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Ash From Dinosaur-Era Volcanoes Linked With Shale Oil, Gas

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Nutrient-rich ash from an enormous flare-up of volcanic eruptions toward the end of the dinosaurs' reign kicked off a chain of events that led to the formation of shale gas and oil fields from Texas to Montana.

That's the conclusion of a new study by Rice University geologists that appears this week in Nature Publishing's online journal Scientific Reports.

"One of the things about these shale deposits is they occur in certain periods in Earth's history, and one of those is the Cretaceous time, which is around the time of the dinosaurs," said study lead author Cin-Ty Lee, professor and chair of Rice's Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences. "This was about 90 million to 100 million years ago, which is about the same time as a massive flare-up of arc volcanoes along what is today the Pacific rim of the Western United States."

Advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing over the past 20 years led to a U.S. energy boom in "unconventionals," a category that includes the shale gas and "tight" oil found in shale fields like the Cretaceous Eagle Ford and Mowry and older ones like the Barnett and Bakken.

An enormous volcanic flare-up at the end of the dinosaurs’ reign kicked off a chain of events that led to the formation of the U.S. shale oil and gas fields from Texas to Montana. Rice University geologists said older shale gas fields, like the Marcellus in Pennsylvania and Ohio, may have formed from similar volcanic flare-ups hundreds of millions of years earlier. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

"These types of natural gas and oil are in tiny, tiny pores that range from a few millionths of a meter in diameter to a few thousandths of a meter," Lee said. "The deposits are in narrow bands that can only be accessed with horizontal drilling, and the oil and gas are locked in these little pockets and are only available with techniques like hydraulic fracturing."

Lee said that there have always been hints of a connection between ancient volcanic eruptions and unconventional shale hydrocarbons. During field trips out to West Texas, he and Rice students noticed hundreds of ash layers in exposed rock that dated to the Cretaceous period when much of western North America lay beneath a shallow ocean.

One of these trips happened in 2014 while Lee and Rice colleagues also were studying how a flare-up of Cretaceous-era arc volcanoes along the U.S. Pacific rim had impacted Earth's climate through enhanced volcanic production of carbon dioxide.

"We had seen ash layers before, but at this site we could see there were a lot of them, and that got us thinking," Lee said. Lee, graduate student Hehe Jiang and Rice undergraduates Elli Ronay, Jackson Stiles and Matthew Neal decided to investigate the ash beds in collaboration with Daniel Minisini, a colleague at Shell Oil who had been doing extensive work on quantifying the exact number of ash beds.

"It's almost continuous," Lee said. "There's an ash layer at least every 10,000 years."

The eruption of Alaska’s Pavlof Volcano as seen from the International Space Station May 18, 2013. The volcano’s ash cloud rose to 20,000 feet and extended over hundreds of miles of the northern Pacific Ocean. Credit: NASA/ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science and Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center

Lee said the team determined that ash had come from hundreds of eruptions that spanned some 10 million years. The layers had been transported several hundred miles east of their volcanic source in California. The ash was deposited on the seafloor after being blown through plumes that rose miles into the atmosphere and drifted over the ocean. Lee and students analyzed samples of the ash beds in the geochemical facilities at Rice.

"Their chemical composition didn't look anything like it would have when they left the volcano," he said. "Most of the original phosphorus, iron and silica were missing."

That brought to mind the oceanic "dead zones" that often form today near the mouths of rivers. Overfertilization of farms pumps large volumes of phosphorus down these rivers. When that hits the ocean, phytoplankton gobble up the nutrients and multiply so quickly they draw all the available oxygen from the water, leaving a "dead" region void of fish and other organisms.

Lee suspected the Cretaceous ash plumes might have caused a similar effect. To nail down whether the ash could have supplied enough nutrients, Lee and his team used trace elements like zirconium and titanium to match ash layers to their volcanic sources. By comparing rock samples from those sources with the depleted ash, the team was able to calculate how much phosphorus, iron and silica were missing.

"Normally, you don't get any deposition of organic matter at the bottom of the water column because other living things will eat it before it sinks to the bottom," Lee said. "We found the amount of phosphorus entering the ocean from this volcanic ash was about 10 times more than all the phosphorus entering all the world's oceans today. That would have been enough to feed an oxygen-depleted dead zone where carbon could be exported all the way down to the sediment."

The combination of the ashfall and oceanic dead zone concentrated enough carbon to form hydrocarbons.

Oxygen-depleted “dead zones” often form in the northern Gulf of Mexico due to nutrient-rich runoff from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers, which are seen here as tan and greenish-brown plumes visible from the International Space Station in 2012. Nutrient-rich volcanic ash may have fed similar dead zones that produced shale oil and gas fields from Texas to Montana. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Aqua MODIS

"To generate a hydrocarbon deposit of economic value, you have to concentrate it," Lee said. "In this case, it got concentrated because the ashes drove that biological productivity, and that's where the organic carbon got funneled in."

Lee said shale gas and tight oil deposits are not found in the ash layers but appear to be associated with them. Because the layers are so thin, they don't show up on seismic scans that energy companies use to look for unconventionals. The discovery that hundreds of closely spaced ash layers could be a tell-tale sign of unconventionals might allow industry geologists to look for bulk properties of ash layers that would show up on scans, Lee said.

"There also are implications for the nature of marine environments," he said. "Today, phosphorus is also a limiting nutrient for the oceans, but the input of the phosphorus and iron into the ocean from these volcanoes has major paleoenvironmental and ecological consequences."

While the published study looked specifically at the Cretaceous and North America, Lee said arc volcano flare-ups at other times and locations on Earth may also be responsible for other hydrocarbon-rich shale deposits.

"I suspect they could," he said. "The Vaca Muerta field in Argentina is the same age and was behind the same arc as what we were studying. The rock record gets more incomplete as you go further back in time, but in terms of other U.S. shales, the Marcellus in Pennsylvania was laid down more than 400 million years ago in the Ordovician, and it's also associated with ashes."

More information: Cin-Ty A. Lee et al. Volcanic ash as a driver of enhanced organic carbon burial in the Cretaceous, Scientific Reports (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-22576-3

Journal reference: Scientific Reports

Provided by: Rice University


25 Things You Probably Missed In 'Jurassic Park'

Sunday, March 11, 2018

A Whole Bunch of People On FB thought Steven Spielberg Killed A Real Dinosaur

Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park changed the film landscape, with its ground-breaking computer generated dinosaurs, blend of horror and adventure, plus its perfect John Williams score.

