lemurs" are the (living) mammals closest to the (living) primates; tree shrews are not as close. This comes from a new genetic analysis published in Science (which means it will be freely available on the Web in a few months). Of course, the analysis cannot say anything about *extinct* groups that flourished in the early Cenozoic, but it clarifies this specific relationship between these three living groups. National Geographic News

  • October 31, 2007. Pseudotribos, a Jurassic mammal that confirms that early mammals evolved complex molar tooth grinding at least twice. One was "tribosphenic molars", which occur in placentals and marsupials, and the other was in these Jurassic forms. The paper is in Nature, which does not allow general access to its content.

  • October 31, 2007. Making adenine from cyanide and ammonia in the laboratory (refrigerator). Terra Daily. The paper is said to be in PNAS.

  • October 31, 2007. Cambrian jellyfishes from Utah. At least three different species, probably in three very diferent lineages!

  • October 31, 2007. Great new site for large vertebrates found in the earliest Pleistocene of southern Spain. BBC News OnLine

  • October 29, 2007. Amber spider imaged by X-rays. BBC News

  • October 25, 2007. Red-haired Neanderthals? BBC News. A gene found in two individuals doesn't define a group character. I'll read the paper when it's published...

  • October 24, 2007. The evolution of the St. Bernard dog. The features of modern St. Bernard show dogs are a product of artificial selection, imposed on these dogs in only 120 years by humans. The Discovery item is a fine summary. The paper is in Proceedings of the Royal Society. Discovery site

  • October 19, 2007. Neanderthals carried a human-like copy of the FOXP2 gene, which is one of those genes associated with human speech. Everything else you read is speculation. But if you read between the lines in John Hawks' (long) blog, it's clear (to me) that he suspects the Neanderthal individual who carried the gene got it from a human ancestor after an interbreeding event, rather than inheriting it from the distant common ancestor of humans and Neanderthals.

  • October 17, 2007. A new paper shows that modern humans were living on the South African coast 165,000 years ago, eating shellfish and using ochre for ornament. It's the latest in a series of papers showing the supremacy of the fossil and archaeological record in deciphering the beginnings of our species, and showing once more that the geneticists got the dates hopelessly wrong when they projcted a much more recent origin of modern humans. National Geographic News

  • October 17, 2007. Vertebrate trackway found in Eastern Canada is likely to have been made by a very early reptile. BBC News The paper is said to be in the Journal of the Geological Society of London: I haven't read it yet.

  • October 16, 2007. Another giant dinosaur from Argentina. But what a bloody awful name! The BBC story is interesting because it shows how little of the skeleton has actually been found!

  • October 12, 2007. How to survive 80 million years without sex. BBC News OnLine. The paper is a very short one in this week's Science.

  • October 11, 2007. Early Venus may have had oceans (and life). Give me a break. It's all computer modelling: there's no EVIDENCE. If you don't like what it spits out the first 45 times, tweak something else. National Geographic News

  • October 11, 2007. The evolution of the hominoid spine and the peculiar position of humans in that lineage. This is an evo-devo paper that traces spinal evolution back to the Miocene genus Morotopithecus. Specific changes in the regulatory genes that mold development may have pre-disposed the hominid lineage to achieve its characteristic bipedality. The paper is open access, PLoS. It's rather freaky to see a fully fledged major synthesis like this come out of the blue: I at least hadn't seen a hint of it before. I am in no position to judge it, but I would like to see what John Hawks says. If it holds up, it is, of course, tremendously important.

  • October 11, 2007. Paul Allen pours more millions into the SETI program. Well, it's his money, garnered from Microsoft's enormous profits... Fortunately not a single dollar of it came from me. I'm on record as writing that this whole project is a waste of money, so I might as well repeat myself one more time....

