Fossils - Dinosaurs - Ancient Life - Paleontology Thread
Have you ever come across fossils in your life?

I came across many when I was growing up and they filled me with a fascination about ancient life.

When you hold a fossil or the context of a fossil in your hand, you are in touch with deep time. It is like a time machine in your hand. The contemplation of great expanses of time can be labored perceptions. Reflecting on what life may have been like a million years ago seems difficult, much less hundreds of millions of years, or even billions of years ago. However, fossils help make that distant time readily accessible.

In this thread, we will be exploring ancient life through fossils, dinosaur study, and paleontology in general.

You can post pictures, videos, new articles, or create your own informational post about a particular form of ancient life. Artistic reconstructions of ancient life are very appealing. If you come across those, please share. As you will discover while researching this topic, this field has some really great illustrations. Illustrations help make this subject matter easier to understand.

This thread is meant to be both educational and fun.

If you would like to share a personal story about discovering fossils, please do so.

Please post as much information as possible about a particular fossil or ancient life subject, particularly the time frame.

Let's have fun and learn a lot!

The following illustration can serve as a geologic time reference guide. You can refer back to it whenever necessary.

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Paleoworld is an American documentary television series that aired on The Learning Channel from 1994 to 1997. The series focused on paleontology and comprised a total of 50 half-hour episodes. It was the first television series dedicated to paleontology that spanned multiple seasons.

Although the complete series may not be available on YouTube, they do have many episodes. Over time, I will post all of the available episodes in this thread.

Season 1, Episode 1 - "Rise of the Predators"

228-million-year-old fossil sheds light on turtle evolution

There are a couple of key features that make a turtle a turtle: its shell, for one, but also its toothless beak. A newly-discovered fossil turtle that lived 228 million years ago is shedding light on how modern turtles developed these traits. It had a beak, but while its body was Frisbee-shaped, its wide ribs hadn't grown to form a shell like we see in turtles today.

"This creature was over six feet long, it had a strange disc-like body and a long tail, and the anterior part of its jaws developed into this strange beak," says Olivier Rieppel, a paleontologist at Chicago's Field Museum and one of the authors of a new paper in Nature. "It probably lived in shallow water and dug in the mud for food."

The new species has been christened Eorhynchochelys sinensis -- a mouthful, but with a straightforward meaning. Eorhynchochelys ("Ay-oh-rink-oh-keel-is") means "dawn beak turtle" -- essentially, first turtle with a beak -- while sinensis, meaning "from China," refers to the place where it was found by the study's lead author, Li Chun of China's Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

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Paleontologists discover three new fossil primates

Paleontologists at the University of Texas at Austin have identified three new species of omomyine primates that lived between 42 and 46 million years ago (Eocene epoch).

The three new species — named Ekwiiyemakius walshi, Gunnelltarsius randalli and Brontomomys cerutti — belong to Omomyinae, a subfamily of early primates.

The fossils came from the Friars Formation of San Diego County, southern California.

An artist’s rendering of what Ekwiiyemakius walshi, Gunnelltarsius randalli and Brontomomys cerutti might have looked like.
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Skye’s the limit for giant 50ft dinosaurs who roamed lagoon

Giant long-necked dinosaurs bigger than a double-decker bus roamed the Isle of Skye 170 million years ago, scientists have discovered.

Dozens of footprints belonging to early sauropods, which were 50ft long and weighed about 10 tons, have been unearthed in a lagoon off the north-east coast of the Scottish island.

The tracks were 15 inches in length and were identified by the claw marks.

Dr Steve Brusatte, a geoscientist at Edinburgh University who led the field team, said: “We can tell they were made by sauropods, fairly primitive ones.

“They would have been among the first species of truly colossal sauropods that lived on Earth. It’s hard to say why these dinosaurs were in the lagoon but we seem to be finding more footprints of lagoon-dwelling dinosaurs these days.

“Lagoons were probably their homes, at least part of the time. Maybe there was abundant food there or maybe it was a safe place to hide from predators.”

Early sauropods were 50ft long and weighed about 10 tons.

Sauropods would later evolve to become the largest dinosaur on earth, reaching 165ft in length and weighing 77 tons.

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99-million-year-old beetle trapped in amber served as pollinator to evergreen cycads

Flowering plants are well known for their special relationship to the insects and other animals that serve as their pollinators. But, before the rise of angiosperms, another group of unusual evergreen gymnosperms, known as cycads, may have been the first insect-pollinated plants. Now, researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology on August 16 have uncovered the earliest definitive fossil evidence of that intimate relationship between cycads and insects.

The discovery came in the form of an ancient boganiid beetle preserved in Burmese amber for an estimated 99 million years along with grains of cycad pollen. The beetle also shows special adaptations, including mandibular patches, for the transport of cycad pollen.

"Boganiid beetles have been ancient pollinators for cycads since the Age of Cycads and Dinosaurs," says Chenyang Cai, now a research fellow at the University of Bristol. "Our find indicates a probable ancient origin of beetle pollination of cycads at least in the Early Jurassic, long before angiosperm dominance and the radiation of flowering-plant pollinators, such as bees, later in the Cretaceous."

This image shows a dorsal view of the mid-Cretaceous beetle Cretoparacucujus cycadophilus, including the mandibular cavities it likely used for pollination.
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Giant dinosaur foot proclaimed largest ever discovered

A fossilized dinosaur foot believed to be the largest in the world has been unearthed in Weston County, Wyoming, the United States.

The 39-inch-wide (1 m) foot was excavated from the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation by University of Kansas paleontologists in 1998.

Now, after detailed preparation and study, Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center researcher Anthony Maltese and co-authors identified it as belonging to a dinosaur species very closely related to the long-necked, long-tailed sauropod Brachiosaurus.