The film left behind a rich world, where humans insist on living alongside giant monster reptiles that have been extinct for 65 million years.

At one point, Jurassic Park was the highest-grossing film of all time, making $357 million during its initial run. Add in the foreign box office and subsequent releases by Universal, and the film's lifetime gross is up to $1.03 billion.

Two sequels followed - Spielberg's The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) and Joe Johnston's Jurassic Park III (2001). In 2015, Colin Treverrow's Jurassic World successfully revived the franchise. J.A. Bayona's Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is coming out on June 22, 2018.

Although it has been over 25 years since Jurassic Park hit theaters, the film continues to reveal little hidden easter eggs, goofs and more. Here are 25 things you probably missed in Jurassic Park.

Watch This 49-Minute ‘Jurassic Park’ Documentary From 1995

25th Anniversary! ‘Jurassic Park’ 4-film Collection Getting 4K Release

1. Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) have a sign in their trailer that reads "No animal released without paperwork completely filled out." This seems a little strange, considering they are paleontologists, and studying extinct animals, as Eighties Kids points out.

2. Grant would not have found a velociraptor skeleton in Montana. Dinosaurs of the velociraptor genus have been found in Asia.

3. However, the dinosaurs seen in the film are more like dinosaurs of the Deinonychus genus. These were found in North America. Author Michael Chricton chose the name Velociraptor over Deinonychus because it was more "dramatic."

4. Grant's seat belt gag is a case of foreshadowing. He gets two "female" seatbelt ends on the helicopter, so he can't connect them. Instead, he ties them together. In the park, the dinosaurs are all supposed to be female, but they still figure out a way to reproduce.

5. Dennis Nedy (Wayne Knight) can be seen watching Jaws on one of his three monitors. It's still unclear why John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) hired him in the first place.

6. Hammond's JP29 jeep is the same one Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson) find in Jurassic World.

7. The Tyrannosaurus rex from Jurassic Park also appears at the end of Jurassic World. You can clearly see the scars from the Velociraptors on the beast.

8. Hammond was even more ambitious than Walt Disney when he planned Disneyland. Hammond dreamed of expanding Jurassic Park to Europe, as seen in one of the projected images behind Sattler.

9. The Making of Jurassic Park appears among the merchandise. It was a real book published at the time of the movie's release, written by Don Shay and Jody Duncan. Sadly, it is no longer in print, but you can get an inexpensive used copy online.

10. The famous scene where the T-rex eats the goat was actually filmed inside a studio. In one shot, you can spot one of the sprinklers providing the rain.

11. During the escape from the raptors, the light through the grill shows A, G, C and T, the bases of DNA.

12. When Steven Spielberg's name shows up in the credits at the end of the movie, composer John Williams included the famous five tones from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

13. B.D. Wong, who plays Dr. Henry Wu, was the only actor from the first film to appear in Jurassic World (2015). Jeff Goldblum, who played Ian Malcolm, will be seen in Fallen Kingdom.

14. One of the other slides projected during the dining room scene shows Hammond believing that Jurassic Park will be more popular than sports and zoos in 1993 and 1995.

15. Part of Jurassic Park was filmed on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, the same island where scenes from LostPirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Avatar were filmed.

16. Gary Rydstrom won two Oscars for his work on the film's sounds. He developed the sounds of the dinosaurs from various animals and they are all different. He told Vulture that some of the T. rex sounds came from his tiny Jack Russell terrier!

17. Jeff Goldblum is heard saying "Must go faster, must go faster" in Independence Day again. He did not say this again during the filming though. The Independence Day team looped in the dialogue from Jurassic Park.

18. Hammond's memory was kept alive in Jurassic World. Mr. Masrani (Irrfan Khan) built a statue at the new park.

19. Malcolm was also referenced in Jurassic World, since you can spot his book God Creates Dinosaurs in the film.

20. While it is true that many of the dinosaurs in the original film are not realistic at all compared to what scientists believe their real-world counterparts looked like, you could theorize that InGen created the dinosaurs in their own image. After all, in Jurassic World, we see them create their own dinosaur from scratch.

21. Velociraptor is actually Latin for "swift seizer," not "Bird of Prey." Deinonychus is Greek for "terrible" and "claw."

22. The T. rex lived 68 to 66 million years ago, while the Velociraptor lived much earlier, between 75 and 71 million years ago. So, there is no way they would have interacted together.

23. Gary Rydstrom also explained to Vulture that the Dilophosaurus sound came from a swan. "Swans make a cute hooting sound, so the cute version of the Dilophosaurus sounds like a swan, for the most part," he told Vulture. "Part of the fun of doing these kind of jobs is that I had no idea what a swan sounded like before!"

24. Harrison Ford was offered the role of Alan Grant, but turned Spielberg down. He had just worked with Spielberg on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, after all. Spielberg let the information slip during a Raiders of the Lost Ark screening in 2011.

25. Another cool sound fact: Rydstrom told Vulture that the sounds of the baby Raptor actually came from baby animals, but things change once Grant realizes the baby is a Raptor.

"That's exactly right; as soon as he asks, 'What kind of dinosaur is this?' you start hearing these raspier baby owl sounds," Rydstrom said. "I already knew what the adult raptor would sound like, that it would have this screechy, raspy sound, so I tried to find a baby animal that has that rasp in it."

Watch This 49-Minute ‘Jurassic Park’ Documentary From 1995

25th Anniversary! ‘Jurassic Park’ 4-film Collection Getting 4K Release


'Sonora Lizard' could become Arizona's State Dinosaur

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Sonorasaurus is a genus of brachiosaurid dinosaur from around 93 million to 112 million years ago. It was a herbivorous sauropod whose fossils have been found in southern Arizona in the United States. Its name, which means “Sonora lizard,” comes from the Sonoran Desert where its fossils were first found. It is estimated to have been about 49 feet long and 27 feet tall, about one-third of the size of Brachiosaurus.  Wikipedia

A 27-foot-tall dinosaur that lived about 100 million years ago could soon have something in common with the cactus wren, the palo verde and even the Colt single-action revolver: becoming part of “official” Arizona.