  • October 9, 2007. Ancient African megadroughts may have affected human migrations about 100,000 years ago. The paper is said to appear soon in PNAS; the lead author is Andrew Cohen, UC Davis alumnus. (Pause for audience applause.) Terra Daily

  • October 5, 2007. Big new therizinosaur from the Gobi Desert, Suzhousaurus. National Geographic News

  • October 4, 2007. Another attempt to stifle research on the oldest North Americans (including Kennewick Man). Astoundingly, Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington voted for it. I don't know whether she is uneducated in this field, bribed, or religiously challenged. Seattle Times

  • October 3, 2007. Possible sighting of the birth of an Earth-like planet round a young star. However, the young star is one of a binary pair of stars, which would make the dynamics of the situation different. Nevertheless, this is exciting, and makes more interesting than ever the observational fact that we have never seen ANY trace of life anywhere else in the Universe. National Geographic News.

  • October 3, 2007. New large duckbill dinosaur from Utah. National Geographic News
  • BBC News OnLine

  • October 2, 2007. Small early ceratopsian from Montana.

  • October 2, 2007. Evidence for small oxygen build-up in shallow water long before the great oxygen rise at 2.3 Ga. Terra Daily. Needs more discussion than I can give it here and now. Let me just say that it's what you'd expect. I talked about early "oxygen oases" in my book: now here are data to suggest they did exist.

  • October 1, 2007. The North American sabertooth had a weaker bite than thought. It was still a most formidable predator, however. The paper is in PNAS, allegedly.

  • October 1, 2007. Neanderthals ranged eastward all the way into Siberia.

  • September 25, 2007. More on comets and woolly mammoths.... Briefly, the story says that a cometary impact at 13,000 BP wiped out the megafauna of North America and Europe. The evidence for the cometary impact looks very good, but there are two issues. First, the scanario for its effects is just that: a scenario with no supporting evidence. Second, we still need explanations for ALL THE OTHER megafaunal extinctions on other major land masses that did not happen at that time! As far as I know, the European extinctions occurred over a much longer time and coincided with the advance northward of Homo sapiens. The report appeared in PNAS in early October. Terra Daily

  • September 22, 2007. More details about the Dmanisi hominids. The paper is in Nature, so is not generally available on the Web.

  • September 20, 2007. Velociraptor has bone nubbins on its arm, just like those that lie under strong feathers in living birds. Thus Velociraptor had strong feathers too. What are feathers for in pre-flight dinosaurs? Display, just as Jere Lipps and I said in 1981. Do we get credit for our perception? (No.)

  • September 20, 2007. Homo floresiensis had primitive wrists. It had the wrists of a primitive Homo, rather than the wrists of Homo sapiens or a Neanderthal. This also means that interpreting it as a deformed dwarf is no longer possible. The paper is very clear and convincing (to me).

  • September 20, 2007. A cluster of young Psittacosaurus, probably killed in a lahar (volcanic mud flow). There were two different age groups, which adds to the evidence of social clustering in these dinosaurs. The paper is in Palaeontology.

  • September 18, 2007. Neat story about the Ediacaran fossil Fractofusus misrai. BBC News

  • September 14, 2007. Permian parareptiles had the first fully terrestrially adapted ears. This is a nice paper!

  • September 13, 2007. Neanderthals were not killed off by climate change, says this paper. BBC News OnLine. The paper, in Nature, is more about how to get accurate dates than anything else. The relationship between the last Neanderthals and climate change is very difficult to pin down.

  • September 7, 2007. The source of the K-T asteroid. The paper is in Nature, so it won't be generally available on the Web. It is a terrific paper. Assuming the orbital mechanics and computer programs are done properly, the authors identify the KT asteroid as most likely a member of a family of asteroids formed in the Jurassic as a result of a major collision in the asteroid belt, that were then spread out into the inner Solar System over the next 100 million years. The crater Tycho on the Moon may have been formed by another member. As Claeys and Tagle mention in a commentary (also in Nature), it is spine-chilling to think that the dinosaurs were doomed before most of them had even evolved! There will be discussion and LOTS of empty speculation, but unless the foundations of this paper are flawed seriously, it will become a classic. Instructors in History of Life courses should make sure they understand the outline of the story: it's accessible to and should be fascinating for undergraduates.

