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Archeology

A Fossil Of A Ginormous Flying Reptile Has Just Been Discovered In Australia

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Photo Credit: Conversation

The most significant pterosaur fossil ever discovered in Australia has been unearthed in the Winton area of central western Queensland.

The newly discovered species, which my colleagues and I have named Ferrodraco lentoni, had a wingspan of about 4 metres (13 feet). It lived around 96 million years ago, and was surprisingly similar to other pterosaurs from England, suggesting that these huge flying reptiles could traverse the globe with relative ease.

Pterosaurs are quite rare in the fossil record, as their bones are hollow and the outer bone in most instances is only 1 millimetre thick. Only 15 pterosaur specimens have ever been scientifically described from Australia, many of them incomplete.

Until recently, only two species of Australian pterosaur had been described: Mythunga camara and Aussiedraco molnari, both based on fossil skull fragments.

Although more complete fossils of similar pterosaurs are known from Brazil and China, until this discovery, our understanding of the pterosaurs that lived in Australia during the Cretaceous period was limited.

The new pterosaur specimen, unveiled today in the journal Scientific Reports, includes a partial skull, five partial neck vertebrae, and bones from both the left and right wings.

This particular individual represents a fully grown adult, based on the fusion seen in several bones. Judging by its wing bones and the dimensions of similar pterosaurs, Ferrodraco would have had a wingspan of about 4 metres, with a skull probably reaching 60 centimetres (24 inches) in length. It is likely that it ate mainly fish.

The genus name Ferrodraco refers to the fact that this winged reptile was found preserved in ironstone. And the species name lentoni honours former Winton Shire mayor Graham “Butch” Lenton, in recognition of his service to the community. The Winton area has within recent decades produced several well-preserved dinosaur fossils.

Ferrodraco lived 96 million years ago, around lake and river systems surrounded by conifer forests. Based on other fossil evidence, this pterosaur shared its environment with several dinosaurs including the sauropods Diamantinasaurus and Savannasaurus, theropods such as Australovenator, ornithopods and ankylosaurs. Competing with Ferrodraco for fish in the freshwater river systems were crocodylomorphs (such as Isisfordia) and plesiosaurs.

(Pentland et al., Scientific Reports, 2019)
Game Change

The Ferrodraco specimen was discovered by Winton grazier Bob Elliott in April 2017 when he was spraying weedkiller along the banks of a creek on Belmont Station. It’s not the first major fossil find on Belmont Station – the unique sauropod dinosaur Savannasaurus elliottorum was discovered just 10 kilometres (6 miles) from the pterosaur site.

Unlike other fossil sites in the Winton area, the pterosaur remains were found in the banks of a creek and had likely been exposed to the elements for several years. One bone from the wing had even been kicked away from the main site by livestock travelling through the creek. Had the bones not been infiltrated by iron-rich fluids, which ultimately became ironstone, these precious fossils would have been lost to erosion many years ago.

Unlike many other fossils, the bones were covered by a thin layer of rock. This meant that Ferrodraco had an unusually quick journey (by palaeontological standards) from discovery to scientific publication.

Preparation of the specimen was finished within a week by preparator Ali Calvey. Even before the bones had been fully prepared, our team was able to make detailed observations and determine which family of pterosaurs this specimen belonged to.

Surprisingly, Ferrodraco shows closer ties with similarly aged pterosaurs from England than it does to those from South America. This suggests that these pterosaurs, collectively known as ornithocheirids, could easily fly across oceans and disperse between continents.

This idea has been put forward by other palaeontologists, but the dearth of material from Australia had made it difficult to verify until now.

Ferrodraco has changed the game in that regard, demonstrating that it was living at least as recently as its Northern Hemisphere ornithocheirid cousins. In fact, it might represent one of the geologically youngest ornithocheirids ever found.

Although more work needs to be done to demonstrate this, Ferrodraco is nevertheless one of the most important pterosaur specimens ever found in Australia.

Adele Pentland, PhD candidate, Swinburne University of Technology.

