A garden inspired by Mary Anning has won an award at the prestigious Chelsea Flower Show. The Mary Anning Space to Learn Garden created by Sandhurst Garden Design has been awarded a bronze. The award-winning container garden was designed by first-time exhibitors Julie and Andrew Haylock.
The Mary Anning Space to Learn Garden
The Yeovil-based garden design business wanted to create a container garden that reflected the work of Mary Anning, highlighting her contribution to the science of palaeontology. The theme for the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Chelsea Flower Show is encouraging young people to get involved in gardening. The husband-and-wife design team created an outdoor learning space for primary school students to help them explore nature.
Carved wooden seats for the students and their teacher echo the fern-dominated planting of the garden. Set amongst moss-covered tree stumps planted with Jurassic effect is a replica of a plesiosaur fossil. Mary Anning discovered an almost complete fossil of a plesiosaur in 1823.
Mary and her family members made several significant and highly influential fossil discoveries. Ichthyosaur remains (another type of marine reptile), were uncovered and in December 1828, the first pterosaur fossil discovery in England was made by Mary Anning.
For models and replicas of plesiosaurs, ichthyosaurs and pterosaurs visit Everything Dinosaur’s award-winning website: Everything Dinosaur.
A variety of plants were incorporated into the outdoor space. Ferns selected include Blechnum spicant, Dryopteris wallichiana “Jurassic Gold”, Asplenium scolopendrium, and Asplenium trichomanes. An example of the evergreen Pseudopanax crassifolius was included along with the tree fern Dicksonia antarctica.
In addition, a Wollemia Pine specimen featured. This ancient tree lineage is thought to date back to the Early Jurassic. It was believed to be extinct, until a small group of trees was discovered in a deep gorge located in a temperate rainforest in New South Wales. Although commonly referred to as a pine, this tree is a member of the Araucariaceae and more closely related to the Araucaria (Monkey Puzzle Tree).
Providing a Legacy
Stone replica ammonite shells are dotted around the garden and the large crazy paving stones are engraved by the “She Sells Seashells” tongue-twister, which is thought to have been written in honour of Mary Anning.
Having been part of the world-famous RHS Chelsea Flower Show, the garden will live on. Parts of it are being transplanted to Charmouth Primary School, close to Lyme Regis. Schoolchildren will be able to continue to enjoy elements of the garden and perhaps they may be inspired to follow in Mary’s footsteps.
A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:
“It is a beautiful garden design. We are delighted to hear that it was awarded a bronze medal. Our congratulations to all the people who helped create this inspirational garden.”
Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from the RHS in the compilation of this article.
Thanks to researchers from the University of Bristol, the culprit behind the infamous destruction of New York’s first life-size dinosaur theme park has been revealed. A New York museum mystery has been solved.
A new paper from the University of Bristol documents the bizarre case of the destruction of prehistoric animal figures destined for New York’s Central Park. The research team have shed light on one of the strangest and most puzzling events in the early history of palaeontology.
In May 1871, the partially built, life-size models of prehistoric creatures including several dinosaurs, being created for a new museum were totally destroyed in an act of malicious vandalism by a gang of thugs armed with sledgehammers. The remains were carted away and buried somewhere in the park. They have not been found to date.
American Politician William “Boss” Tweed Not Involved
It had been widely thought that the destruction of the statues was ordered by the notorious American politician William “Boss” Tweed.
In the new paper from Ms Victoria Coules of Bristol’s Department of History of Art and Professor Michael Benton of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences, the politician is exonerated. New light on this bizarre episode has been shed. Contrary to previous accounts, it was the Treasurer and Vice President of the Central Park, Henry Hilton who most likely, organised the vandalism.
Ms Coules commented:
“It’s all to do with the struggle for control of New York city in the years following the American Civil War (1861-1865). The city was at the centre of a power struggle – a battle for control of the city’s finances and lucrative building and development contracts.”
A New York City Power Struggle
As the city expanded, the iconic Central Park was taking shape. It was to be more than just a green space. It was to have other attractions, including the Palaeozoic Museum. Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, a famous British sculptor who had created the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, the life-size models of prehistoric creatures in London – had travelled to the USA to build American versions of the animals.
However, the notorious William “Boss” Tweed had taken control of the city and, in sweeping changes to the city’s management, put his own henchmen in charge of city departments, including Central Park. They cancelled the partially complete project in late 1870. There the matter would have lain but in May 1871 someone ordered a gang of workmen to smash all of its partly finished contents.
Professor Benton (University of Bristol) explained:
“Previous accounts of the incident had always reported that this was done under the personal instruction of “Boss” Tweed himself, for various motives from raging that the display would be blasphemous, to vengeance for a perceived criticism of him in a New York Times report of the project’s cancellation.”
