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Showing posts with label Archeology and Paleontology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Archeology and Paleontology. Show all posts

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Ancestor of all animals identified in Australian fossils

A team led by UC Riverside geologists has discovered the first ancestor on the family tree that contains most familiar animals today, including humans.

The tiny, wormlike creature, named Ikaria wariootia, is the earliest bilaterian, or organism with a front and back, two symmetrical sides, and openings at either end connected by a gut. The paper is published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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The earliest multicellular organisms, such as sponges and algal mats, had variable shapes. Collectively known as the Ediacaran Biota, this group contains the oldest fossils of complex, multicellular organisms. However, most of these are not directly related to animals around today, including lily pad-shaped creatures known as Dickinsonia that lack basic features of most animals, such as a mouth or gut.

The development of bilateral symmetry was a critical step in the evolution of animal life, giving organisms the ability to move purposefully and a common, yet successful way to organize their bodies. A multitude of animals, from worms to insects to dinosaurs to humans, are organized around this same basic bilaterian body plan.

Evolutionary biologists studying the genetics of modern animals predicted the oldest ancestor of all bilaterians would have been simple and small, with rudimentary sensory organs. Preserving and identifying the fossilized remains of such an animal was thought to be difficult, if not impossible.

For 15 years, scientists agreed that fossilized burrows found in 555 million-year-old Ediacaran Period deposits in Nilpena, South Australia, were made by bilaterians. But there was no sign of the creature that made the burrows, leaving scientists with nothing but speculation.

Scott Evans, a recent doctoral graduate from UC Riverside; and Mary Droser, a professor of geology, noticed miniscule, oval impressions near some of these burrows. With funding from a NASA exobiology grant, they used a three-dimensional laser scanner that revealed the regular, consistent shape of a cylindrical body with a distinct head and tail and faintly grooved musculature. The animal ranged between 2-7 millimeters long and about 1-2.5 millimeters wide, with the largest the size and shape of a grain of rice -- just the right size to have made the burrows.

"We thought these animals should have existed during this interval, but always understood they would be difficult to recognize," Evans said. "Once we had the 3D scans, we knew that we had made an important discovery."

A 3D laser scan of an Ikaria wariootia impression. (Droser Lab/UCR)

The researchers, who include Ian Hughes of UC San Diego and James Gehling of the South Australia Museum, describe Ikaria wariootia, named to acknowledge the original custodians of the land. The genus name comes from Ikara, which means "meeting place" in the Adnyamathanha language. It's the Adnyamathanha name for a grouping of mountains known in English as Wilpena Pound. The species name comes from Warioota Creek, which runs from the Flinders Ranges to Nilpena Station.

"Burrows of Ikaria occur lower than anything else. It's the oldest fossil we get with this type of complexity," Droser said. "Dickinsonia and other big things were probably evolutionary dead ends. We knew that we also had lots of little things and thought these might have been the early bilaterians that we were looking for."

In spite of its relatively simple shape, Ikaria was complex compared to other fossils from this period. It burrowed in thin layers of well-oxygenated sand on the ocean floor in search of organic matter, indicating rudimentary sensory abilities. The depth and curvature of Ikaria represent clearly distinct front and rear ends, supporting the directed movement found in the burrows.

The burrows also preserve crosswise, "V"-shaped ridges, suggesting Ikaria moved by contracting muscles across its body like a worm, known as peristaltic locomotion. Evidence of sediment displacement in the burrows and signs the organism fed on buried organic matter reveal Ikaria probably had a mouth, anus, and gut.

"This is what evolutionary biologists predicted," Droser said. "It's really exciting that what we have found lines up so neatly with their prediction."


Scott D. Evans, Ian V. Hughes, James G. Gehling, and Mary L. Droser.

Discovery of the oldest bilaterian from the Ediacaran of South Australia.

PNAS, March 23, 2020

DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2001045117

Monday, 2 March 2020

Discovery of a billion-year-old green algae, the ancestor of all plants

Virginia Tech paleontologists have made a remarkable discovery in China: 1 billion-year-old micro-fossils of green seaweeds that could be related to the ancestor of the earliest land plants and trees that first developed 450 million years ago.

The oldest green seaweed on record, the ancestor of all land plants, lived about 1 billion years ago, a new study finds.

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Scientists have discovered the fossils of what may be the oldest green algae ever known. The newfound seaweed — called Proterocladus antiquus — lived about a billion years ago. And even though it was tiny, about 0.07 inches (2 millimeters) in length, the algae had a big role: It could produce oxygen through photosynthesis.

"Its discovery indicates that green plants we see today can be traced back to at least 1 billion years ago, and they started in the ocean before they expanded their territory to the land," study lead researcher Qing Tang, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Geosciences at Virginia Tech, have told Live Science in an email.