  • September 7, 2007. The evolution of whale sonar: to hunt squid in dim light? Sounds good to me! Genetic Archaeology site

  • September 7, 2007. The dingo versus the thylacine. This analysis suggests different prey-subduing capability, and some advantage to the dingo. The dingo seems to have invaded the mainland of Australia and gradually pushed back the thylacine to Tasmania. The paper is in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. BBC News OnLine

  • September 6, 2007. A new, small, basal dromaeosaur from the Cretaceous of the Gobi Desert. Mahakala shows that feathered dromaeosaurs were small (Archaeopteryx-sized) before they evolved flight. Very large size evolved at least four times from such small ancestors. The paper is in Science, so will be dreely available on the Web within a few months.

  • August 30, 2007. Why did it take so long for oxygen to build up in Earth's atmosphere? The story may be very simple: underwater volcanoes produce eruptions that are huge oxygen sinks, while land-based volcanoes are much less effective at locking up oxygen. The Archaean/Proterozoic boundary marks tectonic changes that gave more continental area, and thereafter oxygen built up much more quickly. The paper was in Nature, which is not freely available on the Web.

    August 29, 2007. A Cretaceous beetle preserved in amber at the moment it was exuding a defensive droplet. Oregon State press release. The paper is in the Journal of Chemical Ecology.

  • August 29, 2007. How/why did humans migrate across the desert of Egypt into the Middle East? Apparently, a particularly favorable climate around 140,000 BP. The paper is said to be in Geology, which is not freely available on the Web.

  • August 29, 2007. A fossil bee found in amber, with orchid pollen on its back. The paper was in Nature, which is not freely available on the Web.

  • August 29, 2007. The world's oldest bacteria with viable DNA. Yes, I know there are older claims. These are 500,000-year-old bacteria in glacial Arctic Canada. The paper is said to be in PNAS, but I didn't see it yesterday. Terra Daily

  • August 28, 2007. The origin and distribution of the mite harvestmen: relics of Gondwana.

  • August 27, 2007. Belgian diplomats allegedly destroy fossils in Heritage site. Washington Post. Whether it's Belgians with diplomatic immunity, or drunken rednecks in the Mojave Desert, they should take away their ATVs and fine them enormous amounts of money.

  • August 27, 2007. The Chinese trade in fossils. TIME

  • August 23, 2007. Tyrannosaurs as sprinters. You can ignore this paper. The authors' supercomputer produced results that directly contradict analyses by John Hutchinson and colleagues. That should ring alarm bells, given Hutchinson's knowledge of anatomy and physiology as well as dinosaur fossils. Gregory Paul reported on the Internet that John Hutchinson told a reporter that the claim of great speed for Compsognathus at least is clearly wrong: its legs weren't long enough! Chickens can't run at 40 miles an hour either. Once you get an error like this, there is clearly some fundamental flaw in the input, and all other "results" must be suspect: GIGO. I wonder why the authors went ahead and published it, and I wonder who reviewed it for the Royal Society!

  • August 22, 2007. New Miocene ape teeth from Ethiopia, Chororapithecus. If they ARE gorilla, that wrecks all the molecular dating for the divergence of great apes and hominids (no tears about that), but it also adds a huge extension to the fossil record of panids in general and gorilas in particular. There will be a lot of argument: after all, there are paleoanthropologists involved (see John Hawks post below). The paper was in Nature, so will not be freely available on the Web.

  • August 20, 2007. The extinct Alaska wolf. Add another species to the Pleistocene extinctions around 12,000 years ago. Genetic Archaeology site

  • August 18, 2007. Survey of recent research on the origin of chirality. Science News

  • August 17, 2007. Genes for fingers and toes are also found in sharks (but they are not expressed). The paper is in PLoS One.

