Friday, December 28, 2007

Born This Day: Alfred Sherwood Romer

Dec. 28, 1894 – Nov. 5, 1973

”Romer was director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University until his retirement in 1961 and was one the singularly most influential vertebrate paleontologists of the 20th Century. His work ranged over virtually every conceivable subject within that field, although it was the osteology and taxonomy of the therapsids and other proto-mammals which was nearest his heart.

In addition to this work, Romer was acutely interested in the origin and initial adaptive radiation of tetrapods, and his work became the basis for a theory of tetrapod origins which was canon until the description of Acanthostega gunnari by Clack & Coates in the 1990s. Romer was ahead of his time in his defense of monophyly of Dinosauria though he did feel that Theropoda was not ancestral to birds.” link from

Romer’s book, Vertebrate Paleontology (1966), was for many years THE textbook on VP and is still well worth picking up. One of Romer’s students, Bob Carroll, wrote an updated version entitled, ‘Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution’, in 1987. image

The Secrets of Life

This comic is based on SECRETS OF LIFE, a 1956 feature-length film in WALT DISNEY'S TRUE-LIFE ADVENTURES Academy Award-winning series of nature documentaries. This 33-page adaptation of the feature-length documentary opens with a splash-page depicting an Allosaurus. Then we're shown the origins of life on primitive Earth, with prehistoric invertebrates such as trilobites, scorpions and giant cockroaches.

As land-life flourishes, we're treated to shots of dinosaurs, including an improbable battle (below) between a Tyrannosaurus rex and a sea-going Pleisosaurus. Finally, we see the development of birds (this comic was produced decades before theories about feathered dinosaurs) and mammals, such as the saber-toothed Smilodon.

A back-cover summary of the contents of WALT DISNEY'S SECRETS OF LIFE, which reads:"Thus does Nature show us that in any small part of her broad world maybe seen and explored some of her many Secrets of Life - those strange and ingenious talents for survival with which she has equipped the life she created, whether they be found on the fantastic floor of her oceans, high on her frozen mountain peaks, above her earth or under its crust…or revealed to us in a single fragile flower and one tiny Honeybee."

All the above is from the Oddball Comics site of Scott Shaw!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Set Sail Today: HMS Beagle

Image from HERE.

From Today In Science History:

In 1831, Charles Darwin set sail from Plymouth harbour on his voyage of scientific discovery aboard the HMS Beagle, a British Navy ship. The Captain Robert FitzRoy was sailing to the southern coast of South America in order to complete a government survey. Darwin had an unpaid position as the ship's naturalist, at age 22, just out of university.

Originally planned to be at sea for two years, the voyage lasted five years, making stops in Brazil, the Galapogos Islands, and New Zealand. From the observations he made and the specimens he collected on that voyage, Darwin developed his theory of biological evolution through natural selection, which he published 28 years after the Beagle left Plymouth.

The path of The HMS Beagle. © Pearson Education, Inc. Click to enlarge.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Discovered This Day: A Living Coelacanth

Internal anatomy of the coelacanth, Latimeria chalumnae.

From Today In Science History:

In 1938, a coelacanth, a primitive fish thought extinct, was discovered. Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer was curator of the museum in the port town of East London, northeast of Cape Town, South Africa, and always interested in seeing unusual specimens. Hendrik Goosen, captain of the trawler Nerine, called her to see his catch of the day before, made at about 70-m depth, off the Chalumna River southwest of East London. She spotted an unusual 5-ft fish in his "trash" fish pile. It was pale mauvy-blue with iridescent silver markings. She sent a sketch to Dr J.L.B. Smith, a senior lecturer in chemistry from Rhodes University in Grahamstown for identification. It was hailed as the zoological discovery of the century and equated to finding a living dinosaur!

December 22, 1938, Captain Goosen and the Nerine put into East London harbour with the usual catch of sharks, rays, starfish and rat-tail fish. But there was one unusual fish amongst the catch that had been caught in about 70 meters, near the mouth of the Chalumna River. Once ashore Captain Goosen left word at the Museum that there were several specimens at the ship for Miss Latimer. At first she said that she was too busy because she was hard at work cleaning and articulating the fossil reptile bones collected from Tarkastad. But as it was so near Christmas time she decided to go and wish the crew a “Happy Christmas” and took a taxi to the docks. There, attracted by a blue fin amid the pile of sharks, she found a magnificent fish. She and her assistant put it in a bag and persuaded a reluctant taxi driver to take it to the museum in the boot of the car. It measured 150 cm and weighed 57.5 kg. From its hard bony scales with sharp, prickly spines and paired fins looking rather like legs, she knew that it must be some kind of primitive fish.

