Pharyngula

I wish I was a Paleontologist

Imagine you’re a paleontologist, digging through the Sahara desert looking for dinosaur bones and you stumble, instead, upon this wondrous find:

i-7e42b24888f1270fce7f23dd66310f6b-080814-sereno-sahara-missions_big.jpg

That’s exactly what happened to Paleontologist Paul Sereno and his team back in 2000, and they have announced their findings from their excavations of this region in Northern Niger in National Geographic this week. This team unexpectedly unearthed 200 human burials on the shores of a long dried up lake, representing two very distinct cultures spanning 5000 years (between 4500 to about 9000 years ago). The image shown above is of their ‘most striking discovery’, and depicts a woman and two children, ages 5 and 8, holding hands. They also found pollen in the grave, suggesting that they may have been laid on a bed of flowers. Very cool stuff. These researchers have located the remnants of two human tribes that are thought to have lived in the Sahara during the Holocene period, when environmental factors culminated in a ‘greening’ of the desert, which attracted human inhabitants.

Here’s a video featuring an interview with Paul Sereno and some nice shots of their excavation sites. They give a really nice overview of what they have discovered about the two distinct colonies found, and how they may have lived. You can also read the whole story in National Geographic, if you’re so inclined, where you will also find a link to additional photos of the site and their excavations, which are quite amazing.

Here’s a link to the study’s paper appearing in the current issue of PLoS ONE.

From guest blogger LisaJ

Comments

  1. #1 S. Jackson
    August 16, 2008

    Replace “dessert” with “desert”, kthx

    If someone invents a time machine during my lifetime, I would seriously consider going back in time to my college years, study paleontology, and finesse my way on to that research team before this discovery. That or do something to change the outcome of the 2000 election. Or, hey, both!

    Very cool story, thanks.

  2. #2 genewitch
    August 16, 2008

    What about bigfoot, though?

  3. #3 JoJo
    August 16, 2008

    I wish I was a Paleontologist

    Now I have an earworm of Dick Smothers singing “I wish I were an anthropologist.”

  4. #4 dahan
    August 16, 2008

    I… am… in… awe. I love what we can learn. I’m like a science junkie. GIMME MORE!

  5. #5 LisaJ
    August 16, 2008

    I’m working on it right now for ya, dahan :) I love your enthusiasm.

  6. #6 Coturnix
    August 16, 2008

    You can send a trackback directly to the paper. Please do.

  7. #7 cactusren
    August 16, 2008

    For those who want to read the PLoS One article, here’s the link: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0002995
    Even if you don’t want to wade through reading the whole paper, its worth looking at the figures. I have to say, I’m really struck by the fact that the earlier people found there were over six feet tall (the females, too!). So random and bizarre, and so cool…

  8. #8 RayvenAlandria
    August 16, 2008

    That picture makes me cry.

  9. #9 LisaJ
    August 16, 2008

    Thanks for alerting me to that feature Coturnix. That’s awesome.

    Yeah cactusren, I found that pretty amazing too. The paper itself is definitely worth a read over, or at least a look over for all of the fantastic pictures.

  10. #10 Zeno
    August 16, 2008

    Rayven beat me to it. That image is unbearably poignant.

  11. #11 gdlchmst
    August 16, 2008

    I might need a pacemaker because my heart just skipped a beat.

  12. #12 cactusren
    August 16, 2008

    Wow…I suddenly feel cruel and heartless. My first thought when seeing this was something like “oooh! what nicely preserved skeletons!”. I guess you see the world a little differently when you stare at fossils all day…

  13. #13 Bride of Shrek OM
    August 16, 2008

    What a heartbreakingly touching photo. Of course we’ll never know what the exact feelings, thoughts and sentiments were at the time of the burial but, as a mother, I can well imagine. The love for your children transcends time.

  14. #14 Quiet Desperation
    August 16, 2008

    Holy crap! It’s Adam, Eve AND Steve!!!

    Entire fantasy cosmologies are about to be rewritten!

    Prepare for the father, the son and the bicurious ghost!

    Developing…

  15. #15 Quiet Desperation
    August 16, 2008

    In related news, the Vatican officially endorses threesomes. Cathaholics of the world rejoice.

