Archive for the ‘Archaeology’ Category

They’ve done it again, kiddie-winkers.

While we were out planning our gardens and trying to figure out how to hurt ourselves with fireworks, the devoted geeks and nerdlings in the world of science have come up with these findings!




Dinosaur: http://bit.ly/1lxLRTu
Gluten: http://bit.ly/1gT4Wgc
Prehistoric girl: http://bit.ly/1j45bcI
Glaciers: http://bit.ly/1on1lP6
Lucid dreaming: http://bit.ly/1glhORI
Exoplanet: http://bit.ly/1iYOxel
Sperm: http://bit.ly/1mYRPhh
Measles: http://bit.ly/S7b5jd

Well done, folks. Very well done indeed.

The world owes you a huge debt of gratitude!



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The other day, I was browsing through Popular Science’s website, PopSci.com, and stumbled across this article.

This Preserved Lizard Is 23 Million Years Old

In Mexico, paleontologists discovered a small piece of amber with something remarkable inside: a 23-million-year-old preserved lizard.

Scientists at the curiously named National Autonomous University of Mexico’s Physics Institute are analyzing the amber. It’s small, loosely trapezoidal in shape, and only about 1.7 inches by 0.5 inches, but contains the entire body of a very tiny lizard. Thanks to the amazing preservation powers of amber, the lizard’s complete skeleton survived to this day, along with a not insignificant amount of soft tissue and even skin.

oldlizard-amber(It might well be related to a very common modern lizard – except it’s teeny-tiny)

It’s a bit early to declare with certainty what kind of lizard this is, but the scientists believe at this point that it’s a new species of anole. The anoles are a very common New World family of lizards – if you’ve been to Florida and seen greenish/brownish lizards running all around, those are most likely anoles. They’re friendly lizards, functioning as a sort of pest control (they eat cockroaches, for example) and are even sold as pets, sometimes. This particular preserved (presumed) anole has yet to be given an official Linnaean name.

The amber was found in Simojovel, a municipality in the northern part of Chiapas (Mexico’s southernmost state) that’s known, among other things, for its amber. [1]

Simojovel has a long history of amazing amber finds, and this lizard is only the latest.


[1] Amber is a fossilized resin, not a sap; though both sap and resin come from plants, sap is a sugar and resin is a complex hydrocarbon liquid that’s held in the outer cell membranes of plants. Both sap and resin are thick, viscous liquids, but only resin can fossilize and become amber, often with organic matter (like plants or animals) stuck inside.

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I have to hand it once again to the intrepid geeks and nerdlings over at ScienceDaily.com!

Actor Johnny Depp Immortalized in Name of Fossilized Creature With ‘Scissor Hand’ Claws

The article begins, “A scientist has discovered an ancient extinct creature with ‘scissor hand-like’ claws in fossil records and has named it in honour of his favourite movie star.”

The 505-million-year-old fossil called Kooteninchela deppi (pronounced Koo-ten-ee-che-la depp-eye), which is a distant ancestor of lobsters and scorpions, was named after the actor Johnny Depp for his starring role as Edward Scissorhands — a movie about an artificial man named Edward, an unfinished creation, who has scissors for hands.

Kooteninchela-deppi-4(What a cutie. Just like its namesake!)

Kooteninchela deppi is helping researchers to piece together more information about life on Earth during the Cambrian period when nearly all modern animal types emerged.

David Legg, who carried out the research as part of his PhD in the Department of Earth Science and Engineering at Imperial College London, says:

“When I first saw the pair of isolated claws in the fossil records of this species I could not help but think of Edward Scissorhands. Even the genus name, Kootenichela, includes the reference to this film as ‘chela’ is Latin for claws or scissors. In truth, I am also a bit of a Depp fan and so what better way to honour the man than to immortalise him as an ancient creature that once roamed the sea?”


It lived in shallow seas off the coast of what is now British Columbia, Canada, although in those days, the area was closer to the equator.

It was approximately four centimetres long with a trunk for a body and millipede-like legs and large eyes which it used to search for food along the sea floor, according to research published in the Journal of Palaeontology.