But her greatest problem was to preserve it until it could be identified. It was extremely hot, the fish, was too big to go into a bath and she could not find any organization willing to store it in a freezer. Although she was told by experts that it was only a type of rock cod and that she was making a fuss about nothing, she persisted in her attempts to save the fish for science. At first it was wrapped in cloths soaked in formalin but eventually, on the 26th, Mr. Center, a taxidermist, skinned it. Unfortunately the internal organs were thrown away. Marjorie went home disappointed and worried that she had not saved all the soft parts. What she had done, however, was to write immediately to her friend, JLB Smith, and send him her famous sketch of the strange fish.”

Miss Courtenay-Latimer's sketch of the first coelacanth which she posted to JLB Smith.

Learn more about Latimeria chalumnae at the Australian Museum fish web page.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

KID 2007 Expedition

Time for a few quick updates where we shovel the city of Ottawa out of its latest snowstorm. I don't think I've posted any photos from my time with the KID expedition in Mongolia this past summer. You can get my summary of last year's work at my Phaeton web site HERE; I'll have an update for 2007 on that site soon.

Just some of the the 2007 crew.

One of several vehicle problems we had.

Yoshi and Dr. Song work on the sauropod that Yoshi found in 2006. In just under two weeks the crew completely collected the >60% complete skeleton.

Puzzling over how to move the pelvic block.

Dr. Darla.

In the middle of nowhere we had to replace an engine in one of the trucks. Dr. Lee shots some pool as we wait for our drivers to get the job done.

Our camp at Kermin Tsav I

Yosuki and friend.

Khermin Tsav II

Ulzi - ace mechanic, tech and driver!

More Photos

CMNH Ace photographer, Liz Russell, photographs the U of A Centrosaurus skull that I'm having prepped.

Katie Russell and David Chapman mold a small Dunkleosteous that we'll be selling in the new year. This small specimen will be a nice alternative for museum's who don't have space for or can't afford the larger cast we also sell (see below). Many thanks to David and Katie for burning the midnight oil to finish this before Christmas!

The CMNH Dunkleosteous skull cast on display at the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg.

Bob Sullivan (left) explains Dracorex to funny book artist, Mark Schultz on our recent visit to Harrisburg.

One of the Coelophysis displays in Harrisburg.


My paper with Rob Holmes and Tony Russell revising Styracosaurus came out in the recent issue of JVP. However, there was a major snafu in that the only table in it was NOT included in the paper (the one with all the measurements). After Xmas I'll be making PDF's of the paper with the table included and sending them out to all the usual suspects. If you'd like one as well drop me a line....

Born This Day (1944): Richard Leakey


From Today In Science History:

Leakey is a Kenyan physical anthropologist, paleontologist and second of three sons of noted anthropologists Louis Leakey and Mary Leakey. At an early age, he decided he wanted nothing to do with paleoanthropology and started a expedition business. In 1964, he led an expedition to a fossil site which sparked his interest in paleontology. Since then he has been responsible for extensive fossil finds of human ancestral forms in East Africa, including a Homo habilis skull found in 1972, and a Homo erectus skull found in 1975.

His discoveries showed that man's ancestors used tools, which shows intelligence, and lived in eastern Africa at least 3 million years ago - almost doubling the previously accepted age of human origins.

Learn more about The Leakey Foundation HERE.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Died This Day: Theodosius Dobzhansky

.Jan. 25, 1900 – Dec. 18, 1975

From Today In Science History:

Dobzhansky was an Ukrainian-American geneticist and evolutionist whose work had a major influence on 20th-century thought and research on genetics and evolutionary theory. He made the first significant synthesis of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution with Gregor Mendel's theory of genetics in his book Genetics and the Origin of Species (1937).

From 1918 his research gave experimental evidence that genes could vary far more than geneticists had previously believed. Thus, successful species tend to have a wide variety of genes that, while redundant in its present environment, do provide a species as a whole with genetic diversity. Such diversity enables the species to adapt effectively to changes in the surrounding environment - the basis for modern evolutionary theory.

Died This Day: Sir Richard Owen

July 20, 1804 – Dec. 18, 1892

From Today In Science History:

Owen was an English anatomist and paleontologist who is remembered for his contributions to the study of fossil animals and for his strong opposition to the views of Charles Darwin.

He coined the word "Dinosaur" meaning "terrible reptile" (1842). Owen synthesized French anatomical work, especially from Cuvier and Geoffroy, with German transcendental anatomy. He gave us many of the terms still used today in anatomy and evolutionary biology, including "homology". In 1856, he was appointed Superintendent of the British Museum (Natural History).

