Tagged: History

Paleontologists uncover oldest footprints ever, but they don’t know what made them

Fossilized remains of ancient creatures are pretty hard to find, but fossilized footprints are even harder. For a footprint to survive millions and millions of years after it was made, the perfect combination of conditions has to be realized, and even then there’s plenty of opportunity for Mother Nature to spoil things before the prints are discovered. Somehow, against all odds, a set of incredibly old prints has been uncovered in China, and they date back farther than anything paleontologists have ever seen before.

The tracks, which were preserved in a limestone layer, are estimated to be an incredible 541 to 551 million years old. In case you don’t have your history book handy, that’s far older than any dinosaur, and it was a time when life on Earth is thought to have been pretty sparse.

The discovery, which was published in Science Advances, doesn’t actually reveal as much about the animal that created the tracks. The researchers describe the tracks as “two rows of imprints arranged in poorly organized series or repeated groups,” and they suggest the prints were made by “bilaterian animals with paired appendages.” Beyond that vague description, it’s impossible to know what the animal may have looked like.

Along with the prints, the researchers note the presence of what appears to be small burrows. They can’t say for certain, but they believe both the burrows and tracks may have been made by the same creature, which would indicate “a complex behavior involving both walking and burrowing.”

As Gizmodo points out, one of the things that makes fossils from this time period so incredible rare is that early life was soft-bodied, meaning that bones and hard shells or exoskeletons weren’t around to stand the test of time. The fact that the tracks of a totally unidentified creature managed to make it for over half a billion years to be discovered by humans is really just incredible luck.

It’s entirely possible that the tracks and burrows you see in the photo are all that’s left of whatever species created it. Of course, there may be more tiny tidbits left over that are still yet to be uncovered, but discoveries like this don’t come around very often, so let’s enjoy it for what it is.

Canadian scientist demands protection for historical sites on other planets

For all the great things humans have accomplished on Earth — you know, civilization and all that stuff — we’ve still managed to kind of make a mess of things. We already know that mankind isn’t very good at preserving what nature has already built, but we’re also not great about preserving the history of our own achievements, especially if there aren’t laws and guidelines in place to tell us how far is too far. Now, a Canadian scientist is suggesting that we take a proactive approach when it comes to preserving other worlds.

In a new paper published in Acta Astronautica, Jack Matthews of Memorial University of Newfoundland and Sean McMahon of the UK Center for Astrobiology ask for a universal agreement to be reached with regard to preserving both important natural and historical sites on other celestial bodies.

“A global agreement to protect the most important sites is needed before it’s too late,” Matthews said in an interview.

The two scientists explain that, thanks to the sharp increase in private space exploration and more countries aiming to travel the cosmos than ever before, other worlds are at risk of being utterly exploited before anyone has a chance to stop it.

“There lies the first footprints ever made by a human on another celestial body,” Matthews said in regards to the footprints of the Apollo astronauts still sitting on the lunar surface. “That footprint still exists there because there is no atmosphere on the moon, therefore there isn’t any wind. So that dusty footprint is still there, preserved on the surface of the moon.”

But it’s not just manmade historical sites that the two researchers believe should be protected. They also point out that certain geological features of Mars should see the same protection that we give important natural sites here on Earth. Valles Marineris, the “Grand Canyon of Mars,” is one of the largest canyons in the entire Solar System, and the scientists argue that it should be treated as a historic natural monument.

Regardless of when or even if mankind manages to reach sites like this in person, Matthews and McMahon say that some kind of legal framework should arranged for their protection.

NASA already takes great care to preserve other worlds, avoiding even the slightest chance that other planets in the Solar System could possibly be contaminated with biological materials from Earth, but if humanity reaches a stage where terraforming a planet like Mars becomes a realistic option it would sure be nice to know that the planet won’t be ravaged by our presence.

Scientists just found a ‘reptilian mammal’ fossil in Utah and it could shake up Earth’s history

If you even sort of paid attention in geography class you already know that the Earth didn’t always look like it does today. At one point in our planet’s history the various continental chunks of land merged into the supercontinent known as Pangea. Eventually, that mass of land broke up into individual pieces once more, resulting in the continents we see today. Determining exactly when that split took place has been a huge challenge for scientists, and a newly-discovered fossil is prompting researchers to reconsider the excepted timeline.

The fossil is that of a species known as Cifelliodon wahkarmoosuch. It was a tiny reptile-like mammal that served as one piece of the evolutionary bridge between ancient reptiles and the mammals that are our very earliest ancestors, and it’s giving scientists a reason to tweak what they thought they knew about Pangea’s breakup.

“Based on the unlikely discovery of this near-complete fossil cranium, we now recognize a new, cosmopolitan group of early mammal relatives,” Adam Huttenlocker of the Keck School of Medicine at USC, and lead author of the research published in Nature, explains.