Members of the House Government Committee on Thursday gave their unanimous endorsement to the pleas of 11-year-old Jax Weldon to designate the Sonorasaurus as the “official state dinosaur.” That sends SB 1517, which already has been approved by the Senate, to the full House.

Weldon, a self-proclaimed amateur paleontologist, told lawmakers he was inspired after California lawmakers voted last year to select the Augustynolophus as its official state dinosaur. His research, he said, led him to the Sonorasaurus.

The “why” behind that choice is a bit more complex.

There’s the sheer size of the enormous creatures, getting as tall as 27 feet and up to 49 feet long. That size allowed the vegetarian to graze in the treetops that other animals of its time could not reach.

It also lived in what is now Arizona, though at the time the climate and topography were vastly different than they are now.

And then there’s the fact that the huge creature was featured in “Jurassic Park.”

“I would not choose any other dinosaurs because they either are not relevant enough or not very well understood,” Weldon said. And he said he did not want to choose a dinosaur that might already be the official selection of some other state.

Weldon told lawmakers his interest in dinosaurs dates to when he was just 2.

“I think there was this little tiny globe that my parents had bought,” he said. “When you pressed it in a certain area it would say the name of a dinosaur and then it would like roar or something.”

If the bill becomes law, it would add Sonorasaurus to an ever-growing list of official state items.

Some are quite familiar, like the bloom of the giant saguaro as the state flower, the two-tailed swallowtail as the state butterfly or even the bola tie as official state neckwear.

Some of the choices have been more controversial, like the 2011 vote to declare the Colt single-action Army revolver to be the official state firearm.

Albert Hale, then a state representative from Window Rock, objected to providing official state recognition to “an instrument of destruction.” And Hale, a Navajo, said his people were all too often on the wrong end of that weapon.

“Does that mean we honor and celebrate the killing of my relatives?” he asked.

And controversy could be lurking in the wings even on this to designate the Sonorasaurus as the state dinosaur.

Two decades ago John Huppenthal, then a state senator, pushed a proposal by a 9-year-old boy to give that designation to the Dilophosaurus, a 20-foot-long dinosaur whose remains were discovered in 1940 near Tuba City.

That ran into opposition from volunteers from the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson who argued that the bones were spirited away by paleontologists from the University of California-Berkeley. But they had their own suggestion, that being the Sonorasaurus whose remains were being excavated at the time by Arizona paleontologists near Sonoita with plans to put them on display at the Tucson museum.

An attempt at compromise to name both ultimately faltered. And, in the end, neither prehistoric creature gained the designation.

And, as it turns out, there could still be other pretenders even today to giving the state’s official blessing to the Sonorasaurus.

The Museum of Northern Arizona has a potential entry, the Therizinosaur, whose bones are on display at that facility. And while it was unearthed in southern Utah, there is a belief it probably roamed farther south across the Colorado Plateau.

Official state emblems:

Colors -- Blue and old gold, with blue the same as U.S. flag

Fossil -- Petrified wood (araucarioxylon arizonicum)

Bird -- Coues' cactus wren (heleodytes brunneicapillus coures)

Flower -- The white waxy flower of the saguaro (cereus giganteus)

Tree -- Palo verde (genera cercidium)

Neckwear -- Bola tie

Gemstone -- Turquoise

Mammal -- Ringtail (bassariscus astutus)

Reptile -- Ridge-nosed rattlesnake (crotalus willardi)

Fish -- Arizona trout (salmo apache)

Amphibian -- Arizona tree frog (hyla eximia)

Butterfly -- Two-tailed swallowtail (papilionidae papilio multicaudata)

Nickname -- The Grand Canyon state

Firearm -- Colt single action Army revolver

Metal -- Copper

State mineral -- Wulfenite

-- Source: Arizona Revised Statutes &

"Jurassic World" is Getting a 'POKÉMON GO'-Style Game With Dinosaurs

Friday, March 9, 2018

Jurassic World™ Alive - AR Mobile Game - Roaring its way to you this Spring 2018!

You remember Pokémon Go? The adults parading directly into traffic, right off cliffs, and straight into the brave new world of augmented reality? Well we live in that world now, and everyone wants to be the next AR sensation. For instance, this spring you'll be playing Jurrasic Park Alive on mobile, living among the dinos while remaining acutely cognizant of changes in elevation.

Those familiar with Niantic's Pokémon sensation will probably feel right at home with this new game from the developer Ludia.

“Players discover dinosaurs by locating them on a map and deploying an in-game drone to collect DNA samples,” Ludia explained to The Verge. It will also allow you to take pictures with your new prehistoric friends, level up dinosaurs, and battle against other players, which was a feature noticeably absent from Pokémon Go.

The game will be available on both Android and iOS this spring, a bit before Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom hits theaters on June 22. If you just can't get enough dino action, there's also a theme park simulator coming out on PS4, Xbox One, and PC this summer called Jurassic World Evolution. You might recognize Ludia from its own Jurassic Park Builder.

But when the new game arrives this spring, just try to make sure it's not the reason humans go extinct.

h/t The Verge


20,000 Visit Portugal's Dinosaur Theme Park in First Month

Saturday, March 10, 2018

A new dinosaur theme park in Portugal has attracted 20,000 visitors since opening less than a month ago, its director announced on Wednesday.

"We're on around 20,000 visitors, which is very positive for a month in the low season," Luis Rocha told the Lusa Portuguese News Agency.

The park, known as Dino Parque Lourinha, opened to the public on Feb. 9 in Lourinha, a town 70 km north of Lisbon.

The region is a treasure trove for dinosaur paleontologists. In 1993, a fossilized nest of dinosaur eggs was discovered in the crags of a nearby beach. The cliffs were subsequently found to contain hundreds of fossilized dinosaur bones from the Upper Jurassic period.

Such findings are displayed in the park's visitor museum. In the surrounding woodland, 120 life-size models show what the dinosaurs would have looked like in the wild.

The park's blend of fun and education has proved popular with school parties. At least 30,000 pupils are booked to visit between now and the end of the school year in June.

The summer months are then expected to be the park's peak period. Organizers hope to have surpassed 200,000 visitors by the end of the year.


