Nine-ton Block of Sandstone Unveils Six Utahraptor Remains.

Archaeologists in Moab, Utah, have discovered the remains of six Utahraptors within a nine-ton block of sandstone. This discovery is regarded as the biggest fossil find ever of the Utahraptor, a giant predatory theropod dinosaur who roamed the earth during the early Cretaceous period. The massive excavation, led by Utah state palaeontologist James Kirkland, has been undertaken over the past decade upon the Utah Mountain.

The nine-ton sandstone block revealed the skeletal remains of a 16ft-long adult, four juveniles and a baby Utahraptor which was approximately 3ft long from snout to tail.

The nine-ton sandstone block revealed the skeletal remains of a 16ft-long adult, four juveniles and a baby Utahraptor which was approximately 3ft long from snout to tail.

The sandstone block revealed the skeletal remains of a 16ft-long adult, four juveniles and a baby Utahraptor which was approximately 3ft long from snout to tail. The block also revealed bones belonging to a beaked, bipedal herbivore known as an Iguanadon. It is hoped that the Utahraptors died whilst hunting as a group, which may provide evidence of pack hunting. Another hypothesis claims that the Utahraptors may have wandered into quicksand and died at different times, due to the fossils being stacked 3ft thick.

It is hoped that the Utahraptors died whilst hunting as a group, which may provide evidence of pack hunting.

It is hoped that the Utahraptors died whilst hunting as a group, which may provide evidence of pack hunting.

Kirkland thinks that the Utahraptors were enticed by the promise of the unwary Iguanodon which stumbled into the quicksand itself. Unable to move, bellowing and struggling, the trapped Iguanodon lured the Utahraptors who then, one after another, tried to ‘nab an easy meal’ only ending up stuck and meeting the same fate as the Iguanodon.

Utahraptors are the largest known member of the family Dromaeosauridae, with some specimens reaching 23ft-long weighing around 500kg. They bare a resemblance to their ‘cousins’ – the Velociraptor but are covered in feathers, with a sickle like claw on each of their second toes.

Size comparison of an average sized adult Utahraptor with an adult male human (5.9ft).

Size comparison of an average sized adult Utahraptor with an adult male human (5.9ft).

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Unusual-ology: 800 year old monk’s skeletal remains found in a cliff face.

The recent winter storms that rocked Britain have uncovered a lot of the isles’ hidden archaeology including a petrified forest in Wales, but it has also damaged many coastal heritage sites. In this case, the storms unearthed the skeletal remains of what is thought to be an 800-year-old medieval monk, which were found poking out of a cliff in Monknash, South Wales.

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The femurs belonging to the monk, as they were found within the cliff face.

The skeletal remains were discovered by Mandy Ewington, a member of public out for a walk, who spotted the thigh bones of sticking out the side of a cliff. The femurs were later identified to belonging to a man of good health and in his late twenties, who may have been a monk.

From past excavations in the area and stratigraphic evidence, it is thought that the skeletal remains belonged to a monk from the 1200’s. The Monknash area is well known to have once been the home of Cistercian monks between 1129 and 1535, and was the site of a Middle Age burial ground.

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From stratigraphic evidence it is thought that the skeletal remains belonged to a monk from the 1200’s.

But due to the monk’s femurs being badly damaged by coastal erosion and were found unconnected to any other bones, it is difficult to come to a definite conclusion on whether or not the man truly did belong to the Cistercian monastery.

Unusual-ology: ‘Rare’ Prehistoric Spider Fossil Found.

A fossil of a large male prehistoric spider has been recently found in the Daohugou beds of Inner Mongolia.  The spider’s species has stumped scientists, who have now proposed a new genus for the discovery called Mongolarachne.

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The male prehistoric spider fossil that was found in the Daohugou beds of Inner Mongolia.

This recent discovery comes after the previous unearthing of a female spider fossil in the same area back in 2011. The 165-million-year- old female spider is thought to have belonged to the Nephila species due to its size being close to the modern day Nephilidae (orb-weaver spiders), and was so called Nephila jurassica. But this newly discovered male spider fossil throws a spanner in the works.

While the male spider does resembles the Nephila jurassica, its shape and size has suggested it belonged to another genus. One factor that called for a new genus was its sex appendages, as they did not match those found on modern day Nephila males. Also the male has ‘spirals of hairlets’ that are more feathery than those on modern day orb-weavers.

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While the male spider (left) does resembles the Nephila jurassica (right), its shape and size has suggested it belonged to another genus.

These differences have led to Professor Paul Selden from Kansas University, who was part of the teams that discovered both fossils, and other scientists to propose the new genus Mongolarachne from the family Mongolarachnidae. According to Selden’s (2013) paper, these Mongolarachne closely resemble the modern day ogre-faced spiders that belong to the Deinopidae family.