Proterocladus antiquus : it confirms that green algae already lived a billion years ago

Until now, researchers didn't have hard proof that green algae lived that long ago. Rather, computer models, including those based on molecular clocks, indicated that photosynthesizing plants arose between the Paleoproterozoic era (2.5 billion to 1.6 billion years ago) and the Cryogenian period (720 million to 635 million years ago).

Now that researchers have a fossil, they can confidently say that photosynthesizing plants, a group known as Viridiplantae, lived at least 1 billion years ago, and that they were multicellular, Tang said.

Fossil of green alga P. antiquus . Credits: Qing Tang et al. 2020

"Previously, the oldest widely accepted fossilized green algae was about 800 million years old," said Timothy Gibson, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Earth Sciences at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire and the Department of Geology and Geophysics at Yale University, who was not involved with the study. "This work confirms what many have expected based on the existing, though sparse fossil record, which is that green algae likely existed about a billion years ago."

Green algae: they played an important role in maintaining primitive ecosystems

Tang and his colleagues discovered the fossils near Dalian City in Liaoning province of northern China. They had heard there was "a thick pile of well-exposed sedimentary rocks" from the Nanfen Formation dating to about a billion years ago. So, Tang took some of these ancient rocks, mostly mudstone and shale, back to the lab at Virginia Tech.

Tang was "really excited" when he saw the algae fossil under the microscope. In all, he identified 1,028 specimens. "I showed it to my supervisor [Shuhai Xiao, a professor in the Department of Geosciences at Virginia Tech], and we immediately agreed that this was going to be a very interesting discovery," he said.

Like modern algae, P. antiquus has a branched structure and a root system. Credits: Qing Tang et al. 2020

Life on Earth is dependent on photosynthesizing plants and algae for food, yet land plants did not evolve until about 450 million years ago, Tang said. "The new fossil suggests that green seaweeds were important players in the ocean long before their descendants, land plants, took control," he said.

Better understand the appearance and evolution of plants

These fossils came from an ancient ocean, but there is still a debate about where green algae originated. "Not everyone agrees with us; some scientists think that green plants started in rivers and lakes, and then conquered the ocean and land later," Xiao said in a statement.

Moreover, green algae isn't the oldest algae on record. "There is strong fossil evidence that red algae existed over a billion years ago, and we know the red and green algae diverged from a common ancestor," Gibson told Live Science in an email. "So, although this doesn't fundamentally change the way I'll think about the evolution of life, the discovery of this green algal fossil helps fill an important gap and strengthens an emerging timeline for the evolution of early, complex life."


A one-billion-year-old multicellular chlorophyte

Tang, Q., Pang, K., Yuan, X

Nat Ecol Evol, 2020

DOI: 10.1038/s41559-020-1122-9

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Walls made of human bones found under the Saint Bavo Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium

By excavating places considered conventional, archaeologists can sometimes make unexpected finds. This is the case of a team of Belgian archaeologists who, excavating the underground areas of the Gothic Saint Bavo church, discovered several walls constructed with human bones - only bones of the lower limbs and skulls. A specificity that questions researchers.

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Archaeologists recently discovered walls constructed from human bones, including broken skulls, during the excavation of the grounds of Saint Bavo's Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium. At the end of the excavation, archaeologists had discovered nine walls, built mainly with adult femurs and shins. The intermediate areas were filled with skulls, many of which were fragmented, according to Ruben Willaert.

Bones from the cleaning of an old cemetery

These horrific structures were probably the work of people who, hundreds of years ago, cleaned up an old cemetery to make room for new bodies or the renovation of a church, says archaeologist Janiek De Gryse, Ruben Willaert staff member and excavation project manager.

“When cleaning up a cemetery, the skeletons cannot just be thrown away. Since the faithful believed in a resurrection of the body, the bones were considered the most important part," adds Gryse. Safeguarding human remains was so important that sometimes stone houses were built against the walls of city cemeteries to house skulls and long bones in what is called an ossuary.

The bony walls were discovered on the north side of Saint-Bavon cathedral, formerly known as Saint-Jean-Baptiste or Saint-Jan church. Radiocarbon dating of the bones suggests that they date from the second half of the 15th century, but the walls were probably built later, in the 17th or early 18th century. Historical documents support these dates. A source notes that the church cemetery was cleaned during the first half of the 16th century and again, after 1784, when he stopped accepting new bodies.

Smaller bones like the vertebrae, the bones of the hands or feet were not used for the construction of the walls. Credit: Ruben Willaert

Walls made entirely of lower limb bones and skulls

Whatever the date, these walls are a unique find. Most historic cemeteries are made up of large pits or layers filled with human bones. “We have no comparison in Belgium. We have never seen structures, like walls, intentionally constructed with human bones,” says de Gryse.

