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8 Reasons You Should Be Concerned About Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Indoraptor in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Why returning to the island has never been a worse idea...

In the summer of 2015, the immense success of Jurassic World seemingly shocked everyone. The reboot-quel took audiences on a nostalgia-driven joyride and that formula reaped the benefits.

At the time of its opening, it was the biggest opening weekend in film history, both domestically and internationally. And while the film certainly has its detractors, it was overall welcomed as an improvement over the previous entry in the series and a welcome return-to-form for the franchise as a whole.

So why is the buzz surrounding the upcoming follow-up so overwhelmingly negative?

With each passing reveal about the film, the entire affair grows more worrisome. From lackluster marketing and advertising to plots that feel like copy-and-paste retreads, Fallen Kingdom has given long-time fans of the series plenty to fret about.

Off the back of the successful recontextualizing of the franchise pulled off in Jurassic World, it looks as though Fallen Kingdom may send the franchise right back down to the depths of mediocrity.

8. There's Minimal Goldblum

A big selling point of this film before even any of the marketing was released was the reveal that Mr. Jeff Goldblum would be returning to the series.

This seemed like a natural progression for the franchise, as if they were taking a note from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which showed just how much audiences love seeing their old favorite return alongside the new cast. Goldblum was a scene-stealer in the first film, who was promoted to primary protagonist for the sequel. He (wisely) sat the third film out and made a cameo in appearance only (on the back of a book) in the first Jurassic World.

So viewers were understandably excited about seeing Goldblum return to the fray. But as more and more advertising has been revealed, it has become increasingly clear that Goldblum's role will be minuscule at best. Out of all three trailers, he has only appeared in the courthouse scene and is nowhere to be found in any of the action sequences.

Director J.A. Bayona has even revealed this to be true, saying;

"He's more like a cameo, he doesn't have a major role in the action ..."

7. It's A Disaster Movie?

When speaking with EW recently, writer/producer Colin Trevorrow revealed that the upcoming sequel will be half disaster movie and half horror film, saying;

"You have this extinction-level event on that island, and the world is looking at these creatures that we created and asking, ‘Well, what is our right? Do we let them die because we created them and they shouldn’t be here in the first place, or do we have a responsibility to save them?"

The extinction-level event Trevorrow is referencing here is clearly the erupting volcano which has been such a point of emphasis in the marketing. But a Jurassic-themed disaster film isn't why people come to these films and it isn't a particularly new or fresh idea, either. Recent blockbuster failures such as Unviersal's The Mummy or Fox's X-Men: Apocalypse spoke about similar intentions, wishing to channel the disaster epics of old.

But in both cases, the disaster-influences essentially amounted to lots of disaster porn and Fallen Kingdom looks to be guilty of the same sin. The trailers spotlight lots of desaturated, grey destruction without much motivation behind it. It's the exact kind of CGI-excess the original Jurassic Park steered away from for the sake of suspense and believability. Fallen Kingdom seems to be steering right into it.

6. The Indoraptors

The two most recent trailers for the film have been less focused on the whole 'exploding volcano' storyline since it wasn't well-received in the first trailer and have instead been focusing on the 'half horror'-section of the film.

The primary cause of this horror aspect looks to be creatures that have long been rumored for the production, the Indoraptors. They are engineered, smaller versions of the Indominus Rex from the previous film and look to be the primary dino antagonists of this film.

While it is nice to see something about the film not simply go with the 'bigger. more teeth' mantra, recycling the same villain from the previous film (only smaller) is a strange creative decision. The Indominus was an interesting antagonist because it was as violent and unstoppable as a T. rex but as smart as a Raptor, which was something audiences had never seen before. But these Indoraptors are as small as a raptor and... as smart as a raptor?

If anything, this just feels like a desperate attempt to provide payoff to D'onofrio's line from Jurassic World, where he mentions the possibility of an Indominus the size of a T. rex in strategic warfare.

5. The Director Trevorrow

Colin Trevorrow seems like a nice-enough guy and he did a solid-enough job directing the first Jurassic World. Having said that, Trevorrow has remained incredibly involved in the production of this second film and that's not exactly a good thing.

