Site of the First (Mostly) Complete Dinosaur Skeleton: Haddonfield, New Jersey

In 1858, William Parker Foulke was shown some large bones that had been dug out of a marl pit in Haddonfield, New Jersey, two decades earlier. Foulke and Joseph Leidy then dug up more bones from the site and named the dinosaur Hadrosaurus foulkii. Some earlier, more fragmented dinosaur remains had been found earlier in the nineteenth century, but Hadrosaurus was the first more or less complete dinosaur skeleton.

The original dig site is now in a park in Haddonfield. A plaque, interpretive sign, and a picnic table with toy dinosaurs you can play with commemorate the find. A statue of Hadrosaurus can be found a few minutes away in downtown Haddonfield.

Paid Paleontology Internship at a Miocene Mammal Mecca

Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park in Nebraska has paid internships available. Ashfall preserves the articulated skeletons of 12-million year old rhinoceros, horses, camels, and deer who died after a volcanic eruption.

Several summer internships are available for field studies in vertebrate paleontology. With preference to geology or biology students, the positions are open to all students with a genuine interest in, and knowledge of vertebrate paleontology, especially those aspiring to further their experience outside of the classroom. Duties include excavation, sorting of micro-vertebrate fossils, prep lab tasks, interpretive duties and other park support tasks.

36-38 hour workweek. $11.50 per hour.

* Three internships will be offered for May 24 to August 10.
* Two internships will be offered for June 20 to September 15.
* One internship will be offered for September 3 to October 20.

Deadline: Applications will be accepted until all positions have been filled, but no later than April 1st. Therefore, advantage to early applicants. Contact the Superintendent at Ashfall for more information.

Free Access to Recent Geology and Paleontology Articles

Publisher Taylor & Francis is offering free access to all 2013 and 2014 articles from 17 Paleontology and Earth Science journals to celebrate both National Fossil Day and the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology and the Geological Society of America annual meetings. Articles will be available for free through the end of 2015.

The ten journals are:

Alcheringa
Australian Journal of Earth Sciences
Geodesy and Cartography
GFF (Geological Society of Sweden)
Geodinamica Acta
Geomatics, Natural Hazards and Risk
Grana
Historical Biology
Ichnos
International Geology Review
Journal of Earthquake Engineering
Journal of Systematic Palaeontology
Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology
Marine Georesources & Geotechnology
New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics
Palynology
Rocks and Minerals

Access the journals here:

Taylor & Francis

Smuggled Turtles Identified by Paleontologist

Shells and body parts of endangered turtles were identified by paleontologist Don Brinkman, leading to the conviction of the smuggler.

this case — which involved combing through a container with 945 turtle plastrons (bottom part of the shell), 2,454 turtle shells, and 52 bags of turtle fragments within 815 cartons, followed by a second container with 224 bags of fragments in 842 cartons — was the biggest Brinkman has ever worked on.

Full Story at the Calgary Herald.

Contraband turtle bones and parts. Source: Environment Canada/Calgary Herald

Giant Beaver: Two Species to Choose From

By Charles R. Knight [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Charles R. Knight [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
There’s no type of extinct mammalian megafauna we like better than the giant beaver. Most specimens of the giant beaver, an extinct Pleistocene rodent found throughout North America that approached the size of a black bear, are considered Castoroides ohioensis. Now, scientists have proposed a new species of giant beaver, Castoroides dilophidus, based on skulls found in Florida.

This new species lived during the Late Pleistocene and is limited, so far, to Florida and surrounding states. It is distinguished from C. ohioensis by several cranial characteristics as well as the presence of a divided lophid on two teeth, the lower fourth premolar and upper third molar (hence the species name dilophidus). An earlier named species, C. leiseyorum, thought to be restricted to the Early Pleistocene, is now also subsumed into C. dilophidus as a junior synonym.

Some interesting issues regarding the collection and curation of fossils pop up. One of the skulls used to define the new species “is housed in a private collection, but a high fidelity cast is in the UF [University of Florida] collection. Furthermore, the owner of the original specimen has agreed to make it available for study to other workers.” (Hulbert et al. 2014:29). The owner is unnamed. They also discuss in detail casts of a giant beaver skull sold by the company Bone Clones that “likely reside in a number of museum collections” (Hulbert et al. 2014:38). This specimen, which the company labels C. ohioensis, also has characteristics of C. dilophidus. It appears that the original fossil has dilophidus traits, but when the fossil was restored, missing parts were reconstructed using ohioensis (and modern beaver) as references. Hulbert and colleagues were able to solve this puzzle by speaking with the original collector and the person who did the restoration, both of whom are unnamed, but the actual fossil “is now in a private collection and not available for study.” (Hulbert et al. 2014:38). The authors have tried to make the best of an awkward situation by documenting as thoroughly as possible these mystery fossils.