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Born This Day: Joseph Barrell

Dec. 15, 1869 – May 4, 1919

From Today In Science History:

Barrell was an American geologist who proposed that sedimentary rocks were produced by the action of rivers, winds, and ice, as well as by marine sedimentation. In 1916, he indicated that the coloration of many Devonian rocks was bright red because they had been baked dry, like bricks, in arid conditions. Also, this severe climate was a driving force in the evolution of air-breathing vertebrates, including tetrapods.

In 1917, he used the new results of radioactive dating to reinterpret Earth's age at a few billion years, though many geologists still preferred an age of 100 million years. Barrell emphasized that geological processes vary in intensity in a cyclical rather than a uniform fashion, thus current rates of geological change should not be used as a guide to the past,as in prior estimates.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Season Greetings!

I'll be away from internet access for most of the next three weeks, so postings will slow down (but not stop) until after the new year. Have a warm and safe holiday season!

Carcharodontosaurus iguidensis

Photo courtesy S. Brusatte, U Bristol; graphic courtesy S. Powell, U Bristol.
A 95-million-year-old fossil jawbone belonging to a new species of dinosaur dubbed Carcharodontosaurus iguidensis.

From National Geographic News the latest "It's bigger than T. rex!" story:

At about 14 meters long, the species is among the largest meat-eating dinos that ever lived. Carcharodontosaurus was first described based on two fossil teeth recovered in the 1920s that have since been lost. The only previously named species from the genus, C. saharicus, was described from a single fossil skull found by Sereno in Morocco in 1996.

Subtle differences in the new Niger skull suggested that it belonged to a distinct species—a suspicion now confirmed following detailed examination, Brusatte said.

It's published in the latest JVP.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Born This Day: Erasmus Darwin

Dec. 12, 1731 – April 18, 1802.

Erasmus was a prominent English physician, poet, philosopher, botanist, naturalist and the grandfather of naturalist Charles Darwin and the biologist Francis Galton. Erasmus Darwin was one of the leading intellectuals of 18th century England.

As a naturalist, he formulated one of the first formal theories on evolution in Zoonomia, or, The Laws of Organic Life (1794-1796). Although he did not come up with natural selection, he did discuss ideas that his grandson elaborated on sixty years later, such as how life evolved from a single common ancestor, forming "one living filament".

Although some of his ideas on how evolution might occur are quite close to those of Lamarck, Erasmus Darwin also talked about how competition and sexual selection could cause changes in species. link

Download Zoonomia HERE

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

New Antarctic Sauropodomorph: Glacialisaurus

Anatomy of a basal sauropodomorph dinosaur from the Early Jurassic Hanson Formation of Antarctica. 2007. Nathan D. Smith and Diego Pol. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 52 (4): 657-674

From the press release:

The new primitive sauropodomorph Glacialisaurus hammeri from the Early Jurassic has been discovered in Antarctica. The description is based on partial foot, leg and ankle bones found on Mt. Kirkpatrick near the Beardmore Glacier in Antarctica at an elevation of more than 13,000 feet.

“The fossils were painstakingly removed from the ice and rock using jackhammers, rock saws and chisels under extremely difficult conditions over the course of two field seasons,” said Nathan Smith, a graduate student at The Field Museum. “They are important because they help to establish that primitive sauropodomorph dinosaurs were more broadly distributed than previously thought, and that they coexisted with their cousins, the true sauropods.”

Glacialisaurus hammeri was about 20-25 feet long and weighed about 4-6 tons . It was named after Dr. William Hammer, a professor at Augustana College who led the two field trips to Antarctica that uncovered the fossils. Glacialisaurus belongs to the sauropodomorph family Massopsondylidae, which may represent a secondary radiation of basal sauropodomorphs during the Early Jurassic.

The recent discovery of a possible sauropod at roughly the same location in Antarctica lends additional evidence to the theory that the earliest sauropods coexisted with their basal sauropodomorph cousins during the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic.

In Memorium: Karol Sabath

Zofia Kielan-Jaworowska has a nicely written obituary for Karol Sabath (1963-2007) in the latest volume of Acta Palaeontologica Polonica.

Eotriceratops on 'Quirks & Quarks'

David Eberth talked about the newest Albertan ceratopsid on last week's "Quirks & Quarks", CBC's weekly national science show. Listen to it in your favourite format HERE

Monday, December 10, 2007

Spanish Dinosaur Graveyard

From National Geographic News:

Photograph courtesy José Luis Sanz/Autonomous University, Madrid
A scientist excavates the fossilized skeleton of a titanosaur in eastern Spain. A huge "graveyard" of some 8,000 fossils found there is the largest and most diverse cache of dino-era remains ever found in Europe, experts say.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Check Out The Holiday Gift Guide

Don't forget to check out the Palaeoblog's HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE.