Spider fossils are considered rare because of the soft composure of their bodies, but these two fossils were found within volcanic deposits. It is believed these deposits buried this pair at the bottom of a lake, therefore preserving them in very good condition.

References:

Selden, P.A., Shih, C., Ren, D. 2013. A giant spider from the Jurassic of China reveals greater diversity of the orbicularian stem group. Naturwissenschaften, 100:12. Pg 1171-1181.

If you’re new to the realm of archaeological, anthropological and forensic sciences (AAFS), or are a student needing sturdy and reliable references, or wondering “what archaeology or anthropology textbooks to buy? Check out our new ‘Useful Literature’ page!

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Unusual-ology: 4,000-year-old Human Brain Discovered.

A ‘petrified’ 4,000-year-old brain has been discovered in the Bronze Age settlement of Seyitömer Höyük, Turkey. The brain was excavated inside a skull that was uncovered in an ancient burial ground.  But how did the brain become ‘petrified’ and well-preserved?

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The ‘petrified’ brain found within a skull at the Bronze Age settlement of Seyitömer Höyük, Turkey. © Halic University Istanbul.

Meriç Altinoz, from the Haliç University in Istanbul, has theorised that due to how tectonically active the site is, an earthquake devastated the Bronze Age site. This earthquake would have flattened the settlement, burying everyone and starting a fire. The ancient burial ground shows evidence of the theorised fire due to the presence of charred skeletal remains and burnt wooden artefacts. This fire played a vital key in the preservation of the brain.  Due to the fire consuming a lot of the trapped oxygen within the rubble, the brain would have boiled in its own fluid. This boiling would have burned off the brain’s moisture preventing normal tissue decomposition.

But there is thought to be another factor to how it became so well preserved. The tissue of the brain was found to be full of magnesium, potassium and aluminium. These elements, when mixed with the fatty acids that are present in human tissue, make up adipocere, which effectively preserved the shape of the brain tissue.

This recent discovery of the oldest well-preserved brain tissue has opened up many new areas of study. Frank Rühli, of the Univerisity of Zurich in Switzerland, has noted that ‘the level of preservation in combination with the age is remarkable’ and in such cases could help understand ‘the history of neurological disorders’.

References:

Altinoz, M. A., Ince, B. Sav, A., Dincer, A., Cengiz, S., Mercan, S., Yazici, Z., Bilgen. M.N. 2013. Human Brains Found In A Fire-Affected 4000-years Old Bronze Age Tumulus Layer Rich In Soil Alkalines and Boron in Kutahya, Western Anatolia. HOMO – Journal of Comparative Human Biology, 64. Available from here.

Barras, C. 2013. Human brain boiled in its skull lasted 4000 years. New Scientist. 2937, page 11. Available from here. 

Fossum, M. 2013. 4,000 Year Old Preserved Human Brain Found in Turkey. Web Pro News.

Click here to read more Unusual-ology posts!

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5,400-year-old Neolithic Bow and Arrows Found in Norway.

Due to the snow melting away in the Trollheim and Dovre mountains in Norway, well-preserved Neolithic hunting bow and arrows have been discovered by archaeologists from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

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The oldest Neolithic arrow, dating 5,400-years old, found due to the melting ice patches on the Trollheim and Dovre mountains.

The ancient bow and arrows, which are thought to have belonged to Stone Age reindeer hunters, have been dated back to around 3,800-years-old with the oldest arrow dating back to 5,400-years. The bow has been identified as being made from elm wood, with the elm trees being found in the lower altitudes of the mountain, whereas the arrow heads have been identified as slate. Their shape and design has been noted as being very similar to those found in other cold glacial locations, such as the Yukon. On the striking similarities, Dr Martin Callanan, who led the archaeological excavation, has noted that: ‘the people in Norway, they didn’t have any contact with people in the Yukon, but they have the same type of adaption.’ This highlights how two different cultures, allopatrically separated, can adapt using similar techniques to overcome similar environmental challenges.

These ancient hunting artefacts were discovered in a patch of melting snow over the recent summers. Dr Callanan, has commented that the discovery is ‘a little bit unnerving’ due to the age of the artefacts and that they’re being discovered right now, owing to the changing levels of snow. But this isn’t the only recent archaeological discovery which was caused due to melting snow.

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The reducing snow patches on the Trollheim and Dovre mountains. A) Photo taken on the 20th August 2010. B) Photo taken on 1st September 2008. (Callanan, 2013)

An intact jumper crafted from woven wool, dating between 230AD and 390AD, was discovered in the hunting area of the Norwegian Lendbreen glacier. ‘Due to global warming, rapid melting of snow patches and glaciers is taking place in the mountains of Norway as in other parts of the world, and hundreds of archaeological finds emerge from the ice each year’ commented Marianne Vedeler from the University of Oslo, and Lise Bender Jørgensen, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. But is this sudden emergence of well-preserved artefacts something to worry about?