  16. #16 Quiet Desperation
    August 16, 2008

    The love for your children transcends time.

    Well, until they hit their teens, anyway. :-D

    (rimshot)

    Pow! Thank you! I’ll be here all night!

    No, seriously. I’m lonely and have no life. :-(

  17. #17 Bride of Shrek OM
    August 16, 2008

    “No, seriously. I’m lonely and have no life.”

    I’ll lend you my three kids. Then you can be lonely, have no life AND be broke.

  18. #18 John C. Randolph
    August 16, 2008

    The Green Sahara is an intriguing idea. I wonder how the lake formed, and why it dried up?

    -jcr

  19. #19 Grammar RWA
    August 16, 2008

    That burial is beautiful.

  20. #20 echidna
    August 16, 2008

    I wish I were a paleontologist too….

  21. #21 G. Tingey
    August 16, 2008

    The dating is important, especially for dealing with YEC-loonies.
    Note that it says “between 4500 and 9000 years ago”

    I’m reminded of the find, in 2001 of preserved Mesolithic footprints in estuary-mud at Goldcliff by the the Severn (between England and Wales)
    It appears that the family-group – a man a woman, and more than one child, from the print/strides, were going to the beach, with the children dancing around the adults.

    References for this in: “New Naturalist #105 Wye Valley” by George Peterken, and papers by Aldhouse-Green & Bell

  22. #22 Anthropeleres
    August 16, 2008

    That is really fantastic, and although it is an amazing image, I’m with you, cactusren – the first thing that sprang to mind was the preservation, and the completeness of the individuals. What a spectacular find! Thanks LisaJ!

    For jcr: there’s a paper which does a good job of giving an overview of the complexities of climate change in the Holocene at http://www.soes.soton.ac.uk/staff/ejr/Rohling-papers/2004-Mayewski%20et%20al%20Holocene%20climate%20variability%20QR62.pdf

  23. #23 DaveH
    August 16, 2008

    Wow, really beautiful, and beautifully excavated! That’s what you get by having palaeontologists dig a cemetery. Most archaeologists know jack about anatomy….I could tell you some horror-stories!
    A bit disappointed that there’s no palaeopathology section, though, hope there’ll be another paper online.

  24. #24 InnerBrat
    August 16, 2008

    Why were they looking for dinosaur remains in Holocene sediments?

  25. #25 Thomas Langham
    August 16, 2008

    The quality of this preservation is exquisite. However I do question whether it is ethical to put these bones on display. At what age does excavating a burial cease to be vulgar, and a violation of respect? Imagine if that woman and the two children were your wife and children? Would you think it right for people to gaze so fascinated at them then? These people were interred with love and affection; it strikes me as a little morbid to put their bones on display, whilst still in their most intimate last repose.

  26. #26 Grammar RWA
    August 16, 2008

    At what age does excavating a burial cease to be vulgar, and a violation of respect?

    When no one can claim the remains. The dead don’t care.

  27. #27 Leigh Williams
    August 16, 2008

    Thomas, I disagree. If there ever should be anything interesting and illuminating in exhuming my bones, I would be delighted to add to the sum of human knowledge.

    And I see nothing disrespectful here. On the contrary, the paleontologists honor the dead by revealing their mutual devotion and that of the survivors who interred them. The reactions of so many of us here also speak to a recognition of our shared humanity; we aren’t moved to tears by ghoulish spectacle, but by empathy.

  28. #28 Leigh
    August 16, 2008

    Oh, and Lisa, fantastic post. I’m off to read the article . . . wait, that will have to happen tomorrow. I just noticed it’s 4 friggin’ thirty in the morning! The curse of being a night owl is having this kind of oh,shit moment.

  29. #29 Thomas Langham
    August 16, 2008

    Leigh Williams – I absolutely agree that the study of human remains to elucidate the past and their life and culture is something that is worthy of pursuit. In the same way that we exhume the dead in cases of murder, the excavation of burials to find out about the past, particularly the pre-historic, is one that is justified. However, I still question the morality of placing the remains on display. I live in england, and here we have the remains of the mary rose. The mary rose sunk about 400 years ago, and was found in the 80′s, i think. It was found with the bodies of those who went down with the vessel, yet they are not now put on display in the museum, out of respect. I suppose, the manner of death and internment is distinct between these two circumstances, yet surely, the burial of these people is worthy of more privacy then those dead on the mary rose. They were buried to be left forever.

