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Epochs Underfoot

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Fossils offer a rare glimpse into the past, as lifeforms we could scarcely imagine are preserved long after their day in the sun. But fossilization requires very specific conditions, and few things that die are turned to stone. On Living the Scientific Life, GrrlScientist presents Haplocheirus, a theropod with “three toes, a birdlike keel-shaped chest and a long beak,” but also “small teeth, like a dinosaur.” This creature bolsters the idea that birds evolved from dinosaurs through independent lines. On Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong discusses fossilized dinosaur fuzz, which contains “the distinctive signs of melanosomes, small structures that are partly responsible for the colours of modern bird feathers.” Not only does this discovery strengthen the bird-dinosaur link, it also means we can fill in our Jurassic coloring books with a little more authority. And on Highly Allochthonous, Anne Jefferson describes the “verdant forests” of the Eocene epoch, which prospered in now-desolate polar regions when the Earth was a few degrees warmer. Canadian authorities may soon allow mining of “coal beds in one of the most spectacular of all the fossil localities in the High Arctic,” which Anne encourages us to oppose. When we dig up something new, it can change our understanding of everything.

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