Paleontology

Reconstructing ancient life has long required a certain amount of inference and imagination - especially speculative is the coloration of long-extinct organisms.

New methods of investigation are being incorporated into paleontology that may shed light (and color) on fossils.

Many large mammals went extinct at the end of the most recent Ice Age (about 11,000 years ago), including the Steppe bison, Bison priscus.

Recently an intact one was found, literally frozen in time. This most complete frozen mummy of the Steppe bison yet discovered dates to 9,300 years ago and was uncovered in the Yana-Indigirka Lowland. 

The Yukagir bison mummy, as it is named, has a complete brain, heart, blood vessels and digestive system, although some organs have shrunk significantly over time. The necropsy of this unique mummy showed a relatively normal anatomy with no obvious cause of death. However, the lack of fat around abdomen of the animal makes researchers think that the animal may have died from starvation. 


A fossil of the ancient horse Eurohippus messelensis found in Germany contains a fetus as well as parts of the uterus and associated tissues.

Eurohippus messelensis had four toes on each forefoot and three toes on each the hind foot, and it was about the size of a modern fox terrier. Though different in size and structure, reproduction in early horses was very similar to that of modern horses. The new find was unveiled at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Berlin.



The femur that led to the oldest modern human genome. Credit: Bence Viola, MPI EVA

By Daniel Zadik, University of Leicester

When a human bone was found on a gravelly riverbank by a bone-carver who was searching for mammoth ivory, little did he know it would provide the oldest modern-human genome yet sequenced.

The anatomically modern male thigh-bone, found near the town of Ust’-Ishim in south-western Siberia, has been radiocarbon-dated to around 45,000 years old.


Deinocheirus mirificus. Credit: Yuong-Nam Lee

By Stephen Brusatte, University of Edinburgh

Everywhere scientists look it seems like they are finding dinosaurs. A new species is emerging at the astounding pace of one per week. And this continues with the announcement of perhaps the strangest dinosaur find over the past few years: the toothless, hump-backed, super-clawed omnivore Deinocheirus mirificus that lived about 70m years ago in what is now Mongolia.

By pairing chemical analyses with micropaleontology, the study of tiny fossilized organisms, researchers believe they can decipher how global marine life was affected by a rapid warming event more than 55 million years ago.  

The work revolves around the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), a well-studied analogue for modern climate warming. Documenting the expansion of OMZs during the PETM is difficult because of the lack of a sensitive, widely applicable indicator of dissolved oxygen.  


Sauropods,  large, long-necked plant-eating dinosaurs such as Diplodocus and Brachiosaurus, are the largest animals to have ever walked the Earth, with the biggest weighing 80 tons.

Clearly, a single creature the size of 11 elephants would have needed vast amounts of food. How did multiple sauropod species live alongside one another in prehistoric ecosystems between 210 and 65 million years ago?

New research from the University of Bristol and the Natural History Museum, London details the community of the Late Jurassic Morrison Formation, a distinctive sequence of sedimentary rock in the western United States from which over 10 species of sauropod are known.


A 52-million-year old beetle was able to live alongside ants—preying on their eggs and usurping resources—within the comfort of their nest. Somehow.

The fossil, encased in a piece of amber from India, is the oldest-known example of this kind of social parasitism, known as "myrmecophily." The research also shows that the diversification of these stealth beetles, which infiltrate ant nests around the world today, correlates with the ecological rise of modern ants. 



Phytosaur: still got it. Credit: BFS Man, CC BY

By Stephanie Drumheller, University of Tennessee; Michelle Stocker, Virginia Tech, and Sterling Nesbitt, Virginia Tech

The first truly semi-aquatic dinosaur, Spinosaurus aegyptiacus, has been announced.

New fossils of the massive Cretaceous-era predator reveal it adapted to life in the water some 95 million years ago, providing the most compelling evidence to date of a dinosaur able to live and hunt in an aquatic environment.

The fossils also indicate that Spinosaurus was the largest known predatory dinosaur to roam the Earth, measuring more than 9 feet longer than the world's largest Tyrannosaurus rex specimen.