Dinosaur Fossils Don’t Get Much Better Than This

© Royal Tyrrell Museum
© Royal Tyrrell Museum

Attention dinosaur nerds: if you haven’t already, you’re going to want to add Alberta, Canada, to your bucket list, as the province now hosts one of the most spectacular dino fossils the world has ever seen.

Alberta is well known as home to one of the densest dinosaur deposits on the planet. The Canadian Rockies in general are rich in both fossils and fossil fuels, and the search for one has not infrequently led to the other. The latest stunner was unearthed in 2011 by workers in a mine near Fort McMurray, who knew something was amiss when their bucket pulled up oddly patterned, deep-brown lumps of some unfamiliar mineral. They dug in farther, more carefully, and that’s when they found it: a 9-foot-long chunk of monster, sculpted in stone.

But there had been no sculptor, only time and happenstance. The 2500-pound stone that eventually emerged was not a skull, or a footprint, or an egg. It was a petrified dinosaur.

“We don’t just have a skeleton,” Caleb Brown of the Royal Tyrrell Museum, where the dinosaur is on display, told National Geographic. “We have a dinosaur as it would have been.”


©Royal Tyrrell Museum

And not just any dinosaur, either. The hulking, armored beast preserved in the oil sands is new to science, the first of its species ever found. We know that it’s a type of ankylosaur called a nodosaur, and that its last days likely took place somewhere between 110 and 112 million years ago.


©Royal Tyrrell Museum

The recovered fossil contains only the dinosaur’s front end to its hips. In life, the nodosaur would have been 18 feet long and almost 3000 pounds. If that wasn’t enough to keep the haters away, it also had a pair of 20-inch spikes protruding from its shoulders, like a boss. Even in death, this herbivore looks tough.

Needless to say, dinosaur researchers are beside themselves with glee. The preservation is so good, paleobiologist Jakob Vinther of the University of Bristol told National Geographic, that “it might have been walking around a couple of weeks ago.”

[h/t National Geographic]

How Fossil Fuel Use Is Making Carbon Dating Less Accurate

iStock.com/Harry Wedzinga
iStock.com/Harry Wedzinga

The scientific process of carbon dating has been used to determine the age of Ötzi the Iceman, seeds found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb, and many other archaeological finds under 60,000 years old. However, as SciShow points out in a recent episode, the excessive use of fossil fuels is making that method less reliable.

Carbon dating, also called radiocarbon or C-14 dating, involves analyzing the ratio of two isotopes of carbon: C-14 (a radioactive form of carbon that decays over time) and C-12 (a more stable form). By analyzing that ratio in a given object compared to a living organism, archaeologists, paleontologists, and other scientists can get a pretty clear idea of how old that first object is. However, as more and more fossil fuels are burned, more carbon dioxide is released into the environment. In turn, this releases more of another isotope, called C-12, which changes the ratio of carbon isotopes in the atmosphere and skews the carbon dating analysis. This phenomenon is called the Suess effect, and it’s been well-documented since the ‘70s. SciShow notes that the atmospheric carbon ratio has changed in the past, but it wasn’t anything drastic.

A recent study published in Nature Communications demonstrates the concept. Writing in The Conversation, the study authors suggest that volcanoes “can lie about their age." Ancient volcanic eruptions can be dated by comparing the “wiggly trace” of C-14 found in trees killed in the eruption to the reference "wiggle" of C-14 in the atmosphere. (This process is actually called wiggle-match dating.) But this method “is not valid if carbon dioxide gas from the volcano is affecting a tree’s version of the wiggle,” researchers write.

According to another paper cited by SciShow, we're adding so much C-12 to the atmosphere at the current rate of fossil fuel usage that by 2050 brand-new materials will seem like they're 1000 years old. Some scientists have suggested that levels of C-13 (a more stable isotope) be taken into account while doing carbon dating, but that’s only a stopgap measure. The real challenge will be to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

For more on how radiocarbon dating is becoming less predictable, check out SciShow’s video below.

Scientists Find Fossil of 150-Million-Year-Old Flesh-Eating Fish—Plus a Few of Its Prey

M. Ebert and T. Nohl
M. Ebert and T. Nohl

A fossil of an unusual piranha-like fish from the Late Jurassic period has been unearthed by scientists in southern Germany, Australian news outlet the ABC reports. Even more remarkable than the fossil’s age—150 million years old—is the fact that the limestone deposit also contains some of the fish’s victims.

Fish with chunks missing from their fins were found near the predator fish, which has been named Piranhamesodon pinnatomus. Aside from the predator’s razor-sharp teeth, though, it doesn’t look like your usual flesh-eating fish. It belonged to an extinct order of bony fish that lived at the time of the dinosaurs, and until now, scientists didn’t realize there was a species of bony fish that tore into its prey in such a way. This makes it the first flesh-eating bony fish on record, long predating the piranha. 

“Fish as we know them, bony fishes, just did not bite flesh of other fishes at that time,” Dr. Martina Kölbl-Ebert, the paleontologist who found the fish with her husband, Martin Ebert, said in a statement. “Sharks have been able to bite out chunks of flesh, but throughout history bony fishes have either fed on invertebrates or largely swallowed their prey whole. Biting chunks of flesh or fins was something that came much later."

Kölbl-Ebert, the director of the Jura Museum in Eichstätt, Germany, says she was stunned to see the bony fish’s sharp teeth, comparing it to “finding a sheep with a snarl like a wolf.” This cunning disguise made the fish a fearful predator, and scientists believe the fish may have “exploited aggressive mimicry” to ambush unsuspecting fish.

The fossil was discovered in 2016 in southern Germany, but the find has only recently been described in the journal Current Biology. It was found at a quarry where other fossils, like those of the Archaeopteryx dinosaur, have been unearthed in the past.

[h/t the ABC]

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