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The well preserved wooly jumper found by Marianne Vedeler, from the University of Oslo and Lise Bender Jørgensen, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim.

E. James Dixon, director of the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico, has commented that if climate change is causing the ancient snow to melt, it is bad for archaeology. This is because the artefacts buried in the ice can be preserved for thousands of years, but when the ice melts and the artefacts become exposed to the current environment, they can quickly decompose. ‘For every artefact we find, there are probably hundreds, maybe thousands, which are lost and destroyed for ever.’

References:

Callanan, M. 2013. Melting snow patches reveal Neolithic Archery. Antiquity 87: 728-745. A .pdf of this interesting journal can be found here. 

Daily Mail. 2013. Melting snow reveals remarkably well-preserved 5,400-year-old bow and arrows used to hunt reindeer in Norway. Daily Mail Online.

Daily Mail. 2013. Has global warming sparked an archaeological bonanza? Melting ice reveals 1,700-year-old woolly jumper – and experts say there is much more to come. Daily Mail Online.

 

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Tsunami in Japan claims lives of many endangered species.

The recent 2011 tsunami and earthquake in Japan delivered mass destruction across the Japanese mainland and notably the capital Tokyo. The tsunami claimed many lives of the population residing on the coast and caused millions of pounds worth of damaged.

A recent BBC (2011a) news story has highlighted that humans were not the only species of animal affected by this natural disaster. Thousands of albatrosses were killed when the destructive waves hit a wildlife sanctuary north-west of Hawaii. The sanctuary based on the Midway Island, which is the home of the vulnerable Laysan albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis), was first created after US Naval Air facility was shut down in 1993.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service reported that 1,000 adult and adolescent Laysan albatross were killed when the 1.5metre high waves hit the National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Along with the 1,000 adults approximately tens of thousands of chicks were killed when nearly 60% of the island was covered by the huge waves.

The Laysan albatross weren’t the only species of animals that was damaged by the effects of the tsunami. The population of Bonin petrels (Pterodroma hypoleuca) took a damaging blow when they were buried alive. Bonin petrels are ground nesting so live in burrows underground so scientists are uncertain about how many were affected. Scientists at the NWR were hoping that they were out foraging for food as they feed at night when the tsunami’s waves washed over the island at dawn (Yahoo, 2011). The impact of the tsunami on other species such as the Laysan ducks and monk seals are currently unknown by wildlife conservationists (BBC, 2011a).

Along the survivors of the killer waves was a 60 year old Laysan albatross named Wisdom who recently hit the news headlines as the ‘Oldest bird in the US’ after she was found mothering a chick (NYTimes, 2011). The US Geological Survey (USGS) first ring tagged Wisdom in 1956 when she was incubating an egg. It is estimated that over the past 54 years she has mothered over 30-35 chicks (BBC, 2011b).

This demonstrations that natural disasters not only damage the human race but they also put other species, which are already close to being endangered, even closer to extinction.

References:

BBC. 2011a. Japan tsunami: Thousands of seabirds killed near Hawaii. BBC News.

BBC. 2011b. ‘Oldest bird in US’ raises chick. BBC News.

NYTimes. 2011. Albatross Is a Mother at 60. The New York Times.

Yahoo. 2011. Tsunami killed thousands of seabirds at Midway. Yahoo News.

How can computer games help conservation?

Recap of the lecture ‘How can Computer Games Help Conservation’ by Richard Stillman, Professor at Bournemouth University.

In this lecture we were presented with the idea of how games can be scientifically used to predict behaviour in animals. This was considered as ‘game theory’, examples of this included how animals avoid predation and breed more than competitors. I found this very fascinating and I was very intrigued when I read the lecture’s title. Richard Stillman described how this game theory might be applied and its uses, he explained how this allows us to understand how animals make their decisions and predict how animals may behave in future climates and other environmental factors.

To apply game theory, models on the principle are produced such as the Individual-based Model which assumes individuals vary in certain aspects such as competitive ability, and then predicts the survival rates. The model works on certain parameters such as the food supply, tidal exposure, daily food requirements and feeding rates. There are many places that have developed these models for ecology such as Cardiff Bay, Poole Harbour and even as far as Denmark.

These models have helped many species of animals survive by predicting their behaviours and the effect certain environmental factors will have on them including the proposal of building new barges in Severn River. The model constructed for this situation was able to highlight any problems the biodiversity might have with the construction and weigh the costs against the benefits. They found out that creating the Cardiff-Western barrage it will dramatically reduce the population of animals in that area whereas creating the Welsh Ground Lagoon will increase the biodiversity populations.

This shows that applying the game theory can help improve our understanding of animals’ habitual behaviours and our own impact on their habitats.