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Fossil File

Fossil File

Kangaroo Teeth Tell Their Story of Evolution

By John Long

An analysis of kangaroo teeth reveals a rapid burst of evolution in response to the expansion of grassland rather than drier climate conditions.

Kangaroos and wallabies are iconic Australian macropods with a reasonably good fossil record extending back at least 25 million years. The oldest kangaroos include small hopping forms like Ngamaroo archeri from the Lake Eyre Basin of South Australia. While it is clear that the group radiated into many lineages in the Miocene (23–25 million years) it has been unclear when the modern macropod fauna evolved and what environmental drivers directed their radiation.

The Oldest Lizards, Salty Amphibians and Dandruffy Dinosaurs

By John Long

While dinosaur dandruff and salt-tolerance in tetrapods have palaeontologists excited, the recent auction of fossil bones is a sore point.

Image copyright of Davide Bonadonna, published with permission

Dinosaurs Should Rock Older Students Too

By John Long

Primary schools use dinosaurs to teach how scientific disciplines overlap. Universities should too.

Young children are often read fairy tales that expose them to a fantasy world inhabited by dragons, witches, elves, trolls, ogres and other supernatural monsters, as well as acts of magic. Exciting as this world can be, the first time a child is shown a dinosaur skeleton, and explained that it’s the remains of a real creature, the world of science is introduced. In August 2012 British palaeontologist Dr David Hone, writing in The Guardian about why dinosaurs are important (https://goo.gl/txFpeY), said:

The Rise of Spiders and Roaches

The 100-million-year-old spider Chimerarachne preserved in Burmese amber. Credit: Dr Diying Huang, Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaoentology

The 100-million-year-old spider Chimerarachne preserved in Burmese amber. Credit: Dr Diying Huang, Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaoentology

By John Long

Tiny fossils preserved in amber reveal when spiders evolved their ability to spin webs and cockroaches first spread across the globe.

Fossil Treasures in Urban Australia

By John Long

Our biggest cities remain great places to search for fossils. Here are some tips about where to start looking.

In mid-November our team of palae­ontologists were air-lifted in by helicopter to do fieldwork along the Genoa River in east Gippsland. It was a tough week, walking up and down the river to access outcrops of exposed rock, but it’s all part and parcel of the fossil research game.

When Palaeontology and Philosophy Meet

By John Long

The Cambrian explosion of animal diversity, evident at the Burgess Shale fossil site, is fertile ground for philosophers to ponder.

This year at the Annual Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Conference in Calgary, Canada, delegates could opt for two special events. I enrolled in both. The first was a 1-day field trip to the world-famous Cambrian Burgess Shale fossil site, in the high mountains of British Columbia outside Banff. The second was a “Philosophy and Palaeontology” workshop held at The University of Calgary. While it might seem both are unrelated events, they actually meshed together beautifully, especially because the field trip came first with the workshop the day after.

Gliding Jurassic Mammals, Huge Dinosaurs and Ice Age Birds

A 160-million-year-old gliding mammal (Maiopatagium) discovered in China. Credit: Prof Zhe-Xi Luo, University of Chicago

A 160-million-year-old gliding mammal (Maiopatagium) discovered in China. Credit: Prof Zhe-Xi Luo, University of Chicago

By John Long

Gliding Jurassic Mammals, Huge Dinosaurs and Ice Age Birds

Perfectly preserved remains of gliding mammals have been dated to 160 million years ago.

The mammals that lived in the shadows of the dinosaurs were always depicted as small, shrew-like beasts. We now have clear evidence that early mammals had diversified into a number of specialised niches, such as aquatic forms like the beaverine Castrocauda from the Jurassic of Mongolia, and large predatory forms like Repanomamus from the Cretaceous.

The Amazing Dinosaur Tracks of Broome

By John Long

The discovery of a diverse range of dinosaur tracks fills in a huge gap that tells us what kinds of dinosaurs once inhabited Australia during the first quarter of the Cretaceous period.

In March, a landmark publication in Australian palaeontology was published – 152 page monograph in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology supplement series detailing over 20 species of different dinosaur trackways left in130-million-year-old coastal sandstones exposed from Broome to the lower Dampier Peninsula (http://tinyurl.com/mqansao).

Getting a Palaeontology Job in Australia

By John Long

Australia’s funding system disadvantages students attempting to turn their palaeontology studies into a career.

In September 2015 this column looked at how school students interested in fossils can get into a degree and formally study palaeontology. But how does one get a real job and secure a career in the fossil business?

Explorer’s Tragic Burden Transformed Geology

By John Long

Scott’s tragic Antarctic expedition sowed the first seeds of Gondwana.

Sir Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to Antarctica in 1912 is mostly remembered for its tragic end where Scott, Oates, Bowers and Wilson all perished trying to make it back to their base camp. Some historians criticised Scott for his lack of careful planning, but other theories attribute their demise to an unlikely extreme cold weather event that struck the party’s last march to find their depot.