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Ancient

Over 140 New Nazca Lines Have Been Discovered, And We Finally Have Clues To Their Use

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Scientists have discovered over 140 new geoglyphs known as Nazca lines: a mysterious, ancient cluster of giant figures etched long ago into the desert terrain of southern Peru.

These massive, sprawling representations of humans, animals, and objects date back in some cases 2,500 years, and are so large, many of them can only be identified from the air.

Now archaeologists from Japan’s Yamagata University report that a long-term research effort conducted since 2004 has uncovered 143 previously unknown Nazca geoglyphs – with one carved figure, which had eluded human detection, being discovered by artificial intelligence.

Humanoid geoglyph, approx. 10 metres long. (Yamagata University)
Humanoid geoglyph, approx. 10 metres long. (Yamagata University)

In all, the newly identified geoglyphs are thought to have been created between at least 100 BCE and 300 CE. While the purpose of these large motifs drawn by the ancient Nazca culture remains debated, we do at least know how they were constructed.

All of these figures were created by removing the black stones that cover the land, thereby exposing the white sand beneath,” the research team explains.

Previous hypotheses have suggested the Nazca society shaped the giant geoglyphs – some measuring hundreds of metres long – to be seen by deities in the sky, or that they may serve astronomical purposes.

Two-headed snake geoglyph, approx. 30 metres long. (Yamagata University)
Two-headed snake geoglyph, approx. 30 metres long. (Yamagata University)

In the new research, led by anthropologist and archaeologist Masato Sakai, the team analysed high-resolution satellite imagery of the Nazca region, as well as conducting fieldwork, and identified two main types of geoglyphs.

The oldest carvings (100 BCE to 100 CE), called Type B, tend to be less than 50 metres (165 feet) in length, while the slightly later effigies (100 CE to 300 CE), called Type A, span more than 50 metres, with the largest geoglyph discovered by the team measuring over 100 metres (330 feet).

The researchers think the larger Type A geoglyphs, often shaped like animals, were ritual places where people held ceremonies that involved the destruction of various pottery vessels.

Bird geoglyph, approx. 100 metres long. (Yamagata University)
Bird geoglyph, approx. 100 metres long. (Yamagata University)

By contrast, the smaller Type B motifs, were located along paths, and may have acted as way posts to orientate travellers – possibly towards a larger Type A ritual space where people would congregate.

Some of these Type B designs are really quite tiny, with the smallest of the new discoveries measuring under 5 metres (16 feet) – something that makes discovering the often faint lines a difficult task, especially when coupled with the enormous expanse of the Nazca desert region.

To that end, in a recent experimental collaboration with researchers from IBM that began in 2018, the team used a deep learning AI developed by the company, running on a geospatial analytics system called the IBM PAIRS Geoscope.

The learning network – the IBM Watson Machine Learning Accelerator (WMLA) – sifted through huge volumes of drone and satellite imagery, to see if it could spot any hidden markings bearing a relation to the Nazca lines.

The system found a match: the faded outline of a small Type B humanoid-like figure, standing on two feet.

While the symbolic meaning of this strange and ancient character is not yet clear, the researchers point out that geoglyph was situated near a path, so it may have been one of the hypothesised waypost markers.

Humanoid geoglyph discovered by IBM AI, approx. 4 metres long. (Yamagata University)
Humanoid geoglyph discovered by IBM AI, approx. 4 metres long. (Yamagata University)

In any case, it’s a striking, poetic kind of accomplishment: an almost unfathomably advanced thinking system created by modern humans enables the discovery of a yet unfathomable symbolic system created by ancient ones.

All told, the remarkable mystery of the Nazca lines is still far from being solved, but now that the Yamagata team and IBM have said they will continue working together to locate more of these ancient geoglyphs in the future, who knows just what – or whom – we’ll find next?

A summary of the ongoing research is available at the Yamagata University website.

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Archeology

Dinosaur’s Last Meal Reveals Previously Unknown Lizard Species

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Last dinosaur
Photo Credit: RT

A near complete fossil of a lizard has been found inside the stomach of a Microraptor, a kind of feathered dinosaur that lived around 120 million years ago.

The lizard must have been swallowed whole shortly before the Microraptor died and was fossilised. It was swallowed head first, in the same way that many living birds and reptiles swallow prey.

