July 15, 2014 | David F. Coppedge

Phenomenal Fossils

Recent fossil discoveries include some eye-openers and world records.

Ever herd of dinosaurs?  Alaska is turning out to be a world-class dinosaur track site.  Science Magazine discussed the finding of thousands of tracks in Denali National Park made by a herd of duckbill dinosaurs (hadrosaurs).  “The consistent and excellent preservation of tracks suggests all the footprints were created within a short time period,” reporter Sid Perkins says.  The tracks included all ages, juvenile to adult.  “The presence of juveniles in the herd also strongly hints that these creatures spent their entire lives in the Arctic, the team says; hadrosaurs of that size wouldn’t have had the size or stamina to migrate to and from warmer climates during wintertime, as some scientists have proposed.”  Becky Oskin at Live Science noted that “Many of the deep tracks contain preserved skin and ‘nail’ impressions from the plant-eating hadrosaurs.”  The tracks were first discovered in 2007 but were described in Geology in June, sources say.

Biggest bird:  The largest bird fossil ever found was an albatross-like giant with a 24-foot wingspan, Science Daily says.  Found near Charleston, South Carolina, Pelagornis sandersi unquestionably flew, even though Live Science says its size exceeds theoretical limits according to some researchers.  It was so big, it may have had to catch winds or jump off bluffs to get airborne.  The find, much larger than today’s biggest bird, the California condor, was published in PNAS, where the researchers say it had twice the wingspan of the Royal Albatross.  Science Magazine, with its large artwork of the bird, says the wingspan exceeds the length of a stretch limousine.  The BBC News and National Geographic also reported the find.  New Scientist may have the biggest “Wow!” factor, though, showing that even this bird’s wingspan was significantly smaller than that of the extinct pterosaur, Quetzalcoatlus northropi.

Mammoth CT scan:  Two baby mammoths were scanned with computerized tomography for the first time, PhysOrg reported, yielding a “trove of insights” about internal details.  Researchers determined that the young mammoths died from asphyxiation by inhaling mud.  It required a mammoth-sized industrial scanner at a Ford testing facility in Michigan to fit these baby giants.  Embedded video clips and photos in the article allow readers to view the skeletons in 3-D.

Resurrected spider:  A CT scan on a much smaller organism—an extinct spider—has allowed engineers to reconstruct its locomotion.  Readers of a BBC News article can see the dead live again in a virtual 3-D reconstruction video clip.

Amber alert:  Chinese scientists looked into a crystal of Fushun amber and found a “diverse paleobiota,” Current Biology reported.  “Biotic interchange occurred between Europe and Asia during the Early Paleogene” is one of the published highlights of the examination.  Some “Twenty-two orders and more than 80 families of arthropods have been reported so far, making it among the most diverse amber biotas,” they say.  “Some insect taxa have close phylogenetic affinities to those from coeval European ambers,” indicating a good deal of foreign exchange in the period.

DiNObird debate:  Alan Feduccia and Stephen Czerkas, longstanding critics of the dinosaur-to-bird transition, have published their analysis of Scansoriopteryx, arguing that it does not support the consensus view (Science Daily).  They believe that both birds and theropods descended from a common ancestor farther back in time.  Readers can make their own decisions about the merits of both sides.  As for Scansoriopteryx, “The birdlike fossil is actually not a dinosaur, as previously thought, but much rather the remains of a tiny tree-climbing animal that could glide,” they argue.

Early man in trouble:  Paleoanthropologists are fretting again (what else is new?) over another skull that “raises new questions about human evolution” – that’s Astrobiology Magazine‘s headline, a NASA website that usually doesn’t get into paleoanthropology.  Echoing what was reported by Science Daily and Live Science, the article puzzles over a Neanderthal-like ear trait in a non-Neanderthal skull found in China 35 years ago but just subjected to a micro-CT scan.

“The discovery places into question a whole suite of scenarios of later Pleistocene human population dispersals and interconnections based on tracing isolated anatomical or genetic features in fragmentary fossils,” said study co-author Erik Trinkaus, PhD, a physical anthropology professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

“It suggests, instead, that the later phases of human evolution were more of a labyrinth of biology and peoples than simple lines on maps would suggest.”

The fossil also indicates a great deal of interbreeding between ancient humans.  In fact, that’s what John Brookfield in The Conversation argues gave living Tibetans their “head for heights”—Neanderthal genes.  It would seem any story is up for grabs since the timeline of human origins keeps getting revised (e.g., Science Daily).

Once again, we find greater sizes and more diversity in the past than present, and indications of very different climate.  The biosphere was drastically changed because of the Flood.  So much of the confusion interpreting fossils would evaporate if moyboy paleontologists would just kick the bad habit of dragging everything out over millions of years.


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  • txpiper says:

    The speculation in the biggest bird story does not work. On one hand, they think it would have difficulty taking off using just wing power, but then imagine it capable of snatching submerged squid or fish with its beak and resuming flight carrying a load. This doesn’t wash.

    As to being larger than theoretical limits, I have heard the same thing about giant reptiles and mammals…that they could not function now. Perhaps the earth’s gravity was altered during the flood.

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