  • August 17, 2007. A large new paper on the Permo-Triassic extinction. It's in the GSA Bulletin, which is not freely available on the Web. It is truly excellent: team work by geologists doing "old-fashioned" geology sheds a lot of light on the extinction. They did pain-staking field work, carbonate petrology, and detailed biostratigraphy, and managed to correlate the P-T bundary all over Asia from China to Iran. The extinction layer is marked by strong dissolution of carbonate rocks, even in shallow seawater, whch speaks to a major chemical event probably involving carbon dioxide. There are lots of potential implications. Stay tuned... Terra Daily

  • August 16, 2007. Amazing batch of Jurassic pycnogonid fossils. These are arthropods called "sea spiders", but they are not really spiders. National Geographic News

  • August 8, 2007. Two new hominid skulls from Kenya, a (very) late Homo habilis, and a Homo erectus, make the story more interesting but not necessarily more complex. As usual, there will be lots of arguments about the new skulls, even their identification. Among other arguable points in the paper, the claim that Homo erectus cannot be a descendant of Homo habilis is an assertion that is backed by no evidence at all. The paper is in Nature, so won't be freely available on the Web.

    August 8, 2007. Further confirmation of microbial fossils in the Pilbara region of Australia, aged around 3.5 Ga. Terra Daily site

  • August 7, 2007. Pterosaurs could not have fished by skimming, says a new study. The actual paper is in PLoS Biology. I LIKE the skimming story, but of course that doesn't matter a dime. If the authors have done their math correctly, then pterosaurs did not skim-feed. Instead, you could (I mean, I could: you read it here first!) explain the "skimming" morphology of pterosaurs as an adaptation for dip-feeding on the wing in very shallow water. I've seen lots of little insect-eating birds do that in fresh water, but I don't get to observe marine birds as much.

  • August 6, 2007. Evidence from teeth suggests that the first (non-Neanderthal) humans that occupied Europe have more Asian and less African ancestry than we had thought. But see John Hawks' analysis of the paper.

  • August 2, 2007. Erik Trinkaus publishes another paper on the Romanian fossil skulls that he argues are clear evidence of interbreeding between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens.

  • August 2, 2007. A new coelacanth fin fossil from the Devonian shows a structure not unlike that of ray-fin fishes.

  • August 1, 2007. Jaws and teeth of stem bony fishes (Osteichthyes). This is a nice clean paper, just published in Nature (so it's nt generally available on the Web.) National Geographic News

  • July 31, 2007. Miocene trees from Hungary: fossilised but not petrified. National Geographic News

  • July 30, 2007. Giant extinct arthropods and ancient oxygen levels. The idea is not new, but the analysis of modern arthropods may be more sophisticated in this version. The paper is in PNAS. National Geographic News

  • July 26, 2007. World's longest tusks, they say, from a Pliocene mastodon from Greece. National Geographic News

  • July 20, 2007. Evidence that (some) dinosaurs bred before they reached adult size (and age). This is significant because it differs from birds, which do not breed before they reach adult size, and sometimes long after that. National Geographic news

  • July 19, 2007. Late Triassic dinosaurs and other archosaurs from New Mexico. It looks as if the earliest dinosaurs were just one lineage in a swarm of advanced Late Triassic archosaurs.

  • July 16, 2007. Evidence of very recent adaptation among humans. There will be a lot more about this, I expect, and I'll catch up on it when I get back. Terra Daily

  • July 15, 2007. Another coelacanth caught, this time at the northern end of its range along the East African coast. Reuters

  • July 13, 2007. Dinosaur bones being ground up for Chinese folk medicine. But before you laugh, read through to Xu Xing's response. National Geographic News

  • July 10, 2007. Beautifully preserved baby mammoth found in Siberia.

  • July 5, 2007. Humans happily making tools in India before and after the eruption of Toba at 74,000 BP. Well, of course. This is only interesting because some people have written that this enormous eruption was a mega-disaster for humans (for example, this little news piece. The paper is in Science.