The lizard turns out to be a new species and has been named Indrasaurus wangi by Jingmai O’Connor at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing and her colleagues. The name refers to a Vedic legend in which the god Indra was swallowed by a dragon during a great battle.

Microraptors, first discovered two decades ago, looked very bird-like apart from their teeth but had feathers on their legs as well as their arms, and were capable of gliding and maybe even powered flight, says O’Connor. “This is an independent origin of flight separate from birds,” she says. “It flew with four wings.”

A new lizard species in the abdomen of a Microraptor

Many researchers think they were tree climbers, but O’Connor disagrees. “I think microraptor was not a tree climber but rather lived on the ground but that’s controversial,” she says. “The Jehol where they lived was a forested lake environment.”

This is the fourth microraptor fossil found with identifiable stomach contents, so we know they fed on mammals, birds, fish as well as lizards. Other studies have shown that at least some of these animals had black feathers.

The microraptor and lizard are the latest of a treasure trove of fossils to emerge from northeastern China. Here a series of volcanic eruptions between 130 and 120 million killed many animals. Some were entombed in ash at the bottom of lakes and exquisitely preserved.

Other fossil treasures from the region include fossilised stick insects whose fragile wings are still clearly visible.

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Archeology

Archaeologists Announce Discovery Of The Lost Biblical City Where Philistines Gave Refuge To King David

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Archaeologists announce discovery of the biblical city of Ziklag
Photo Credit: Haaretz

After many years of searching and speculation, a team of Israeli and Australian archaeologists think they have finally located the Philistine city where young David took refuge from King Saul prior to ascending the monarchy. The ruins were found near the southern town of Kiryat Gat in Israel and have been dated to the early 10th century B.C.E. – the time associated with King David.

If they’re right, it would bolster the theory that David was more than just a local hilltop chieftain as some researchers claim, and support the theory that he indeed ruled over a united kingdom in the area of Judea.

In the Book of Joshua and the Book of Samuel, Ziklag is described as belonging to the Philistines, a group of people believed to have come from the Mediterranean. They controlled much of present-day central and southern Israel.

Over the years of archaeological searches for the city, numerous alternative locations were proposed but none met all the required criteria. The excavations at the current site, called Khirbet a-Ra’i, began in 2015 and uncovered some 10,700 square feet in the Judean foothills between Kiryat Gat and Lachish, according to the press release put out by the IAA and the Hebrew University.

Yosef Garfinkel, professor at the Hebrew University, displays pottery vessels that were found at the site (AFP)

Australian and South Korean volunteers were directed by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel, of Hebrew University and Prof. Kyle Keimer from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.

Archaeologists work at the archeological site (EPA)

Researchers say the location is unique because it contains evidence of a continuous settlement, including signs of a Philistine community and King David-era Jewish settlement, in keeping with the required criteria for Ziklag. Moreover, the site shows evidence of having been destroyed by a massive fire, which is how Ziklag was brought down at the hands of the Amalekites according to the Bible.

Findings at the site include massive stone structures with bowl and oil lamp offerings beneath the floors, consistent with Philistine civilization.

Nearly 100 pottery vessels for storing oil and wine, identical to those found in the fortified Judean city of Khirbet Qeiyafa, which has been identified as the biblical city of Sha’arayim, were also located amid evidence of the ancient fire at the site. Carbon-dating was performed, proving that the artifacts were from the time of King David.

The findings were made possible through the funding of Joey Silver of Jerusalem, Aron Levy of New Jersey and the Roth Family and Isaac Wakil, both of Sydney.

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Sources used on this article: Haaretz & The Times of Israel

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Archeology

Ancient DNA Reveals The Roots Of The Biblical Bad Guys

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Phillistines, Biblical Enemies of the Israelites, Were European, DNA Reveals
Photo Credit: Melissa Aja

The ancient Philistines are “the bad guys.” In the Hebrew Bible, they were the archenemies of the Israelites, who fought Samson’s armies and sent Goliath into battle against David, but their origins have long been mysterious. Now genetic evidence suggests that these ancient people came to the Middle East from southern Europe more than 3,000 years ago.