    Grammar RWO – I do not say that the dead care or are concerned, nor do I, in this case, that there are living relatives to aggrieve by the display of the dead. But, what does this matter? We can still (permitting cultural gulfs) appreciate the mindset of the people that buried these people. Is it not to our human credit that we would respect their wishes and values?

  30. #30 RHM
    August 16, 2008

    #29,
    How do you know what their “wishes and values” were, Thomas?
    Instead of assuming they were “buried to be left forever”, couldn’t it be as likely they hoped for a resurrection, of sorts, such as the one occurring now?
    I’m just wondering, on what are you basing your assumptions?

  31. #31 decius
    August 16, 2008

    I wish you were capable of learning the subjunctive.

  32. #32 John C. Randolph
    August 16, 2008

    At what age does excavating a burial cease to be vulgar, and a violation of respect?

    129 years, three months, and eight days. Good thing someone asked.

    -jcr

  33. #33 Fernando Magyar
    August 16, 2008

    We can still (permitting cultural gulfs) appreciate the mindset of the people that buried these people. Is it not to our human credit that we would respect their wishes and values?

    Human credit? Maybe I’m just a horrible twisted human but I couldn’t help thinking about the incredible contrast between these beautiful pictures brought to us by wonderfully enlightened scientists and pictures I have seen of mass burials due to genocide. I’d much rather see this.

  34. #34 ad
    August 16, 2008

    Folks, a mother and her two children don’t ‘just die’. Something weird went on there and you don’t get it do you?

  35. #35 LisaJ
    August 16, 2008

    I agree that Thomas has a point, as maybe some people may feel it disrespectful if this were to happen to their remains sometime far in the future. However, I would not have a problem if I knew this were going to happen to me. My feelings are, what do I care when I’m dead, and the more I can help enhance human understanding, the better.

  36. #36 mdowe
    August 16, 2008

    All I can say is very sad and depressing. However long ago the tragedy, I can’t help but realise that these were real people — children. I hope their death was quick and they didn’t suffer.

  37. #37 negentropyeater
    August 16, 2008

    In view of the number of mistakes the stupid frenchman who is writing this makes when he writes English, he hates himself for asking this, but, shouldn’t the title be:

    “I wish I were a Paleontologist”

  38. #38 Tony Sidaway
    August 16, 2008

    I find that picture very moving. They appear to have been a family group who died, perhaps of the same cause, at the same time. Perhaps those who were close to them in life and buried them wanted to think of them always as together, as a family.

  39. #39 SC
    August 16, 2008

    Folks, a mother and her two children don’t ‘just die’. Something weird went on there and you don’t get it do you?

    I’m sorry, but I had to laugh. That reminded me of Stephen Colbert’s “Freezing Cold Case Files.”

  40. #40 Don Prothero
    August 16, 2008

    I AM a paleontologist (and a classmate and former coauthor of Paul Sereno), and yes, this is one of the reasons I got into the field. You never know what you might find as you wander from outcrop to outcrop. The joy of discovering new things, restoring and puzzling over amazing prehistoric beasts, deciphering ancient environments, and solving long-dead mysteries are among of the many pleasures of the field.
    In answer to Inner Brat (#24): Why were they looking for dinosaur remains in Holocene sediments? If you read the article, Sereno has been working the Cretaceous Kem Kem beds for dinosaurs for many years. They happened to wander off a Cretaceous outcrop over to an area with Holocene lake sediments, and that’s how they found it.

  41. #41 Tony Sidaway
    August 16, 2008

    negentropyeater | August 16, 2008 9:42 AM, #37, yes though “was” is now fairly common usage in colloquial English. The subjunctive appears to be dying out in English, or at least going out of fashion.