When it was announced that J.A. Bayona was coming onboard to direct Fallen Kingdom, there was reason to be excited. Bayona is a visionary horror director with several great films under his belt, including The Orphanage and A Monster Calls. But it's getting a bit hard to tell who is really the driving creative force behind Fallen Kingdom.

Trevorrow is who is giving the vast majority of interviews and is also the one who has already been announced as the director of the next sequel. Trevorrow has spoken at length about how he loved being an on-set writer for the film, actively rewriting his script based on the needs of the day.

And while there's nothing inherently wrong with that, the timetable of it all is cause for concern. Trevorrow gushed all over how great his little indie film, Book of Henry, was, only for pretty much everyone else to absolutely hate it. Henry didn't hit theaters until last summer, so most of Trevorrow's writing for Fallen Kingdom would have taken place before he knew just how bad Book of Henry was.

Which is to say, Trevorrow was not in the most sound of mindsets at this time and who knows what he put into this thing, thinking it was equally great.

4. The Desperate Marketing

The marketing thus far has been lackluster, to say the least.

The first trailer was boring and completely uninteresting but it at least seemed confident in itself. It focused on the volcano aspect and as Trevorrow later pointed out on Twitter;

"Everything in the trailer is from the first 57 minutes."

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But following the negative reaction to the trailer, which prompted Trevorrow to say this in the first place, the marketing has done a complete turn-around.

The latest trailer essentially runs through the core plot elements of the entire film, telling us whose bad, whose good, and exactly what's going to happen. It summarizes the entire film into a two-and-a-half-minute video, all in one last attempt to build positive buzz around the film.

The result is a confusing marketing plan that feels completely at odds with itself, starting off as guarded, secretive, and confident in the final product and ending up willing to reveal everything about the film just to get butts in the seats.

3. There's Some Heavy Lost World Inspiration

As mentioned, the first Jurassic World film benefitted heavily from entrenching itself in nostalgia for Spielberg's original Jurassic Park. The plot frequently followed it's narrative beat-for-beat and paid service to it at every possible juncture, going so far as to having an entire meta subplot about modern kids rediscovering the original Park.

Maybe due to the success of this approach the first time around, or maybe just out of blind faith, Bayona and Trevorrow look to be heavily basing Fallen Kingdom in nostalgia for the second Jurassic Park film, The Lost World.

Plot-wise, Fallen Kingdom features a rescue mission to save the dinosaurs, which is being nefariously funded by an evil businessman who is instead looking to bring the dinos back to the mainland to profit off of them. Our heroes are fooled, attempting to do the right thing, but ultimately playing directly into the hands of said nefarious businessman. If that all sounds familiar, it is because that is also the synopsis of The Lost World's plot.

But here's the thing: The Lost World is not a film that incites nostalgia.

The Lost World was successful upon release, but completely off-the-back of the first film's successes. It certainly has its fans but is overall viewed as a vastly disappointing sequel that doesn't hold a candle to that first film. The film looks to be attempting to mine the same nostalgia goldmine they did previously but there is no nostalgia to capitalize on.

2. There's Just No Stakes

The only reason the original Jurassic Park film mattered at all was because audiences cared about the characters. Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler, Ian Malcolm, these are characters that live on in pop culture to this day. All because Spielberg took the time to let audiences fall in love with them and then put them in highly dangerous, but believable, situations from which they had to escape.

This resulted in the stakes being consistently high throughout the film, it felt as if anyone could die or be horribly injured at any moment. It gave the effects weight and the whole film an emotional pathos to ground itself in.

This film looks to have thrown the baby out with the bath water. In the trailers alone, our protagonists survive being on an exploding island, several dinosaur attacks, a fall off of a cliffside, and Chris Pratt literally jumps through the jaws of a T. rex. And yet they remain unscathed and alive.

Suspension of disbelief can only be pushed so far until it breaks and the audience is left with characters they know are only alive because the script says so.

1. Doubling Down

The worst thing about Fallen Kingdom thus far it that it is doubling down on what was by far the stupidest part of Jurassic World.

Vincent D'onofrio's entire character in Jurassic World was unbearably stupid. He droned on for the entire film about weaponizing the dinosaurs and how much money there was to make from it. Of all the things that generated backlash in Jurassic World (the heels, the raptor-bros, etc.), D'onofrio's character was by far the most egregious.

