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

The Oldest Passenger Pigeon Fossil

How old is the earliest passenger pigeon fossil?  A single wing bone found at the Lee Creek Mine paleontological locality in North Carolina is 3.7 to 4.8 million years old, a time period known as the Early Pliocene. It is reasonable to ask whether a fossil that old is from the same species as the historically known passenger pigeon, and the paleontologists who identified it were cautious, officially labeling the humerus bone Ectopistes aff. migratorius, but also stating that “Apart from the slightly larger size, which probably would have been encompassed by variation in the recent species, the fossil shows no distinguishing differences from E. migratorius.” (Olson and Rasmussen 2001:300).

The thousands of other fossil bird bones found here were originally deposited in deep marine water and in fact most of the identified birds are ocean-going species like auks, shearwaters, and albatrosses. Land based birds (including the passenger pigeon) comprise a very small proportion of the assemblage (Olson and Rasmussen 2001).

Lee Creek Mine Humerus
The Pliocene passenger pigeon humerus (l, o) compared to a modern pigeon (Rock Dove, Columba livia, m, p) and historic passenger pigeon (n, q). Source: Plate 33, page 364-365, Olson and Rasmussen 2001.

Reference:

Olson, Storrs L., and Pamela C. Rasmussen

2001       Miocene and Pliocene birds from the Lee Creek Mine, North Carolina.  Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology 90:233-365.

 

Northernmost Passenger Pigeon Fossils Found Near Site of Controversial Dam Project

A controversial dam and reservoir planned for British Columbia, Canada, is expected to flood over 12,000 acres (5000 hectares) of land in the Peace River valley. The Peace River Valley is home to Charlie Lake Cave (also known as Tse’K’wa), where archaeologist Jonathan Driver identified what may be the northernmost passenger pigeon fossils ever found. Charlie Lake Cave is just north of 56° latitude on the eastern side of the Canadian Rockies. Passenger pigeon bones were found in a level dated between 9,000-8,100 years ago, as well as in younger deposits.

While this site is not directly threatened by the Site C dam, hundreds of other archaeological and paleontological sites will be flooded by the BC Hydro project. Local First Nation tribes and other residents are also opposed to the project.

For more information, see The Globe and Mail story.

For more on Charlie Lake Cave, including video interviews with Jon Driver, check out A Journey to a New Land, created by the Simon Fraser University Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology
Reference:
Driver, Jonathan C., and Keith A. Hobson
1992 A 10 500-year sequence of bird remains from the Southern Boreal Forest region of western Canada. Arctic 45(2):105-110.

Archeologist Jonathan Driver at the Tse’K’wa cave. Photo by Barbara Winter, from theglobeandmail.com

“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