Dinos Slimmed-Down By Scientists (To a Mere 23 Tons)

From Bones to Flesh- The Australian Museum

Scientists have discovered that the weight and mass of dinosaurs may be much lower than previously believed.

A new technique allows experts to estimate the weight of prehistoric animals by measuring something other than their weight and volume. The method will undoubtedly change all current illustrations of the creatures, and provide insight into their unique anatomies.

William Sellers of the University of Manchester’s Faculty of Life Sciences led his team in a project that measured the amount of skin needed to wrap around the skeletons of large animals such as elephants, giraffes and polar bears. The test revealed that almost all of the specimens had 21% percent more body mass than the minimal skin and bone volume.

“This is a huge help for any sort of reconstruction,” Sellers said. “We now have a number that suggests how much flesh to add to the bones and that should help people produce animals that are the right balance of too fat or too thin.”

He added, “This technique can also allow you to calculate the numbers you need for more sophisticated reconstructions, such as the running simulations we have produced in the past.”

The researchers applied their findings to the skeleton of a brachiosaur in a museum in Berlin. This dinosaur was previously believed to have weighed around 176,370 pounds. According to the new estimate, however, the figure was reduced to 50,706; a mere fraction of the original weight!

“The 23-ton weight is quite low, but I think it reflects the fact that all other dinosaur weights are getting lower,” Sellers explained. The new estimates, he said, “reflect a better understanding of biology, and I think the early estimates were set in that big, fat and slow lizard mindset before the dinosaur renaissance. I think we will find that the lower estimates are much more appropriate for many dinosaurs.”

Las Vegas Locals Defend Paleontological Treasure Trove

Mammoth Tusk at Tule Springs

It’s hard to believe that a mere thirty minutes away from the flashy ruckus of Las Vegas rests one of the most amazing paleontological discoveries in America’s history. It’s even harder to believe that it gets very little recognition.

The fossilized remains of Columbian mammoths, American lions, camelops, sloths and other amazing wildlife found in the region date back 7,000 to 250,000 years. The specimens record at least two Ice Ages as well as several global warming and cooling periods.

The first fossils were found in 1902, and six decades later the “Big Dig” took over Tule Springs. With funding from the National Science Foundation, teams of scientists set up camp for four months and excavated two miles of land in order to uncover and study the fossils that were preserved over the centuries. In 1979, 1,000 acres of the land were listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The early 2000s had a different plan for the land, and when the Bureau of Land Management announced its intentions to dig up and build on 13,000 acres in the area, locals rose to defend the treasure trove of natural history.

“I had no idea what we were getting into five years ago,” said Las Vegas resident Jill DeStephano, who battled the construction. “I had never done anything like this before. I was naïve. I thought this was so obvious, once we got the word out, of course everyone would say yes, we need to preserve this.”

Together with some fellow residents, Jill created ‘Protectors of Tule Springs.’ “I thought it would be over in a year or two,” she explained. “Then one consultant said to me, ‘why don’t you go home and play bridge?’ He kept saying things like ‘How much of the Mohave Desert do you have to save? Will 100 acres suffice?’ From my window I could see the beautiful lands of Desert National Wildlife Refuge, and I thought, ‘One day, it will be all built.’”

Eventually, DeStephano teamed up with the National Parks Conservation Association, who began pushing for the space to be declared a national monument.

“When the park service came out and looked at the area, they said this was a missing piece in our fossil record,” explained NPCA’s Nevada filed office program manager Lynn Davis.

Though the decision has not yet been made, support for the cause throughout the area has grown. Officially, in order to make a national monument, one of Nevada’s Congressional representatives would need to introduce legislation. Many are looking to Senator majority Leader Harry Reid.

“When this finally happens, it will be very emotional for a lot of people. They’ve really put their hearts out there,” Davis said.

Dinosaur Eggs Uncovered in Chechnya?

Geologists believe they have uncovered around 40 fossilized dinosaur eggs in the Chechnya region of Russia. According to Chechen State University geologist Said-Emin Dzhabrailov, “there could be many more laying under the ground” as well.