“It was immediately apparent that the foot was from an extremely large animal, so the specimen was nicknamed ‘Bigfoot’,” said Dr. Maltese, who was part of the original University of Kansas team in 1998.

The scientists used 3D scanning and detailed measurements to compare the specimen to feet from numerous dinosaur species.

The study confirms that this brachiosaur foot is the largest dinosaur foot discovered to date.

This illustration shows a Brachiosaurus eating from an Araucaria tree. These dinosaurs had enormous necks and relatively short tails. The animal to which the foot belongs was nearly 4 m high at its hip.
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The photograph is from the excavations in 1998, with 150-million-year-old brachiosaur foot bones below a tail of a Camarasaurus.
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Season 1, Episode 2 - "Flight Of The Pterosaurs"

(Sep 13, 2018, 15:02 pm)Resurgence Wrote: . . . Although the complete series may not be available on YouTube, they do have many episodes. Over time, I will post all of the available episodes in this thread.

Season 1, Episode 1 - "Rise of the Predators"

Why would anyone chop up an episode like this?  That's inexcusable!

I can't be doled out a series in piecemeal.  I am too impatient for that.  I found all the episodes minus one and downloaded them myself.  For anyone who wants them, I have uploaded a torrent here:

(Sep 19, 2018, 12:37 pm)neanderthal Wrote:
(Sep 13, 2018, 15:02 pm)Resurgence Wrote: . . . Although the complete series may not be available on YouTube, they do have many episodes. Over time, I will post all of the available episodes in this thread.

Why would anyone chop up an episode like this?  That's inexcusable!

I can't be doled out a series in piecemeal.  I am too impatient for that.  I found all the episodes minus one and downloaded them myself.  For anyone who wants them, I have uploaded a torrent here:


There may have been time restrictions for video length on that member's YouTube channel at the time the videos were posted. It was most likely not the member's preference to post the videos that way, but they were forced to do so. Despite that, it's great that they are available on YouTube.

It is nice that you posted the torrent for Paleoworld.  However, it is also important to build a paleontology thread with various features available in this format should people prefer it. And according to the views on the thread and the responses, people are enjoying it.
The link below is a detailed list of worldwide fossil sites. It is by no means comprehensive. There are many more rich sites unknown to the scientific community. Some of these could be in your own neighborhood or even in your back garden. I have been on a few very rich sites that are unknown to the outside world.


A Time and Life Spiral:

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Season 1, Episode 3 - "Back To The Seas"


Season 1, Episode 4 - "Carnosaurs"


Giant dinosaurs appeared at least 25 million years earlier than previously thought

A team of Argentinian paleontologists has rewritten the paleontology textbooks by finding that giant, long-necked, herbivorous dinosaurs known as sauropods were present on Earth about 205 million years ago (Triassic period) — a full 25 million years earlier than previously thought.

The team, headed by Dr. Cecilia Apaldetti from the Institute and Museum of Natural Sciences at the University of San Juan and CONICET, discovered the earliest-known sauropod dinosaur.

Named Ingentia prima, the ancient creature lived in what is now northwestern Argentina at the end of the Triassic period.

At about 23-33 feet (7-10 m) in length and approximately 10 tons in weight, it was about three times the size of the largest Triassic dinosaurs.

Two partial fossilized skeletons of Ingentia prima were recovered from the southern outcrops of the Quebrada del Barro Formation in Argentina’s San Juan province.

“Before this discovery, it was thought that gigantism developed during the Jurassic period, approximately 180 million years ago, but Ingentia prima lived at the end of the Triassic, between 210 and 205 million years ago.”

An artist’s impression of Ingentia prima.
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Apaldetti et al unearthed the bone fragments from the neck, tail, fore and hind legs of [i]Ingentia prima[/i].
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Research sheds new light on how cave bears became vegetarians

A Middle Pleistocene cave bear, also known as the Deninger’s bear (Ursus deningeri), is generally regarded as the direct ancestor of the mostly vegetarian cave bear (Ursus spelaeus), and the transition between the two species took place around the Middle-Late Pleistocene boundary, about 126,000 years ago. Until now, very little was known about the dietary evolution of cave bears and how they became vegetarians, as the fossils of Deninger’s bear are extremely scarce. However, a study by paleontologists in Germany and Spain sheds new light on this.

Reconstruction of the cave bear (Ursus spelaeus).
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To understand the evolution of the cave bear lineage, Dr. Anneke van Heteren from the Zoologische Staatssammlung München and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München and colleagues compared the mandibles and skull of the Deninger’s bear with that of classic cave bears and modern bears.

They micro-CT scanned the rare fossils and digitally removed the sediments so as not to risk damaging the fossils.

“The analyses showed that Deninger’s bear had very similarly shaped mandibles and skull to the classic cave bear,” Dr. van Heteren said.

“This implies that they were adapted to the same food types and were primarily vegetarian.”

“There is an ongoing discussion on the extent to which the classic cave bear was a vegetarian,” added study co-author Mikel Arlegi, a doctoral candidate at the Universities of the Basque Country and Bordeaux.

“And, this is especially why the new information on the diet of its direct ancestor is so important, because it teaches us that a differentiation between the diet of cave bears and brown bears was already established by 500,000 years ago and likely earlier.”

Interestingly, the team also found that there are shape differences between Deninger’s bears from the Iberian Peninsula and those from the rest of Europe, which are unlikely to be related to diet.

“There are three possibilities to explain these differences: (i) the Iberian bears are chronologically younger than the rest; (ii) the Pyrenees, acting as natural barrier, resulted in some genetic differentiation between the Iberian bears and those from the rest of Europe; or (iii) there were multiple lineages, with either just one leading to the classic cave bear, or each lineage leading to a different group of cave bears,” they said.

