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Paleo-news archive: April-June 2006

web in amber
Ancient web spins evolution story
(Jun 22, 2006)

The oldest-known spider web with prey still entrapped has been found preserved in a chunk of amber in Spain. The mesh of silk strands snaring the remains of a fly, beetle, mite and wasp, dates back 110 million years to the time of the dinosaurs. The fossil web appears to have been designed along the same lines as the round nets woven by modern spiders.

Read more. Source: BBC

Gansus yumenensis
China fossils fill out bird story
(Jun 17, 2006)

Exquisite Chinese fossils support the idea that the ancestors of modern birds may have lived on water. Five 110-million-year-old specimens of the grebe-like Gansus yumenensis are described in the journal Science. The detail in their preservation, such as the bone structure and even foot webbing, indicates the animals were well adapted to an aquatic existence.

Read more. Source: BBC

spider trapped in amber
Early web-spinner found in amber
(Jun 14, 2006)

The spiral orb webs, which to many people typify spiders, were catching insects in their sticky silk while the dinosaurs still walked the Earth. True orb weavers found trapped in amber from 121-115 million years ago are the oldest of their type ever discovered.

Read more. Source: BBC

Pilbara structures
Ancient rocks 'built by microbes'
(Jun 14, 2006)

Odd-shaped rocks in the Pilbara region of Western Australia offer compelling evidence they were built by microbes 3.43 billion years ago, scientists say. The structures, known as stromatolites, could only have taken the forms they have if bacteria had been present, a Sydney-led team tells Nature journal.

Read more. Source: BBC

Europasaurus holgeri skull reconstruction
Mini-dinosaurs emerge from quarry
(Jun 9, 2006)

A new species of mini-dinosaur has been unearthed in northern Germany. The creature was of the sauropod type – that group of long-necked, four-footed herbivores that were the largest of all the dinosaurs. But at just a few metres in length, this animal was considerably smaller than its huge cousins, scientists report in the journal Nature.

Read more. Source: BBC

hobbit and human skulls prepared
New twist in 'hobbit' human story
(Jun 1, 2006)

The hobbit-like human was smart enough to make stone tools despite its small brain, according to research. Sharpened flints found on the remote Indonesian island where it lived suggest the human "cousin" inherited tool-making skills from its ancestors. Some have claimed its brain was too tiny to perform a complex task seen as a hallmark of human culture. The study in Nature backs the view that the hobbit is a new species rather than a modern human with a brain disease.

Read more. Source: BBC

Mammoth skeleton found in Siberia
(May 23, 2006)

Fishermen in Siberia have discovered the complete skeleton of a mammoth – a find which Russian experts have described as very rare. The remains appeared when flood waters receded in Russia's Krasnoyarsk region. The mammoth's backbone, skull, teeth and tusks all survived intact. It appears to have died aged about 50.

Read more. Source: BBC

hobbit cave
New research suggests 'hobbit' was not a new species
(May 19, 2006)

The debate over whether the "hobbit” fossil found on an Indonesian island is a separate species has reignited, as a new study of dwarfing in a range of mammals suggests that Homo floresiensis was a modern human with a pathological condition. The remains of a tiny woman were found in a limestone cave in Flores, Indonesia. Named H. floresiensis by the discoverers, she quickly became known as “the hobbit” by everyone else.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Did humans and chimps once interbreed?
(May 18, 2006)

It goes to the heart of who we are and where we came from. Our human ancestors were still interbreeding with their chimp cousins long after first splitting from the chimpanzee lineage, a genetic study suggests. Early humans and chimps may even have hybridised completely before diverging a second time. If so, some of the earliest fossils of proto-humans might represent an abortive first attempt to diverge from chimps, rather than being our direct ancestors.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Neanderthal skull
Neanderthal yields nuclear DNA
(May 17, 2006)

The first sequences of nuclear DNA to be taken from a Neanderthal have been reported at a US science meeting. Geneticist Svante Paabo and his team say they isolated the long segments of genetic material from a 45,000-year-old Neanderthal fossil from Croatia. The work should reveal how closely related the Neanderthal species was to modern humans, Homo sapiens.

Read more. Source: BBC

Neanderthals and humans: perhaps they never met
(May 9, 2006)

The number of years that modern humans are thought to have overlapped with Neanderthals in Europe is shrinking fast, and some scientists now say that figure could drop to zero. Neanderthals lived in Europe and western Asia from 230,000 to 29,000 years ago, petering out soon after the arrival of modern humans from Africa. There is much debate on exactly how Neanderthals went extinct.

Read more. Source: LiveScience

Dinosaur bone found off the coast of Norway
Geologists dredge up dinosaur from the deep
(Apr 27, 2006)

Jørn Hurum has hit a scientific jackpot twice. First by finding a dinosaur bone in an oil-drill core sample found off the North Sea, and then by being able to identify the dinosaur from that one tiny sample. "It really was a lucky draw," says Hurum, a palaeontologist at the University of Oslo's Natural History Museum in Norway.

Read more. Source: Nature

Fossil of a legged snake found in Patagonia. (Image: H Zaher)
Oldest snake fossil shows a bit of leg
(Apr 20, 2006)

Scientists have found fossils of a legged snake with “hips” – a specimen that could be the most primitive snake ever unearthed. The find suggests early snakes were not creatures of the sea and has reignited the debate over how snakes evolved. Sebastián Apesteguía at the Argentine Museum of Natural History and his team found the snake fossil in a terrestrial deposit in the Río Negro province of north Patagonia, Argentina, in 2003.

Read more. Source: New Scientist

Hominid teeth. Image: © Tim D White\Brill Atlanta
Fossils fill gap in human lineage
(Apr 13, 2006)

Fossil hunters have found remains of a probable direct ancestor of humans that lived more than four million years ago. The specimens of this ancient creature are helping bridge a long gap during a crucial phase of human evolution. Professor Tim White of the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues unearthed the cache of fossils in the Middle Awash region of Ethiopia.

Read more. Source: BBC

crocodile-like fossil
Arctic fossils mark move to land
(Apr 6, 2006)

Fossil animals found in Arctic Canada provide a snapshot of fish evolving into land animals, scientists say. The finds are giving researchers a fascinating insight into this key stage in the evolution of life on Earth. US palaeontologists have published details of the fossil "missing links" in the prestigious journal Nature. The 383 million-year-old specimens are described as crocodile-like animals with fins instead of limbs that probably lived in shallow water.

Read more. Source: BBC

Darwinulidae specimen
Doubt cast on 'ancient asexual'
(Apr 3, 2006)

A shrimp-like creature may have to forfeit its claim to be the longest abstainer from sex in the animal world. The discovery of three living male specimens casts doubt on the idea that the Darwinulidae family has been female and asexual for 200 million years. Darwinulids produce eggs which do not need to be fertilised by sperm. But a team of scientists, writing in a Royal Society journal, cannot say yet whether the newly found males actually perform a sexual function.

Read more. Source: BBC


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