Things Did Not Seem Right
Ms Coules added that when reading the reports, suspicions were raised. At the time, Tweed was fighting for his political life having already been accused of financial impropriety. Why would he have got himself involved in a museum project?
The research team examined the original sources and discovered that the culprit was not Tweed.
“The motive was not blasphemy or hurt vanity”.
A Complicated New York Museum Mystery
The situation was complicated by two other projects in development at the same time in Central Park. The building of the American Museum of Natural History and the Central Park Zoo.
Professor Benton explained:
“Drawing on the detailed annual reports and minutes of Central Park, along with reports in the New York Times, we can show that the real villain was one strange character by the name of Henry Hilton.”
Ms Coules stated that with the primary information sources available on-line, the researchers could study them in detail. They were able to demonstrate that the destruction of the prehistoric animal statues was ordered by Henry Hilton. He was the Treasurer and Vice President of Central Park.
Hilton was already infamous for other eccentric behaviour. For example, he ordered a bronze statue in the Park painted white. When the skeleton of a whale was donated to the American Museum of Natural History, he ordered that painted white too.
Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur
The picture above shows one of the Crystal Palace prehistoric animal statues. This is the Megalosaurus. Like the other sculptures at Crystal Palace, it is a Grade I listed building.
Summing up this bizarre tale, Professor Benton concluded:
“This might seem like a local act of thuggery but correcting the record is hugely important in our understanding of the history of palaeontology. We show it wasn’t blasphemy, or an act of petty vengeance by William Tweed, but the act of a very strange individual who made equally bizarre decisions about how artefacts should be treated – painting statues or whale skeletons white and destroying the museum models. He can be seen as the villain of the piece but as a character, Hilton remains an enigmatic mystery.”
Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the University of Bristol in the compilation of this article.
The scientific paper: “The curious case of Central Park’s dinosaurs: The destruction of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins’ Paleozoic Museum revisited” by Victoria Coules and Michael J. Benton published in the Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association.
Oxford University Museum of Natural History has completed the purchase of archive material belonging to pioneering geologist the Reverend William Buckland and his wife Mary (née Morland).
This is an important, historical and culturally significant archive that has been acquired by the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH). The material which documents the contribution to science by the 19th century theologian and geologist contains over 1,000 items. There are notebooks, family papers, drawings, artworks and letters. The collection is noteworthy as it also highlights the contribution of Buckland’s wife Mary (née Morland). Mary was a talented artist and naturalist.
Funding the Acquisition
The acquisition has been made possible with support from the Friends of the National Libraries, Headley Trust, the Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and National Heritage Memorial Fund. Private donors also contributed.
Head of Earth Collections at the OUMNH, Eliza Howlett stated:
“The Museum’s acquisition of a large collection of Buckland papers from private hands is a game-changer for historians of science and others with an interest in the histories of gender, class, and colonialism. Combined with the already large and diverse Oxford collections, the new materials will confirm OUMNH as the epicentre for future research, and we are tremendously grateful to the many trusts and foundations, and to the private individuals, who generously contributed to this purchase.”
This important collection also includes correspondence between Mary Anning and William Buckland about new fossil discoveries. In a letter penned by Mary Anning the famous Lyme Regis resident informs the Reverend William Buckland about the discovery of Plesiosaurus remains.
William Buckland was a hugely influential figure in academia, religion, politics and science. He successively held the positions of Reader in Mineralogy and Geology at Oxford University; Dean of Westminster and Canon of Christ Church, Oxford.
He is accredited with the first, formal scientific description of a dinosaur (Megalosaurus bucklandii). This was one of three genera placed into the Dinosauria by Richard Owen in the early 1840s.
The reverend William Buckland also pioneered palaeoecology with is ground-breaking study of an ancient hyena den. Buckland was also a notable convert to glacial theory, and showed how glaciation rather than a global flood shaped the British landscape.
An Insight into the Life of a Pioneering Scientist
This extensive archive reveals aspects of Buckland’s life as a student at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, as well his work as a practising geologist, eminent member of the clergy and university lecturer. Evidence from the archive provides a comprehensive insight into the thinking and institutions of the early 19th century. During this time, the biblical interpretation of creation was being challenged. Material in the archive documents correspondence with major figures such as art critic John Ruskin and prime minister Robert Peel.
Identifying Iconic Artworks
The archive also includes original artworks, such as Thomas Sopwith’s watercolour of William Buckland exploring a rock formation armed with a geological hammer. It had been thought that this artwork portrayed Mary Anning. The collection also includes an exceptionally rare, coloured version of the lithograph based on Henry de la Beche’s drawing Duria Antiquior. The artwork, depicting prehistoric Dorset, is famous for being the first pictorial representation of a scene of prehistoric life based on fossil evidence.