Archaeopteryx Was Active Flyer, Paleontologists Say

Thursday, March 15, 2018

An artist’s impression of what Archaeopteryx lithographica, one of the earliest known birds, would have looked like in flight. Image credit: Carl Buell / Nicholas Longrich.

Archaeopteryx is an iconic fossil species with feathered wings from the Late Jurassic of Germany. The question of whether this dino-bird was an elaborately feathered ground dweller, a glider, or an active flyer has fascinated paleontologists for many years. European Synchrotron Radiation Facility researcher Dennis Voeten and colleagues have now analyzed new data from three Archaeopteryx specimens and found that the wing bones of the ancient creature were shaped for incidental active flight, but not for the advanced style of flying mastered by modern-day birds.

Was Archaeopteryx capable of flying, and if so, how? Although it is common knowledge that modern-day birds descended from extinct dinosaurs, many questions on their early evolution and the development of avian flight remain unanswered.

Traditional research methods have thus far been unable to answer the question whether Archaeopteryx flew or not.

Using synchrotron microtomography to probe inside Archaeopteryx fossils, Dr. Voeten and co-authors shed new light on this earliest of birds.

Reconstructing extinct behavior poses substantial challenges for paleontologists, especially when it comes to enigmatic animals such as Archaeopteryx. This well-preserved fossil species shows a mosaic anatomy that illustrates the close family relations between extinct raptorial dinosaurs and the birds.

Most modern bird skeletons are highly specialized for powered flight, yet many of their characteristic adaptations in particularly the shoulder are absent in Archaeopteryx specimens.

Although its feathered wings resemble those of modern birds flying overhead every day, the primitive shoulder structure is incompatible with the modern avian wing beat cycle.

“The cross-sectional architecture of limb bones is strongly influenced by evolutionary adaptation towards optimal strength at minimal mass, and functional adaptation to the forces experienced during life,” said Professor Jorge Cubo, from the Sorbonne University, France.

“By statistically comparing the bones of living animals that engage in observable habits with those of cryptic fossils, it is possible to bring new information into an old discussion,” added Dr. Sophie Sanchez, from Uppsala University, Sweden.

Archaeopteryx skeletons are preserved in and on limestone slabs that reveal only part of their morphology. Since these fossils are among the most valuable in the world, invasive probing to reveal obscured or internal structures is therefore highly discouraged.

“Fortunately, today it is no longer necessary to damage precious fossils,” said Dr. Paul Tafforeau, of the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility.

“The exceptional sensitivity of X-ray imaging techniques for investigating large specimens offers harmless microscopic insight into fossil bones and allows virtual 3D reconstructions of extraordinary quality.”

Scanning data unexpectedly revealed that Archaeopteryx’s wing bones, contrary to its shoulder girdle, shared important adaptations with those of modern flying birds.

“We focused on the middle part of the arm bones because we knew those sections contain clear flight-related signals in birds,” said Dr. Emmanuel de Margerie, from CNRS, France.

“We immediately noticed that the bone walls of Archaeopteryx were much thinner than those of earthbound dinosaurs but looked a lot like conventional bird bones,” Dr. Voeten said.

“Data analysis furthermore demonstrated that the bones of Archaeopteryx plot closest to those of birds like pheasants that occasionally use active flight to cross barriers or dodge predators, but not to those of gliding and soaring forms such as many birds of prey and some seabirds that are optimized for enduring flight.”

“We know that the region around Solnhofen in southeastern Germany was a tropical archipelago, and such an environment appears highly suitable for island hopping or escape flight,” said Dr. Martin Röper, from the Bürgermeister-Müller-Museum and the Bayerische Staatssammlung für Paläontologie und Geologie, Germany.

Archaeopteryx shared the Jurassic skies with primitive pterosaurs that would ultimately evolve into the gigantic pterosaurs of the Cretaceous. We found similar differences in wing bone geometry between primitive and advanced pterosaurs as those between actively flying and soaring birds,” said Dr. Vincent Beyrand, from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.


Dennis F.A.E. Voeten et al. 2018. Wing bone geometry reveals active flight in ArchaeopteryxNature Communications 9, article number: 923; doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-03296-8


Jurassic World: The Exhibition Continues World Tour With New Paris Venue

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Paris exhibition, owned by JP Exhibition, will be Cityneon's fourth launch following its successful run in Melbourne, Philadelphia and Chicago. Encore Productions will be the presenting partner in Paris.

Jurassic World is making its way across the globe as Cityneon details the opening of France's own Jurassic World – The Exhibition in La Cité du Cinéma from April 14th to September 2nd.

The Paris exhibition, owned by JP Exhibition, will be the company’s fourth launch following its successful run in Melbourne, Philadelphia and Chicago. Encore Productions will be the presenting partner in Paris.

Encore was formed in 1987 and has since been a major player in the live entertainment busiess in France, presenting rock and pop artists, family and Irish shows and musicals in Europe.

Since 2008, Encore has developed the edutainment genre in France through different exhibitions such as Our Body The Universe Within, Days of the Dinosar and Tutankhamon/ Hit Tomb and Hit Treasures.

In 2015, Encore presented Violetta Live, the live version of the famous South American telenovela in France and Switzerland and the LEGO exhibition The Art of the Brick in Paris and Zurich. In 2016, Encore presented harry Potter: The Exhibition in both Brussels and Madrid.


They Found Fossils 50 Thousand Years Old in Corrientes

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Researchers of the Conicet and the National University of the Northeast found in the Toropí reserve of the province of Corrientes paleontological remains of between 30,000 and 50,000 thousand years old, which correspond to three extinct species, one of which would be a carnivore.

“It is the third exhumation of carnivore remains in almost 40 years of study on this reserve, something that excites us much as well as the state of conservation, which is very good,” said paleontologist Alfredo Zurita, in charge of the team. of researchers who came up with the fossils.

These are pieces corresponding to three species, such as parts of the jaws of a mastodon and a giant sloth, as well as a tooth and parts of the jaw and skull of a feline boy.

The finding was made Saturday in the Toropí Stream reserve of the Corrientes town of Bella Vista and was in charge of researchers from the Center for Applied Ecology of the Litoral (Cecoal) of Conicet, as well as the National University of the Northeast.