(A) a subadult male cranium of Ursus deningeri from Sima de los Huesos, Spain, in different views compared to (B) an adult male cranium of Ursus spelaeus; (C, D) mandibles of Ursus deningeri.
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Paleontologists find extraordinary set of mega-shark teeth in Australia

Citizen scientist Philip Mullaly and professional paleontologists have found a very rare set of fossilized shark teeth at Jan Juc,‭ ‬a renowned fossil site along Victoria’s Surf Coast.‭

Carcharocles angustidens teeth.‭
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"I was walking along the beach looking for fossils, turned and saw this shining glint in a boulder and saw a quarter of the tooth exposed,” Mullaly explained.

“I was immediately excited, it was just perfect and I knew it was an important find that needed to be shared with people.”

The teeth belonged to Carcharocles angustidens, an extinct species that’s closely related to the famous giant C. megalodon.

Carcharocles angustidens lived between 22 and 33 million years ago (Oligocene epoch). This shark grew up to 30 feet (9 m) in length, was the top predator and would have preyed on small whales.

“These teeth are of international significance, as they represent one of just three associated groupings of Carcharocles angustidens teeth in the world, and the very first set to ever be discovered in Australia,” said Dr. Erich Fitzgerald, senior curator of vertebrate paleontology at Museums Victoria.

Carcharocles angustidens being feasted upon by several sixgill sharks.
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Fat from 558 million years ago reveals earliest known animal

Scientists have discovered molecules of fat in an ancient fossil to reveal the earliest confirmed animal in the geological record that lived on Earth 558 million years ago.

This is a Dickinsonia fossil.
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The strange creature called Dickinsonia, which grew up to 1.4 metres in length and was oval shaped with rib-like segments running along its body, was part of the Ediacara Biota that lived on Earth 20 million years prior to the 'Cambrian explosion' of modern animal life.

ANU PhD scholar Ilya Bobrovskiy discovered a Dickinsonia fossil so well preserved in a remote area near the White Sea in the northwest of Russia that the tissue still contained molecules of cholesterol, a type of fat that is the hallmark of animal life.

Lead senior researcher Associate Professor Jochen Brocks said the 'Cambrian explosion' was when complex animals and other macroscopic organisms -- such as molluscs, worms, arthropods and sponges -- began to dominate the fossil record.

"The fossil fat molecules that we've found prove that animals were large and abundant 558 million years ago, millions of years earlier than previously thought," said Associate Professor Jochen Brocks from the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences.

"Scientists have been fighting for more than 75 years over what Dickinsonia and other bizarre fossils of the Edicaran Biota were: giant single-celled amoeba, lichen, failed experiments of evolution or the earliest animals on Earth. The fossil fat now confirms Dickinsonia as the oldest known animal fossil, solving a decades-old mystery that has been the Holy Grail of palaeontology."
Types of Fossils and How They Form:

The term “fossil” is used for any trace of past life. Fossils are not only the actual remains of organisms, such as teeth, bones, shell, and leaves (body fossils), but also the results of their activity, such as burrows and foot prints (trace fossils), and organic compounds they produce by biochemical processes (chemical fossils). Occasionally, inorganically produced structures may be confused with traces of life, such as dendrites. These are called pseudofossils. The definitions below explain the types of fossils found in the context of fossilization processes.

Body Fossils

The processes of fossilization are complex with many stages from burial to discovery as a fossil. Organisms with hard parts such as a mineralized shell, like a trilobite or ammonite, are much more likely to become fossilized than animals with only soft parts such as a jellyfish or worms. Body fossils of plants and animals almost always consist only of the skeletonized or toughened parts because soft tissues are destroyed by decay or by scavengers. Even hard parts can be destroyed by natural processes such as wave action or can be eaten or destroyed by other organisms like fungi and algae. Many species of plant and animal fossils are known only from their fragments.

The remains of an organism that survive natural biological and physical processes must then become quickly buried by sediments. The probability for an organism to become fossilized increases if it already lives in the sediment , and those on the sea floor are more readily fossilized than those floating or swimming above it. Catastrophic burial with a rapid influx of sediment is necessary to preserve delicate complete animals such as crinoids or starfish. This explains why most crinoids, for example, are found only as stem pieces. Since crinoids were not usually buried quickly, their hard stem parts are far more frequently found as fossils. Observations of rare living crinoids have shown that they will rapidly disarticulate within a few days of death. Rapid burial, in contrast, prevents this disintegration, and thus explains a few localities where beds of delicate crinoids, starfish and brittle stars are preserved in their entirety. Thus many factors affect of chances for fossilization.

The common processes occurring after burial include chemical alteration or replacement and compaction. Most marine invertebrates have calcareous skeletons containing calcium carbonate (CaCo3) that occurs in one of two crystal forms, calcite or aragonite. Aragonite is comparatively unstable and will convert to calcite or dissolve over time. As a result, aragonite becomes progressively rarer in older rocks. If the calcite or aragonite is dissolved away the result is a fossil being preserved as a mold or cast. In contrast, the original calcite or aragonite might be replaced with other minerals such as silica or pyrite or a similar iron-containing mineral called hematite. Calcium phosphate is another important, but less common, skeletal material occurring in some arthropods, inarticulate brachiopods, and conodonts. Apatite, a calcium phosphate mineral, is also found in bones and teeth of vertebrates. These are the most common replacement minerals other than calcite.

