Archive for June, 2009

Bone splinters

While fossils can be preserved as immaculate and perfect pieces of transformed bone (or other organic materials) free from distortion, breaks, damage or really changes of any kind, these are of course the exception. You can also get hideously broken and deformed and ruined specimens. Here is a photo of what happened to an apparently well preserved piece of bone (if nothing else look at how dazzlingly white it is) that crumbled at the slightest touch with, as you can see, devastating results. There are quite a few bones preserved like this at Bayan Mandahu and they look fantastic but are incredibly hard to extract. Even if you apply lots of glue to them they then just stick to the surrounding matrix and while are then less likely to fall apart, they are also incredibly hard to extract from the matrix they are now glued to. Just another small irritation that occurs during fieldwork when you have finally found something that actually is bone and then it falls apart instantly before you can collect it.


Trusting the literature

While I have complained (justifiably I think) about peer review on here before a few times and generally the occasional poor quality of some published papers (pointing no fingers, even the best of us write bad papers) peer review certainly acts as a barrier to truly dreadful things getting published and serving as a general quality filter on the nature of science reaching the printed pages of journals. To a degree I think this is very important, and I’ll expound on that a little in the context of the debates / random thoughts going on at SV-POW! right now (try, here, here and here for starters).

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Bayan wildlife

IMG_4608I mentioned before that this summer in the field was great for wildlife compared to the paucity at the same site last year (most likely because of the time difference – June as opposed to August before). While the small agamids were again ubiquitous, there were other lizards, geckos, snakes, and various birds aplenty, hedgehogs, jerboas, hamsters, several camel herds (semi-tame admittedly), desert rabbits and even a fox (though sadly I missed that one) and a crowning moment – two eagle owl chicks. Enjoy.

IMG_4574More follow:

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Camels, centra and ceratopsians – back from Bayan 2009

IMG_4515So as noted the other day I have now returned from Bayan Mandahu for the second of three expeditions this year into the field (Henan being completed and Xinjiang still to come). This was a three week expedition to the deserts of Inner Mongolia and was largely a repeat of last year’s expedition with a few new sites, and of course some new fossils, thrown in.

IMG_4530As before this was a mixture of prospecting for new sites and localities as well as searching well known sites. Obviously being separated from most of your colleagues for most of the day it’s hard to know exactly what other people have found and how much of it and in what condition, but there are certainly a few mostly complete dinosaurs being hauled out, more eggs and some other associated material.

As with last year sadly I can neither tell you much of excitement or show you anything especially good as a) the really good fossils will be described sooner or later, and probably not be me, sop showing the photos is inappropriate, and b) most of them were excavated while largely still buried so we don’t know if they are great or merely good at the moment.

I can however provide some nice photos of the scenery as I do so here, and I have posts coming on making unusual jackets, the local wildlife (of which there was an absolute ton this year compared to 2008) and more info on general excavations as well as more things that look like bone but aren’t. In short, have some pretty photos and expect more archosaurs and general palaeo stuff soon.

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Guest post: Moas are Fossil Vertebrates, but Dodos are Just Extinct

I was checking up on some of my older posts and dealings on various websites an came across this early guest post by Corwin Sullivan from my blogging days on Dinobase and thought it well worth reseurecting here. So take it away Corwin on the boundary between palaeontology and zoology:
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Huxley on the media (ish)

Nope, not as you might expect on here the great T.H. Huxley, or for that matter his grandson the other legendary biologist from that family Julian, but indeed the younger brother of the latter – Aldous Huxley. I happened across this (rather long) quote in his series of essays ‘Brave new world revisited’ (1958) in which he talks about the problems of writing the collection of essays itself and how he wishes to convey much more than he can in a limited space, but means not to distort or misrepresent what he wants to say. It is a brilliantly written summary of what I have long complained about in terms of the media coverage of science. That it comes from a non-scientist (albeit one who wrote on science and science fiction and himself came from a great line of thinkers and scientists) and recognises the inherent flaw of the media a half century ago, yet remains exact, specific, relevant and pertinent is both impressive and worrying. If he noted this 50 years ago, why has the media not spotted that he may just have a point? Brevity is good, getting things wrong is bad, and it’s your job to learn to do it right.