The researcher believes that Kooteninchela deppi would have been a hunter or scavenger. Its large Edward Scissorhands-like claws with their elongated spines may have been used to capture prey, or they could have helped it to probe the sea floor looking for sea creatures hiding in sediment.

lobster(Kooteninchela deppi – a distant relative of lobsters & scorpions)

It also had large eyes composed of many lenses like the compound eyes of a fly. They were positioned on top of movable stalks called peduncles to help it more easily search for food and look out for predators.

The researchers discovered that Kooteninchela deppi belongs to a group known as the ‘great-appendage’ arthropods, which includes spiders, scorpions, centipedes, millipedes, insects and crabs.

Mr Legg said: ‘Just imagine it – the prawns covered in mayonnaise in your sandwich, the spider climbing up your wall and even the fly that has been banging into your window and annoyingly flying into your face are all descendants of Kooteninchela deppi.’

‘Current estimates indicate that there are more than one million known insects and potentially 10 million more yet to be categorised, which potentially means that Kooteninchela deppi has a huge family tree.’

Legg now wants to study the fossils from the Ordovician period, when species diversity increased.

The research was published in the Journal of Palaeontology 2 May 2013.


Journal Reference:

  1. David Legg. Multi-Segmented Arthropods from the Middle Cambrian of British Columbia (Canada)Journal of Paleontology, 2013; 87 (3): 493 DOI: 10.1666/12-112.1

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I visited Israel this year for the first time from February 11th to the 25th. It was a mind-blowing experience.

One of the top, if not THE top, “must see” sights is the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

This is the view most people have in mind when they think of the Western Wall.

last 054

What most people fail to realize is that section of the Western Wall is only about the top 55 feet or so. It continues down underground for another 100 feet! This is because the section of the Western Wall Plaza you see above was built on a series of arches extending up from true ground level.

In order to more fully appreciate all of the Western Wall, you really need to take what is known as the Tunnel Tour.

last 021a

Once you get underground, you can see how the Plaza above rests on top of huge arches leading up to the Wall.

The first thing you encounter when you reach the Wall is what is known as the Western Stone.

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It’s big. REALLY big. The stone is 13.6 meters (44.6 feet) long and 3 metres (9.8 feet) high and has an estimated width of 3.3 meters (10.8 feet).

This single stone is about the size of a modern day bus. It is one of the largest building stones in the world. It weighs 570 tons!!

last 032(Right section of the Stone)

It starts here at the right…

last 033(Centre section of the stone)

… continues on… and on… for almost 45 feet..

last 034(Left section of the Stone)

And ends at the left of this frame.

last 053(Me obstructing the view of the Western Stone)

No one knows how the Jews were able to place a block this big in this spot!

There is not a crane in modern day Israel today that is capable of lifting this stone.

me-wall-01s(Me at the Western Wall)

So if you are ever looking at The Wall from the Plaza, think of the depth (in all senses of the word) of that structure.

May the Temple be rebuilt, speedily and in our time.


All photos taken by Daniel Ventresca using a Canon PowerShot A2400 IS digital camera. Last image taken by Tomer Aharon.

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You’ve got to hand it to the geeks and nerdlings over at ScienceDaily.com!

Yesterday’s headline really caught my eye.

Survival of the Prettiest: Sexual Selection Can Be Inferred from the Fossil Record

The article begins, “Detecting sexual selection in the fossil record is not impossible, according to scientists writing in Trends in Ecology and Evolutionthis month, co-authored by Dr Darren Naish of the University of Southampton.”

The term “sexual selection” refers to the evolutionary pressures that relate to a species’ ability to repel rivals, meet mates and pass on genes. We can observe these processes happening in living animals but how do paleontologists know that sexual selection operated in fossil ones?

pretty-dinosaurs(Sexual dimorphism in the pterosaur Darwinopterus [Image by Mark Witton])

Historically, palaeontologists have thought it challenging, even impossible, to recognise sexual selection in extinct animals. Many fossil animals have elaborate crests, horns, frills and other structures that look like they were used in sexual display but it can be difficult to distinguish these structures from those that might play a role in feeding behaviour, escaping predators, controlling body temperature and so on.