An international team, led by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the Leon Levy Expedition, retrieved and analysed, for the first time, genome-wide data from people who lived during the Bronze and Iron Age (~3,600-2,800 years ago) in the ancient port city of Ashkelon, one of the core Philistine cities during the Iron Age. The team found that a European derived ancestry was introduced in Ashkelon around the time of the Philistines’ estimated arrival, suggesting that ancestors of the Philistines migrated across the Mediterranean, reaching Ashkelon by the early Iron Age. This European related genetic component was subsequently diluted by the local Levantine gene pool over the succeeding centuries, suggesting intensive admixture between local and foreign populations. These genetic results, published in Science Advances, are a critical step toward understanding the long-disputed origins of the Philistine.

Excavation of the Philistine Cemetery at Ashkelon. Credit: Photographer: Melissa Aja. Courtesy Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon.

More than a century ago, Egyptologists proposed that a group called the Peleset in texts of the late twelfth century BCE were the same as the Biblical Philistines. The Egyptians claimed that the Peleset travelled from the “the islands,” attacking what is today Cyprus and the Turkish and Syrian coasts, finally attempting to invade Egypt. These hieroglyphic inscriptions were the first indication that the search for the origins of the Philistines should be focused in the late second millennium BCE. From 1985-2016, the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon, a project of the Harvard Semitic Museum, took up the search for the origin of the Philistines at Ashkelon, one of the five “Philistine” cities according to the Hebrew Bible. Led by its founder, the late Lawrence E. Stager, and then by Daniel M. Master, an author of the study and director of the Leon Levy Expedition to Ashkelon, the team found substantial changes in ways of life during the 12th century BCE which they connected to the arrival of the Philistines. Many scholars, however, argued that these cultural changes were merely the result of trade or a local imitation of foreign styles and not the result of a substantial movement of people.

This new study represents the culmination of more than thirty years of archaeological work and of genetic research utilizing state of the art technologies, concluding that the advent of the Philistines in the southern Levant involved a movement of people from the west during the Bronze to Iron Age transition.Genetic Discontinuity Between The Bronze & Iron Age People Of Ashkelon

The researchers successfully recovered genomic data from the remains of 10 individuals who lived in Ashkelon during the Bronze and Iron Age. This data allowed the team to compare the DNA of the Bronze and Iron Age people of Ashkelon to determine how they were related. The researchers found that individuals across all time periods derived most of their ancestry from the local Levantine gene pool, but that individuals who lived in early Iron Age Ashkelon had a European derived ancestral component that was not present in their Bronze Age predecessors.

“This genetic distinction is due to European-related gene flow introduced in Ashkelon during either the end of the Bronze Age or the beginning of the Iron Age. This timing is in accord with estimates of the Philistines arrival to the coast of the Levant, based on archaeological and textual records,” explains Michal Feldman of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, leading author of the study. “While our modelling suggests a southern European gene pool as a plausible source, future sampling could identify more precisely the populations introducing the European-related component to Ashkelon.”

Transient Impact Of The “European Related” Gene Flow

In analyzing later Iron Age individuals from Ashkelon, the researchers found that the European related component could no longer be traced. “Within no more than two centuries, this genetic footprint introduced during the early Iron Age is no longer detectable and seems to be diluted by a local Levantine related gene pool,” states Choongwon Jeong of the Max Planck Institute of the Science of Human History, one of the corresponding authors of the study.

“While, according to ancient texts, the people of Ashkelon in the first millennium BCE remained ‘Philistines’ to their neighbors, the distinctiveness of their genetic makeup was no longer clear, perhaps due to intermarriage with Levantine groups around them,” notes Master.

“This data begins to fill a temporal gap in the genetic map of the southern Levant,” explains Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, senior author of the study. “At the same time, by the zoomed-in comparative analysis of the Ashkelon genetic time transect, we find that the unique cultural features in the early Iron Age are mirrored by a distinct genetic composition of the early Iron Age people.”

The study was published in the journal Science Advances.

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This article was originally published at Technology Networks and has been republished under Creative Commons.

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