Mary’s Contribution is Recognised
This substantial archive also includes a number of illustrations created by Buckland’s wife Mary (née Morland). Highlights include two of Mary’s sketchbooks. One of these, dating from before her marriage to Buckland, contains exquisite ink and watercolour drawings of natural history specimens, and highlights the huge artistic and scientific contribution she made to her husband’s work.
Dr Simon Thurley CBE, Chair of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, commented:
“I am delighted the National Heritage Memorial Fund is able to support Oxford University Museum of Natural History to acquire the outstanding Buckland Archive and ensure that the collection remains together and is saved for the nation.”
Uniting the Collections
The Oxford University Museum of Natural History is already a significant repository for Buckland’s work. This new archive will fit with the Museum’s existing collection, helping to provide a more complete understanding of the contribution made to science and to scientific debate.
Reuniting these collections both physically and digitally will allow researchers and other museum audiences access to the full spectrum of Buckland material.
Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History in the compilation of this article.
Whilst the Dinosauria dominated terrestrial environments during the Mesozoic the seas and oceans of the world were home to a diverse assemblage of marine reptiles. Many different types of marine reptile evolved, and the diverse swimming techniques employed by these ancient animals have been revealed in a recently published scientific paper.
The swimming secrets of Mesozoic marine reptiles have been decoded thanks to a research team from the University of Bristol.
The image (above) shows a replica of an Eurhinosaurus. An ichthyosaur (Leptonectidae family) that lived during the Early Jurassic (approximately 180 million years ago).
During the Mesozoic, which lasted from approximately 252 million years ago to the end-Cretaceous mass extinction event around 66 million years ago, many different types of marine reptile evolved. There were placodonts, turtles, the first ichthyosaurs and nothosaurs during the Triassic and these were replaced by marine crocodiles, derived ichthyosaurs, long-necked plesiosaurs and pliosaurs. During the Cretaceous the mosasaurs evolved.
In the new paper, published in the academic journal “Palaeontology”, the research team report on the use of cutting-edge statistical methods used to undertake a substantial quantitative study. This research, the first of its kind, provides a fresh perspective on the locomotion of Mesozoic marine reptiles.
Examining 125 Skeletons
In total, 125 marine reptile skeletons were studied. The research team mapped the changes in swimming styles within the different lineages over time. There was no explosive radiation at the beginning of the Triassic, but a gradual diversification of swimming styles. This diversity peaked during the Cretaceous.
Dr Susana Gutarra (School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol), lead author of the paper commented:
“Changes in anatomy in land-to-sea transitions are intimately linked to the evolution of swimming. For example, sea lions’ flippers have relatively short forearm and large hands, very different from the walking legs of their ancestors. The rich fossil record of Mesozoic marine reptiles provided great opportunity to study these transitions at a large scale.”
The End-Permian Mass Extinction Event
At the end of the Permian, the Earth experienced a catastrophic mass extinction event. Life on Earth was devastated. It has been estimated that 50% of all marine families and over 80% of all marine genera died out (Raup and Sepkoski).
Remarkably, marine environments recovered relatively quickly. Various groups of reptiles became aquatic hunters.
To read an article from 2010 that documents a remarkable fossil site in China that provides evidence of how marine food webs recovered from the end-Permian mass extinction event: Ancient Ecosystem Revealed.
To test the validity of the statistical analysis, measurements from extant aquatic animals were included in the study.
Co-author Beatrice Heighton (University of Bristol), explained:
“We included measurements from living aquatic animals, such as otters, seals and turtles, of which we know their swimming behaviour. This is very important to provide a functional reference for the ancient species, with unknown swimming modes.”
A Gradual Diversity of Swimming Styles
Co-author Dr Tom Stubbs (University of Bristol) added:
After this devastating event, there was a gradual diversification of locomotory modes, which contrasts with the rapid radiation described previously for feeding strategies. This is fascinating because it suggests a ‘head-first’ pattern of evolution in certain lineages.”
The scientific paper sheds light into the swimming styles of specific groups of marine reptile.
Dr Ben Moon (University of Bristol) explained the significance of this study, stating:
“Ichthyosaurs were highly specialised for aquatic locomotion from very early in their evolution. This includes their close relatives, the hupehsuchians, which had a morphology unlike any other known aquatic tetrapod. Further, we see overlap between mosasaurs and ichthyosaurs, which is indicative that mosasaurs evolved a swimming mode by oscillating flukes, different from the eel-like body undulation suggested in the past.”
Dr Moon of Bristol University’s School of Earth Science went onto add:
“In contrast, we don’t find evidence of convergence between ichthyosaurs and metriorhynchids (the highly aquatic crocodyliform thalattosuchians). This group retained quite primitive-looking hindlimbs, which seems incompatible with swimming by fluke oscillation.”