    Pop songs aren’t exemplars of good grammar, but they’re useful for tracking colloquial language. “If I Were A Carpenter” is a famous pop song by American writer Tim Hardin from 1966. “If I Was Your Girlfriend” is a famous pop song by American writer Prince from 1987. “I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flowers in My Hair)” is a pop song by the English writers Tom Gilbert and Sandi Thom from 2005.

    But you can go back even further than that. The most famous American song about the civil war is “Dixie”, whose full title is “I Wish I Was In Dixie” by Daniel Emmett.

    The latter song was originally written for a blackface minstrel troop, so the language of the song (written by a Northerner) is blatantly imitative of southern black American dialect at the time–so arguably the loss of the subjunctive could be due to creolization of the language by speakers whose native language was not English.

  42. #42 Tony Sidaway
    August 16, 2008

    Oops, Sandi Thom is actually Scottish, not English. There have always been strong differences between Scottish English and English English.

  43. #43 Bart Mitchell
    August 16, 2008

    Im with you SC. If the entire site were filled with adults holding the hands of children in pairs, it might be ‘something weird’. But since it is an anomaly, there is probably a simple explanation. (damn you Occam)

    Spoiled food, disease, etc. I’m sticking with my own fan fic for this one.

    Mother and child watch the youngest playing on the banks of the stream. Youngest slips into the dangerous currents. Mother and older child heroically try to save the drowning child, and die in attempt. Entire tribe searches the river, and recovers the bodies. Group burial of respect for the loving mother who made the ultimate sacrifice.

  44. #44 Tony Sidaway
    August 16, 2008

    #39, yeah, that was a “Think of the kittens” moment for me too. :)

  45. #45 Fernando Magyar
    August 16, 2008

    Mother and child watch the youngest playing on the banks of the stream. Youngest slips into the dangerous currents. Mother and older child heroically try to save the drowning child, and die in attempt. Entire tribe searches the river, and recovers the bodies. Group burial of respect for the loving mother who made the ultimate sacrifice.

    As a certified rescue diver those happen to have been my very first thoughts. I also thought that a contagious disease might be the cause of death but somehow I got the feeling that they all must have died suddenly and unexpectedly and very close together, no time to infect each other.

  46. #46 negentropyeater
    August 16, 2008

    Tony,

    thx for the info.
    It’s strange, because in French, when someone doesn’t employ the subjonctive when he’s supposed to, it’s seen as a sign of lower education.

  47. #47 (((Billy)))
    August 16, 2008

    You realize, of course, that some Young Earth Cretinist is going to read this and think (well, think in realative terms), “Wow. They were looking form dinosaurs and found humans. That just PROVES that dinos and hominids cohabitated (and that is a strange image).

  48. #48 negentropyeater
    August 16, 2008

    BTW, I’m confused now, in English is this Subjonctive, or Conditional ?

    I wish I were a Paleontologist

    In french we say:

    Conditionnel présent : J’aimerais être paléontologue
    (when talking about a present wish)
    Conditionnel passé : J’aurais aimé être palëontologue
    (when talking about a wish about the past)

    Sorry for this grammatical disgression

  49. #49 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 16, 2008

    At what age does excavating a burial cease to be vulgar, and a violation of respect?

    When it can add to human knowledge. You may want to get the approval of any remaining descendants though.

    Is it not to our human credit that we would respect their wishes and values?

    Their wishes and values are gone with them. What remains is to be tolerant of our own values, all the while remembering that in such cases they are a projection on others.

    Something weird went on there and you don’t get it do you?

    Oh, it’s already noted; AFAIU this is the earliest find of such a shared burial:

    Perhaps most incredible was the 2006 discovery the Stone Age Embrace–a Tenerian woman facing the remains of two young children, their arms posed and hands interlaced. Pollen remnants from underneath the skeletons shows the dead had been laid on a bed of flowers. “This is a landmark burial–there’s nothing like it in prehistory,” Sereno said.

    Though the site has provided a wealth of insights into the little-studied cultures, mysteries still persist, Sereno says.

    Most puzzling is how the Tenerian dug new graves alongside the Kiffian dead without disturbing them–an “absolutely remarkable” feat, Sereno said.