  • July 5, 2007. Oldest DNA: buried under the Greenland ice cap, 800,000 years old. The paper is in Science.

  • July 5, 2007. More bad behavior among palaeoanthropologists. For those who like to collect gobbets of the slime produced by this science, here's more: Dalton, R. 2007. War of words erupts over fossil dig. Nature 448, p. 12. It's not freely available on the Web.

  • July 3, 2007. The skull of Majungasaurus, a theropod from Madagascar. From Larry Witmer's terrific Web site at Ohio University

  • July 2, 2007. Argentavis soared, but did not flap. That's what this news piece says about a paper by Chatterjee et al. to be published in PNAS. I don't believe it, if that's what it really says. Condors flap, even though they may not be able to take off by flapping alone. And this isn't just a quibble: if Argentavis contributed N% to take-off and landing by wing flaps, all the attendant speculation about flight style is irrelevant unless N has a real value we can assess.

  • July 2, 2007. Plans for "Pleistocene Park" in Siberia. BBC News OnLine

  • June 28, 2007. Origin of domestic cats: from Middle Eastern wild cats. National Geographic News. The paper is allegedly in tomorrow's Science.

  • June 28, 2007. Closer than ever to the Neanderthal genome. Scientific American News. The paper is said to be in PNAS, although it's not (yet).

  • June 28, 2007. A petrified forest being quarried away in Washington state. It makes you weep. All the questions about the forest could be answered very quickly by a team of competent sedimentologists and paleobotanists. Meanwhile it's being quarried away (200 trees gone already) by an uneducated bulldozer driver who thinks it's God's "unexplanatory" handiwork. Read the article by self-described palaeobotanist Thomas Dillhoff, friend and adviser to the land owner, which documents but does not criticize the massive destruction of evidence that Dillhoff has watched at this unique site.

  • June 26, 2007. Was Lucy a brutal brawler? Teaser of a piece in Discover Speculation by David Carrier: short legs are better if you're grappling with an opponent. I wonder if it's true of human wrestlers. It certainly would become very disadvantageous as soon as somebody invented a spear.

  • June 25, 2007. Resurrecting extinct genomes: especially mammoths. National Geographic News. Speculation, not science yet.

  • June 25, 2007. Two new fossil penguins from the Eocene of Peru: one is VERY large. The paper is published online in PNAS.

  • June 22, 2007. Ivory figurines from Germany, perhaps as much as 35,000 years old. The mammoths are particularly stunning. This is from a famous locality, the Vogelherd Cave, in Swabia. news item and photo gallery in Der Spiegel

  • June 21, 2007. Bone-crushing Ice Age wolves from Alaska. National Geographic News

  • June 20, 2007. Mammals, especially placental mammals, did have explosive radiation beginning at the KT boundary. National Geographic News. Cretaceous mammals belonged to eventually unsuccessful lineages. The animals we now see as placental mammals began a radiation at or near 65 Ma. This is based on real fossils, not molecular data. The paper was in Nature this week, so won't be on the Web.

  • June 19, 2007. An early panda from southern China.

  • June 15, 2007. Retrospect on the Clovis site at East Wenatchee, Washington. Long feature with links, from the Wenatchee World. Once again, the American Indians aren't interested in facts, especially if those facts might conflict with their preconceptions.

  • June 14, 2007. Natural selection at work among humans. Reuters story in Scientific American news

  • June 13, 2007. Gigantoraptor, from the Late Cretaceous of China. Weighed 1400 kg, 8 metres long, 5 meters tall. The paper is supposed to be in Nature tomorrow.

  • June 12, 2007. A new Triassic ornithischian, Eocursor. This is so deep in dinosaur history, and so much of the skeleton is preserved, that it will allow re-assessment of the roots of dinosaurs.
  • June 12, 2007. Tiny long-necked gliding lizard from the Triassic. National Geographic News

  • June 12, 2007. More early shell beads ornamented with ochre.