Those who built these walls had to be in a hurry, because they did not bother to pick up small or fragile bones, such as vertebrae, ribs or bones of the hands or feet. Curiously, archaeologists also did not find a humerus or radius (main arm bones).

“The walls are made up only of bones of the lower limbs. Is it only a practical thing (stacking bones very compactly) or is there also a religious / spiritual dimension? Asks Gryse. Although there are bones of adult men and women, the bones of children appear to be missing from the walls, which conflicts with the known life expectancy of this period, when children often died of disease.


Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Discovery of a new Tyrannosaurus dinosaur in Canada

Julius Csotonyi / The University of Calgary and Ro

About 80 million years ago, a formidable Saurian predator from the T. rex family roamed the plains of present-day Canada, meticulously tracking down its prey with spectacular efficiency. This dinosaur, discovered by a team of Canadian paleontologists, received the name of "reaper of death". This important discovery will allow paleontologists to reconstruct the Tyrannosaurus lineage in more detail.

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Canadian paleontologists have announced the discovery of a new species of dinosaur closely related to Tyrannosaurus rex , which roamed the plain of North America about 80 million years ago. Thanatotheristes degrootorum (from the Greek for "death harvester") is the oldest member of the T. rex family discovered to date in northern North America and has reached a length of about 8 meters. T. degrootorum is the tenth tyrannosaurid species identified in North America.

“We have chosen a name that embodies what this tyrannosaurus was: the only known large predator of its time in Canada, the reaper of death. The nickname has become Thanatos,” said Darla Zelenitsky, study co-author and professor of dinosaur paleobiology at the University of Canada.

While T. rex - the most famous of all dinosaur species - tracked its prey about 66 million years ago, Thanatos dates back at least 79 million years. The specimen is the first new tyrannosaurus species found in Canada in 50 years.

Artist's impression of the new dinosaur. Credits: Julius Csotonyi / The University of Calgary and Ro

“There are very few species of tyrannosaurids. Due to the nature of the food chain, these large top predators were rare compared to herbivorous or herbivorous dinosaurs," said Zelenitsky in an article published in the journal Cretaceous Research .

The study found that Thanatos had a long, deep snout, similar to that of the more primitive tyrannosaurs that lived in the southern United States. The researchers suggested that the difference in skull shape of the tyrannosaurs between regions could have been due to differences in diet and also in prey available at the time.


A new tyrannosaurine (Theropoda:Tyrannosauridae) from the Campanian Foremost Formation of Alberta, Canada, provides insight into the evolution and biogeography of tyrannosaurids

Authors: Jared T.Vorisa, Caleb M.Brown ....

Cretaceous Research

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

New clues clarify symbolism of Easter Island statues

For hundreds of years, around 1000 monoliths have stood on Easter Island (Rapa Nui). Called moai (or moai) , the objective of these statues has always been a mystery for anthropologists. Several hypotheses suggest that they are linked to fertility, renewal and abundance. Recently, a team of archaeologists has uncovered evidence confirming this link.

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More than 90% of the moai statues were carved in a quarry called Rano Raraku: a volcanic crater which, at its base, represents less than 1% of the total area of ​​the island, but nevertheless served as a unique source of stone used to make the statues of the island. However, Rano Raraku is not limited to cut stone, according to the researchers, based on an analysis of soil samples taken in the region.

According to the research team, it was an industrial site used to temporarily produce and store the moai before it was removed and transported to other places on the island. However, almost 400 of the monoliths remain in the quarry, and some are buried in the ground with the support of fortified rock structures which suggest that the placement is not temporary. The reason would be the soil rich in calcium and phosphorus, nutrients necessary for the growth of plants and crops.

Several hundred moai are still present in the quarry used to make them. Credit: Easter Island Statue Project

In addition to evidence of soil fertility, researchers also found traces of ancient crops in the samples, including bananas, taro, sweet potatoes, and Chinese mulberry.

These signs show, according to the researchers, that in addition to using the quarry for producing the moai, the Rapa Nui company also used the space as a place to grow the food they needed, taking advantage of the rich soils. and plowed Rano Raraku, which would have produced higher yields with lower labor costs

Why were the moai also erected in the crater, in the middle of the earth from which they themselves were produced? It has long been theorized that the ceremonial purpose of monoliths was associated with fertility rituals, and researchers say their field work provides chemical evidence for this link - not to mention the discovery of carved pits, suggesting that the moai were probably erected to stand and “watch indefinitely” on this fertile ground.


New excavations in Easter Island's statue quarry: Soil fertility, site formation and chronology

Authors: Sarah C.SherwoodaJ  AnneVan Tilburg Casey R.Barrier MarkHorrocks Richard K.DunnfJosé MiguelRamírez-Aliaga

Journal of Archaeological Science
Volume 111, November 2019, 104994

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