    Several mysteries here, but while we may never understand the forensics of the individual case the observable patterns may yield to science.

  50. #50 Grammar RWA
    August 16, 2008

    negentropyeater: You’re right about the prescribed usage of was and were. It’s just that in many English-speaking areas, nobody gives a hoot about this particular distinction. Other similar distinctions can elicit much condemnation. I don’t know why.

  51. #51 SC
    August 16, 2008

    negentropyeater,

    It’s the subjunctive (it’s a wish/counterfactual):

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subjunctive#To_express_a_wish

    It’s strange, because in French, when someone doesn’t employ the subjonctive when he’s supposed to, it’s seen as a sign of lower education.

    …and punishable by death! :)

  52. #52 Heather
    August 16, 2008

    French teacher/native English speaker:

    I wish I WERE a palentologist = subjunctive
    I wish I WAS = colloquial use

    J’aimerais etre = I would like to be – conditional
    J’aurais aime etre = I would have liked to be – past conditional

    The subjunctive in English is dying out. Very few people – even among the educated – see to know how to use it properly. In French, there are many more rules to the subjunctive and it is studied in depth at school. So people are aware of it. How many native English speakers are even aware of the whole was/were difference? Most probably don’t even think about it.

    Same thing with who/whom. It just isn’t so clear anymore because the incorrect usage is now more common than the correct usage.

    Anyway…a breathtaking image. I was thinking about what could have caused the deaths at the same time and I thought disease perhaps, or maybe an attack by some other tribe. No matter what the cause, that image expresses so much.

  53. #53 negentropyeater
    August 16, 2008

    SC,

    from that link:

    According to the Random House College Dictionary, “Although the subjunctive seems to be disappearing from the speech of many, its use is still the mark of the educated speaker.”

    The subjunctive is not uniform in all varieties of spoken English. However it is preserved in speech, at least in North American English and in many dialects of British English. While use of the subjunctive in natural, informal speech is almost universal among educated speakers, its use is becoming very infrequent among large portions of the population. Some dialects replace it with the indicative or construct it using a modal verb (except perhaps in the most formal literary discourse).

    Through the years, some have advocated the formal extinguishment of the subjunctive. W. Somerset Maugham said, “The subjunctive mood is in its death throes, and the best thing to do is to put it out of its misery as soon as possible.”

  54. #54 Rayven Alandria
    August 16, 2008

    GO VOTE! Should “In God we Trust” be removed from US currency?

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/10103521/

  55. #55 Jef
    August 16, 2008

    That is really cool, I always thought about doing stuff like that but I was never that serious about it. Maybe in another life! Such a cool find.

  56. #56 negentropyeater
    August 16, 2008

    Rayven #54,

    done ! And I agree, this story merits more Pharyngulisation.

    “The placement of ‘In God We Trust’ on the coins and currency was clearly done for religious purposes and to have religious effects,” Newdow wrote in the 162-page lawsuit he filed against Congress.

  57. #57 Frank Sullivan
    August 16, 2008

    I have to say, I’m really struck by the fact that the earlier people found there were over six feet tall (the females, too!).

    If you doubt this is possible, how is it there are PYGMIES + DWARFS??

  58. #58 raven
    August 16, 2008

    Ad the clueless

    Folks, a mother and her two children don’t ‘just die’. Something weird went on there and you don’t get it do you?

    Actually until a century ago and still in some parts of the world, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, the Balkans, the Caucuses, Cambodia etc. people do die in groups and quite often. That we in the first world forget this is because evil atheistic scientists and MDs have invented modern biology and medicine and our life spans are now 30 years longer and we no longer watch epidemics sweep through the population while praying to the rain god “Bob”. I suppose it also helps that Walmart doesn’t sell cheap, Chinese made IEDs, land mines, and mortars.

    The Black Death in Europe killed 1/3 of the Europeans and quickly at that. Everyone used to get smallpox and you either survived or died. The 1918 avian flu epidemic lasted a year and killed 50 million people. Even today, 2 billion people worldwide are infected with TB.

    Unless there is some forensic evidence, it will always be just a guess as to what happened. Maybe the kids caught an infectious disease and the mother caught it taking care of them.

