Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fossil Bird Feather Shows Its Colours

Structural coloration in a fossil feather. 2009. J. Vinther et al. Biological Letters.

Image: Jakob Vinther/Yale University
Paleontologists have discovered evidence of vivid iridescent colors in feather fossils more than 40 million years old.
Iridescence is the quality of changing color depending on the angle of observation, such as the rainbow of colors seen in an oil slick. The simplest iridescent feather colors are produced by light scattering off the feather's surface and a smooth surface of melanin pigment granules within the feather protein. Examining feather fossils from the Messel Shale in Germany with an electron microscope, scientists have documented this smooth layer of melanin structures, called melanosomes.

"These feathers produced a black background with a metallic greenish, bluish or coppery color at certain angles—much like the colors we see in starlings and grackles today," said Richard Prum.

For more than 25 years, paleontologists have found microscopic tubular structures on fossilized feathers and hair. These were long interpreted as bacteria that had digested the feathers at the time they were fossilized. The team had previously discovered that these structures were in fact not bacteria but melanosomes, which then allowed them to document the original color patterns.

The discovery could pave the way for determining color features of other ancient birds and even dinosaurs, the team said. link

Gobi Photos #7

Back at the 3 Camel Lodge the crew relaxes after the long drive from Ultan Ulan.

The Lodge's pet hedge hog.

While the students took a trip to Yol Valley the research team headed out to some exposures about a half hour drive from the Flaming Cliffs. In this region the Early Cretaceous sits directly below the Late Cretaceous via an unconfomity. Here we're looking for baby Pinacosaurus material in the Dhajokta Formation.

Some of the pinacosaur material that is abundant at this heavily poached locality.

Hadrosaur (above), theropod and sauropod footprints are also common at the site.

Caleb Brown brushes out a hadrosaur footprint.
I have to make a note here to say that Caleb was the graduate student on this trip and as such was entrusted with a lot of the day to day organizational duties and helping out with the students. Caleb, of course, did a fantastic job!

I also have to thank the Cleveland company, Lubrizol, who generously donated money to this project to help Caleb and the students get over to Mongolia for this experience.

A sauropod trackway.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Gobi Photos #6

An early morning shot of our camp at Ultan Ula 2. We spent three nights here and made day trips to Ultan Ula 3 and 4. Breakfast is at 7:30 and daily departure is around 8:30. Each day we set out with our drivers in the vans seen in this photo. These vans can navigate through almost any sand dune.

In The Dragon’s Tomb, David explains how to map a quarry to Maria.

Caleb Brown and Emma wait for the rest of the crew to hike back to the trucks after a full day of working in The Dragon’s Tomb. The small bit of shade is a welcome respite from the blistering sun; the downside is the necessary check for ticks after stretching out on the sand.

En route out of Ultan Ula 2 our Russian-built vans had to climb a step, sandy slope to get back to the gobi plateau. With the extra weight of the gear, fossils and crew not all of the vans could make it up on the first try.

When the vans started to lean to almost the horizontal plane we unloaded the students and had them hike up the slope.

At the top of the slope we stopped at the Russian monument erected in 1949 by Evremov to commemorate the 1948-49 Russian-Mongolian palaeontological expeditions to the region. The monument is a steel girder embedded in the ground on the east side of the badlands. Nikki and Emma pose for scale

Our excellent guide, Anand (center in black shirt), from Nomadic Expeditions translates the story about the Russian-Mongolian palaeontological team as told by our Mongolian colleague, Dr. Badamgarov.

My annual photo of David Evans pointing into the distance. In this case the backdrop is the Nemegt Formation of Ultan Ula 4.

The Polish quarry that produced the holotype of the sauropod Opistocoelocaudia at Ultan Ula 4. It turned out to be less than 200 m from the poached quarry where the 2006 KID expedition collected the remains of a Tarbosaurus.

Last year the Phil Currie relocated the Deinochierus quarry at Ultan Ula 3. This year the Montessori high school students spent part of a day looking for more material from this site. Scientists are still debating exactly what dinosaur the giant arms found here are from. I’m not sure that all the students can actually appreciate how lucky they are to be at a site like this.