Here's something I forgot to put on the list:

The recent album by the band ARTICHOKE.

Tugrikin Shire Protoceratops

Last summer we spent a day at Tugrikin Shire. This year we came came apon a group of men poaching a Protoceratops (just like we did last year!). At noon they hopped on their motorcycles to go home for lunch...

Prospecting the area.

That's Clive Coy in the foreground. To the right of the shadow on the low hill in the background is where both the AMNH and Hayashibara collected their Protoceratops nests.

The base of the formation is heavily bioturbated. That's a Protoceratops skeleton that has been chewed to pieces with burrows running through it.

Dr. David Fastovsky offers these insights into the locality.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Bayn Zag Museum

If you go the famous "Flaming Cliffs" (Bayn Zag) in Mongolia during the summer you'll find that an enterpernurical family has set up a booth on top of the cliffs where they sell cold drink, rocks and few fossils. This is the point where the tour buses pull up, disengorge the tourists for their 10 minute photo op, and then blast off to the next stop.

If you ask the older of the two sisters working for their parents she’s take you over to the nearby ger that is the "Bayn Zag Museum". Inside you’ll see a variety of fossils, including some Tarbosaurus bones, a sad looking Protoceratops, and photos of Roy Chapman Andrews, et al. The young girl wants to be a palaeontologist when she grows up, but does feel that she can do it in Mongolia. She seems sincere in her ambitions and is very knowledgeable about what’s in the ger.

Phil, Eva and I stopped in at the end of one of our prospecting days at the Cliffs.

The museum

Born This Day: John Smith

Dec. 8, 1924 – Nov. 22, 2003

From Today In Science History:

Smith was an English microbiologist who was a pioneer in the field of nucleic acid research. He helped to establish the structure of RNA and to discover the methylation of the bases in bacterial DNA. The RNA structure information was crucial to the double-stranded model of DNA proposed by Watson and Crick.

He contributed to the methodology involved in the unravelling of the secrets of the genome. In the early 1960s, Smith became involved in unravelling the process whereby the sequence of bases in DNA determines the assembly of the different amino acid sequences of proteins which are responsible for all our bodily functions (structural, enzymatic, hormonal, and so on), a process known as protein synthesis.

Born This Day: Thomas Robert Cech

Born 8 Dec 1947

From Today In Science History:

Cech was an American biochemist and molecular biologist who, with Sidney Altman, was awarded the 1989 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for their discoveries concerning RNA (ribonucleic acid). Prior to Cech's research on RNA, most scientists believed that proteins were the only catalysts in living cells. Cech showed that RNA could have an independent catalytic function, a "ribozyme", aiding a chemical reaction without being consumed or changed.

Friday, December 07, 2007

“Chance Favours The Prepared Mind”

The Eternals © Marvel Comics
In 1884, during a lecture presented at the University of Lille, Louis Pasteur made his much-quoted remark, "In the fields of observation chance favours only the prepared mind" (Dans les champs de l'observation le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés).

From Today In Science History

Dinos Stop Progress In Oz

Small herbivorous dinosaurs dubbed Leaellynasaura amicagraphica roam along the water's edge in southeastern Australia in an artist's depiction. The species lived about 115 million years ago when the continent was within the Antarctic Circle.

From National Geographic News:

Plans to build a massive desalination plant to supply fresh water to drought-stricken Melbourne created a media outcry last week, because pipes for the plant will run though the fossil beds where L. amicagraphica and other ancient species have been unearthed. The fossil bed—part of a site dubbed Dinosaur Cove—sits at the mouth of the Powlett River near Kilcunda in Australia's southeastern state of Victoria

Despite the media outcry, Australian water minister Tim Holding told the Herald-Sun newspaper last week that the remains would not be at risk.

"The existence of these fossilized remains in no way impacts on the ability of us to construct or operate a desalination plant on the site," Holding said.

And we all know that governments always make the best decisions for the preservation of fossils….

Died This Day: Theodor Schwann

Dec. 7, 1810 - Jan. 11, 1882

From Today In Science History

Schwann was a German physiologist who founded modern histology by defining the cell in Mikroskopische Untersuchungen (1839) as the basic unit of animal structure that makes elementary parts (such as teeth, bone, muscle, cartilage, nerve tissue) by cell differentiation. This laid the foundations for the cell theory.

Schwann also worked on fermentation and discovered the enzyme pepsin. Schwann cells are named after him. He also formulated basic principles of embryology (that the egg is a single cell that develops into a complete organism); and coined the term metabolism. image