  59. #59 SC
    August 16, 2008

    There’s clearly a counteroffensive in action on that three-year-old poll. We had it up to 57% (from 9%) Y the other day. POLL WAR!

  60. #60 MAJeff, OM
    August 16, 2008

    That we in the first world forget this is because evil atheistic scientists and MDs have invented modern biology and medicine and our life spans are now 30 years longer and we no longer watch epidemics sweep through the population while praying to the rain god “Bob”

    Don’t forget the development of municipal sewage and trash collection systems.

  61. #61 raven
    August 16, 2008

    This is yet again another example of how crippling YECism is. Any date older than 6,000 years has to be ignored or lied away.

    The dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago, 45,000 years ago humans colonized Australia, 14,000 years ago they colonized the Americans, 9,000 years ago the Sahara was green and had lakes and people, 7,000 years ago the Sumerians invented glue and beer, and ……6,000 years ago the earth was created.

    Someday that particular mythology will go the way of the Flat Earth and Geocentrism where a tiny minority of only 20% (60 million US citizens) believe it.

  62. #62 johannes
    August 16, 2008

    > You realize, of course, that some Young Earth
    > Cretinist is going to read this and think (well,
    > think in realative terms), “Wow. They were looking
    > form dinosaurs and found humans. That just PROVES
    > that dinos and hominids cohabitated (and that is a
    > strange image).

    And the size of the skeletons prooves that they were nephilim… :-)

  63. #63 Martin
    August 16, 2008

    Obviously a hoax. How can you have something 9,000 years old when the good lord created the earth only 6,000 years ago? And where is the family’s pet dinosaur?

    The University of Chicago Press release has all the links on Sereno’s discovery:
    http://news.uchicago.edu/news.php?asset_id=1424

    Sereno has found so many new dinosaurs in new places that sometimes I wonder if he is lucky or good – most likely good with some luck. This find though….

    Best quote from Sereno (in the NYT)-
    “It’s still weird for me to be digging up my own species.”

  64. #64 RayvenAlandria
    August 16, 2008

    Sc at #59, I didn’t realize it was an old poll! Oops. I saw the link on someone else’s blog comment and assumed it was a new poll. Silly me, next time I’ll check the dates. Oh well, let’s dive bomb it anyway!

  65. #65 SC
    August 16, 2008

    RayvenAlandria,

    Yes, there was some discussion of it here:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/08/checking_in_briefly.php

    I didn’t notice its age till someone else pointed it out, either. I’m amused by the whole thing, and don’t see how we can give up now that they’ve regained ground with their counterattack!

  66. #66 Karley
    August 16, 2008

    They went looking for dinosaurs, but found ancient human remains. It’s a reverse of Roy Chapman Andrew’s Central Asiatic Expeditions.

  67. #67 Nate
    August 16, 2008

    I saw the article on NGEO yesterday or the day before, and I have to just express how amazing it is to fathom the depth and richness of human experience on this small blue globe over the last several dozen thousands of years. It’s humbling, and never ceases to make me go a little glassy-eyed. Just considering the juxtaposition of those two skulls, two; with thousands of years between them — the former was the latter’s “ancient.” Wow.

  68. #68 LosingMyReligion
    August 16, 2008

    Ouch. I’m a mother with a 5 year old and 8 year old son. I’m still wiping away the tears. I am also someone who no longer believes in an afterlife. My 5 year old has recently become obsessed with the question of death. Believers have such an easier time with this question. They just blow their children off and tell them, ‘Don’t worry, we don’t really die. You fly up to the sky and spend all eternity with Mommy and Daddy and Grandma and Uncle Joe…’.

    What do you say? Thinking about death is painful. And it’s final. But here is a woman and two children who have sent a sweet message of love across thousands of years with nothing but dried bones entombed in the sand. And thousands of years later, they still have the power to move us to tears and hug our babies a little tighter, and yet we don’t know and never even will know their names.

    That is an afterlife. This is not disrespectful at all. Science is giving them what all of us really want: a lasting, meaningful, impact. Would that any of us could be so lucky.

