Lost with the National Museum of Brazil – Gondwanatitan – Luto #MuseuNacional

On September 2, 2018, the National Museum of Brazil (Museu Nacional) was gutted by fire. 2018 was the Museu Nacional’s 200th year.

This post is one of series in which I discuss an important specimens that may have been lost to science in the blaze.

Alexander Kellner and Sergio de Azevedo described a new genus (and species) of sauropod dinosaur called Gonwanatitan. As sauropods go, Gondwanatitan was pretty small, only about 7 meters in length.

Size comparison between the sauropod dinosaur Gondwanatitan and a human. Gondwanatitan was 25 feet long ( about 8, 3 meter ), and small for a sauropod. CREDIT: Conty

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Lost with the National Museum of Brazil – Luzia – Luto #MuseuNacional

On September 2, 2018, the National Museum of Brazil (Museu Nacional) was gutted by fire. The loss has hit the paleontology community (and the larger museum community) hard. I will highlight over the next few days some of the many priceless specimens that have been lost.

This year, the Museu Nacional celebrated its 200th year. I am hopeful all is not lost.

Lapa Vermelha IV Hominid 1, informally referred to as Luzia, was discovered in 1975 in a rock shelter locality near Belo Horizonte, Brazil, by a French and Brazilian team led by Annette Laming-Emperaire. At the time, Laming-Emperaire felt that this was among the oldest human remains found in South America.

Facial reconstruction at the National Museum of Brazil. CREDIT: Dornike CC BY-SA 4.0

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Long Distance Prospecting – #365papers – 2018 – 61

Conroy, Emerson, Anemone, and Townsend, 2012, Let your fingers do the walking: A simple spectral signature model for “remote” fossil prospecting: Journal of Human Evolution, v. 63, p. 79-84.

What’s it about?

The authors demonstrate the utility of satellite imagery combined with surface observations and GIS software to make predictions about where fossil localities may be located. Continue reading

Plants and Animals Don’t Respond to Climate Change the Same Way – #365papers – 2018 – 54

Wing and Harrington, 2001, Floral response to rapid warming in the earliest Eocene and implications for concurrent faunal change: Paleobiology, v. 27, p. 539-563

What’s it about?

The Paleocene-Eocene boundary is marked by a period of rapid global warming and co-occuring changes in mammals in response to the warming, including the appearance of seemingly dwarfed species and the rise of important mammal groups like the hoofed mammals and primates. The authors here use fossilized pollen from rocks known to bracket the Paleocene-Eocene boundary and discuss the changes in plants during this important episode of climate change. Continue reading

The Value of Fossils from the Margins of Basins – #365papers – 2018 – 53

Muldoon and Gunnell, 2012, Omomyid primates (Tarsiiformes) from the Early Middle Eocene at South Pass, Greater Green River Basin, Wyoming: Journal of Human Evolution, v. 43, p. 479-511

What’s it about?

Much of this paper is a description of a new species of early primate, along with a description of the primate fauna from South Pass, Wyoming, which is on the edge of the Green River Basin. This particular fauna is important because it is on the edge of a geographical basin, so it includes a mixture of animals that prefer flat plains and those that prefer upland areas. Continue reading

Migrating Marsupials of the Pleistocene – #365papers – 2018 – 44

Price, Ferguson, Webb, Feng, Higgins, Nguyen, Zhao, Joannes-Boyau, and Louys, 2017, Seasonal migration of marsupial megafauna in Pleistocene Sahul (Australia-New Guinea): Proceedings of the Royal Society B, v. 284: 20170785

What’s it about?

Seasonal migrations are seen in many large mammals. In modern animals, however, such migrations are not observed in marsupials. The authors put together geochemical data from rocks and fossil to show that the massive wombat-like extinct marsupial Diprotodon migrated seasonally as far as 100 km each way. Continue reading

Using Glass to Estimate Altitude – #365papers – 2018 – 37

Dettinger and Quade, 2015, Testing the analytical protocols and calibration of volcanic glass for the reconstruction of hydrogen isotopes in paleoprecipitation, in DeCelles, Ducea, Carrapa, and Kapp, eds., Geodynamics of a Cordilleran Orogenic System: The Central Andes of Argentina and Northern Chile: Geological Society of America Memoir 212, p. 261-276.

What’s it about?

Isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen from water can give us insights into the altitude at which that water fell to the ground as rain. Some of this water can become incorporated into volcanic glass (in ash), preserving the isotopic values of the original water. Continue reading

Fossil Mammals and the Rocks that Contain them at Fossil Butte, Wyoming – #UREES270 – 2018

Gunnell, Zonneveld, and Bartels, 2016, Stratigraphy, mammalian paleontology, paleoecology, and age correlation of the Wasatch Formation, Fossil Butte National Monument, Wyoming: Journal of Paleontology, v. 90, p. 981-1011

What’s it about?

This paper contains a discussion of the mammalian paleontology at Fossil Butte National Monument, Wyoming. The authors examined and identified at least 46 species of fossil mammals from 29 localities within rocks of the Wasatch Formation at Fossil Butte. Using techniques of stratigraphy, the authors correlated all the localities in order from oldest to youngest. Further, they used the species present and clues from the rocks themselves to interpret the ancient environment in which the mammals lived. Continue reading

Interpreting Cretaceous Environments from Multiple Sources – #365papers – 2018 – 32

Bojar, Csiki, and Grigorescu, 2010, Stable isotope dirstibution in Maastrichtian vertebrates and paleosols from the Hateg Basin, South Carpathians: Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, v. 293, p. 329-342.

What’s it about?

Some late Cretaceous-aged (AKA Maastrichtian) rocks from Romania contain fossilized soils (paleosols), dinosaur bones and teeth, and dinosaur eggshells. The authors use geochemical analysis, specifically stable isotope analysis, from all of these materials to build a fairly complete picture of what the region was like at the time that those dinosaurs were alive. What they found was that the environment was relatively warm and dry, and that the dinosaurs didn’t appear to utilize different parts of the habitat, but instead lived side-by-side. Continue reading

Sabertooth, Sabertooth, How Do Your Teeth Grow? – #365papers – 2018 – 30

Feranec, 2004, Isotopic evidence of saber-tooth development, growth rate, and diet from the adult canine of Smilodon fatalis from Rancho La Brea: Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, v. 206, p. 303-310.

What’s it about?

Sabertoothed mammals are so named because of their massive, elongate canines. A natural question to ask is, how does it get so long? The major ideas are that the teeth grow for a very long time (which would affect how the animals survived before the teeth were fully grown), that they grew very quickly, or some combination.

The author uses isotopes of oxygen from the tooth enamel of some adult sabertooth tigers (Smilodon fatalis) to estimate how long it tooth the tooth to grow. This he compares with known growth rates and timing of development of modern lions and tigers to see how it compares. Continue reading