On out drive back out of the deep gobi we stopped briefly at the Oka Tolgad, the famous AMNH locality that has produced numerous oviraptorid nests and hundreds of skulls from mammals and lizards. Caleb and David check our a poached quarry.

NB: The previous pop culture posts are all auto-posts; I'm still in the gobi.

Premiered This Day: Planet of the Dinosaurs

Directed by James Shea in 1978, this film featured some nicely animated dinosaurs.

Happy Birthday to: Barbara Bach

Bach played Lana in the 1981 film Caveman.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Born This Day: Imogen Hassall

Hassall (August 22, 1942 – Nov. 16, 1980)(right) played Ayak in the 1970 film, “When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth”.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Born This Day: Georges Cuvier

August 23, 1769 – May 13, 1832
Cuvier's scientific achievements are difficult to overestimate. It was widely recounted that he could reconstruct a skeleton based on a single bone. His work is considered the foundation of vertebrate palaeontology.” link

Read about him at the University of California Museum of Paleontology.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Premiered This Day (1939): Daffy Duck and The Dinoaur

Gobi Photos #5

We've made it to Ultan Ula II and have spent a full day working in The Dragon's Tomb (aka Tomb of The Dragons). Here are some photos:

Starting our work. One of the goals of this project is to raise awareness for the devastating poaching that is destroying many of Mongolia's most important fossil sites. You'll be hearing more about this from me in the future.

Each year at this time I've had the pleasure of working with the Korea-Mongolia International Dinosaur Project. This year I opted out to take the Montessori High School at University Circle to the Gobi. However, we did meet up with Phil Currie (above), Eva Kopplehus, Dave Eberth and Derek Larson who are working with the KID group. They had driven down from Bugen Tsav where the rest of the team is to work at Ultan Ula I-III for a couple of days. We spent a morning togather in The Dragon's Tomb.

Hsaha and Nick Downer.

Saurolophus jaw.

Eva and Dr. Evans.

A poached tail.

Lunch break.

Whit preps some ribs.

Caleb Brown, Emma, Chris Kjaer (the Montessori principal), Kelly and Maria prepare to jacket & salvage a poached Saurolophus skull...

Only to discovery that the bag of 'plaster' that we brought out was actually a bag of chlorine bleach!

More ribs.

Hiking back from where Dr. Badamgarov and Evans found...

a therizinosaur; here's the giant claw of this weird dino.

Maria and Nick prepare the small theropod from the Nemegt basin.

Born This Day: Cecil Kellaway

August 22, 1893 – February 28, 1973

Kellaway played Prof. Thurgood Elson in the classic Ray Harryhausen film, “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms”.

For those of you who seen the film, Elson was the palaeontologist who went down in the diving bell looking for the beast, but who did not make it back up.


Since I’m still on the road (in Mongolia), this gives me an excuse to point you to this great parody of “The Beast” that you can read the rest of HERE

It’s from Atlas' Crazy #2, 1954 with artwork is by Joe Maneely, who would have gone on to be a superstar of the 1960's Marvel Comics Group if not for his accidental death.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Gobi Photos #4

Khulsan (Thulsan) - the Barun Goyt Formation produces lots of lizard and mammal skulls

Dr. Evans shows off a mammal skull that he found at Khulsan.

A poached quarry in Khulsan.

Whit, Emily and Maria check out the quarry.

Packing up at the Nemegt camp.

Just before we left the Nemegt basin this morning we collected part of a small theropod found just above the camp.

The Montessori students scour the hillside for more pieces. As I type this we're now in Ultan Ula 2 & some of the students are trying to piece togather those small theropod pieces. Tomorrow we hike back out to the Dragon's Tomb to collect Saurolophus matertial.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Gobi Photos #3

En route to the Nemegt Basin

We've reopened the Avimimus bone bed. From front to back: Emma, the Mongolian teacher, Whit, Caleb, & Carleton.

Emma finds a fossilized bone.

A reverse shot of the group.

Dinner in our ger.