And yet, Fallen Kingdom builds upon this plot thread and makes it the crux of its second half. After the island explodes, the plot moves to a mansion where representatives from governments around the world bid on dinosaurs like a black market.

Where the film should have moved away from this trainwreck of an idea, Trevorrow has instead opted to commit even more hardily to the concept, as if to prove it wasn't a stupid idea, to begin with. Which is a strategy of screenwriting that almost never ends well.

Source: http://whatculture.com

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Will Feature More Dino Animatronics Than Any Other Jurassic Park Sequel

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Rexy in cage.

There are few films in history that represented more of a quantum leap in special effects technology and presentation than Steven Spielberg’s original Jurassic Park in 1993, but all too often, sole attention is placed on the role the film played in the transition to modern CGI. It’s sometimes easy to forget that Jurassic Park’s other mammoth contribution to the FX game was a series of incredibly sophisticated animatronic creations, most of which still look amazing when you rewatch the film to this day, 25 years later. I mean really—these guys basically built a fully functional, life-sized T. rex. In 1993. And it still looks amazing. That, in itself, is incredible.

Over the years, the Jurassic Park sequels have become associated more with CGI dinosaurs, which is to be expected in a Hollywood system that has become increasingly dependent, even in its big budget blockbusters, on computer-generated imagery. That is, apparently until the upcoming Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which will apparently feature more animatronic work than any of the other Jurassic Park sequels to date. Color us intrigued. According to Fallen Kingdom producers Frank Marshall and Pat Crowley in an interview with Slashfilm, audiences will get a chance to see just how much animatronic technology has advanced in the last 25 years.

“I think since Jurassic Park we’ve got more animatronics than any of the other movies. Except for Jurassic Park,” said Marshall. “The process of the animatronics is so advanced now from what it used to be. What they’re able to do now is fantastic. And it’s so much faster to see what you’re gonna have. So that made it really cool. [In the original Jurassic Park,] they were working with hydraulics. Everything now is it’s mostly servos and stuff like that. There [are] guys at joysticks, but there are still puppeteers making it breathe and making that head turn and doing all the rest of that stuff. They’re all dressed in black and they spend a lot of time in yoga studios, [because they work] like that for years. It’s amazing. They’re really talented.”

The advancement of this technology isn’t only novel; it’s entirely necessary for this kind of tech to be used on screen in a meaningful way. As screen resolution has gotten crisper and we’ve all become accustomed to watching images projected in extreme HD, animatronics must become that more detailed and lifelike just to keep up. Given the story of Fallen Kingdom, it makes sense that they would come back into the franchise in a greater role at this point, because this film apparently represents a striking departure from the outdoor, “lost on an island” ethos of previous films in the franchise. Rather, more scenes of Fallen Kingdom will take place indoors, in close proximity to dinosaurs. One can assume that this will be where we’ll see the majority of the animatronic work, but it will be fascinating either way to see if they’re noticeably different in appearance from the CGI dinos.

Regardless, the mere fact that we’ll be seeing a new life-size T. rex animatronic is an exciting one. It begs the question: Once production is complete, who gets to hang on to that robotic Tyrannosaurus? And can we rent it for a child’s birthday party?

Source: www.pastemagazine.com

These Are the Seven Places in Kent Where Dinosaurs Have Been Found

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Dinosaur fossils have been found all across the globe (Image: AIZAR RALDES NUNEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Esri UK have published a UK wide map detailing the locations.

The last dinosaurs died out approximately 65 million years ago but their fossilised remains have been found all over the world.

Analytics company Esri UK have mapped out all the locations in the UK where dinosaur fossils have been discovered.

Several of these fossils have been unearthed in Kent.

Chiddingstone Hoath

Saurischia

Estimated to have lived between 145 and 132.9 million years ago, birds are descended from this group of dinosaurs.

Cranbrook

Iguanodon

Children sketching a skeleton of the Iguanodon dinosaur at the Natural History Museum in 1970 (Image: Harry Todd/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Found between Cranbrook and Hawkhurst, this dinosaur is estimated to have lived between 145 and 132.9 million years ago. The Iguanodon was a large herbivore which could shift between using two and four legs.

