The featured blog is ‘Palaeoblog‘ by Michael Ryan, PhD. This is a fascinating blog about Palaeontology which covers a vast number of areas. I was interested to look into this area after reading Neil Shubin’s ‘The Inner Fish’ as there are numerous lessons that we can learn about humans from (indirect) evidence in Palaeontology. Ryan tells us about influential figures in the field such as Mayr at 100 years old or the renowned fossil hunter Mary Anning as well as reviewing relevant books such as this on the reconstructive illustrator Zdenek Burian.
Ryan looks at human evolution. For instance he covers estimates of the earliest Homo Sapiens in Africa dated at 195,000 years ago, the earliest footprint evidence of walking hominids – just under 4 million years old, facial reconstruction of the oldest human, 1.3 million year old ‘human‘ footprints, support for the Out-of-Africa theory from Hofmeyr skull, human and chimp cross-speciation in the early period after divergence, the oldest Austrolopithecus found in Ethiopia, the discovery of 260,000 year old ancestor adapted to the cold, behavioural inferences in neolithic Britons, a controversial ruling on Austropolithecus in human evolution, evidence of modern humans in Europe 45,000 years ago, evolution of oral bacteria with humans, evidence that populations of humans were separated from each other for tens of thousands of years, evidence for lactose intolerance in Europeans from 5000 BC, reconstruction of Homo Rudolfensis face, origins of hominid upright posture, an Austrolopithecus mandible that has features in common with the Gorilla, an estimate of the first hominin in Europe 1.1 million years ago, the origin of blue eyes 6-10,000 years ago, stress models used to examine the diet of Austrolopithecus, gene hotspots in humans, the development of the Home Erectus pelvis and the advent of anatomically modern feet 1.5 million years ago. There is also an intriguing look at Homo Florensis, which may or may not be a separate species and which is 18,000 years old. Here for instance is an argument against Homo Florensis being a new species and a counterargument that H.Florensis is not an example of microcephaly by looking at endocasts.
There are a number of articles on Neanderthals including the construction of the first fully jointed Neanderthal specimen, sequencing of Neanderthal protein sequences – Osteocalcin, the mobility of Neanderthals argued using bone shape and mitochondrial DNA, features of human behaviour that may have given rise to Neanderthal extinction, revised estimate of how quickly Neanderthals disappeared with the advent of humans, the Neanderthal human split 400,000 years ago, evidence of Neanderthals with red hair, findings from the Neanderthal Genome (and here), evidence of Neanderthal cannabalism, evidence for Neanderthal extinction due to competition with Cro-Magnon man, evidence of Neanderthals with red hair and genetic drift as an explanation of differences between Neanderthals and modern humans.
Ryan covers the evolution of life in all its splendour including the discovery of a member of the rabbit species 55 million years ago which is significant for placental mammals, a 450 million-year-old fossil fish discovered in South Africa, a review of a book on the origin of Phyla, three-dimensional vision in the Trilobite which appeared 1/2 a billion years ago(!), simple genetic changes resulting in evolution in sticklebacks, a 425-million year old shellfish with soft tissue preservation, a 37 million-year-old monkey-like creature discovery, the reign of mammals and high oxygen levels in the atmosphere, insights into mammalian evolution from the mammalian genome, ears evolved from gills, the importance of Lampreys to vertebrate evolution, the evolution of shark electrosensory organs, evidence for evolution of polyphenisms, the rise of modern mammals in relation to the dinosaurs, the first use of oxygen by life, the fish tetrapod transition, the potential importance of Retroposons in evolution, the Pleistocene horse extinction, the evidence of microbes from 3.43 billion years ago producing the Stromatolite reef, 600 million-year-old embryos, the evolution of Tetrapod limbs, the origin of placental mammals, 500 million-year-old jellyfish, 445 million-year-old Horseshoe crabs, reptiles and birds sharing hair genes, the genetic origin of teeth, Tuatara as the most rapidly evolving species, a 9,550 year-old tree in Sweden, the genome of the unusual duck-billed platypus, replication of genes critical for evolution in the Lancelet, evidence that Whale ancestors gave birth on land, aggression in bluebirds influencing evolution, dinosaurs and nesting behaviours, evolutionary bursts occurring in short periods, the evolution of ants, an estimate of the number of joules it takes to generate a new species of plankton and how the whales lost their legs
Ryan covers non-human primate evolution including a 10-foot tall ape that lived alongside humans for 1 million years, a look at the brain of the anthropoid Aegyptopithecus Zeuxis, genetic hotspots in chimpanzees, the discovery of the Gawis hominid cranium which may be up to 500,000 years old, a 56 million-year-old primate fossil, a 42 million-year-old primate, evidence that chimpanzees can use caves, an examination of bipedalism in Orangutans, flying lemurs as the closest living relatives to primates, Orrorin tugenensis and the origins of hominin bipedalism and 55 million-year-old primates in the Americas.
Ryan looks at extinctions that have occurred throughout history and related material including a site which lets you run simulations of meteor impacts, 62 million-year cycle to extinctions, evidence of a 1.85 billion year old impact event, a gamma ray burst linked to Ordovician extinction, a superpredator theory of extinctions, a possible Permian gas extinction, surviving the Permian-Triassic extinction, impact crater in Antarctica and recovery from the Permian extinction.
As evolution occurs in the context of the environment, Ryan covers some of the astonishing changes that have occurred on the Earth as well as evidence for the origins of some important features on Earth. Examples include the Earth’s tilt controlling glaciation cycles, early Earth conditions suitable for life, evidence for liquid water on the surface of Earth 4 billion years ago, early Earth most likely had continents and estimates of the end of the last ice age. He also covers evidence of continental movement in Ethiopian desert, a 300 million-year-old forest, a 3.2 billion-year-old Earth which had magnetic fields, low levels of oxygen and Molybdenum in the oceans may have delayed evolution of animals by up to 2 billion years and evidence that the tectonic plates are 4 billion-years-old.
There are a number of interesting miscellaneous articles including soft tissue preservation in T.Rex specimens – (however check this out), a proposed model to explain the limited number of species that have evolved, constructal theory for explaining animal movements, fossil collecting in China in 449 BC, confocal microscopy used to produce 3-d representations of fossils, a new theory by Shapiro on the origins of life, a method for dating fossils directly without reference to surrounding rock layers, a link to another article discussing evidence that overall brain size rather than relative brain size or neocortical size is correlated with intelligence and Phlyogenomic sampling increasing resolution of the tree of life.
This is a fascinating blog which covers a vast amount of material showing at once the rich tapestry of life on Earth both in the present and in the past as well as the connection we have with this life.
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