As indicated by Zurita, the remains date from between 30,000 and 50,000 years, a period corresponding to the Late Pleistocene.

“The great variety of species found and the extraordinary frequency with which findings are produced in Toropí size it as one of the most important paleontological reserves at the continental level,” the specialist said.

“Hundreds of pieces have been found, mostly mammals and the range goes from small rodents between 200 and 300 grams in life, to huge mastodons that could reach six tons,” he said.

While the researchers stress the importance of having obtained the remains of a carnivore just for the third time in about 40 years of study.

“It is striking, especially because in any ecosystem it is uncommon to find carnivores,” the researcher said.

On the way of extinction of these species, in the scientific team of Corrientes assume that by the geological characteristics of the findings the main agent would have been water.

It is that Toropí was a plain of flood, that with the floods the course of water covered the rest of the dead animals, favoring that they are covered with sediments that at present are a guide to know with the greater certainty possible the registry of each piece, mainly its antiquity.

This work, which they estimate would take a year, will now be reflected in a doctoral thesis and a postdoctoral thesis developed by two researchers who on Friday and Saturday were part of the search team in Bella Vista, located 150 kilometers from the capital of Corrientes. on the banks of the Paraná River.


Paleontologists Find ‘Bubbles of Oxygen’ in 1.6-Billion-Year-Old Stromatolites

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Fossilized bubbles and cyanobacterial fabric from 1.6 billion-year-old phosphatized microbial mats of the Chitrakoot Formation in central India. Image credit: Stefan Bengtson.

An international research team led by Swedish Museum of Natural History scientists has found that stromatolites (solid, laminar structures of biological origin) from the 1.6-billion-year-old Chitrakoot Formation in India contain abundant fossilized oxygen bubbles.

“Microbes were the first life forms on Earth,” said lead author Dr. Therese Sallstedt, from the Department of Paleobiology at the Swedish Museum of Natural History, and colleagues.

“They turned our planet into a tolerable environment for plants and animals and thus their activity paved the way for life as we know it today.”

“Some of these early microbes were cyanobacteria that thrived in early shallow waters. They produced oxygen by photosynthesis, and sometimes the oxygen got trapped as bubbles within sticky microbial mats.”

Dr. Sallstedt’s team studied fossilized sediments from central India and found round spheres in the microbial mats.

Fossilized bubbles and cyanobacterial fabric from 1.6 billion-year-old phosphatized microbial mats of the Chitrakoot Formation. Image credit: Stefan Bengtson.

Dr. Sallstedt’s team studied fossilized sediments from central India and found round spheres in the microbial mats.

These ‘bubbles’ were created by tiny microbes in what was once a shallow sea somewhere on the young Earth, according to the researchers.

“We interpret them as oxygen bubbles created in cyanobacterial biomats in shallow waters 1.6 billion years ago,” Dr. Sallstedt said.

SEM micrograph of the fossilized bubbles. Image credit: Stefan Bengtson.

“Cyanobacteria changed the face of the Earth irreversibly since they were responsible for oxygenating the atmosphere. Simultaneously they constructed stromatolites, which still exist on Earth today,” the paleontologists said.

“We now think that cyanobacteria played a larger role than previously believed in creating phosphorites in shallow waters, thereby allowing today’s scientists a unique window into ancient ecosystems.”

The team’s findings were published in the March 2018 issue of the journal Geobiology.


T. Sallstedt et al. 2018. Evidence of oxygenic phototrophy in ancient phosphatic stromatolites from the Paleoproterozoic Vindhyan and Aravalli Supergroups, India. Geobiology 16 (2): 139-159; doi: 10.1111/gbi.12274


Paleontology: Examines the Dawn of Life to the Dawn of Civilization

Friday, March 16, 2018

What is Paleontology?

As with most areas of science, the word “paleontology” has its origins in the Greek language. The word is broken down into three sections. “palaios” means “ancient", “onto/ontos” means "creature" or a “being”. The final part “logos” which means the “study" or “thought” (1). Paleontology then means ancient creatures and beings study. To most people, paleontology is the study of dinosaur remains. While this is the best-known and the public face of this fascinating area of study, it is not all it is about. We classify it as the study of animal life from before the age of the Holocene which began 11,700 years ago (2) at the end of the last Ice Age.

Paleontologists examine a wide array of evidence of animal remains from a time before the age of human civilizations. Some of these creatures would have lived alongside humans, hunted the same prey or have been hunted by our early ancestors. It straddles several other scientific disciplines including evolutionary and other types of biology, paleobotany (the study of ancient plants), geology and paleoecology (the study of ancient 

Although it has its grounding in the study of bones of extinct species, there are many other forms of evidence. Modern paleontologists apply methods and tools from biochemistry, ecology, evolutionary science, osteology, zoology, mathematics and, in some cases, engineering. They look further back into the past than dinosaurs and apply the science to look back to the dawn of life on our planet. The study has been fundamental to creating timelines in evolutionary theory and evolutionary biology too.


What Paleontology Is Not

Firstly, paleontology does not include anatomically modern humans - this is anthropology and archaeology with the former being the study of people and the latter the study of the material remains of people in the past. Nor has it traditionally studied human ancestors. However, a niche area of paleontology studies fossils related to ancestors of anatomically modern humans. This is called Human Paleontology (3). Further details are in a later section. These are the most common misconceptions about paleontology, but they are not the only misconceptions.

Another is that because it studies bones, paleontologist must teach anatomy in medical schools. Although they can, this is not the best use of their skills. Its overlap with medical sciences such as anatomy is fleeting at best (4). Another is that they carry out the work of geologists in prospecting for fossil fuels. Again, although they may be employed in this area, the presence of animal remains are not always indicative of good oil sources, especially as we get much closer to the modern era. The timescale limit for paleontologists is the emergence of organic life on this planet some 3.5bn years ago. The most recent time is around 12,000 years ago. This is not long enough for pockets of oil or gas to have formed from fossils that died around that period.

The final claim based on a misunderstanding is that paleontology serves no purpose outside of itself - that it's a science for science's sake, academia with no function and a pursuit that cannot truly benefit humanity. This is certainly not true. It's been fundamental in reconstructing a species lineage and examining common ancestors between living and extinct species. Without paleontology, our understanding of the family tree of animal lifeforms would be nowhere near as complete (5).