Examining the Evolution of Size
This comprehensive study also examined the evolution of size, a feature related to locomotion, animal physiology and ocean productivity.
The University of Bristol’s Professor Mike Benton, a co-author of the research paper commented:
“We know that transition to life in water is usually accompanied by an increase in body mass, as seen in cetaceans, and one of our previous studies shows that large sizes benefit aquatic animals in reducing the mass-specific costs of drag. Thus, it was essential to explore this trait in the wider ensemble of Mesozoic marine reptiles.”
Dr Gutarra explained that body mass follows a similar trend to the diversification of locomotory modes. The widest spread of body size also occurred in the Cretaceous. This confirms a strong correlation between the evolution of diverse swimming styles and changes in body mass.
Dr Gutarra added:
“The rate of increase and the maximum limits to body size seems to vary a lot between groups. This is a fascinating observation. We need to explore further what factors influence and limit the increase in body mass in each group.”
Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the University of Bristol in the compilation of this article.
The scientific paper: “The locomotor ecomorphology of Mesozoic marine reptiles” by Susana Gutarra, Thomas L. Stubbs, Benjamin C. Moon, Beatrice H. Heighton and Michael J. Benton published in Palaeontology.
The Wyoming Dinosaur Centre (WDC) located in East Thermopolis, (Wyoming) will be hosting their first-ever “Jurassic Fest – Passion for the Past” event towards the end of June this year. This amazing dinosaur museum is putting on a special two-day event for dinosaur fans of all ages. Headlining the dinosaur extravaganza is British palaeontologist, celebrated author and television presenter Dr Dean Lomax.
The museum is highly respected and regarded as one of the most family-friendly tourist locations in the western United States. Opened in 1995, the museum has world-class dinosaur fossil exhibits and also takes visitors out on active dinosaur fossil dig sites.
Dr Dean Lomax
Dr Dean Lomax recently made international headlines when he led the excavation of one of the greatest discoveries in British paleontological history, the huge “Rutland Sea Dragon”, the largest and most complete ichthyosaur fossil ever found in the UK.
Dr Lomax will be returning to Wyoming after first visiting in 2008, then just an 18-year-old teenager straight out of high school. Growing up in the town of Doncaster in Yorkshire, England, Lomax did not have the grades or finances to initially go to university and even failed science in high school. When the Wyoming Dinosaur Center offered Dean the chance of a lifetime to volunteer and follow his dreams, he jumped at this opportunity and even sold his possessions (including his childhood Star Wars collection) to fund the trip.
Fifteen years later, Dr Lomax is an award-winning palaeontologist who has discovered and named multiple new species, written best-selling books and appeared on several television programmes. An affiliated scientist at the University of Manchester, Dean’s unconventional journey into the Earth Sciences was begun in Wyoming.
His success epitomises a “can do” attitude and the importance of never letting go your dreams.
Dr Dean Lomax commented:
“I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for the opportunity I was given to come to Wyoming and volunteer at the WDC in 2008. The WDC provided me with the vital experience I needed to get my foot on the ladder and work out how to make it in such a competitive field.”
“Jurassic Fest – Passion for the Past” will also feature a special preview of “Why Dinosaurs?”, an intriguing dinosaur-themed documentary which examines the appeal of the Dinosauria. Directed, filmed and edited by father and son Tony and James Pinto, the film has taken five years to create and explores various themes concerning the popularity of dinosaurs.
The Wyoming Dinosaur Centre
Angie Guyon, the Wyoming Dinosaur Centre’s director explained that the staff were proud to have helped launch Dean’s career. Team members were looking forward to seeing the British palaeontologist again and learning more about his adventures.
The Wyoming Dinosaur Centre is committed to teaching the importance of palaeontology and every year staff see the impact on individuals and families as the Centre provides exciting, personal educational experiences to both adults and young people.
The director added:
“Jurassic Fest will provide an opportunity to listen and learn from renowned fossil experts and get your hands dirty.”
Wyoming Dinosaur Centre “Jurassic Fest – Passion for the Past”
“Jurassic Fest – Passion for the Past” will give prehistoric animal fans of all ages the chance to dig up dinosaurs with Dr Lomax, to hunt for new dinosaur sites and to explore the fossil-rich formations that surround the Wyoming Dinosaur Centre.
The rocks in the area preserve the remains of some of the most iconic dinosaurs from the Late Jurassic, giants like Diplodocus and apex predators such as Allosaurus. Visitors can meet many of these dinosaurs in the famous Dinosaur Hall at the Wyoming Dinosaur Centre.
A stellar line-up of exciting speakers will also be sharing their passion for the past, each with a strong connection to the Centre, including Jimmy Waldron of the hit podcast “Dinosaurs Will Always Be Awesome”, author of “Passion in the Bones” Elaine Howard from Florida, Dr Laura Vietti from the University of Wyoming and Dr Brandon Drake from the University of New Mexico.
