Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Top 8 Paleontology Stories of 2006

According to Discover Magazine
Includes first paragraph of all stories.
2 in the top 10... wow.

7) Scientists Get Inside the Mind (and Genes) of the Neanderthal

For a span of 200,000 years or more, Neanderthals thrived from Gibraltar to Uzbekistan. Big-brained and robust, they weathered the depths of the last ice age, only to vanish around 30,000 years ago, about when modern humans entered Europe. Did the new arrivals annihilate the natives, or were Neanderthals absorbed by interbreeding? Two studies offer new perspectives on the nature and fate of the Neanderthals. One is a project devoted to analyzing Neanderthal DNA; the other is a reconstruction of hunting strategies that suggests the Neanderthals were not slow-witted brutes unable to compete with modern humans.

9) Ancient Fish Fills Missing Link

Excavations carried out over six years in the treeless, grassless, soil-less Ellesmere Island in the Canadian territory of Nunavut, 750 miles from the North Pole, have yielded a remarkable treasure: a 375-million-year-old, scaly, fin-legged, flat-headed, swivel-necked creature called Tiktaalik roseae. Named after the Inuit word for "large shallow-water fish," Tiktaalik fills in one of the most significant gaps in evolutionary history—the transition between swimming fish and the first animals to walk onto land.

37) Little Lucy Found

When paleoanthropologist Zeresenay Alemseged of the Max Planck Institute in Germany first saw what appeared to be tiny hominid remains encased in 3.3-million-year-old sandstone in northern Ethiopia—just miles from where the famous Lucy skeleton was found 32 years earlier—he knew he had found something special. After five years of painstakingly extricating bones from sandstone, he was rewarded with the near-complete skeleton of a 3-year-old female Australopithecus afarensis, the oldest remains of a child hominid ever found.

40) New Dinosaur King Rears Its Head

Tyrannosaurus rex slipped further in the ranks of terribleness with the enthronement of a bigger, badder king of the dinosaurs: Spinosaurus aegyptiacus, a gigantic predator that stalked Africa around 100 million years ago and whose head alone was almost six feet long. After examining skull fragments of Spinosaurus, paleontologist Cristiano Dal Sasso of the Civic Natural History Museum in Milan, Italy, and his colleagues estimated that the whole animal would have measured between 52 and 59 feet from tip to tail, as much as a dozen feet longer than the largest known T. rex...

59) Fossilized Frog Marrow Found

n August researchers examining fossils in the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid reported the first example of fossilized bone marrow, found in 10-million-year-old remains of frogs and salamanders. Because of the way the slabs containing the bones were fractured during preparation, they revealed a clean cross section of bone, in which the red of the bone marrow and the yellow of the fatty marrow were clearly visible.

66) Hobbit Wars Heat Up

When small, humanlike bones were discovered in a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003, anthropologists knew they had found something exceedingly odd. But what? A new species of dwarf people? A colony of pygmy freaks? Half-joking, some researchers simply referred to the remains as "hobbits."

85) Dodo's Lost World Resurrected

While a few dodo bones and one skeleton remain in museums, they aren't enough to tell biologists exactly why or how the birds went extinct more than 300 years ago. So Dutch geologist Kenneth Rijsdijk was thrilled when he unearthed a cache of 3,000-year-old dodo bones on the island of Mauritius last December. By July he had more good news: The seven-acre site holds a near-complete fossilized ecosystem, including plants, bacteria, reptiles, mammals, and other birds. "There's a lot of potential to reconstruct their world," Rijsdijk says. "What did it look like, and what was the effect of man?"

94) Tough Times for Tyrannosaur Teens

Life was rough for teen tyrannosaurs, according to Florida State University paleontologist Gregory Erickson. Analysis of a trove of North American dinosaur fossils shows a highly elevated death rate among tyrannosaurs who had recently reached sexual maturity, which occurred between the ages of 14 and 18. "Love may have been a dangerous game for these animals," Erickson says. Competition for mates and nesting sites probably took a toll: Only 2 percent of T. rex's relatives survived all the way to reach their maximum life span of about age 30.

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