Egerton

Mantellisaurus atherfieldensis

Estimated to have lived between 125.45 and 122.46 million years ago, this herbivore's front legs were thought to be half as long as its back legs.

Folkestone

Ankylosauria

A mechanical Ankylosaurus display in Leiden, The Netherlands

Ankylosaurs were heavily armoured with a large club at the end of their tails. This dinosaur was estimated to have lived between 99.6 and 93.5 million years ago.

Horsmonden

Baryonyx walkeri

A model Baryonyx at Palais de la découverte, Paris (Image: PIERRE VERDY/AFP/Getty Images))

Estimated to have lived between 130 and 122.46 million years ago, the name Baryonyx refers to the dinosaur's large, heavy claws.

Hythe

Macronaria

Estimated to have lived between 125.45 and 122.46 million years ago, Macronaria had long, strong necks, useful for eating taller plants and trees.

Langton Green

Megalosaurus

A model Megalosaurus at the Dinosaur and Fossil Park in Gandhinagar, India (Image: SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images)

This Megalosaurus is estimated to have lived between 145 and 122.46 million years ago and spanned roughly the length of a London bus.

Source: www.kentlive.news

 

Inside Thailand's Real Life Jurassic Park Complete With Animatronic Dinosaur

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Phu Wiang national park celebrates all things dinosaur / Liz Dodd

Phu Wiang national park is home to some of the world's oldest and most impressive dinosaur fossils.

A geologist looking for uranium discovered a giant patella bone here in 1976, and the palaeontologists who were called to investigate then unearthed a fossilised 15m-long herbivore. It was later named Phuwiangosaurus sirindhornae, after Princess Sirindhorn. Dinosaur fever followed (explaining the myriad model dinosaurs in Khon Kaen city), more remains were uncovered and Phu Wiang National Park (อุทยานแห่งชาติภูเวียง) was born.

The park covers a strange horseshoe-shaped mountain that has just a single pass to its interior. Wiang Kao, the district inside the mountain, is a fruit-growing area and is a good place to explore by car if you want to look at traditional village life.

PHOTO: TOURISM AUTHORITY OF THAILAND

Phu Wiang National Park (PWNP) is located in Phu Wiang District, Khon Kaen Province, northeastern Thailand. It is best known for its numerous dinosaur bone paleontological sites. The park is one of the world's largest dinosaur graveyards.[2] In 1996, the remains of Siamotyrannus isanensis, a new family of carnivorous thunder lizards, were unearthed in the park.

The Phu Wiang Dinosaur Museum is situated within the park and displays many of the park's finds. The park, measuring 325 square kilometres (125 sq mi) in size, is located approximately 85 kilometres (53 mi) northwest of Khon Kaen. The area is characterized by a central plain and the low hills of the western Phu Phan Mountains.

Paleontologists: Giant Prehistoric Animals Were Wiped Out By People

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Pleistocene megafauna

Representatives of the Pleistocene megafauna, the mammoths started to die out faster than others, and scientists are still trying to figure out why. One of the main causes of death of large mammals could be their systematic destruction of the ancient people.

The extinction of mammoths that lived on Earth in the period 2.6 million and 12 thousand years ago, was faster for the extinction of saber-toothed cats and giant sloths. Large animals died out simultaneously in several parts of the world, but all their population declined in Africa, 125 thousand years ago in this part of the world they were about 50% less than in other areas. However, the most detrimental to the mammoth was the migration from Africa, which has experienced one.

Ancient man was profitable to hunt larger animals, their meat can easier and longer to ensure the sustenance of a large family, moreover, most large animals are herbivores, not predators. Due to the fact that one person was impossible to kill a mammoth, people have started to join groups of hunters. In the scientific work of paleontologists from the new Mexico exactly ancient hunters accused of the extinction of species of large animals. According to researchers, the man continues to destroy large animals, and now – soon there may not be a single animal larger than a cow.

Source: https://sivtelegram.media

Runner in Inflatable Dinosaur Costume Proposes at London Marathon

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Bristol man dressed in T-Rex costume proposes to girlfriend during London Marathon

A man in an inflatable Tyrannosaurus rex costume took a break from the London Marathon to propose to his human girlfriend.