Behind the Scenes Tour and Cleaning Fossil Bones
As part of the planned activities for “Jurassic Fest” visitors will be offered special behind-the-scenes tours of the museum and given the opportunity to clean dinosaur bones and to converse with leading scientists.
Angie Guyon hopes that Jurassic Fest will deliver an educational, fun, and inspiring two-day event that will highlight the fascinating work of palaeontologists and science communicators which will help to capture the global importance of Wyoming’s prehistoric history.
“The variety of hands-on activities will provide the public with an opportunity to gain first-hand experience, listen to a series of inspirational lectures and discover more about the research and excavation of local dinosaur finds from the Morrison Formation. This is not to be missed.”
The two-day “Jurassic Fest – Passion for the Past” extravaganza will take place on June 23-24, 2023. Tickets and more information can be found at the following address: “Jurassic Fest – Passion for the Past”.
Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of Dr Dean Lomax in the compilation of this article.
A virtually complete titanosaur skull has been found in Queensland. The fossil discovery is Australia’s most complete sauropod skull found to date. It supports the hypothesis that Australian sauropods originated in South America. The titanosaur skull has been assigned to Diamantinasaurus matildae.
Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum researchers in collaboration with Curtin University (Perth) despatched a media release announcing the discovery of the stunning sauropod skull. The fossil specimen, nicknamed “Ann” was excavated in 2018 at a dig site located at Elderslie Station, near Winton (Queensland).
The fossil specimen is believed to be between 98-95 million years old (Cenomanian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous). It is the fourth specimen of Diamantinasaurus matildae to have been discovered by Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum staff.
Studying the Skull
Research on the titanosaur skull was led by Museum Research Associate Dr Stephen Poropat, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Curtin University.
Dr Poropat stated:
“This skull gives us a rare glimpse into the anatomy of this enormous sauropod that lived in northeast Australia almost 100 million years ago.”
Implications for Titanosaur Evolution
The researchers identified similarities between “Ann” and the skull of another titanosaur Sarmientosaurus musacchioi. S. musacchioi fossils come from southern Argentina, from rocks which are roughly contemporaneous with the Winton Formation strata. The braincases of these two titanosaurs were similar, along with the dentition (teeth). Similar anatomical characteristics were also identified in the quadratojugal (a bone from the back of the skull near the posterior of the lower jaw).
Dr Poropat commented that their findings support previous theories that sauropods were using Antarctica as a migratory pathway between South America and Australia between 100 and 95 million years ago.
The doctor added:
“Our research suggests that Diamantinasaurus was one of the most ‘primitive’ titanosaurs. Gaining a better understanding of this species might explain why titanosaurs were so successful, across so much of the world, right until the end of the Age of Dinosaurs.”
Titanosaur Skull Links Australian Dinosaurs to Antarctica and South America
At the beginning of the Late Cretaceous (100 to 95 million years ago), the Earth was much warmer than it is today. Antarctica which was located approximately where it is today, was ice free. Australia was much further south and closely associated with the Antarctic landmass. The huge conifer forests of Antarctica might have been an attractive habitat for migratory sauropods. The similarities between “Ann” and Sarmientosaurus skull matieral lends weight to the theory that titanosaurs used Antarctica as a pathway to Australia.
The Diamantinasaurus skull fossils are currently on display at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum.
Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum in the compilation of this article.
The scientific paper: “A nearly complete skull of the sauropod dinosaur Diamantinasaurus matildae from the Upper Cretaceous Winton Formation of Australia and implications for the early evolution of titanosaurs” by Stephen F. Poropat, Philip D. Mannion, Samantha L. Rigby, Ruairidh J. Duncan, Adele H. Pentland, Joseph J. Bevitt, Trish Sloan and David A. Elliott published by Royal Society Open Science.
A new study suggests that the key to the evolutionary success of the early mammals, was to stay small, eat insects and to reduce the number of bones in their skull. The reduction of mammalian skull bones led to a more efficient absorption of bite forces and this adaptation helped mammals to diversify and to ultimately dominate modern ecosystems.
The study, published in the academic journal “Communications Biology” contrasts the skulls of other vertebrates and mammalian ancestors with mammals known from the Jurassic and Cretaceous. In many vertebrate groups such as reptiles and fishes, the skull and lower jaw are composed of numerous bones. This configuration was also seen in the earliest ancestors of modern mammals that lived over 300 million years ago (Cynodontia). However, during evolution the number of bones in the skull was reduced.
A Reduction in Mammalian Skull Bones
Computer simulations based on three-dimensional skull models permitted the research team to examine bite forces and skull stresses. Their research demonstrates that reducing the number of skull bones did not lead to higher bite forces or increased skull strength as postulated previously.