  69. #69 Nate
    August 16, 2008

    And, “were,” PZ. “I wish I WERE…” Tsk.

  70. #70 Danio
    August 16, 2008

    LosingMyReligion @68:

    I hope this doesn’t seem like shameless self-promotion, but you might be interested in this post from a few days ago. The ensuing discussion is extremely insightful.

    Lisa, thanks so much for sharing this remarkable find with everyone here. I can’t wait to share it with my kids.

  71. #71 LosingMyReligion
    August 16, 2008

    Thank you…

  72. #72 Coturnix
    August 16, 2008

    Unfortunately, for the trackback to work, you have to use the exact correct URL to the paper in the main body:
    http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0002995
    …. and an exact correct URL in the “send trackbacks” field on MT:
    http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0002995/trackback

  73. #73 Moggie
    August 16, 2008

    Such a huge gulf separates us from these people… and yet, one glance at that picture tells us that they were not so very different from us. That’s a valuable reminder, I think.

  74. #74 Tony Sidaway
    August 16, 2008

    LosingMyReligion | August 16, 2008 1:05 PM, #68. Dammit woman,now you’ve got me blubbing like a baby. And my kids are both grown up!

  75. #75 Phred
    August 16, 2008

    Why hasn’t anybody mentioned the very clear hadrosaur footprint in the picture?

  76. #76 inkadu
    August 16, 2008

    I only knew what the subjunctive was because I took French and Latin, where it was very carefully explained. I also took a lot of English grammar, and the subjunctive mood wasn’t really discussed. Just some of the verb tenses and active or passive voice…

    A beautiful and moving picture. Does anyone know where I can get a high res of this to make a poster from? Or would that be ghoulish?

  77. #77 LisaJ
    August 16, 2008

    Don @ #40: well, I am so jealous of you! I totally wish I WERE a paleontologist like you. An use for a molecular biologist / biochemist on your team? :)

    Nate @ #69: Just letting you know it was I who wrote this post and not PZ.

    A general message regarding my gramatically incorrect title to this post: I thought about changing it, since I usually am quite a stickler for grammar myself (but man, some of you guys really show me up there!), but I really like the interesting side conversation it’s created.

    #68: Thanks for your comment. Beautiful and very insightful words.

    Your welcome Danio. I love how this picture so beautifully represents the humanity in all of us.

    Lastly, Coturnix @ #72. Thanks alot for alerting me to that. I will fix the link up.

  78. #78 Phred
    August 16, 2008

    “Why hasn’t anybody mentioned the very clear hadrosaur footprint in the picture?” – Phred, #75

    * Made you look! *

  79. #79 Phoenix Woman
    August 16, 2008

    Fernando and Bart: Yeah, that sounds about right. It would explain why there are no marks of sickness or violence on the bones. A mother and two children, all apparently healthy at the time of death, suddenly taken by drowning or food poisoning. The tragedy obviously affected their kith and kin very dramatically, hence the shared internment.

  80. #80 LisaJ
    August 16, 2008

    Just an update that the trackback is working now, and we’re all linked up to the PLoS ONE article. Thanks for your help with this Coturnix.

  81. #81 scooter
    August 16, 2008

    Loudon Wainwright III addresses the use of the subjunctive, with Anime on the side

    I Wish I was a Lesbian

  82. #82 David Marjanovi?, OM
    August 16, 2008

    It’s strange, because in French, when someone doesn’t employ the subjonctive when he’s supposed to, it’s seen as a sign of lower education.

    Really? In my experience, the French normally use their subjunctive (same as the English “present subjunctive”) even in places where they are told not to use it, such as behind après que.

    What’s going on in English is that the “past subjunctive” is identical to the past tense for all verbs except to be in the first and third persons singular: if I did, if I made, if i were. It isn’t surprising that these two tiny exceptions are disappearing.

  83. #83 Sven DiMilo
    August 16, 2008

    *waves to David Marjanovi?*
    Where ya been?

  84. #84 Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.
    August 16, 2008

    Howdy,

    Like Don Prothero, I too am a paleontologist.

    As he pointed out, Sereno found this site while exploring the Kem Kem Beds of the Late Cretaceous.