"Roary" the dinosaur, aka Bristol resident Chris Jones, 26, ran the London Marathon in a T. rex costume to raise money for the Evelina London Children's Hospital.

Chris Jones used the opportunity to propose to his girlfriend, Katie, and the big moment was captured on camera.

Jones was running alongside his future father-in-law, who was dressed as a Jurassic Park ranger and handed the dinosaur the ring for the moment of the proposal.

"She's just the best, she has supported me for so long, she has been so great with this as well and everything that I have done, I love her so much," Jones told a BBC reporter after Katie accepted his proposal.

Source: www.upi.com

Are Dinosaur Fossils The Hot New Collectors' Item?

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Photo: Courtesy of Binoche et Giquello

French auction house Binoche et Giquello has sold two dinosaur skeletons at top dollar.

If you’re searching for that perfect new statement piece for your living room or foyer, you might find your answer not in the flagship boutiques of luxury design brands, but in the halls of natural history museums.

Big spenders
Auction houses have found that dinosaur fossils are swiftly becoming increasingly popular objects of desire among collectors—particularly French auction house Binoche et Giquello, who put two dinosaur skeletons on the block as part of their Natural History auction in early April.

The skeletons of an Allosaurus and Diplodocus sold for €1,150,000 and €1,180,000 respectively, massively overshooting their estimated prices of €650,000 and €450,000 to €500,000.

 

Cult favourites
While the majority of dinosaur enthusiasts have usually been Europeans and Americans, including Hollywood actors Nicholas Cage and Leonardo DiCaprio, interest has picked up among Chinese buyers over the last few years. Large specimens are often on show in key spots in the owners’ homes, while smaller ones can more easily be whisked away into storage.

Sharon Kwok-Pong, conservationist and wife of Tatler 500 lister Stanley Pong, is an avid fossil collector in Hong Kong. She started collecting amber at the age of 14 and now has a Pterodactyl, Triceratops and T-Rex claws in her personal collection. Certain buyers have also been known to purchase fossils with the purpose of donating them to science museums.

Still, the dinosaur market remains comparatively small compared to other treasures more typically found under the hammer—possibly due to their unwieldy sizes. (The skeletons that Binoche et Giquello sold measured 3.8m and 12m long.) Only around five dinosaurs are sold globally every year.

 

Source: https://hk.asiatatler.com

Mystery Death Of Oxford Dodo Revealed: How Scientists Use The Specimen To Rewrite Extinct Bird’s History

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Paleontologists have finally known that the last of the dodos, which has been kept in an Oxford museum, did not die of natural causes but by a gunshot.

Researchers at Oxford University Museum of Natural History and WGM at the University of Warwick used a CT scanning technology to analyze the bird’s head and foot, the only remaining dodo soft tissue in the world.

Results of the 3D software analysis showed that the bird’s skull had particles of t’1 shot pellets that were used to hunt wildfowls in the 1700s. Scientists reported that the shot affected both the head and neck. However, the bullet did not penetrate the skull, which was later found to be very thick.

“The shot is consistent with it being very fine caliber fowling shot – the sort of shot that was used to down birds,” Prof. Paul Smith, director of Oxford University Museum of Natural History told The Guardian.

This new finding refutes the popular theory that the Oxford Dodo was kept alive in London as a “money-spinning curiosity.”

“Although the results were initially shocking, it was exciting to be able to reveal such an important part of the story in the life of the world’s most famous extinct bird. It just goes to show that when you are carrying out investigative research, you never quite know what you are going to find,” said Prof. Mark Williams, head of the Product Evaluation Technologies and Metrology Research Group at WMG, University of Warwick.

Many would know the dodo as an iconic character in Lewis Carroll’s classic novel Alice in Wonderland. Yet, the history of the dodo goes all the way back to the early 1600s when Dutch explorers discovered the bird in Mauritius Island in the Indian Ocean.

Experts said that the extinction of dodos is most likely due to the proliferation of rats and other animals brought by ships, which theoretically ate dodo eggs and competed for food.

Another theory suggested that the bird was hunted by Dutch explorers. However, no bones were found when scientists excavated the remains of an early Mauritian settlement.