The fossilized remains are thought to be nearly 130 million years old, and if that dating is accurate it could mean that the spread of mammals across the continents had continued much later than previously thought. That would mean that Pangea was still in the process of dividing for roughly 15 million years after it was previously thought to have made a clean break.

Furthermore, the animal itself — which only stood about three inches tall and topped out at less than three pounds — is giving paleontologists a better look at the diversity of early mammals.

“For a long time, we thought early mammals from the Cretaceous (145 to 66 million years ago) were anatomically similar and not ecologically diverse,” Huttenlocker said in a statement. “This finding by our team and others reinforce that, even before the rise of modern mammals, ancient relatives of mammals were exploring specialty niches: insectivores, herbivores, carnivores, swimmers, gliders. Basically, they were occupying a variety of niches that we see them occupy today.”

These poor creatures suffered from dandruff 125 million years before Head And Shoulders was invented

These days, if you notice a bit of dandruff on your shoulder you just stop by the drug store and grab some specialized shampoo, but 125 million years ago the birds and feathered dinosaurs just had to deal with it. A new study published in Nature Communications has revealed that the ancient creatures shed their skin in small bits rather than in large chunks like most present day reptiles. According to the researchers, this new discovery also reveals how well the animals could fly.

The scientists, who were originally studying the fossilized feathers of the dinosaurs, discovered the presence of tiny “white blobs” which they ultimately determined to be dandruff. The skin flakes are exactly the same as those shed by modern day animals, including humans.

Researchers have long questioned how feathered dinosaurs shed their skin, as it would have been rather inconvenient for them to shed it all in one piece as modern reptiles do. This new discovery suggests that shedding it in tiny flakes evolved alongside the emergence of feathers, right around the middle of the Jurassic Period.

“There was a burst of evolution of feathered dinosaurs and birds at this time, and it’s exciting to see evidence that the skin of early birds and dinosaurs was evolving rapidly in response to bearing feathers,” Dr Maria McNamara of University College Cork, Ireland, and lead author of the work, explains. “The fossil cells are preserved with incredible detail – right down to the level of nanoscale keratin fibrils. What’s remarkable is that the fossil dandruff is almost identical to that in modern birds – even the spiral twisting of individual fibres is still visible.”

The dinosaur fossils that were studied appeared to match up with those from ancient birds at the time, with dandruff being present in both cases. However, there was a key difference between the fossilized skin flakes and those from modern birds.

The skin cells of the fossils were largely devoid of the fat that is present in the shedded skin of modern birds, which the team believes is a sign that the creatures never got as warm as modern day birds do. They suggest that this is because the ancient feathered dinosaurs never flew for long periods, or were perhaps completely flightless.

Alien hunters think they found a ‘Warrior Woman’ statue on Mars

You know how when you stare at clouds long enough you begin to see shapes and objects and figures that aren’t really there? What you’re experiencing is your brain trying to match up the shapeless blobs with things it knows exist, and if you stare long enough you’re bound to see all kinds of things. When you’re bored, it’s a neat way to kill five minutes, but when it comes to science, convincing yourself that you’re seeing certain things that aren’t really there is a fruitless endeavor. Such is the case with a newly discovered “statue” on Mars that believers say depicts an “Ancient Warrior Woman.”

The first sighting of this so-called statue seems to have come from a YouTuber who specializes in finding strange shapes in the many videos and images of the Martian landscape that scientists release to the general public. In this particular photo, a seemingly normal rock is said to actually be the remains of an ancient stone statue that “proves” that mankind actually originated on the Red Planet. Oh boy!

If the fanatics are to be believed (they aren’t, by the way), the rock is actually a side profile of a head-shaped carving, with eyes, an ear, and an angular jaw line visible above the dusty surface. It vaguely resembles some ancient Egyptian statues and monuments, but the image isn’t particularly detailed, so it’s easy to see whatever you want.

It’s not hard to debunk something like this, especially when you consider that of all the images and footage of the Martian surface that we’ve already seen (you can literally scour the planet from above in Google Maps), there’s zero evidence of any large structures, cities, or traces of civilization of any kind. The existence of a tiny statue on the planet’s surface, and the fact that it measures only a few inches, is essentially impossible.

If we’re to believe that ancient Mars civilizations existed at one point, and that they have long since fallen into ruin, the tiny stone would have eroded away long before larger monuments and structures which would still be visible on the surface.

To be clear, none of this explicitly discounts the possibility that scientists may one day find evidence that life of some kind existed on Mars — or even that life on Earth is a byproduct of a previous Martian civilization — but right now there’s just no evidence of it, and this tiny rock just isn’t what theorist wish it to be.