The Types of Evidence Paleontologists Study

Just as dinosaurs come to mind when thinking about paleontology, “fossilized bones” is what comes to mind when thinking about the types of evidence that they examine. This is a major area of the discipline, but it is not its only evidence.

Body Fossils

The first evidence group is what is called “body fossils”. Most commonly, they examine the bones of creatures from the past. However, it also includes fossilized skin, horn, shell, teeth, chitin (minerals found in insect exoskeleton), ivory and hair. Any physical part of a creature's body that could survive under certain conditions is considered “body fossil” and worthy of study (6). It must also be noted that any mold, imprint or cast of a body shape that reveals minute details can also be considered a body fossil. Sometimes, whole or near-complete bodies are preserved. In 2010, paleontologists studying in Siberia uncovered a near-complete body of a woolly mammoth; they called this Yuka. Dated to around 39,000 years old, Yuka's preservation is remarkable with hair, bones and even brain material surviving well; most remarkably, the carcass is said to have oozed fresh blood during the excavation. Yuka remains one of the best preserved mammoth carcasses yet discovered (7).

This evidence is particularly useful for studying fossilized remains from creatures closer to the present day. We have come to learn so much about dinosaurs from body fossils (typically existing in the form of fossilized bones) and from the preserved soft material of creatures that died thousands of years ago preserved under desert conditions (such as Yuka the mammoth).

Trace Fossils

Trace fossils are not physical signs of a fossilized body; they are the physical remains of animal activity. This can be an impression of a body or body part include signs of searching for food - digging, burrowing or scratching, or signs of disturbance by animals - footprints and resting spots. They typically appear as more abstract features, disruptions or anomalies that couldn't possibly have formed naturally (8). Trace fossils can appear for micro-organisms such as protists (a subgroup of single cell organisms such as protozoa, single-cell algae, mold and slime) and bacteria, all the way up macro-organisms such as dinosaur footprints, ant colonies and rodent burrowing. Based on the profile, it is usually possible to determine what type of creature made it although not the individual unless the evidence points clearly to an individual creature. An example of this would be finding a creature's remains inside a burrow - strongly hinting that it burrowed into the ground and subsequently died there.

Such indicators are particularly useful in paleoecology and paleoenvironmental studies; they can tell us far less about the creatures of the past simply because it's often difficult to tell precisely which type of creature made it. Rodent burrows are generally similar to similarly-sized creatures. They are useful for demonstrating sediment consistency at the time, hence its use in environmental/ecological studies (9, p348).

Geochemical Observations

This is the examination of chemical reactions and processes, including absolute dating methods, to determine the extent and age of events in the distant past. They are most useful when no other evidence is present and it is not possible to determine age by any other method.

Geochemical observations are useful in helping paleontologists compile evidence for global biological trends. One example of this is the study of the very oldest rocks for signs of the first arrival of life on planet Earth. We cannot deduce much else from microscopic life in this form due to its age and we will need to use absolute dating methods to determine age (10). Similarly, for the timescale of evolution of the first single-cell organisms to eukaryotes (single cell organisms with nuclei) that would eventually lead to all life (11). It's also proven fundamental in determining dates of the earliest Great Extinction Events (12).

Molecular Phylogenetics

Genetics was an incredible leap forward for many sciences - paleontology included. Its advent in the 1950s allowed paleontologists to begin looking for evidence of genetic links between species that they had previously only theorized and categorized based on morphology and typology. It allowed for the understanding of mutation and horizontal gene transfer. But the most important leap forward in the evolutionary sciences for paleontology would be molecular phylogenetics. This branch of genetics examines hereditary differences of DNA, proteins and chromosomes to ascertain evolutionary relationships between living and extinct life forms, and between living lifeforms that we could previously only speculate were closely related. This was fundamental in building a clearer picture than had previously existed of the evolutionary history of anatomically modern humans and how long ago our lineage diverged from that of apes (13).

Radiometric Dating

There is just one reliable absolute dating method for paleontology when studying the earliest forms of life; that's Potassium-argon dating. While it can date organic material up to the very dawn of life itself, it will only work when examining volcanic and igneous rocks so long as the rock has not been reheated (14). There are problems with this. For more recent paleontological remains, radiocarbon dating is useful up to a range of around 60,000 years, after which the carbon in an organic lifeform has completely mineralized. However, palaeontologists who study lifeforms from the most recent Ice Age work with it quite happy that it's useful and relatively accurate.


More closely associated with archaeology and geology, this chronological relative dating method examines layers within a landscape. Fossils that become trapped in geological layers of millions and billions of years. Paleontologists are far less interested in the rock and soil stratigraphic layers than they are in what they can find in them. Both body fossils and trace fossils can be preserved in calcified rock layers which are then preserved. They still treat stratigraphy as a sequence, but as a build-up of lifeforms over geological time. Stratigraphy is most useful when species are trapped in multiple layers; it's possible to examine bone structures to determine relationships between species that inhabit an area thousands or millions of years apart. They may be interested in dating the soil or layers as a way of contextualizing the remains of organic life found within (15).


A History of Paleontology

Before the Enlightenment

Because the science in the public mind is inextricably linked to the study of dinosaurs, we assume that it began with The Enlightenment and the 18th century, but the truth is humanity has had an interest in ancient and extinct creatures since antiquity and it's been tied to geology until relatively recently. Even now, paleontologists share methods, tools and science applications with geologists even though they may have diverged in many other ways. A handful of ancient Greek and Roman thinkers acknowledged issues with their local paleoenvironments, concluding from the curious fossils that the area must have once been under water. Anaximander wrote a poem about his own discoveries (16). Later, more famous figures such as Xenophanes and The Father of History Herodotus all made similar observations. Even Pliny wrote about people digging up fossils to use as medicine (20).

Even before the dawn of the Age of Reason, some medieval thinkers in Christian Europe and Islamic Middle East examined, observed and commented on strange fossils that they could not fit into the scriptural narrative (17). There are even early records from China discussing the petrification of organic materials becoming stone-like (18). Incredibly, the same man (Shen Kuo) is credited as being the first climatologist due to his work with ancient climatic and geological changes. Other Chinese thinkers include Li Tao-Yuan discussion of “stone fish” (20). This would eventually contribute to the growing curiosity about the natural world. For the most part, the Abrahamic faiths tried to mold the evidence into what they believed about the natural world and the creation. Dinosaur fossils especially were considered creatures discussed in religious texts, an Old Testament version of history that Christian, Jewish and Muslim thinkers accepted as historical reality; most were labeled as pre-flood creatures (19).