It was only in 1796 that the extinction of dodo was known to the public through the French paleontologist Georges Cuvier. In 1848, Victorian researchers Hugh Edwin Strickland and Alexander Gordon Melville published the book The Dodo and Its Kindred.

“It’s based mostly on what they could discover from the Oxford and British Museum specimens, and it helped make dodos rather hot in the Victorian period,” said Leon Claessens, an associate professor of vertebrate paleontology and anatomy at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.

The Oxford Dodo has been housed at Oxford University since the original Ashmolean Museum was established in the 17th century. In 1828, the British Museum received one of the earliest casts commissioned by the Ashmolean Museum keeper John Duncan.

Currently, models of the Oxford Dodo are kept in the various museums including the American Museum of Natural History, Bradford Museums and Galleries, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, Canterbury Museum in New Zealand, Great North Museum Hancock, and the National Geological Repository British Geological Survey, among others.

Source: http://en.brinkwire.com

New Study Traces Evolution of Ankylosaur’s Distinctive Tail

Friday, May 1, 2015

Gobisaurus, an ankylosaur with a stiff tail but no knob of bone at the end, compared with Ziapelta, an ankylosaur with a fully developed tail club. Image credit: Sydney Mohr.

Ankylosaurs are a large group of herbivorous armored dinosaurs that lived during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The typical ankylosaur had a wide armored body and a flexible tail. But one group – ankylosaurids – also had a distinctive tail club composed of stiff, interlocking vertebrae (the handle) and large, bulbous osteoderms (the knob) – a special kind of bone formed in the skin that’s unique to armored dinosaurs. According to a new study published in the Journal of Anatomy, the handle arrived first on the scene, and the knob followed.

In this study, Prof Philip Currie from the University of Alberta, Canada, and Dr Victoria Arbour of North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences compared Jurassic ankylosaurs to those from the early and late Cretaceous, tracing the tail’s evolution from flexible to fearsome.

The paleontologists looked at a number of early ankylosaurids including: Liaoningosaurus which lived 122 million years ago; Gobisaurus, which lived 90 million years ago; and Pinacosaurus, which lived 75 million years ago and is the earliest specimen with a complete tail club, to determine which of three possible evolutionary paths was most likely.

“There are three ways the tail could have evolved,” said Dr Arbour, who is the lead author on the study.

“The knob could have evolved first, in which case you’d see ankylosaurids with osteoderms enveloping the end of the tail, but with the tail remaining flexible,” she added.

“The handle could have evolved first, meaning you would see early ankylosaurids with overlapping or fused tail vertebrae.”

“Or the knob and handle could have evolved in tandem, in which case you’d see ankylosaurids with both structures, but there could have been other differences like shorter handles or smaller knobs.”

Timeline of ankylosaur tail evolution. Image credit: Victoria Arbour.

By comparing the tails of the specimens, the scientists saw that by the early Cretaceousankylosaurs had begun to develop stiff tails with fused vertebrae. The knob appeared in the late Cretaceous.

“While it’s possible that some of the species could still have developed the handle and knob in tandem, it seems most likely that the tail stiffened prior to the growth of the osteoderm knob, in order to maximize the tail’s effectiveness as a weapon,” Dr Arbour said.

_____

Victoria Arbour & Philip Currie. Ankylosaurid dinosaur tail clubs evolved through stepwise acquisition of key features. Journal of Anatomy, published online August 21, 2015; doi: 10.1111/joa.12363

Source: www.sci-news.com

New Species Among Rare Treasure Trove of Fossils Found in California

Saturday, April 21, 2018

This portion of a whale skull was found at the Calaveras Dam construction site in California

Shell fossils were the first evidence that the construction workers needed to call in a paleontologist.

Finding fossils can be a fact of life for construction crews excavating in California. That's what happened when crews broke ground to begin the new Bay Area Calaveras Dam in 2013. They just didn't expect to find so many.

The existing 93-year-old Calaveras Dam stands only about a thousand feet from the Calaveras Fault, a proximity that prompted earthquake safety concerns.