The eggs, theoretically dating back over 60 million years, were discovered as a result of construction in the area, through a controlled blast in the Caucasus Mountains. The stone-like objects are spherical, and range in size from 25cm to over a meter. Paleontologists have yet to determine which dinosaur species laid them.

In the meantime, Magomed Alkhazurov, another scientist from the Chechen State University, guessed that the eggs belong to a large, herbivorous species of dinosaur. Perhaps they belong to the hadrosaurs family. These slow-witted, herd-oriented reptiles are associated with deer, cows and other grazers today.

A sample from the findings has been sent to Yessentuki for examination, though many scientists around the world remain skeptical.

Dr. Aleksandr Averianov of the Institute of Zoology in St. Petersburg said “These are no dinosaur eggs. This is some kind of sand rock. Dinosaur eggs have a different shell structure.”

Other scientists agree, claiming that the egg-shaped formations are of a geological nature, not biological.

Chechnya’s violent reputation and dying tourism industry can actually support this claim, leaving a window for conspiracy theories. The country’s government has already revealed its hopes of creating a nature preserve in the area in an effort to attract tourists. Violence in the region has in fact lessened under Ramzan Kadyrov, who dedicates millions of dollars to construction, tourism and the general improvement of the area’s reputation.

Russian Scientists Resurrect 32,000 Year-Old Plant

A team of Russian scientists claims to have successfully generated living plants from the fruit of a small arctic flower that died 32,000 years ago. The fruit of the narrow-leafed campion was frozen, stored in a ground squirrel’s burrow on the Tundra of northern Siberia.

The fruit, excavated a number of years ago, is the oldest tissue on record to produce a living plant, if the claim is true. Scientists are familiar with the concept of seeds and cells surviving long periods when exposed to the right conditions. However, previous experiments involving extreme longevity were often failures, when the original seeds were tested by the radiocarbon method and found to be modern. These attempts include tales of wheat grown from seeds stored in the pyramids, as well as Lupines grown from seeds in a Yukon lemming burrow that was over 10,000 years old. Both specimens proved to be modern contaminators.

The current legitimate record is held by a date palm germinated from a seed that was found amongst the ruins of the ancient fortress of Masada, in Israel. That seed was a bit more than 2,000 years old.

The Russian experiment, mind-blowing in proportion to previous findings, is indeed supported by a firm radiocarbon date. It has also been tested in the field of DNA, though some discredit the method’s accuracy.

The experiment team included Svetlana Yashina and David Gilichinsky of the Russian Academy of Sciences research center. The outcome of their efforts was released in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the U.S.

Dr. Zazula of the Yukon Paleontology program said “This is an amazing breakthrough. I have no doubt in my mind that this is a legitimate claim.” Zazula’s confirmation of the report is especially significant, as he was the scientist to discredit the Lupine seeds found a number of years ago.

The Russian team was unable to germinate the actual seeds, and so removed cells from the ancient fruit’s placenta. These they grew in culture dishes, and produced 36 ancient plants. The specimens seemed identical to modern day narrow-leafed campions, though their flowers proved to have narrower, more “splayed-out” petals.

For additional details about the experiment, see the full article here.

New Findings Reveal Prehistoric Human-Dog Bonds

Paleontologists have recently unearthed the fossils of three prehistoric dogs, one of which had a mammoth bone locked in its jaws. Researchers believe the bone may have been placed in the dog’s mouth after its death by a human, in a ritual-like burial.

The bone, and other procedures which were performed on the dog’s body before burial, imply that the relationship between dogs and humans may go back farther than previously believed.

Mietje Germonpre, a paleontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, explained that the mammoth bone could reveal “that the dog was ‘fed’ to accompany the soul of the dead person on its journey.”  She added that a perforation was found in the dog’s skull, which implies a ritual to release the dog’s spirit after the death of its body.

Rob Losey, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Alberta, said the study certainly reveals that dog domestication occurred much earlier than once believed.

He said: “The distinctive treatment given to some of the remains also is compelling and this indicates to me that a special connections had developed between people and some canids quite early on- long prior to any good evidence for dogs being buried.”

Researchers believe the dogs were used for hauling loads such as meat, bones and mammoth tusks, as well as firewood.