However in their review, the scientists argue that clues in the fossil record can indeed be used to infer sexual selection.

“We see much evidence from the fossil record suggesting that sexual selection played a major role in the evolution of many extinct groups,” says Dr Naish, of the University’s Vertebrate Palaeontology Research Group.

“Using observations of modern animal behaviour we can draw analogies with extinct animals and infer how certain features improve success during courtship and breeding.”

dino-couple(Above image of sexual selection in dinosaurs may not be 100% accurate)

Modern examples of sexual selection, where species have evolved certain behaviours or ornamentation that repel rivals and attract members of the opposite sex, include the male peacock’s display of feathers, and the male moose’s antlers for use in clashes during mating season.

Whilst these features might have had multiple uses, the authors conclude that sexual selection should not be ruled out.

“Some scientists argue that many of the elaborate features on dinosaurs were not sexually selected at all,” adds Dr Naish, who is based at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton.

“But as observations show that sexual selection is the most common process shaping evolutionary traits in modern animals, there is every reason to assume that things were exactly the same in the distant geological past.”


Journal Reference:

  • Robert J. Knell, Darren Naish, Joseph L. Tomkins, David W.E. Hone. Sexual selection in prehistoric animals: detection and implicationsTrends in Ecology & Evolution, 2013; 28 (1): 38 DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2012.07.015

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I get this question a lot, really.

Why the fixation on arachnology?

Spiders are interesting, sure…

But they’re not cute and cuddly like some of our furrier friends.

(I will call him Squishy. And he will be mine… and he will be my Squishy!)

Although some are rather cute…

Some spiders are downright alarming!

(It’s OK, honey… I got this one!)

In their own ‘other-worldly’ way, spiders can be both awesome and beautiful.

So let’s try not to freak out next time we see our multi-legged little pals.

Look on the bright side… they eat other critters!

(OK, not exactly what I had in mind)

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What’s more interesting than bugs preserved in amber?

230-million-year-old bugs preserved in amber!!

George Dvorsky, writing at io9.com, reports “An international team of scientists working in Italy have found the oldest samples of arthropods preserved in amber — a finding that is 100 million years older than previous fossilized samples. The insects, a fly and two mites, are the first ever to be discovered from the Triassic era. The group’s findings will help biologists gain a better evolutionary understanding of these organisms and the time periods within which they developed.

Amber droplets can be a goldmine for paleontologists. Even a millimeter sized droplet can contain extremely well preserved specimens of organisms that lived eons ago — specimens that can be observed with microscopic fidelity. Globules of fossilized resin can range in age from the Carboniferous era (about 340 million years ago) to about 40,000 years ago, and were produced by plants like tree ferns, flowering trees, and conifers.

The amber droplets, which are only 2-6 millimeters long, were discovered buried in the Dolomite Alps of northeastern Italy. Paleontologists working there were able to uncover about 70,000 droplets — all of which were screened for signs of preserved life.

Paleontologists suspect that arthropods, a class of organism that includes insects, arachnids, and crustaceans, have been around for at least 400 million years.

Two of the arthropods are a new species of mites — members of an extremely specialized group that fed on plants and sometimes formed an abnormal growth called “galls.” Paleontologists were surprised to see how similar these mites were to ones still alive today. It’s thought that the mites fed on the leaves of coniferous trees that eventually preserved them. What this indicates to the scientists is that mites are a highly adaptable species, able to shift their feeding habits; today, only 3% of mites feed on conifers — yet they’ve remained largely unchanged over the course of 230 million years.

The fly could not be identified, outside of its antennae, on account of poor preservation in the amber. But what’s clear is that flies existed at the time of the Triassic — offering paleontologists hope that they’ll eventually be able to find a better preserved specimen.

You can read the entire study in PNAS.

Images: University of Göttingen/A. Schmidt.


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