The dam impounds the Calaveras Reservoir, which holds 40% of the area's water supply capacity. It's the largest Bay Area reservoir, said Betsy Lauppe Rhodes, regional communications manager for the Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System.

With 2.7 million Bay Area customers relying on its water, the stability of the dam is critical. After careful study, a decision was made to rebuild the dam completely next to its existing location, Rhodes said in an email.

The dam's excavation required moving 10 million cubic yards of rock and soil. During initial project planning, shell fossils were noticed at the site, she said.

"Because of this, the project team included a paleontologist who would monitor excavations and document and preserve anything we found," Rhodes said.

"What we were not expecting was this many fossils, of this variety. That was a complete surprise."

The construction workers were trained about what to look out for and instructed to cease work and alert the site paleontologist if they saw anything out of the ordinary. The paleontologist would then mark the fossil's location using GPS and remove it in a block of rock and dirt, sometimes with a plaster jacket around it to protect it during transportation.

The paleontologist for this site was probably busier than expected: It proved to be home to a treasure trove of fossils revealing what life was like in the area 15 million to 20 million years ago, and the most complete collection of fossils found in the Bay Area for more than 50 years. A combination of plant and animal fossils gives scientists a very clear picture of what conditions in an area were once like.

To ensure that the collection remained as intact as possible, the team reached out to regional institutions to see who could take on such a vast collection. Rhodes said that fossils found during construction on public or government land must by law be preserved and cared for by an official repository.

The University of California Museum of Paleontology, at the University of California, Berkeley campus, stepped up to the challenge. The school spent $500,000 to reopen a fossil prep lab. "UCMP has been a great partner in that endeavor," Rhodes said.

"They have assembled a tremendous team and lab to prepare and categorize the fossils and make them available for future generations."

Among the finds were numerous fossilized palm trees and pine cones, hundreds of invertebrates including snails and crabs, shark teeth and whale skulls. There was also evidence of a previously unknown species of fossilized baleen whale. As the researchers continue their work, they expect to find more new species.

They have upwards of 20 whale skulls, each about 3 feet long. This is highly unusual for a "salvage" project, in which scientists try to excavate fossils from an active construction site that may be damaged.

"Thus far we have made significant progress on five complete skulls, and quite a few individual bones," Cristina Robins, senior museum scientist at the museum and head of the the project, wrote in an email.

"There are individual teeth from Desmostylus [a hippo-like creature] and seal. We have evidence for 4 different baleen whale species, and at least 2 toothed whale [dolphin or orca-like] species. Our largest whale is actually the most complete -- we have a 5-foot skull and 17 vertebra, plus some ribs," she wrote.

Robins said she was surprised by the quality, as well as the quantity, of the fossils.

Although the small invertebrates may seem less exciting, they help complete a time capsule of what life was like millions of years ago in what is now the Bay Area, especially the paleo-environment and climate, according to Robins.

"These are the first fossils ever collected from this particular part of the East Bay, and it has turned out to be one of the richest sites for marine mammals in northern California," she said.

"It is the first time that we have so many individuals of the same species of fossil whales from the same site. It is rare to find vertebrate, invertebrate and plant fossils that have been scientifically collected from the same rock units, so it will allow us to reconstruct the past environments with a level of detail that is very unusual for any site, and especially for ones on a construction site. Additionally, the plant fossils are terrestrial -- palm trees and pine trees -- preserved with the marine fossils. This shows us that the coastline was not far away."

Water covered much of the area millions of years ago. Where people live and work now, whales roamed over modern Berkeley and Oakland, and giant megalodon sharks were chasing prey in San Jose.

Desmostylus would have waded along a coastline that was decorated with palm and pine trees, while giant seals were splashing in the water.

Cleaning, preparing and studying this number of fossils takes time. The project will end in July 2019, so the researchers are documenting what they can find. They will do all they can until then, and that's when whatever is left will be open and available for others to study.

"We are really just beginning to understand the scientific significance of the finds," Robins said.

"This collection adds significantly to our knowledge of the paleontology of California from the Miocene -- about 15-20 million years ago. The quantity and quality of the fossils is extremely impressive, and that comes down to both luck and the skill and care of the mitigation paleontologists and the construction workers who often found the fossils."

Source: www.erienewsnow.com

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