  • June 10, 2007. The brain of Conchoraptor, an oviraptor from Mongolia. In two papers in Naturwissenschaften, Martin Kundrat described the sophisticated brain of Conchoraptor, based on CT imaging of the skull. The results indicate very good hearing and sight. leading Kundrat to wonder whether these might not be associated with dawn and dusk hunting. (It doesn't in modern-day falcons.)

  • June 10, 2007. The world's largest organism. A fungus. The Oregonian

  • June 8, 2007. Mining fossils. Wall Street Journal. This kind of destruction is not allowed in advanced countries like China and Peru.

  • June 8, 2007. The hearing of dinosaurs. National Geographic News

  • June 7, 2007. Feature article on the La Brea tar pits in the June issue of Natural History. Natural History, June 2007

  • June 7, 2007. Profile of a commercial paleontologist. Rocky Mountain News (business section, of course)

  • June 6, 2007. A robot tuatara, for research. National Geographic News

  • June 6, 2007. Dinosaurs with their necks pulled backwards "died in agony". Nice paper, in Paleobiology.

  • June 4, 2007. Tyrannosaurus rex as slow plodder. The paper is to be in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. John Hutchinson is a really good biomechanicist. BBC News OnLine

  • June 2, 2007. Coral slime. One more symbiosis to add to the coral reef community. Janet Raloff in Science News

  • June 1, 2007. Suggestion that hominoids evolved bipedalism by walking on Miocene tree branches. The paper is in Science today, and will be freely available on the Web in a few months. But don't bother to wait: this is a very weak argument. The authors observed orangutans standing upright on branches to reach fruit, and immediately extrapolated that to the ancestors of all hominoids (which would have been back in the Miocene, given the ancient separation of Asian and African apes). You could argue in the same way that the ancestors of goats evolved in trees! Here's the evidence: photographic proof. I should write a paper and send it in to Science.

  • June 1, 2007. The "feathers" of Sinosauropteryx are not feathers, according to this story. Don't worry too much: read the National Geographic News story. The paper is in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, and features research led by Theagarten Lingham-Soliar, also starring Alan Feduccia.

  • May 27, 2007. Not paleontology, but related to extinction: the Devil's Hole pupfish. San Francisco Chronicle

  • May 25, 2007. Footprint of baby stegosaur found in Colorado. Press release

  • May 24, 2007. Underwater dinosaur footprints.

  • May 24, 2007. An impact that did in the Clovis people, and also started the Younger Dryas cold period? This was a set of talks at a meeting: it's not published science yet. And if there really is a lot of iridium, then it wasn't a comet! If Jim Kennett weren't involved, I'd call it rubbish right now: but I respect Jim's work.

  • May 23, 2007. Happy Birthday, Linnaeus! New Scientist

  • May 23, 2007. Death of Stanley Miller. One of those breakthrough scientists that comes along every ten years or so. He was an astonishing contributor to the science of the origin of life from his pioneer paper of 1953 for a full fifty years. MSNBC

  • May 23, 2007. More light on the genetic system underpinning the appearance of tetrapod limbs from fish fins. The paper is in Nature this week, but it won't be freely available on the Web. It is elegant and convincing.

  • May 22, 2007. Another coelacanth caught: this one came from the Indonesian population.

  • May 18, 2007. Just when we thought that Erik Trinkaus had plausibly documented human/Neanderthal interbreeding, new genetic evidence claims to rule it out. T his is from the news report of a meeting, by Elizabeth Pennisi in Science. The news story will be on the Web eventually here , but be aware that it's not a published paper yet.
    However, note that John Hawks has valid reservations about the way the authors are said to have arrived at their conclusion: see his blog . The bottom line is that no firm conclusion has yet been reached.
    I tend to respect the hard evidence from the tangible fossils we have: see these previous stories: Erik Trinkaus publishes the best evidence yet that humans and Neanderthals interbred. It is published in PNAS this week.