Soft Tissue Fossilization

It is possible to infer a certain amount about the missing soft parts of fossils by comparing them to living relatives. Information can be so deduced from traces such as muscle scars left on a skeleton for example. The preservation of soft parts is rare but scattered examples are found throughout the world at various localities. Examples of soft part fossil preservation include the frozen Siberian mammoths and ground sloth fur and feces. Preservation in this case is dependent on local climatic conditions and such fossils are unlikely to survive any significant amount of geological time since climate changes. Older soft bodied preservation due to protection from decay and scavenging under anaerobic conditions (without oxygen) especially at low temperatures rarely occurs. Decay is slowed allowing more time for soft parts to be buried and preserved. Despite the rarity, there are hundreds of fossil sites worldwide where soft tissue parts are preserved. Such a fossil site is known as a Lagerstätte. Examples include the early Cambrian Burgess Shale of Canada and Maotianshan Shales of China, the Carboniferous Mazon Creek Formation, and the Eocene Messel Pit of Germany.

Simple Burial

Limy shells and plant remains often lie in the ground without much change. Cones, stems, stumps, and fern roots in peat bogs have been known to exist up to 40 million years with little change, except for some discoloration and slight decay. The remarkable preservation in these peat bogs is due to the high concentration of tannic acid. Mollusk shells, sand dollars and sea urchins with ages ranging from a few thousand years to 75 million years have been known to survive with little change, except the loss of color. Occasionally, ammonite fossils show the original iridescence present when they were alive. The clam fossil of the Spanish Point Formation of California is a good example of shells that have undergone little change.


Imprints are simply the external molds of very thin organisms, such as leaves and trilobites. They are often found in rocks such as sandstone, shale and volcanic ash. Trilobites of the Marjum Formation in Utah are often found as impressions.

Trace Fossils or Ichnofossils

Trace fossils, also called ichnofossils are structures preserved in sedimentary rocks that record biological activity. Though trace fossils are often less interesting to view, they are very important because they represent both the anatomy of the maker in some way as well as its behavior. Sedimentary structures made by empty shells rolling along the sea floor are thus not trace fossils because they do not represent the anatomy of their maker. Trace fossils include footprints, tracks and trail marks, burrows, borings, feeding marks, and coprolites (fossilized droppings). The conditions under which animal remains are found differ from those favoring the survival of trace fossils they produce. The two are rarely found together. It is often difficult to determine what animals made a trace fossil with confidence. Traces made by wildly different animals can be very similar in appearance. Therefore trace fossils are classified according to the activity producing them rather than the animal that made them: resting, crawling, feeding, dwelling, etc. The majority of these trace fossils were made by infaunal (living in sediment) animals, especially deposit feeders like worms. Worm trails in Cambrian sediments are common. Bird tracks at some locations in the Green River Shales of Wyoming and Utah are also common.

Trails, Tracks, and Burrows

Tracks, trails, and burrows are a particular form of trace fossil. These traces range from worm trails to dinosaur tracks and even the footprints of Stone Age people. The tracks of worms, amphibians, reptiles and birds are common at some localities. A great variety of invertebrate’s tracks have been found. Trilobite and even insect tracks are found commonly at some localities. Burrows of worms, snails, and crabs are known as well as their petrified remains. Worm trails are often found in the Cambrian Wheeler Shale of Utah. Bird tracks are common in the Green River Formation of Utah in some locations.


Freezing is a type of preservation in which an animal falls into a crevasse or pit and remains frozen. Such ideal remains are rare and almost always never very old. Animals have been restricted to ice age rhinoceros and hairy mammoth. These remains have preserved bone, skin, muscle, hair, and even internal organs.

Drying or Dessication

Remains of animals that have been found thoroughly dried include camel, ground sloth, and even marsupial wolf. These remains were found in caves in arid and semi-arid areas of the Southwestern United States, South America, New Zealand and Australia. The dried dung of cave dwelling giant ground sloths have also been found in caves.


Petrification is a geology term denoting the processes by which organic material is converted into stone or a similar substance. It is approximately synonymous with fossilization. Petrified wood is the most well known result of this process. Petrification takes place in two related ways, replacement and permineralization, described below.


Replacement takes place when water dissolves the original hard parts and replaces them with mineral matter. This chemical action may take place slowly, reproducing the microscopic structures of the original organism. Bone, shells and wood are often well preserved in this manner. The most common replacement minerals are calcite, silica, pyrite, and hematite. The snails of the Green River Formation in Wyoming are often replaced by silica, a variation of quartz. The ammonites and goniatites of Europe and North Africa are commonly replaced by hematite, which is an iron mineral similar to, but more stable than pyrite. When the original hard parts are replaced quickly they often lose all trace of their original structure, leaving the original shape, but no detail. Agatized woods are often preserved in this manner (agate is a form of quartz).


Permineralization takes place when ground water carrying dissolved minerals infiltrates the microscopic pores and cavities in bone, wood, or shell. The minerals being deposited produce stony fossils that still contain a good deal of their original solid material. Bones, teeth, and many marine organisms are preserved in this way. The fossil wood from the Petrified Forest of Arizona are a famous example of this type of preservation. The fossil teeth and bones of the Oligocene badlands of South Dakota and Nebraska are also common examples of this type of fossilization, as well as the extensive deposits of Jurassic dinosaur bones in Utah and Colorado.

Pyritization is a Permineralization process involving sulfur and iron, and can result is formation of exquisite fossils and soft-tissue preservation. Organisms are pyritized when they are in marine sediments saturated with iron sulfides. Pyrite is iron sulfide (FeS2). As organic matter decays it releases sulfide which reacts with dissolved iron in the surrounding waters. Pyrite replaces carbonate shell material due to an undersaturation of carbonate in the surrounding waters. Some plants are also pyritized when they are in a clay terrain, but to a lesser extent than in a marine environment. Pyritized fossils are varied and particularly beautiful, such as this Jurassic Quenstedticeras ammonite and fossils from the Bundenbach Hunsruck Slate in Germany.