    But he’s also encountered other remains that are far more recent, and quite tragic. In order to make extra money, some of the locals dig for dinosaur and other fossils to sell. Unfortunately, they don’t know how to dig for fossils properly, and dig deep holes as if digging for wells. Sereno and his team find unfortunate individuals who were killed when their pits collapsed in on them.

    I–thankfully–have never run into anything like that! About the only interesting human remains and artifacts I’ve come across while prospecting in the North American West are Native American arrow heads and rusted old time beer cans…

  85. #85 Coturnix
    August 16, 2008

    Thank you – worked perfectly!

  86. #86 amphiox
    August 16, 2008

    MAJeff #60:
    Well said. As a physician, I have always found it humbling to realize that over the course of his career, my garbageman will do more for the health and well-being of the population than I ever will.

  87. #87 Disciple of "Bob"
    August 17, 2008

    My guess is that they were murdered in some bizarre social ritual with religious undertones. Bystanders of the day were probably mooing about “respecting their culture” or some such nonsense.

  88. #88 spinkbottle
    August 17, 2008

    DaveH, paleontologists don’t know squat about paleopathology; for that you’d need a physical anthropologist.

  89. #89 PeteC
    August 17, 2008

    S. Jackson@1:

    If someone invents a time machine during my lifetime, I would seriously consider going back in time to my college years, study paleontology, and finesse my way on to that research team before this discovery.

    I see what you did there.

  90. #90 David Marjanovi?, OM
    August 17, 2008

    *waves to David Marjanovi?*

    Where ya been?

    “Triassotherapy”: digging for Late Triassic vertebrates in Krasiejów, Poland. It’s great, you should try it sometime. :-) And then I was in southern Serbia a few days, seeing that branch of the family for the first time since I developed a memory.

    paleontologists don’t know squat about paleopathology

    Most of us don’t, but check out Bruce Rothschild’s work on Mesozoic dinosaur pathology…

  91. #91 Andrea M
    August 18, 2008

    Talking about glimpses of tragedy and humanity in ancient burials, take a look at this.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/6338751.stm

  92. #92 LisaJ
    August 18, 2008

    Wow. That is heartbreakingly beautiful. Thanks for the link Andrea M.

  93. #93 Shar
    August 18, 2008

    #31

    And I wish you were capable of learning about language change.

    Honestly, I’ve only ever been taught the subjunctive in English linguistics, and only to discuss its slow death. I know how to use it, and I think I use “were” before “was” in the few cases it exists in English, but both sound correct to my ears.

    #68

    Indeed. Hell, if I were going to be interned instead of creamated or donated to science, I’d personally be excited about the possibility of being exhumed by a future archeologist and being studied and displayed in a museum, but then, that’s me. Or does honoring the dead include forgetting about them?

  94. #94 Jing-reed
    August 18, 2008

    #93 [in response to #31]

    “If I was a hopeless cad, I apologize.”
    – If you think that I behaved unmannerly earlier (in the past, yesterday, last week, …), I’m sorry for that! Forgive me!

    “If I were a hopeless cad, I would never apologize.”
    – I’m not a hopeless cad but if I were, I would never apologize (because hopeless cads never apologize).

    This is purely hypothetical. The “I wish I were” structure is hypothetical, too. That’s why we use “I were”.
    (examples from http://alt-usage-english.org/excerpts/fxifiwas.html)

    The subjunctive is alive and well, especially on the ‘other’ side of the pond. Descriptions within science demand being as correct as possible, so does proper usage of the English language. It is impossible to describe something well if you don’t speak the language…

  95. #95 Sili
    August 23, 2008

    Oh, look!

    The family that prays together, stays together!

  96. #96 msn nickleri
    November 3, 2008

    The wait service was a bit chilly early on in the dinner (I think it is more of a neighborhood “joint”), but by the time I had finished my entree, msn nickleri they had really warmed up and after our espressos were finished (even my 10 yo old had an unsweetened cappuccino!) they sent us off with a couple of pieces of their logo-ed pottery, smiles and waves. Wasn’t the dish I most savored on the trip, but it was the most satisfying on a number of levels.