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Toothy Dinosaur Goes Vegan

The news media all pounced on a dinosaur fossil discovery reported in Nature this week.1  Dinosaur finds are ever popular, and reporters especially like it when an artist’s rendition is available.  Some outlets reporting the discovery of Falcarius utahensis, a previously unknown species “in the process of converting to vegetarianism from a rather more bloodthirsty […]

Missing Link Fish Story

Once upon a time, 450 million years ago, scavenger fish without teeth or bones roamed the shallow icy waters of Africa which was undergoing an Ice Age.  Slowly, over millions of years, they gained teeth and other structures characteristic of more advanced fish.  Then, a few thousand years ago, a lake in the (now continental […]

Giant Carnivorous Amphibians Found in African Fossil Deposit

Meat-eating amphibians shaped like crocodiles?  Be glad you didn’t live in West Africa 250 million years ago, say scientists at McGill University.  Two species were described, one with large and small fang-like teeth, and another with curved horns on the back of its head. The fossils didn’t come with dates on them, and since amphibian […]

Dinosaur Fossilized in the Act of Laying Eggs

Two eggs, with shell material still attached, were found inside the oviducts of a theropod dinosaur, a Chinese team reported in Science.1  This first-time discovery of intact eggs in the body of the female “suggests that theropod dinosaurs had two functional oviducts (like crocodiles) but that each oviduct produced only one egg at a time […]

Gorilla or Hominid?  Toumaï Controversy Continues

Michel Brunet’s controversial Toumaï skull (Sahelanthropus tchadensis) made the cover of Nature last week,1,2 but rivals contend it was not part of the human line.  The skull he found in Chad in 2002 (see 07/11/2002 and 10/09/2002 entries) was badly disfigured and needed reconstructive surgery, leading to criticisms that any interpretations were subjective.     […]

Do Neurologists Understand Brain Evolution?

Jane Bradbury wrote a feature piece for PLOS Biology recently,1 entitled, “Molecular Insights into Human Brain Evolution.”  Help us find the insights.  First, she marvels on how “humans sit on top of the pile when it comes to relative brain size.”  Then she marvels at how quickly the human brain apparently evolved compared to apes.  […]

More Convergent Evolution Claimed for Dino-Era Mammal

A chipmunk-size mammal with Popeye-like forearms and beaver-like teeth resembling an armadillo?  That’s how the discoverers are describing the fossil they named Fruitafossor, a small mammal found near Fruita, Colorado and reported in Science.1  They think it dug burrows and ate termites.  Of special interest were the open-root teeth like those of the beaver.  Lead […]

Soft Tissue from Dinosaurs Found: Intact Cells and Blood Vessels

The news media are abuzz with exciting reports about the discovery of soft tissues recovered from a Tyrannosaurus rex bone; see CNN, National Geographic, BBC News, MSNBC and News@Nature for examples.  The soft tissue, analyzed from a thighbone unearthed in Montana, was reported by a North Carolina team led by Mary Higby Schweizer and was […]

How to Get Something from Nothing: Genetic Code, Syntax Explained?

Two articles in recent science literature attempt to show that complex entities, like the genetic code and the syntax of human language, are no big deal.  They can emerge from precursors by chance.     In PNAS recently,1 veteran researcher Harold J. Morowitz (George Mason U) and two colleagues proposed a new theory for the […]

Horse Evolution Is Back on the Charts

The old horse-evolution charts from the 1880s have been revised substantially since 1920 when paleontologists began to realize the story was not so simple.  (Thomas Huxley had used the series of O. C. Marsh as a focal point of his 1876 lecture tour in the United States.)  These charts portrayed small horses with three toes […]

Oldest Fossils Aren’t

A new analysis of the world’s oldest claimed fossil rock, a banded deposit off the coast of Greenland said to be 3.8 billion years old, probably contains no signature of life, reports Stephen Moorbath (Oxford) in Nature.1  He has visited the Akilia site twice where rocks were purported to contain graphite of biological origin.  He […]

Are Stone Age Hunter-Gatherers Evolving or Devolving?

Anthropologists typically view stone age tribes as stuck in an eddy from primitive beginnings, never advancing into civilization.  Yet some tribes of hunter-gatherers in Thailand and Laos appear to have been farmers in their past, reports Science Now with apparent surprise: Traditionally, anthropologists thought that modern hunter-gatherer tribes like the Mlabri descended through the ages […]

Indonesian Hobbit No Numbskull

Whoever Homo florensiensis was (see 10/27/2004 entry), it was no dumb half-ape.  This miniature human packed a lot of brains into a small skull, says Michael Balter in Science1 (see also EurekAlert, National Geographic and BBC News).  A cast of the brain made from the skull shows complexity: convolutions in the frontal lobe suggest an […]

Dating Disaster: Is Neanderthal the New Piltdown?

We all know it by heart: Neanderthal Man was a big-boned, hairy cave-dweller that got pushed out of northern Europe 40,000 years ago by the smarter modern humans.  Could this all be wrong?  Did some bones actually belong to real people living in recorded history?     The man who dated some of these bones, […]

South American Dinosaur Find Modifies Theories

A deinonychus-like dinosaur has been found in Argentina.  Representatives of this group, including velociraptor, had previously only been known in the northern hemisphere and Asia.  Since South America was supposedly on another land mass at the time, “The new discovery demonstrates that Cretaceous theropod faunas from the southern continents shared greater similarity with those of […]
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