Nor should we ignore the early contributions of Leonardo Da Vinci who believed (against the religious narrative) that fossilized creatures once roamed the Earth. A Danish Bishop called Nicholas Steno identified sharp stones as shark teeth and commented that the land where they were found must once have been marine (20).


Enlightenment and Early True Paleontology

Voices such as Leonardo and Steno were rare. With the establishment of scientific research institutes in the 17th-18th centuries, things were changing. One of the earliest figures to forge the science of paleontology was French naturalist Georges Cuvier (20). His seminal work comparing anatomy gave weight to a growing movement of species relationships that would eventually lead to the publication of Charles Darwin's works. He is now credited with the creation of vertebrate paleontology by directly comparing bone assemblages between living and extinct species. Cuvier died over 20 years before Darwin's work was published. In the meantime, plenty of other figures were taking up the mantle in forging the science we would now know as paleontology. Still innately tied to geology though, William Smith created the first geological map of the British mainland, but he would do so using the growing fossil records as well as his own observations about the rock forms. He is so synonymous with geological layers that he was nicknamed “Strata”. William “Strata” Smith's legacy is one relevant to geology, paleontology, archaeology and anthropology, and any other science that uses stratigraphy (21).

Another early pioneer was Mary Anning. The childhood poem “She sells sea shells on the seashore” is about her life, a woman who worked in an area of England now called The Jurassic Coast. She is responsible for discovering some of the earliest dinosaurs including ichthyosaurs (her first when she was just 12 years old) and plesiosaurs; both are marine species. Anning also discovered some of the earliest pterosaur species and fossilized fish (22). Anning went on to inspire many more early paleontologists and fossil hunters.

Before we get to Charles Darwin whose works created, aided and pushed many sciences forward, a special mention must go to another French naturalist called Jean Baptiste Lamarck (20). He compiled one of the first explanations of evolutionary theory, likely a strong influence on Charles Darwin. His contribution to paleontology is primarily in comparative assemblages and pointing out how anatomical characteristics are inherited. This is vital in constructing the various family tries of life forms, working out common ancestry and divergence of species, and how all species are related.


From Darwin to the Modern Age

It is to geology that we look to come to understand what inspired Charles Darwin (20). He was inspired by the works of Charles Lyell who also inspired archaeologists. Lyell's important work in devising the three-age system along with the works of the likes of Mary Anning, William Smith and so many others meant it was only a matter of time before their works divided into the great sciences.

Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, but he did not discuss the fossil record in the first edition. Amid much furor of On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin published an additional chapter just one year later (23). Called On the Imperfection of the Geological Record, he highlighted the problems in the existing record, arguing its incompleteness. Critics pounced on this, but over 100 years of new discoveries in paleontology has built the fossil record. Contemporary Alfred Russel Wallace also skirted around the issue of the fossil record (24).

It was around this time that focus on paleontology began to move away from Europe, with its incomplete record, to North America (20) with its largely virgin lands untouched by generations of building work. Most paleontologists today - no matter where they are in the world - will end up working in or studying the evidence from North America at some point with Siberia closely following. Enormous bone deposits were being discovered in the newly-settled lands, territories and states right through the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Places like Wyoming, Colorado, the Dakotas and Nebraska were particularly rich.

We call this period “The Bone Wars” or “The Great Dinosaur Rush”, not because it was a battle between discoveries in the Old World powers and the New World, but because of the battles that grew within the discipline here in the US. It is said that its two central figures Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh discovered over 140 fossils between them including Allosaurus (an ancestor of many common dinosaur predator species), Diplodocus, Stegosaurus and the Triceratops. Their discoveries were important but their methods questionable and sometimes unethical by modern standards (25). Initially acquaintances, they fell out and developed a fierce rivalry.


20th-21st Century: The Modern Science and Genetics

The 20th century saw paleontology split into several sub-disciplines (see below) that continue today to cope with the growing and subtle nuances of discoveries. Much of this diversification is due to the other influential sciences - ecology, paleobotany, archaeology and anthropology (when examining extinct species typically found in context with human remains such as those that lived during the last Ice Age). More recently, climatology has influenced paleontology as we seek to understand precisely which environmental conditions lead to species adaptation or to mass extinctions

Developments in biology were particularly influential (20), but also chemistry. These natural sciences that had once diverged from each other, began to collaborate once more and become part of a network of researchers. Even physics with radiometric dating (26) became vital to paleontology while it strengthened its relationship with geology (27).

Few developments were as influential and as far reaching as genetics (20). Once that science established, paleontologists had an applied method to examine applied genetic relationships and not a theoretical one based on observations and relationship analysis. Genetics has allowed researchers to examine not just relationships between extinct and living species, but between living species. More than ever, it has allowed us to construct a more thorough, united and comprehensive family tree of all life. Molecular paleontology is now a sub-division in its own right (see below) (28).

Today, paleontologists are looking at the evolution of life and the dawn of life with a particular interest in The Cambrian Explosion (29). This period of 70-80 million years saw an acceleration of life from the simple to the complex, leading to most animal phyla that exist today. It's a conundrum for paleontologists alongside the other complex problems causing the Great Extinctions of our distant past.


Applications of Paleontology

We have already touched on some of the issues highlighted here, but paleontology has many practical applications and uses outside of itself.

Defining the Family Tree of All Life: Paleontology reinforces the relationship between all living beings on this planet. It has allowed us to piece together the family tree and the profiles of all life. It can and has demonstrated where and when humans diverged from apes, when monkeys diverged from the Great Apes (30), when apes diverged from the common ancestors of rodents and back further still. It's also beginning to shed light on the common ancestors of the major kingdoms. The fossil record allows us to construct these relationships by looking act evolutionary developments in bone structures and fossilized soft tissue.