  • May 16, 2007. Strike Saturn's moon Enceladus off the list of potentially life-bearing satellites. National Geographic News. That didn't last long! Previous story: a new candidate for a life-bearing body: Saturn's moon Enceladus. National Geographic News, March 13, 2007.

  • May 14, 2007. Aegyptopithecus had a brain smaller than we had thought. Aegyptopithecus is a generic primate from the Oligocene of Egypt, very close to the root of apes and monkeys. The paper is to be published in PNAS. National Geographic News

  • May 10, 2007. Bat wings versus bird wings. National Geographic News

  • May 7, 2007. Australian aboriginal DNA compatible with a source out of Africa between 50 ka and 70 ka. Given that the first evidence of human arrival in Oz is about 50 ka, that implies an extraordinarily rapid migration across southern Asia. Not impossible: and when the paper is published, we might find that the error bars on the time estimates would allow more time... It's always the details that confuse science reporters.... But let's wait for the paper! National Geographic News

  • May 6, 2007. More doubts about the strict Snowball Earth model. I've argued for years that "Slushball Earth" is more like it, and others much more qualified than I am have produced *evidence* on that point. Live Science. Previous story:

    Bodiselitsch, B., et al. 2005. Estimating duration and intensity of Neoproterozoic snowball glaciations from Ir anomalies. Science 308: 239-242 here , and comment, p. 181 here.

    Here's what the paper says. A Snowball Earth would accumulate incoming space dust on the ice, loaded with iridium. When it melted, there would be an outwash of all the iridium all at once, which would give an iridium spike in the sediments. Indeed, such a spike occurs after the two main major glaciations linked with the Snowball hypothesis.

    I don't see why a Slushball ice sheet on the tropical continents wouldn't also accumulate iridium that would also outwash to give an iridium spike: in other words, I don't see how this study differentiates between Snowball and Slushball. The samples were taken at sites that were along the edge of the tropical continent. So let's do a thought experiment. Antarctica today has been accumulating space dust for 30 m.y. or so. If it melts, as it must some day, won't it produce an iridium spike? Would that imply that Antarctica had been part of a Snowball Earth? I think the answers to these two questions are Yes, and No, respectively. So I'm not going to alter my piece on Slushball Earth (yet).

  • May 6, 2007. New insight into the history of South American mammals. Among other points, it's increasingly clear that South American rodents and primates crossed from Africa. And South American grasslands had evolving hypsodont grazers long before their ecological equivalents in North America. Very good, clear article by Flynn et al. Scientific American, May 2007

  • May 4, 2007. Miocene forest with upright trees, somewhere near Yakima, Washington. Makes you wep to think of the information that's being lost here. Seattle Times

  • May 4, 2007. The end of the Neanderthals, again. Climate change, says a Spanish team. Well, maybe the last of them, but they were goners long before their eventual demise. Live Science

  • May 3, 2007. Australia's biggest sauropods (so far) are now on exhibit in Queensland. ABC (Australia)

  • May 3, 2007. The world's oldest lobster, from the Cretaceous of Mexico. As they say, it depends what you mean by lobster. It's a neat find. Wait for the publication. National Geographic News

  • April 24, 2007. First "habitable Earth-like" planet found. It is Gliese 581c. Its star is a red dwarf, which would generate enormously different surface conditions compared with our Sun. It also depends what kind of atmosphere it's got: other things being equal, it will be denser than Earth's because of the greater mass: think Venus. This discovery deserves, and will get, a lot of discussion, not to mention speculation. But it's a very important find. Don't hold your breath for life, however.

  • April 23, 2007. Prototaxites was a fungus!?! The paper is in Geology (interesting that's it's not in a specialist paleontology journal or in a really high-impact journal like Nature, Science, Biology Letters, etc.). Anyway, the fact that it is in Geology mans that it won't be freely available on the Web. Prototaxites has been an enigma for a century: it's good to have a new hypothesis for people to discuss (and they will!).