To the uninitiated, they look like chipped rocks.
To Julio Mercader of the University of Calgary, they look like two-million-year-old messages from the dawn of human technology.
“It is really the beginnings of technological dependence,” said Mercader, lead author of a paper published Thursday in the journal Nature.
“The tools are from an early phase of that period that is marking a new relationship between humans and the environment.”
The paper presents the combined work of 29 scientists from three continents. They analyzed a few dozen stone tools found at Oldupai Gorge, an African site considered by many to be where humans first appeared. Dating back two million years, the hand axes, quartz flakes and rock cores are among the oldest tools ever found.
They are so old they predate Homo sapiens. They may have been the work of Homo habilis (“handy man”), whose remains have been found nearby.
Any artifacts of that antiquity are precious. Mercader said what makes these especially valuable is that researchers from a wide variety of disciplines have been able to place them in an environmental context that shows just how adaptable humans have been since the start.
The tools span a time period of about 235,000 years. “It maybe sounds like a lot,” said Mercader, “but in human evolution it is not a lot.”
Over that time, the site’s environment changed rapidly and often. It was a woodland, a lakeshore, a grassland, a meadow.
Those unimaginably ancient humans were at home in them all.
“No matter the change in the environment, the moment there is a disruption, a drastic change in the local ecology, humans move in right away,” Mercader said.
“There was a huge volcanic eruption that really blanketed the landscape with a solid mass of molten rock. The moment that cools down and there are new plants and animals coming in, humans are doing the same.
“What it shows is the huge versatility and flexibility of behaviour that allows early humans to exploit whatever environment that happens to be in their proximity. This has deep roots.”
The tools themselves are made from rocks that were found immediately adjacent or nearby. The makers seem to have carried around preferred stone cores they could use to knap a fresh flake when needed.
The tools didn’t change much over time, said Mercader.
“The technology is kept flexible enough and general enough so that no matter what, you can still exploit the environment. It’s like a Swiss Army knife.”
The discoveries are the result of years of work in the area.
Researchers – trained to know the difference between a tool and a naturally chipped rock – first walk the landscape, looking for exposed bits of fossil bone. Lots of bone fossils suggest other artifacts may be nearby and a test dig ensues.
“If we like what we see, we open more space.
Mercader said the research is a textbook example of how scientists from different disciplines can collaborate to shed light on the far distant past.
“Working together with geoscientists and chemists and paleoecologists and paleogeographers, there is a lot we can infer from stone tools and the context in which they are found.”
And there’s nothing quite like holding in your hand a stone that some ancient tool maker also held, Mercader said.
“That is the excitement that makes you want to become an archaeologist.”
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All-purpose dinosaur opening reconstructed – Science Daily
For the first time ever, a team of scientists, led by the University of Bristol, have described in detail a dinosaur’s cloacal or vent — the all-purpose opening used for defecation, urination and breeding.
Although most mammals may have different openings for these functions, most vertebrate animals possess a cloaca.
Although we know now much about dinosaurs and their appearance as feathered, scaly and horned creatures and even which colours they sported, we have not known anything about how the vent appears.
Dr Jakob Vinther from the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, along with colleagues Robert Nicholls, a palaeoartist, and Dr Diane Kelly, an expert on vertebrate penises and copulatory systems from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, have now described the first cloacal vent region from a small Labrador-sized dinosaur called Psittacosaurus, comparing it to vents across modern vertebrate animals living on land.
Dr Vinther said: “I noticed the cloaca several years ago after we had reconstructed the colour patterns of this dinosaur using a remarkable fossil on display at the Senckenberg Museum in Germany which clearly preserves its skin and colour patterns.
“It took a long while before we got around to finish it off because no one has ever cared about comparing the exterior of cloacal openings of living animals, so it was largely unchartered territory.”
Dr Kelly added: “Indeed, they are pretty non-descript. We found the vent does look different in many different groups of tetrapods, but in most cases it doesn’t tell you much about an animal’s sex.
“Those distinguishing features are tucked inside the cloaca, and unfortunately, they’re not preserved in this fossil.”