Instead, the researchers, found that the skull shape of these early mammals redirected stresses during feeding in a more efficient way.
Lead author for the study, Dr Stephan Lautenschlager, Senior Lecturer for Palaeobiology (University of Birmingham) explained:
“Reducing the number of bones led to a redistribution of stresses in the skull of early mammals. Stress was redirected from the part of the skull housing the brain to the margins of the skull during feeding, which may have allowed for an increase in brain size.”
The study, which also involved scientists from the University of Hull, Bristol University, the University of Chicago and the London Natural History Museum, demonstrated that alongside the reduction of skull bones, early mammals also became a lot smaller. Some Mammaliaformes for example, had skulls around 1 cm in length.
This miniaturisation considerably restricted the available food sources and early mammals adapted to feeding mostly on insects.
Dr Lautenschlager added:
“Changes to skull structure combined with mammals becoming smaller are linked with a dietary switch to consuming insects – allowing the subsequent diversification of mammals which led to development of the wide-range of creatures that we see around us today.”
One of the mammaliaforms used in the study, is Hadrocodium wui fossils of which are known from the Early Jurassic (Sinemurian faunal stage) of China. At around ten centimetres long, this tiny animal was a very small and inconsequential member of the Lufeng Formation biota, which was dominated by dinosaurs such as Lufengosaurus.
Picture credit: Everything Dinosaur
The image (above) is a drawing of the Early Jurassic sauropodomorph Lufengosaurus.
The research team concludes that miniaturisation and staying small, combined with a reduction in skull bones and a switch to an insectivorous diet allowed the ancestors of modern mammals to thrive in the shadows of the Dinosauria. Having nocturnal habits may also have permitted these animals to carve out their own ecological niches in dinosaur dominated ecosystems.
It was not until dinosaurs became extinct at the end of the Cretaceous, some 66 million years ago, that mammals had a chance to further diversify and reach the large range of body sizes seen in many extant mammals today.
Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the University of Birmingham in the compilation of this article.
The scientific paper: “Functional reorganisation of the cranial skeleton during the cynodont–mammaliaform transition” by Stephan Lautenschlager, Michael J. Fagan, Zhe-Xi Luo, Charlotte M. Bird, Pamela Gill and Emily J. Rayfield published in Communications Biology.
Visitors to the Berlin Naturkundemuseum (Germany) will be able to see an amazing Triceratops skull on display as part of an exhibition entitled “Dinosaurs! Age of the Giant Lizards”.
The impressive cranium, complete with horns and an imposing head shield measures two metres long and it was found in Lance Creek Formation deposits (Wyoming, USA) back in 2020. The fossil was discovered by an amateur fossil hunter and after preparation in Canada, the current owner Lars Fjeldsoe-Nielsen has lent the stunning specimen to the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin.
Horned Dinosaur Skull
The Triceratops specimen has been nick-named “Amalie” after the daughter of the owner. It is not known whether the skull fossil is from a female or male Triceratops. Both males and females sported neck frills and horns.
Numerous ornithischian dinosaurs are known from the Lance (Creek) Formation. The strata were deposited during the Maastrichtian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous (69-66 million years ago). The fossils found in these rocks represent a diverse dinosaur dominated terrestrial fauna that thrived prior to the mass extinction event that saw the demise of the non-avian dinosaurs, including ceratopsians like Triceratops.
The picture above shows a Triceratops model and skull, which is part of the PNSO Age of Dinosaurs series.
A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented that they were unsure as to the Triceratops species that “Amalie” represented. They explained that both Triceratops horridus and an as yet, not fully described Triceratops species are associated with the Lance Formation.
Johannes Vogel, Director General of the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin thanked the owner for lending this wonderful specimen and stated:
“The Museum für Naturkunde Berlin would like to express its sincere thanks to Mr Fjeldsoe-Nielsen for this further generous loan. This will enable research museums like ours to get visitors excited about nature and explore the objects.”
The exhibition “Dinosaurs! Age of the Giant Lizards” is due to run until the end of the year.
Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin in the compilation of this article.
Large, predatory theropod dinosaurs are often portrayed as fierce-looking monsters, with huge and highly visible teeth. These teeth are visible over the jaw line when the meat-eating dinosaur’s mouth is closed. This is reminiscent of the appearance of modern crocodilians, which after all, are closely related to fellow archosaurs such as the theropod members of the Dinosauria. However, a new study suggests predatory dinosaurs had scaly, lizard-like lips. Even Tyrannosaurus rex had lips according to a new paper published in the academic journal Science.