Molds and Casts

An organism will lie in sediment until the surrounding sediment becomes firm. Later the organism dissolves away. If there is no infilling of the cavity with mineral, sand, or clay this is called a natural mold. The outside of the mold, which would have been the outer surface of the animal, is referred to as an external mold. This often has the fine detail of the surface of the original organism. The inside surface of the mold is referred to as the internal mold, (sometimes miscalled casts). The internal cast forms when sand or clay fills such things as empty shells of snails and clams, which are common. If the cavity is filled with grains of sand or clay, duplicating the original inner surface of the organism, this is referred to as a cast. The Procheloniceras ammonite fossils of the coastal Sahara Desert in Morocco are a fine examples of external and internal molds; however, since the ammonites shell is gone, local artisans often fake these ammonites by carving them out of rock. The inside molds of turritella snails are a common example of an internal mold. Many ammonites are found with the animals original shell dissolved away, leaving only the internal mold.

Asphalt (Tar)

Asphalt preserves only the hard parts of organisms such as teeth, bones and the outer shells of insects. Countless numbers of these fossils are preserved in the Rancho La Brea (tar pits) Formation in California. Peru also has vast numbers of fossils preserved in tar seeps.

Plant Fossils

The fossilization of plants markedly differs from that of animals. The leaves are frequently reduced to a carbon film in a process known as carbonization or distillation. The internal anatomy of leaves is often lost, but occasionally cell walls and even cell contents may be preserved by permineralization. Permineralization occurs after burial when empty spaces within the plant containing liquid or gas during life become filled with mineral-rich groundwater and the minerals precipitate from the groundwater filling the spaces. This process can even occur in very small spaces such as within the plant cell wall of a plant cell, thus producing exquisitely detailed fossils. Permineralization burial before decay is advanced. The degree to which the remains are decayed when buried determines the later details of the fossil.

Carbonization (Distillation)

Carbonization is a process by which the more volatile substances of plants and animals decay, but leave behind the carbon. Crumbly woods of lignite deposits are one example of Carbonization. At its extreme, carbonization reduces plants and animals to a shiny black or brown film like the Metasequoia leaves of the Tranquille Shale of British Columbia.

Chemical Fossils

Chemical fossils are organically derived compounds formed by living creatures that occur in some rocks. There are usually no traces of the actual organisms left behind. Radioisotope concentrations in rocks of the early Pre-Cambrian suggest life was photosynthesizing almost three and a half billion years ago.

Large organic molecules don’t survive long after an organism’s death, but those molecules may break down to smaller stable organic molecules which can survive over long geological time. Hydrocarbons such as crude oil and natural gas are common examples. Chemical fossils are probably most significant in there use as early evidence of life in the Precambrian. The discovery of phytane and pristane in early Precambrian rocks indicate the presence of photosynthetic organisms as the compounds have no other known natural organism.


This is the process by which tree sap is converted to fossil amber (more accurately called fossil resin), literally becoming a natural plastic. Carbon and hydrogen atoms form rings that cross-link more and more over time causing the sticky tree sap to harden to amber. Amber occasionally traps insects preserving their delicate bodies. The Baltic Sea area, Dominican Republic, and Andes Mountains of Colombia are the main sources of amber, though small quantities are found worldwide, including Alaska. Interestingly, fossil resin can trap a small segment of an entire ecosystem, since plants, animals, bacteria, archeans, fungi, etc., may all be simultaneously sealed within the hardened resin, which itself is a plant fossil.


The word coprolite means “dung stone” and is used to describe feces preserved by petrification or as molds or casts. The Eocene fish beds of Wyoming often produce fish coprolites. Carnivorous mammal coprolites of the Oligocene bad lands of South Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming are also common. These coprolites occasionally have the scales of fish or the bones of other small animals preserved in them.


Modern birds use swallow stones, which rest in a muscular stomach called a gizzard, to aid in digestion. Many ancient reptiles also had this method of grinding food with gizzard stones. These stones, called gastrolithes, are recognized by their rounded edges and even polished appearance (as long as they are found in association with vertebrate fossils remains). Pebbles can also be rounded and smoothed by running water or wind blown dust, so the two can be easily confused. Ideally stones found near the stomach area of fossil bones or near such remains can be assumed to be gastrolithes. Smooth pebbles that merely lie in beds that may have reptile or bird remains should not be called gastrolithes.

Plastic Deformation

Fossils often become deformed through the pressure of overlying rock and geological forces. The term “plastic” refers to the fact that normally brittle shell can be bent without fracturing, due to the slow movement and pressure of surrounding rock. Most commonly fossils are simply flattened, but lateral compression (side ways) is also possible. Brachiopods from the Ely Formation of Utah are often preserved this way.

Cone in Cone Accretion

The trilobites of central Utah sometimes are found with an unusual form of preservation. Their mineralized exoskeletons have a form of calcite, which typically accretes to the underside of the trilobite shell called “cone in cone” calcite. The calcite allows the trilobite to weather from its matrix intact even though the shell of the trilobite is very thin.

Pseudofossils (not fossils)

Many objects of inorganic origin can resemble fossils. While a bit of a misnomer, these are called pseudofossils. Hardened masses of mineral substances called concretions are often mistaken for fossils. These can sometimes resemble plants and animals. Dendrites, which are flat, branching manganese dioxide crystals, are often mistaken for leaves or ferns. The finest dendrites are found in Germany and Utah.


Scientists find the oldest evidence of animal life

A team of scientists led by University of California, Riverside’s Professor Gordon Love has found the oldest evidence yet of animal life, dating back 100 million years before the famous Cambrian explosion.

Rather than searching for conventional body fossils, Professor Love and colleagues have been tracking molecular signs (biomarkers) of animal life as far back as 660-635 million years ago (Neoproterozoic Era).

In ancient rocks and oils from Oman, Siberia, and India, the team found a steroid compound produced only by sponges, which are among the earliest forms of animal life.