The cloaca is unique in its appearance but exhibits features reminiscent to living crocodylians such as alligators and crocodiles, which are the closest living relatives to dinosaurs and other birds.
The researchers note that the outer margins of the cloaca are highly pigmented with melanin. They argue that this pigmentation provided the vent with a function in display and signalling, similar to living baboons and some breeding salamanders.
The authors also speculate that the large, pigmented lobes on either side of the opening could have harboured musky scent glands, as seen in living crocodylians.
Birds are one the few vertebrate groups that occasionally exhibit visual signalling with the cloaca, which the scientists now can extend back to the Mesozoic dinosaur ancestors.
Robert Nicholls said: “As a palaeoartist, it has been absolutely amazing to have an opportunity to reconstruct one of the last remaining features we didn’t know anything about in dinosaurs.
“Knowing that at least some dinosaurs were signalling to each other gives palaeoartists exciting freedom to speculate on a whole variety of now plausible interactions during dinosaur courtship. It is a game changer!”
Dinosaur fossils could belong to the world's largest ever creature – CTV News
Experts have uncovered the remains of a gigantic dinosaur in Argentina, and believe it could be one of the largest creatures to have ever walked the Earth.
Paleontologists discovered the fossilized remains of a 98 million-year-old titanosaur in Neuquén Province in Argentina’s northwest Patagonia, in thick, sedimentary deposits known as the Candeleros Formation.
The 24 vertebrae of the tail and elements of the pelvic and pectoral girdle discovered are thought to belong to a titanosaur, a diverse group of sauropod dinosaurs, characterized by their large size, a long neck and tail, and four-legged stance.
In research published in the journal Cretaceous Research, experts say they believe the creature to be “one of the largest sauropods ever found” and could exceed the size of a Patagotitan, a species which lived 100 million to 95 million years ago and measured up to a staggering 37.2 meters (122 feet) long.
“It is a huge dinosaur, but we expect to find much more of the skeleton in future field trips, so we’ll have the possibility to address with confidence how really big it was,” Alejandro Otero, a paleontologist with Argentina’s Museo de La Plata, told CNN via email.
Titanosaur fossils have been found on all continents except Antarctica. But the biggest “multi-ton” varieties of the species — including those titanosaurs exceeding 40 tons — have mostly been discovered in Patagonia.
Without analyzing the dinosaur’s humerus or femur, experts say it is not yet possible to say how much the creature weighs. However, the partially recovered dinosaur “can be considered one of the largest titanosaurs,” experts said, with a probable body mass exceeding or comparable to that of a Patagotitan or Argentinosaurus.
Patagotitans may have been the world’s largest terrestrial animal of all time, and weighed up to 77 tons, while Argentinosaurus were similarly gargantuan, and measured up to 40 meters (131 feet) and weighed up to 110 tons — weighing more than 12 times more than an African elephant (up to 9 tons).
Experts believe that the specimen strongly suggests the co-existence of larger titanosaurs together with medium-sized titanosaurs and small-sized rebbachisaurids at the beginning of the Late Cretaceous period, which began 101 million years ago.
“These size differences could indeed explain the existence of such sauropod diversity in the Neuquén Basin during the Late Cretaceous in terms of niche partitioning,” they wrote.
Researchers said that, while they don’t believe the creature to belong to a new species, they have so far been unable to assign it to a known genus of dinosaur.
The research was conducted by Argentina’s The Zapala Museum, Museo de La Plata, Museo Egidio Feruglio and the universities of Río Negro and Zaragoza.
Tuesday brings no new confirmed COVID-19 cases in Newfoundland and Labrador – SaltWire Network
ST. JOHN’S, N.L. —
For the second straight day, there were no new confirmed cases of COVID-19 announced by Health and Community Services.
The provincial government says another person in the Eastern Health region has recovered, bringing the number of active cases in the province down to five. One of those individuals is still in hospital.
To date, 76,740 people have been tested and 384 people have recovered.
Public Health is reminding residents that COVID Alert is available for download free through the Apple or Google Play app stores and is encouraging people to download it in order to help reduce the spread of the virus.
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