Tyrannosaurus rex Had Lips
The researchers including Dr Mark Witton (University of Portsmouth) and the study lead author Assistant Professor Thomas M. Cullen (Auburn University, Alabama) suggest that carnivores such as Tyrannosaurus rex did not have permanently exposed teeth. Films such as “Jurassic Park”, many palaeoartists and numerous model manufacturers have got it wrong. Instead, these dinosaurs had scaly lips, covering and sealing their mouths.
The debate as to whether theropod dinosaurs such as Giganotosaurus, Velociraptor, T. rex and Allosaurus had lips has gone on for some time. Did these dinosaurs have perpetually visible upper teeth that hung over their lower jaws and were therefore exposed and on view even with the jaw closed? The researchers suggest that dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus rex did not have a smile like a crocodile. Theropods possessed lips similar to those of lizards and the ancient reptile Tuatara, the only extant member of the Rhynchocephalia.
In the most detailed study concerning the presence or otherwise of extraoral tissue in the Theropoda conducted to date, the researchers examined the tooth structure, wear patterns and jaw morphology of lipped and lipless reptile groups and found that theropod mouth anatomy and functionality resembles that of lizards more than the mouths of crocodilians.
These lips were probably not muscular, like those of mammals. Most reptile lips cover their teeth but cannot be moved independently, a reptile can’t curl its lips back and snarl like a dog. They could not make the sort of movements that we might associate with our faces or that of other mammals.
Derek Larson, Collections Manager and Researcher in Palaeontology at the Royal BC Museum in Canada and a co-author of the study stated:
“Palaeontologists often like to compare extinct animals to their closest living relatives, but in the case of dinosaurs, their closest relatives have been evolutionarily distinct for hundreds of millions of years and today are incredibly specialised.”
The research team concluded that theropod teeth were extremely similar to the teeth of monitor lizards (varanids). The teeth are thought to have functioned in the same way, so perhaps monitor lizards such as the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) can be favourably compared to extinct animals such as theropod dinosaurs, even though the Varanidae as members of the Squamata, are only very distantly related to the Dinosauria.
Upending Popular Theropod Depictions
Co-author Dr Mark Witton (University of Portsmouth) explained:
“Dinosaur artists have gone back and forth on lips since we started restoring dinosaurs during the 19th century, but lipless dinosaurs became more prominent in the 1980s and 1990s. They were then deeply rooted in popular culture through films and documentaries — Jurassic Park and its sequels, Walking with Dinosaurs and so on. Curiously, there was never a dedicated study or discovery instigating this change and, to a large extent, it probably reflected preference for a new, ferocious-looking aesthetic rather than a shift in scientific thinking. We’re upending this popular depiction by covering their teeth with lizard-like lips. This means a lot of our favourite dinosaur depictions are incorrect, including the iconic Jurassic Park T. rex.”
The Implications of “Tyrannosaurus rex Had Lips”
The results of the study, found that tooth wear in lipless animals was markedly different from that seen in carnivorous dinosaurs and that dinosaur teeth were no larger, relative to skull size, than those of modern lizards, implying they were not too big to cover with lips.
Furthermore, the distribution of small holes around the jaws, which supply nerves and blood to the gums and tissues around the mouth, were more lizard-like in dinosaurs than crocodile-like. In addition, modelling mouth closure of lipless theropod jaws showed that the lower jaw either had to crush jaw-supporting bones or disarticulate the jaw joint to seal the mouth.
Kirstin Brink (Assistant Professor of Palaeontology at the University of Manitoba, Canada) and fellow co-author of the scientific paper commented:
“As any dentist will tell you, saliva is important for maintaining the health of your teeth. Teeth that are not covered by lips risk drying out and can be subject to more damage during feeding or fighting, as we see in crocodiles, but not in dinosaurs.”
Assistant Professor Brink added:
“Dinosaur teeth have very thin enamel and mammal teeth have thick enamel (with some exceptions). Crocodile enamel is a bit thicker than dinosaur enamel, but not as thick as mammalian enamel. There are some mammal groups that do have exposed enamel, but their enamel is modified to withstand exposure.”
Theropod Teeth are Not Oversized
Previously, it had been suggested that the teeth of predatory dinosaurs were just too big to be covered by lips. This study challenges that view and suggests that theropod teeth were not atypically large. Even the huge, banana-shaped teeth of tyrannosaurs are proportionally similar in size to living predatory lizards when the actual skull size is considered. Therefore, the researchers reject the hypothesis that theropod teeth were too large to be covered by lips.
Model makers and figure manufacturers have created figures that reflect the current scientific debate about the presence or otherwise of lips in theropod dinosaurs. For example, Rebor recently introduced two new Tyrannosaurus rex figures “Kiss” being a lipped model, whereas the counterpart figure “Tusk” was lipless.
Important Implications with Regards to Reconstructing Theropod Dinosaurs
This new study provides a new perspective on the “lips” versus “lipless” debate. It provides new insights into how scientists, artists and model makers reconstruct the soft tissues of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. This research provides information on how theropod dinosaurs fed, how they maintained their dental health as well as broader issues such as dinosaur ecology and evolution.