“We have been looking for distinctive and stable biomarkers that indicate the existence of sponges and other early animals, rather than single-celled organisms that dominated the earth for billions of years before the dawn of complex, multicellular life,” said Alex Zumberge, a doctoral student at the University of California, Riverside.

The biomarker the researchers identified is a steroid compound named 26-methylstigmastane (26-mes).

It has a unique structure that is currently only known to be synthesized by certain species of modern sponges called demosponges.

“This steroid biomarker is the first evidence that demosponges, and hence multicellular animals, were thriving in ancient seas at least as far back as 635 million years ago,” Zumberge said.

The yellow pot sponge (Rhabdastrella globostellata), a modern species of demosponge that makes the same 26-mes steroids that Zumberge et al found in ancient rocks.
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World’s oldest flying squirrel discovered

An international team of paleontologists has found the world’s oldest flying squirrel fossil — an 11.63-million-year-old specimen of an extinct species called Miopetaurista neogrivensis — at the Abocador de Can Mata site in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.

Mammals can walk, hop, swim and fly; a few, like marsupial sugar gliders or colugos, can even glide.

Flying squirrels are the only group of gliding mammals to have achieved a significant diversity (52 species in 15 genera) and wide geographical distribution across Eurasia and North America.

To drift from tree to tree, these small animals pack their own ‘parachute:’ a membrane draping between their lower limbs and the long cartilage rods that extend from their wrists. Tiny specialized wrist bones, which are unique to flying squirrels, help to support the cartilaginous extensions.

However, recent studies show that the dental features used to distinguish between gliding and non-gliding squirrels may actually be shared by the two groups.

In 2002, Dr. Isaac Casanovas-Vilar of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and colleagues unearthed a peculiar skeleton: first a tail and two thigh bones, big enough that the paleontologists thought it could be the fossil of a small primate.

“Due to the large size of the tail and thigh bones, we initially thought the remains belonged to a primate,” Dr. Casanovas-Vilar said.

“In fact, and much to the disappointment of paleoprimatologists, further excavation revealed that it was a large rodent skeleton with minuscule specialized wrist bones, identifying it as Miopetaurista neogrivensis.”

Combining molecular and paleontological data to carry out evolutionary analyses of the fossil, the researchers demonstrated that flying squirrels evolved from tree squirrels as far back as 31 to 25 million years ago, and possibly even earlier.

In addition, their results showed that Miopetaurista neogrivensis is closely related to an existing group of giant flying squirrels called Petaurista.

Their skeletons are in fact so similar that the large species that currently inhabits the tropical and subtropical forests of Asia could be considered living fossils.

Life appearance of the fossil flying squirrel Miopetaurista neogrivensis showing the animal ready to land on a tree branch.
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New fossils of ground sloth-like dinosaur could reveal why sauropods got so big

Sauropods are a group of plant-eating dinosaurs which exceeded all other terrestrial vertebrates in body size. A new, in-depth anatomical description of the best preserved specimens of Sarahsaurus aurifontanalis, a sauropod relative from North America, could help paleontologists with unraveling the mystery of why these dinosaurs got so big.

Sarahsaurus aurifontanalis
lived in what is now Arizona about 185 million years ago (Early Jurassic epoch).

“This dinosaur preserves in its anatomy the anatomical changes that were happening in the Late Triassic and Early Jurassic that were occurring in the evolutionary lineage. It can help tell us how getting big happens,” said Dr. Adam Marsh, a paleontologist at Petrified Forest National Park.

The new anatomical description of Sarahsaurus aurifontanalis — made by Dr. Marsh and his colleague, Professor Timothy Rowe from the University of Texas at Austin Jackson School of Geosciences — is based on two skeletons from the Kayenta Formation of Arizona.

“The specimens are well preserved in 3D and remarkably complete, which is very rare in the fossil record,” said Dr. Matthew Brown, director of the Jackson School Museum of Earth History Vertebrate Paleontology Collections, who was not involved in the study.

Sarahsaurus aurifontanalis
resembled a ground sloth. It stood upright, walked on its hind-legs and had powerful forelimbs with a large, curved claw capping the first finger of each hand.

It had a lot in common with the earliest sauropod ancestors — like walking on two legs — but it was also starting to show features that would foreshadow how its massive relatives would evolve — such as an increase in body size and a lengthening of the neck vertebrae.

“It’s starting to gain the characters of getting large compared to the earliest members of the group,” Dr. Marsh said.

Size and neck-length are features that sauropods would take to extremes as they evolved.

By studying these traits and others in Sarahsaurus aurifontanalis, and seeing how they compare to those of other dinosaurs, scientists can help reveal how these changes occurred across evolutionary history and how different dinosaurs relate to one another.

For example, the anatomical review helped clarify the relationship between Sarahsaurus aurifontanalis and two other sauropod relatives that lived in North America during the Early Jurassic: Anchisaurus polyzelus from the older Portland Formation of the Hartford Basin and Seitaad reussi from the younger Navajo Sandstone of Utah.

The paleontologists found that the three don’t have a common North American ancestor — instead they evolved from dinosaur lineages that came to North America independently.

Life restoration of Sarahsaurus aurifontanalis.
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Large angiosperm trees grew in North America 15 million years earlier than previously thought

According to new research led by Dr. Nathan Jud of William Jewell College, angiosperm(also called broad-leaf, hardwood or deciduous) trees approaching 6.5 feet (2 m) in diameter were part of the forest canopies across southern North America by the Turonian stage of the Late Cretaceous epoch, approximately 92 million years ago — nearly 15 million years earlier than previously thought.

Dr. Jud and colleagues found a wealth of plant and terrestrial vertebrate fossils — including a large petrified log of angiosperm tree — in deposits of the Mancos Shale Formation in Utah, the United States.

The fossils date to the Turonian, a severely underrepresented interval in the terrestrial fossil record of North America.