 

Reference:

Hulbert, Richard C., Jr., Andreas Kerner, and Gary S. Morgan

2014       Taxonomy of the Pleistocene Giant Beaver Castoroides (Rodentia: Castoridae) From the Southeastern United States. Bulletin of the Florida Museum of Natural History 53(2):26–43.

http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/bulletin/publications/

 

“because it looks like it, goddamit it!” On Identifying Bones and Fossils

One more quote from paleontologist Clayton E. Ray, this time on the epistemology of identifying animal bones:

“… the techniques [of comparative methodology, i.e., comparing unknowns to knowns] were not codified and universally applied until the nineteenth century under the influence of Cuvier, Owen, and Agassiz. This could not have occurred prior to the Age of Enlightenment/Reason, with the spread of the notion that all problems could be successfully solved through intensive inspection and that ordinary humans could rely on their own careful observations irrespective of authority.[emphasis added] … Until recently, this reliance was taken for granted, so much so that the sublime notion could be expressed profanely, if I may be permitted one homely example: Remington Kellogg, once asked by a colleague what criteria allowed him to conclude that a certain fragmentary whale vertebra was in fact identifiable to a particular species, immediately replied resoundingly, “because it looks like it, goddamit it!” He did not live to experience the postmodern entry of doubt introduced by phylogenetic systematics and social constructivism, in which we question the meaning of all our observations.” (p.7)

Clayton E. Ray on Forgotten Knowledge and Objective Mistakes

More from Clayton E. Ray:

discoveries do not stay discovered; they must be tended like a garden. (p. 15)

 

approach to truth is a fragile dynamic that requires continual vigilance. There may be some validity to Gould’s (1996:110) claim that “persistent minor errors of pure ignorance are galling to perfectionistic professionals,” but this has no bearing on the overriding requirement that each professional strive assiduously to get things right and never knowingly let even “minor errors” persist.(p. 16)

Reference:

Clayton E. Ray 2001.  Prodromus. In Geology and Paleontology of the Lee Creek Mine, North Carolina, III.  Edited by C.E. Ray and D.J. Bohaska. Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology, number 90:1-20.

Whether in the Library or in the Field, Always Dig Deeper

I don’t think I have ever read an introduction to a collection of paleontology papers that had more gems than Clayton E. Ray’s “Prodomus” to a volume on Miocene/Pliocene Lee Creek Mine locality. Like this:

Having flattered myself that I had unearthed essentially everything, it is salutary to be reminded through several oversights that in antiquarian, as in paleontological, research one can never do too much digging. Returns in each are apt to be unpredictable and to be meager in relation to time invested (hardly “cost effective”), but there will always be something new, and, to comprehend it when found, one must be steeped in the subject.  (p. 1)

Clayton E. Ray and a walrus skull at the Smithsonian. Source: Unidentified photographer, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Acc. No. 11-008, Image Number: OPA-974R1-B.

Reference:

Clayton E. Ray 2001.  Prodromus. In Geology and Paleontology of the Lee Creek Mine, North Carolina, III.  Edited by C.E. Ray and D.J. Bohaska. Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology, number 90:1-20.

 

Paleontology in Panama: Postdoc Opportunity

1911 Washington Post Headline. Source: http://nmnh.typepad.com/100years/our-history/page/2/

The Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida
is advertising a 2 year postdoctoral fellowship starting January 2015 within the Panama Canal Project (PCP), an NSF-funded project within the Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) program.

The postdoc fellow will work with scientists at the University of Florida and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute to:
1) conduct original field-based research on the ancient biodiversity, climates, and environments of Panama; 2) facilitate on-going field research of other project participants; and 3) supervise and mentor PCP-PIRE interns in Panama. Minimum requirements: PhD (geology, biology, or related discipline), experience conducting geology/paleontology field work, and some supervisory experience. The postdoc fellow will be required to spend considerable portions of this appointment in Panama. Some Spanish competency is preferred. This position is available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents and includes an annual stipend ($40,000), health insurance, housing when living in Panama, and related travel. PCP-PIRE is committed to diversity in education and encourages the application of women and underrepresented minorities.
Applicants must submit a letter of interest, curriculum vitae, statement of proposed research, and contact information for 3 references to Aaron Wood (awood@flmnh.ufl.edu) by 15 November 2014.

For more information:
www.flmnh.ufl.edu/panama-pire/funding-opportunities/postdoc

Also check out Fossils of Panama at the Florida Museum of Natural History.

Gold Miners Find Trove of Pleistocene Animal Bones

Animal bones from the last Ice Age are continually being exposed by gold mining in the Yukon. The provincial government hires two paleontologists to collect the bones, and occasionally bits of flesh or fur, from the many mining operations; they already have 25,000 specimens.

Source: nationalpost.com and Government of Yukon

“Typically, you know you’ve found it because you smell it before you see, it,” said Duane Froese, a University of Alberta scientist who has been coming to the Klondike for 20 years. “Imagine putting something in your freezer for 40,000 years and then thawing it out.”

In fact, most placer mines are permeated by a noticeably foul smell. As Klondike silt is blasted away, it unleashes the distinctive stench of millennia-old rotting plants and animals.

“It’s like rotting ancient barnyard, and you know when you have that smell that you’re going to find a lot of ancient material,” said Mr. Zazula.

The Klondike region, along with parts of Alaska, was one of the only parts of North America not to be covered by ice sheets during the last ice age.

As a result, while soil in the rest of Canada was repeatedly smashed and churned by glaciation, the frozen Klondike ground remained as undisturbed as a graveyard. In some remote area of the northern Yukon, prospectors even talk of finding mammoth prints.

Fossils in them there hills: Yukon gold miners uncover bounty in ancient animal remains each year