Dr Witton summarised the study stating:
“Some take the view that we’re clueless about the appearance of dinosaurs beyond basic features like the number of fingers and toes. But our study, and others like it, show that we have an increasingly good handle on many aspects of dinosaur appearance. Far from being clueless, we’re now at a point where we can say ‘oh, that doesn’t have lips? Or a certain type of scale or feather?’ Then that’s as realistic a depiction of that species as a tiger without stripes.”
The research team stress that their study does not say that no extinct animals had exposed teeth — some, like sabre-toothed carnivorous mammals, or marine reptiles and flying reptiles with extremely long, interlocking teeth, almost certainly did.
Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release in the compilation of this article.
The scientific paper: “Theropod dinosaur facial reconstruction and the importance of soft tissues in paleobiology” by Thomas M. Cullen, Derek W. Larson, Mark P. Witton, Diane Scott, Tea Maho, Kirstin S. Brink, David C. Evans and Robert Reisz published in the journal Science.
Plans are in place for an expedition to explore the seabed of the Adriatic for signs of early human settlement. Dr Simon Fitch, a geo-archaeologist at the University of Bradford is to embark on a mission to map submerged ice age landscapes and sunken settlements in what has been described as “a first of its kind”, scientific enquiry.
At the end of the month (March 2023), Dr Fitch will travel to Split in Croatia to begin a five-day survey of the Adriatic seabed using state-of-the-art underwater 3-D seismic sensors.
Mapping Parts of the Adriatic and the North Sea
This expedition is the first of several that are being planned. Over the next five years, the researchers hope to map parts of the Adriatic and the North Sea. The North Sea being an area of particular interest to University of Bradford archaeologists as they have previously worked extensively on Doggerland, the huge tract of land that once linked Britain to continental Europe.
Between 24,000 and 10,000 years ago, global sea levels were around a hundred metres lower than they are today. This latest expedition is part of a long-term project to explore the archaeology of submerged human settlements.
The Life on the Edge Project
The Life on the Edge project is part of a UKRI future leaders fellowship for Dr Fitch, which last year attracted just over £1m in funding from UKRI, as well as £400,000 in-kind ship time from VLIZ (Flanders Marine Institute), and a PhD studentship from the University.
The University of Bradford’s Faculty of Life Sciences now has the largest submerged landscapes research group in the world and is one of the few places specialising in this exciting area of academic research.
Commenting on the significance of the study, Dr Fitch stated:
“This is the first time anyone is going more than 500 metres from the coastline in the Adriatic to map the seabed. We know humans once lived on the land down there because trawlers regularly dredge up artefacts. This is about finding out who we are as a species and where we come from”.
An Incomplete Picture of Our History
Dr Fitch went onto explain that we have an incomplete picture of our own history. During the Late Palaeolithic (24,000 to 10,000 years ago), our planet was in the grip of an Ice Age and during this time we experienced the last “glacial maximum”, when sea levels were much lower than today, due to the amount of water stored in the ice caps and glaciers. More land around coasts would have been exposed and it is very likely that Stone Age people lived in these areas.
Dr Fitch added:
“We know most human populations like to live on the coastline, so it’s likely there were settlements on what is now the seabed. Our aim is to find evidence of those settlements and then recover the archaeology.”
Helping Renewable Energy Companies
Archaeologists from Bradford University along with collaborators from the University of Split and Flanders Marine institute (VLIZ), are working with commercial companies, who are already mapping the seafloor as they prepare to construct wind farms.
Powerful supercomputers installed at the University of Bradford are being used to process the huge volumes of data the expeditions will produce and The Life on the Edge Project has already attracted attention from other archaeologists based overseas. Dr Jessica Cook Hale (University of Georgia, USA), is to join the project.
The Search for Sunken Settlements
The academic is an experienced archaeologist with over two decades of research and field work behind her, including having dived underwater prehistoric sites in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coast.
Dr Cook Hale commented that she was excited to be joining this project and stated:
“Bradford is one of the few places doing this. I looked at this project from afar and wanted to be a part of it, so I’m thrilled to be joining the team. Carrying out geo-archaeology on submerged landscapes is really the only way to approach the problem of finding out about our prehistoric ancestors. As archaeologists, we’re naturally curious, we always want to ask, what came before?”
Training the Next Generation of Geo-archaeologists
One of the aims of the project team is to help recruit and train the next generation of geo-archaeologists.
The Life on the Edge project is an appropriate moniker, the team will be using cutting-edge mapping and computer technology and they will be exploring places that no archaeologists have explored before.
We wish the team every success with this intriguing venture.
Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the University of Bradford in the compilation of this article.