“A large silicified log, 36 feet (11 m) in preserved length with a maximum diameter estimate of 5.9 feet (1.8 m), is assigned to the genus Paraphyllanthoxylon,” the paleontologists said.

“It is the largest known pre-Campanian angiosperm and the earliest documented occurrence of an angiosperm tree more than 3.3 feet (1 m) in diameter.”

Aside from the petrified log, they also found fossilized foliage from ferns, conifers and angiosperms, which confirm that there was forest or woodland vegetation 90 million years ago in the area, covering a large delta extending into the sea.

“Until now most of what we knew about plants from the Ferron Sandstone came from fossil pollen and spores,” Dr. Jud noted.

“The discovery of fossil wood and leaves allows us to develop a more complete picture of the flora.”

The scientists also found turtle and crocodile remains as well as part of the pelvis of a duck-billed dinosaur.

Previously, the only known vertebrate remains found were fish teeth, two short dinosaur trackways, and a pterosaur.

During much of the Late Cretaceous, the Western Interior Seaway divided North America into Appalachia in the east and Laramidia in the west.
The second illustration show the Turonian localities in western North America with angiosperm woods over 3.9 inches (10 cm) in diameter and stacked area curve showing the contribution of this discovery (indicated by star) to the global record of Cretaceous angiosperm woods. Ages are midpoint estimates. The gray area indicates the maximum observed angiosperm diameter through the Cretaceous. Dashed box indicates Turonian occurrences shown in the map above. Inset shows the new angiosperm log in the field.
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Season 1, Episode 6 - "Sea Monsters"

The Tools in a Paleontologist’s Field Kit:

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1.  Chisels. Fossils are embedded in stone, sandstone and mudstone, but it can be as hard as concrete. So, in order to extract fossils, the stone around them needs to be broken away. Some times, there are also bigger tools used before chisels and hammers, such as jackhammers and rock saws. Chisels and a hammer are used after the power tools make way for a workable quarry.

2.  Walkie-talkie.
Most paleo digs are in remote locations, and some of the team scout for potential sites (called prospecting) while the others stay to “work the quarry.” Walkie-talkies help paleontologists and their assistants from getting lost.

3.  GPS.
These handy devices also assist in keeping people from getting lost. GPS coordinates for every site found is documented in a notebook.
4.  Rock hammer.
5.  More probes and chisels. From the larger blue chisel points to screwdriver-handled points to dental picks (center-right), varying sizes of points are used while hammering or tapping to move rock away from fossils.
6.  Brushes. Brushes gently remove debris and dust without damaging fossils.
7.  Swiss army knife, fork and spoon.
8.  Vinac. This is a consolidant - a solution of tiny vinyl beads and acetone, and it’s fairly thin with a water-like consistency between 5-15% solution. The consolidant is used to stabilize fossils until they arrive at the controlled environment of the Fossil Prep Lab. There, fossils can be put back together with the right adhesive Vinac is easily removed by a non-harmful solvent back at the museum so that the fossils can be cleaned and reconstructed properly.
9.  Markers and plastic baggies. Sometimes fossils emerge from the rock in pieces, and when they come from the same area or bone, they are put in plastic bags which are marked as descriptively as possible to understand where exactly they were positioned in relation to the other bones in the quarry. Documentation is then recorded in a field notebook what the bags are and what quarry they’re from. These bags are taken back to the museum with the other bones to be fully cleaned, repaired, and reconstructed in the Paleo Lab.
10.  Tape measure.


Reptile tracks found in the Grand Canyon among the earliest reptile tracks ever discovered

[Image: 07fgCr5E_o.jpg]

A geology professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, has discovered that a set of 28 footprints left behind by a reptile-like creature 310 million years ago, are the oldest ever to be found in Grand Canyon National Park.

The fossil trackway covers a fallen boulder that now rests along the Bright Angel Trail in the national park. Rowland presented his findings at the recent annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.

"It's the oldest trackway ever discovered in the Grand Canyon in an interval of rocks that nobody thought would have trackways in it, and they're among the earliest reptile tracks on earth," said Rowland.

Rowland said he's not prepared to say that they're the oldest tracks of their kind ever discovered, but it's a possibility, as he's still researching the discovery.

"In terms of reptile tracks, this is really old," he said, adding that the tracks were created as the supercontinent Pangaea was beginning to form.

Rowland was first alerted to the tracks in spring 2016 by a colleague who was hiking the trail with a group of students. The boulder ended up along the trail after the collapse of a cliff.

A year later, Rowland studied the footprints up close.

"My first impression was that it looked very bizarre because of the sideways motion," Rowland said. "It appeared that two animals were walking side-by-side. But you wouldn't expect two lizard-like animals to be walking side-by-side. It didn't make any sense."

When he arrived home, he made detailed drawings, and began hypothesizing about the "peculiar, line-dancing gait" left behind by the creature.

"One reason I've proposed is that the animal was walking in a very strong wind, and the wind was blowing it sideways," he said.

Another possibility is that the slope was too steep, and the animal sidestepped as it climbed the sand dune. Or, Rowland said, the animal was fighting with another creature, or engaged in a mating ritual.

"I don't know if we'll be able to rigorously choose between those possibilities," he said.

Rowland also hopes that the boulder is soon placed in the geology museum at the Grand Canyon National Park for both scientific and interpretive purposes.

Meanwhile, Rowland said that the footprints could belong to a reptile species that has never yet been discovered.

"It absolutely could be that whoever was the trackmaker, his or her bones have never been recorded," Rowland said.


Dinosaurs could have detected the scents of early flowers

Glandular laurel in amber.
[Image: zJYuRVLR_o.jpg]

The compounds behind the perfumes and colognes you enjoy have been eliciting olfactory excitement since dinosaurs walked the Earth amid the first appearance of flowering plants, new research reveals.

