Stories tagged paleontology

I missed hearing about this over the summer when the film played in theaters, but finally had the chance last night to watch "Dinosaur 13," a documentary film about the legal battles in the aftermath of the discovery of Sue the T. Rex in South Dakota in 1990. Actual paleontology plays just a small role in the film, but the ethics and legalities of dinosaur hunting are very interesting. It's available now on DVD and I highly recommend it. You can preview the trailer below and here is the link to the movie's official website for streaming options:

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Here's a video look at fossil pieces of Dreadnoughtus, the huge sauropod dinosaur found in Argentina recently.

Jun
13
2014

Stegomastodon: This artist's rendering shows what stegomastodons likely looked like.
Stegomastodon: This artist's rendering shows what stegomastodons likely looked like.Courtesy Margret Flinsch
So these young dudes at a bachelor party earlier this week in New Mexico suddenly discovered something really old. And it wasn't Bill Murray (who's been known to pop up unannounced at bachelor parties these days).

Cavorting about the sand mounds of Elephant Butte Lake State Park, the guys found something odd sticking up a few inches above the surface. And of course they did what most young guys would do, they started digging.

Bill Murray: He was not found at this bachelor party
Bill Murray: He was not found at this bachelor partyCourtesy Christopher William Adach
What they discovered was a near fully-intact skull and tusks of a stegomastodon, a species which dates back about 3 million years. They contacted the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque, which then set up a more organized system of unearthing the skull. (The link above shows photos of the excavation work taking place.)

Stegomastodons were forerunners to the Ice Age mastodons and today's elephants. And according to paleontologists working on the project, the newly-discovered skull is one of the best skulls to be unearthed. Stegomastodons stood about nine feet tall and had curling tusks that extended up to 11 feet. Bill Murray, on the other hand, stands about six feet tall, has no protruding tusks and is believed to be somewhat younger than 3 million years old.

When I read that the Smithsonian's dinosaur hall will be shutting down for five years for remodeling, it struck me as taking an awfully long time. Then I read this story and it makes perfect sense. It takes a lot of time to clean dinosaurs.

Sep
24
2013

Big-nosed dinosaur: Nasutoceratops gets its name party from its extremely big nose.
Big-nosed dinosaur: Nasutoceratops gets its name party from its extremely big nose.Courtesy Lukas Panzann
(Psst everybody.....don't mention anything about his big nose. Got it? He's kind of sensitive about it.)

Okay, paleontologists from the University of Utah have recently discovered a new dinosaur very similar to triceratops, that has a very large...um, um, set of horns.

Roaming about present day Utah some 76 million years ago, measured about 15 feet long. Its colossal 4.5-foot skull bore a single horn over the nose, a horn above each eye and an elongated, bony frill toward the rear. Its large, flat teeth were perfect for eating plant matter.

But what really set this dinosaur apart is its extremely large...um, um, feet. Yeah that's it. This 2.5 ton dinosaur walked around great big feet.

Its horns are much more curved than Triceritops – almost looking like cattle horns – yet its frill is much more plain than its cousin's. Paleontologists have long speculated about the function of horns and frills on horned dinosaurs. Ideas have ranged from predator defense and controlling body temperature to recognizing members of the same species. But prevailing view today is that the horns primary purpose was for competing for mates.

And of course, Nasutoceratops had a huge honking schnoz on the front of its face, a nose bigger than any of its planting-eating, frilled and horned relative. (Ooops, I wasn't supposed to say that, was I.) But researchers don't think the big nose gave Nasutoceratops a more refined sense of smell. Olfactory receptors would have sat farther back in the skull, just like other dinosaurs. Like the horns, the big nose was probably a key to attracting mates.

Who says there can't be crime and intrigue in the world of paleontology? Here's a really interesting report of a possible black market sale of fossilized dinosaur bones, blown open by a museum paleontologist. Why do I want to think Scooby Doo and Shaggy will help solve this situation?

Dec
27
2011

The Finishing Touches: When last we saw the mammoth, the base had been completed but still had to be painted and the tusks had to be attached.
The Finishing Touches: When last we saw the mammoth, the base had been completed but still had to be painted and the tusks had to be attached.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Specialized Inserts were Created for Each Tusk: This is the view from the underside of the mammoth's left tusk.
Specialized Inserts were Created for Each Tusk: This is the view from the underside of the mammoth's left tusk.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Attaching the Mammoth's Left Tusk: A bolt is attached to the tusk and is threaded through the insert inside the tusk cavity.
Attaching the Mammoth's Left Tusk: A bolt is attached to the tusk and is threaded through the insert inside the tusk cavity.Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Tightening the Bolt from Above
Tightening the Bolt from AboveCourtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

The Insert for the Right Tusk is Built into the Skull's Actual Tusk
The Insert for the Right Tusk is Built into the Skull's Actual TuskCourtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Attaching the Right Tusk
Attaching the Right TuskCourtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

Tightening the Screw for the Right Tusk
Tightening the Screw for the Right TuskCourtesy Science Museum of Minnesota

The Finished Skull: Check back to see how the skull is installed for exhibition!
The Finished Skull: Check back to see how the skull is installed for exhibition!Courtesy Science Museum of Minnesota