He writes:
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OK one last bit of Limusaurus

So some judicious badgering on my part of people who were part of the great Limusaurus excavation has turned up a few images. These come courtesy of the great Jonah Choiniere who is working on theropods for his PhD with Jim Clark and has been part of the IVPP field crew for a number of years now. Johan passed these photos onto me to show the block that contained Limusaurus being excavated and shipped out in a ‘jacket box’, my thanks to him.

Theropod block 2Theropod block 3Positioning the boxXu, X., Clark, J.M., Mo, J., Choiniere, J., Forster, C.A., Erickson, G.M., Hone, D.W.E., Sullivan, C., Eberth, D.A., Nesbitt, S. Zhao, Q., Hernandez, R. Jia, C., Han, F., & Guo, Y. 2009. A Jurassicceratosaur from China helps clarify avian digital homologies. Nature

Limusaurus confusion

ResearchBlogging.orgThe advent of the description of Limusaurus and the associated hypothesis of digit homologies in the paper is likely to generate quite a lot of interest in dinosaurian and avian circles. However, it will, I suspect, also generate a fair bit of confusion in the short and perhaps even long term, even if the hypothesis is rapidly refuted or is not adopted by the palaeontological community. It’s a problem that comes up occasionally in palaeontology (and I imagine other fields too) and is worth commenting on at least a little.
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Back from the field

camsWell I got back home at about 6:30 am local time and am trying to catch up with all of the dozens of e-mails etc. that have turned up in my absence, not least the fall-out of the Limusaurus stuff (nearly 2000 hits in one day, over three times my previous highest!). So, please bear with me while I try to approve comments, reply to those already left and generally join in as well as having some more posts to come on the subject and fixing the apparently missing figure captions. Normal service to resume shortly. In the meantime, enjoy this picture of some camels and me looking rugged (possibly) in Bayan

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Limusaurus – four fingers and a whole mess of homologies

OK, so Limusaurus was, bizarrely, a basal herbivorous ceratosaur from the Middle Jurassic of China, but what is all this manual homology stuff that seems to be exciting everyone? Well, it is quite long and complicated, so bear with me. You have no idea how many rewrites that papers went through as most of the people on the paper at one time or another completely rewrite the section from scratch in an effort to get all the information in and keep both the other authors and the referees happy.

Continue reading ‘Limusaurus – four fingers and a whole mess of homologies’

Limusaurus – an herbivorous ceratosaur?

limu skel

Drawing of the Limusaurus skeleton

Well, what can I say about Limusaurus? Quite a lot actually and I hope to do so over the next few posts. Obviously this animal is generating quite a bit of excitement and / or controversy so it’s well worth commenting on at some length for a variety of reasons. The focus of the paper and by extension most of the media and blogging interest is in the hand and the implications it has for the identity of the fingers of derived theropods and of birds. I will deal with that in due course but this is also incredibly interesting as another probably herbivorous theropod in a lineage full of animals that are anything but vegetarians.
Continue reading ‘Limusaurus – an herbivorous ceratosaur?’

Away again and happy anniversary me

I was just checking over that stats if the blog and have realised that the Musings, in its current all singing all dancing* wordpress version is already over a year old and with nearly 300 posts to its credit. Wow. Time does fly apparently. Well done me.

*May not include singing or dancing.

My other point was that as hinted, I’m off into the field this weekend for three weeks or so. We are going back to Bayan Mandahu in Inner Mongolia, but unlike last year’s trip, this time we’ll be in the field proper and camping rather than using cars to shuttle from the town to the field sites. It will give us more work time, but unlike last year will keep me off the internet, so as ever don’t expect any new posts for a while and comments / trackbacks etc. may be held up in the queue. I’ll return with new posts, new photos and hopefully some new dinosaurs soon. In the meantime, despite my absence, expect some big news on the 18th. You’ll read it here first and in mind-numbing detail.


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