Oregon State University entomologist George Poinar Jr. and his son Greg, a fragrance collector, found evidence that floral scents originated in primitive flowers as far back as 100 million years ago as pollinator attractants -- a role they still play even though today's flowers also have colorful petals for luring pollinators.

"I bet some of the dinosaurs could have detected the scents of these early flowers," George Poinar said. "In fact, floral essences from these early flowers could even have attracted these giant reptiles."

The Poinars examined amber flowers from Burma, including the now extinct glandular laurel flower (Cascolaurus burmensis) and veined star flower (Tropidogyne pentaptera).

The research revealed that the flower-based chemical compounds that are the basis for the perfumes and colognes we use today have been providing olfactory excitement to pollinating insects and other animals since the mid-Cretaceous Period.

Without colorful petals, flowers from that period had to rely solely on scents to attract pollinators.

"You can't detect scents or analyze the chemical components of fossil flowers, but you can find the tissues responsible for the scents," said George Poinar, professor emeritus in the OSU College of Science.

The floral secretory tissues producing these scents include nectaries, glandular trichomes, eliaphores and osmophores.

Nectaries are glands that produce fragrances and sweet deposits that insects love. Glandular trichomes are hairs with cells that make and send out scented secretory products. Eliaphores are stalked aromatic oil glands. Osmophores, also known as floral fragrance glands, are cell clusters specializing in scent emission.

The study also found that secretory tissues of these Cretaceous flowers are similar in structure to those of their modern descendants. That suggests modern and ancient flowers of the same lineages produced similar essences.

Some of flowers studied were even in the process of emitting compounds at the time they were engulfed by the tree resin that later became amber.

The study also included a milkweed flower (Discoflorus neotropicus) and an acacia flower (Senegalia eocaribbeansis) in 20- to 30-million-year-old Dominican Republic amber.

The anther glands on the fossil acacia flower were especially attractive to bees, one of which was fossilized while visiting the stamens. Today, honeybees are still visiting acacia flowers that have the same type of flora glands that existed in the ancient past.

"It's obvious flowers were producing scents to make themselves more attractive to pollinators long before humans began using perfumes to make themselves more appealing to other humans," George Poinar said.


Bright pink is the oldest color found in the geological record

An international team of researchers from Australia, Japan, the United States and Belgium has successfully extracted bright pink biological pigments from 1.1-billion-year-old marine sedimentary rocks of the Taoudeni Basin in Mauritania, West Africa.

“The bright pink pigments called porphyrins are the molecular fossils of chlorophylls that were produced by ancient photosynthetic organisms inhabiting an ancient ocean that has long since vanished,” said Dr. Nur Gueneli, from the Research School of Earth Sciences at the Australian National University.

The molecular fossils range from blood red to deep purple in their concentrated form, and bright pink when diluted.

They are approximately 600 million years older than previous ancient pigment discoveries.

Dr. Gueneli and colleagues crushed the Taoudeni Basin rocks to powder, before extracting and analyzing molecules of ancient organisms from them.

“The precise analysis of the ancient pigments confirmed that tiny cyanobacteria dominated the base of the food chain in the oceans a billion years ago, which helps to explain why animals did not exist at the time,” Dr. Gueneli explained.

“The emergence of large, active organisms was likely to have been restrained by a limited supply of larger food particles, such as algae,” said Dr. Jochen Brocks, also from the Research School of Earth Sciences at the Australian National University.

“Algae, although still microscopic, are a thousand times larger in volume than cyanobacteria, and are a much richer food source.”

“The cyanobacterial oceans started to vanish about 650 million years ago, when algae began to rapidly spread to provide the burst of energy needed for the evolution of complex ecosystems, where large animals, including humans, could thrive on Earth,” he said.


Tiny fossils reveal how shrinking was essential for successful evolution

A new study published today in Nature shows that getting smaller was a key factor contributing to the exceptional evolution of mammals over the last 200 million years.

The origin of modern mammals can be traced back more than 200 million years to the age of dinosaurs. But while dinosaurs evolved to become some of the largest land animals, for the following 150 million years, the ancestors of all modern mammals pursued an entirely different strategy: getting very small.

An international team of scientists from the United Kingdom and the US have used modern computer analysis to take a look at what happened to the skeletons of these mammal ancestors.

Modern mammals are unique in having a lower jaw consisting of just a single bone that bears teeth. In contrast, all other vertebrates possess complex lower jaws formed by at least five or more bones joined together. In the course of evolution, fossils show that the lower jaw of mammalian ancestors became simplified and a new jaw joint was formed, while some of the other bones moved into the middle ear to aid in hearing.

The team's research focused on the long-standing question of how it was possible to simplify and restructure the lower jaw, while still being able feed and hear. Using X-ray computed tomography (CT) scanning of several fossil skulls and lower jaws, the researchers generated digital models which were subjected to different computer simulations.Their results showed that the small size of the fossil mammals significantly reduced the stresses in the jaw bones when feeding, while still being powerful enough to capture and bite through prey, such as insects.

Dr Stephan Lautenschlager, lead author and lecturer at the University of Birmingham, said: "Our results provide a new explanation of how the mammalian jaw evolved over 200 million years ago. Getting very small appears to have been crucial. This allowed them to reduce the stresses in the jaw during feeding and made the restructuring of the jaw bones possible."

Professor Emily Rayfield from the University of Bristol who lead the study added: "The evolution of the mammalian jaw joint has perplexed palaeontologists for over 50 years. Using computational methods we can offer explanations to how our mammalian ancestors were able to maintain a working jaw while co-opting bones into a complex sound detection system. Our research is about testing ideas of what makes mammals unique among the animal kingdom, and how this may have come about."



Season 1, Episode 7 - “Tale of a Sail”


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