Geological History: Paleontology often helps us put a context on the geological ages. One of the most surprising applications is its contribution to plate tectonics (31). Continental drift, volcanologyseismology and other geological sub-disciplines and geological sciences have problems and missing pieces that paleontologists may be able to complete. The discovery of dinosaur bones and paleobotanical remains in Antarctica show a once lusher landscape indicative of the landmass being farther north. With this data, researchers can piece together past relationships between continents now further apart.

Climate/Environmental History: Above we discussed Bishop Nicholas Steno's hypothesis that the lands where he found in-situ remains of marine animals must have meant that the dry land was once underwater. He had no other evidence to support this, but we now know that climate change, land erosion, marine deposits, volcanic and seismological activity can flood plains and dry seas. Paleoclimatology uses many tools in examining the past profile of a landscape with its paleontological remains being just one.

Identifying Mass Extinctions and Population Explosions: Without paleontological data, we would not know about the explosion of life in the Cambrian Era, nor about the five mass extinctions. From fossil records, we know that 96% of species were wiped from the face of the Earth some 250 million years ago (31). That was the worst but it wasn't the first or the last. The last was the extinction of the dinosaurs. In comparison only a “mere” 76% of species became extinct.

The Great Biological Debates: Proving that paleontology's interests lie beyond fossils for the sake of fossils, evidence has answered or attempted to answer some of science's greatest debates. One of the most heated and widely discussed (and still not settled) is whether dinosaurs were cold-blooded (due to their relationship with reptiles) or warm-blooded (due to their relationship with modern birds) (30). Paleontology's contribution may eventually prove decisive in the absence of other biological evidence.

Fossil Fuel Prospecting: Paleontology has also been at the forefront of petrochemicals (32), searching for new gas, coal and oil pockets. This is because these minerals are compressed biological material - hence the term “fossil fuels”. Paleontology has highlighted certain geological markers that make locating such pockets easier and more likely, relying on key evidence types. Similarly, it has applications in mineral prospecting - precious and heavy metals where paleontological evidence is an indicator.

Modern Climate Change: The great science and great problem of our age is the one that needs to bring together scientists, business and politicians to come up with a solution. In working out issues from the present, we need to look to the past - particularly to the geological, environmental and climatological changes to the past. We can draw parallels between the natural changes of the past and the anthropogenic changes of the modern day by looking at certain evidence types. Temperature change, changes in carbon levels, humidity and ocean acidification are problems for climate change today that have parallels in the distant past (4).


Sub-Disciplines of Paleontology

The modern age has seen palaeontology diversify into several major subdisciplines while at the same time exerting influence over previously unrelated disciplines. The information age, data sharing, international cooperation means that the boundaries between all sciences are increasingly blurring.

Micropaleontology: The study of microscopic life from single-cell organisms, viruses and bacteria, tiny parasites and anything else that requires a microscope to view is now a subdiscipline of paleontology in itself. These organisms can shed light on the conditions at the dawn of life and do survive in geological and marine deposits for later study (33). Unlike paleontology, this is not limited to animal life but also includes microorganisms in the plant kingdom. The separate discipline of paleobotany studies macro plant remains.

Paleobotany: This is the study of ancient and extinct plants through fossil remains (34). This can include imprints of plants (body fossils), fossilized root pathways (trace fossils) algal remains, palynological remains (pollen and spores) and phytoliths (mineralized, calcified and silicate remains of plant materials that absorb water). Plants can tell us a great deal about the ecology of the past, about the climate and when found undigested inside animal remains, about their diet. It may be a subdiscipline or a stand-alone discipline, but it remains inextricably linked to paleontology in many ways.

Vertebrate Paleontology: This was the original intention of the study of paleontology - the nature and relationships of vertebrate lifeforms. Today though, we recognize the subtle nuances of life, have a less linear approach to advance (and one based more on adaptations). Researchers and applied scientists in this area study any form of life with a backbone - everything from the earliest fish species to the dawn of mammals and beyond.

Invertebrate Paleontology: The opposite end of the scale is the study of fossilized remains of creatures that do not have backbones. This includes those with soft bodies only or exoskeletons. Therefore, this group includes mollusks, insects, arachnids, worms, snails, slugs and so on.

Human Paleontology (Paleoanthropology): To fill the gap between anthropology (the study of humanity) and paleontology, a new discipline arose to examine human ancestor species and to look at the development to anatomically modern humans through fossils and bone assemblages (3). This is an area that archaeology and anthropology may examine in small detail, but rarely examine large-scale. This subdiscipline focuses solely on human evolution.

Taphonomy: Once a wide enough variety of fossils were discovered, eventually, paleontologists would wish to understand how fossils form: timescale, processes, how and why (35). Taphonomy is the subdiscipline of paleontology that deals with the scientific study of the processes of fossilization. This can also include weathering, ecological conditions for survival, chemical and physical processes. Understanding how fossilization occurs is of particular use in chemistry, petrochemical and mineral survey and prospecting.

Ichnology: Because trace fossils can be complex, confusing and useful indicators for activity, a new subdiscipline was required to study how they form and why, how and why they are preserved, and the definitions of processes that create them. This branch is known as ichnology. Simply, this is the study of fossilized tracks such as footprints and trails of long-extinct species. Data is used to examine species behaviors - predator/prey relationships, nesting and hibernation and using the environment as a tool. One example of this behavior is the smooth rocks in California's north coast. These smooth areas are believed to be created by mammoths rubbing their tusks over millennia (36).

Paleoecology: The study of the ancient environment and its relationship with the animal species that inhabited the area at any given time is fundamental to understanding fauna change in geologic time. Fossils can tell us much about alterations to a landscape. The sudden arrival or disappearance of fauna could indicate extinction, or it could indicate that the local ecology was no longer conducive to a sustainable population (37). Grasses disappear when a plain suddenly becomes a salt marsh. Insect species known to live in woodland areas will show a sudden and quick absence when the trees are cut down or the land becomes desert or plain.

Molecular Paleontology: A recent addition to paleontology, it has made great strides in the study of extinct and fossilized species (38). This is the use of genetic studies to compare gene transfers, inherited characteristics, mutation, genetic drift between species. It's became increasingly reliable since the 1980s and proven fundamental in constructing the family tree through genetics, either confirming or challenging previous relationships based on bone evolution, taxonomy (classification) and presumed ancestry.