fossil

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The skeletons of Lucy (left) and Kadanuumuu (right). Both belong to the early human species Australopithecus afarensis. (Images not to scale.) I never fully appreciated how small Lucy was until I saw her bones for myself. Photographs and restorations of her and her kin within the species Australopithecus afarensis had never really given me a…

A few weeks ago I started prep work on a Tyrannosaurus rex toe bone recovered from Montana’s Hell Creek Formation and kept at the New Jersey State Museum. This is how the gypsum-encrusted bone looked when I started… … and this is how it looked at the end of last week. There’s still a lot…

A golden-mantled ground squirrel (Spermophilus lateralis), photographed in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. Though abundant at the Samwell Cave Popcorn Dome, California site during the Late Pleistocene, its numbers in the area decline at the beginning of the present Holocene epoch. “One of the penalties of an ecological education”, the naturalist Aldo Leopold once wrote,…

Pruning the Primate Family Tree

“Dinah”, a young female gorilla kept at the Bronx Zoo in 1914. From the Zoological Society Bulletin. Frustrated by the failure of gorillas to thrive in captivity, in 1914 the Bronx Zoo’s director William Hornaday lamented “There is not the slightest reason to hope that an adult gorilla, either male or female, ever will be…

The skull of Paranthropus boisei (“Zinj,” “Dear Boy,” “Nutcracker Man,” etc.). Louis Leakey had a problem. During the summer of 1959 he and his wife Mary recovered the skull fragments of an early human scattered about the fossil deposits of Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. The skull had been deposited among the shattered bones of fossil…

The skull of Nyctereutes lockwoodi as seen from the side and above. From Geraads et al, 2010. In 2006 paleoanthropologists working in Ethiopia made a spectacular announcement – they had found the well-preserved remains of a juvenile Australopithecus afarensis, one of our prehistoric hominin relatives. Quickly dubbed “Lucy’s baby” this 3.4 million year old specimen…

The skeleton of Palaeobatrachus from Lake Enspel, Germany. From Wuttke and Poschmann, 2010. In On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin said of the fossil record: For my part, following out Lyell’s metaphor, I look at the natural geological record, as a history of the world imperfectly kept, and written in a changing dialect; of…

Close up of one of the Pipe Creek Sinkhole coprolites showing structures interpreted as hair (A) and a close-up of a mold in the coprolite thought to have been made by a hair (B). From Farlow et al, 2010. Time and again I have stressed that every fossil bone tells a story, and, in a…

Mammal hairs preserved in amber specimen ARC2-A1-3. a – First fragment; b – Line drawing of first fragment; c – Second fragment; d – Line drawing of second fragment; e – Close-up of second fragment to show the cuticular surface. About 100 million years ago, in a coastal forest located in what is today southwestern…

The majestic Megatherium

A restoration of Megatherium from H.N. Hutchinson’s Extinct Monsters. For over a century and a half dinosaurs have been the unofficial symbols and ambassadors of paleontology, but this was not always so. It was fossil mammals, not dinosaurs, which enthralled the public during the turn of the 19th century, and arguably the most famous was…