Friday Headlines, February 8, 2013
THE LATEST IN THE GEOSCIENCES
The skeletal remains of King Richard III were found under a parking lot in Leicester.
They were identified in part by DNA (comparing it with known descendents of the King) and by skeletal features (Richard was known to have had scoliosis, resulting in a deformity of the backbones).
Of course all this resulted in a bunch of jokes, too.
Richard III officially announced as “1485 Hide and Seek Champion”
“Someone said they were going to build a carpark in Leicester. I said ‘over my dead body'” Richard III’s last words.
This title is a little mis-leading, in that what’s been found is thought to be the common ancestor of placental mammals – the mammals that are not marsupials nor egg-layers. Mammals, as fuzzy animals with three bones in the middle ear, had been around for millions of years before this common ancestor of placentals arose just after the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs.
But that’s ok. We’re still talking about a little shrew-ish mammal that is ancestral to whales, elephants, squirrels, and man. It’s still an important critter.
The beast is called Protungulatum donnae. It’s called ‘obscure’ because it’s a rare little mammal that doesn’t have the ‘coolness’ factor to have even a colloquial or common name. I guess I deal in obscurities because I’ve known of Protungulatum for nearly 20 years. Gasp.
What makes this study unique is that the scientists involves used modern genetic information, plus morphological information to determine what, most likely, the common ancestor of placental mammals would be like. This study used 4500 different characters (traits, if you will, whether genetic or the presence or absence of a specific structure on a bone)! Such studies are difficult with 50 characters. 4500 means that they’ve covered their bases. It’s an impressive piece of work!