Upcoming Dino-craft event at Kino

Dino models

I remember many childhood days building dinosaurs with cardboard, Lego, or Play-Doh (or for those of older vintage, Plasticine), and was delighted to learn about the launch of an upcoming series of books where kids can also build their own prehistoric creatures.

Japanese publisher Shogakukan is teaming up with Kinokuniya this month to organize two public activity sessions for children, parents, and art and craft enthusiasts, where they will launch four English language paper craft books on dikinonosaurs!

Life-Size Dinosaurs is the first book in the Shogakukan NEO Life-Size Series and features dinosaurs from various time periods. 3D Dinosaurs 1, 3D Dinosaurs 2, and 3D Tyrannosaurus are part of the Shogakukan NEO Paper Craft Series, authored by paper craft artist Masanori Kamiya.

As a father, I especially appreciated how the author advocates the importance of building close parent-child relationships, and encourages the expansion of children’s creativity and imagination.

Fellow Singaporeans who would like to join in the fun can visit the Kinokuniya main store at 3.30pm next Saturday 15 March. The second event will be at 4pm on Saturday 22 March at their main store.

See you there!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Exhibition Review: Titans of the Past

After a few wonderful months, the Titans of the Past exhibition is finally approaching its final two weeks. We made a third visit today, this time with our nieces, and were pleasantly surprised to see that the Science Centre was really packed even on an early Saturday morning.

The exhibition started with an in-depth look at four of the most ‘popular’ dinosaur species that everyone is familiar with: The Triceratops, the Pachycephalosaurus, the Hadrosaur, and of course their predator, the Tyrannosaurus Rex.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We saw a most complete collection of Triceratops, detailing their size (at 9 feet in length, their keratin-covered and blood vessel-grooved skulls are among the largest of any land animal!), the usage of their horns (most likely for recognition, rather than for defense or sexual display), and an excellent growth series of juvenile to adult Triceratops horridus.

Adult Trike with opening in frill

Large juvenile Trike with thinning frill

Large juvenile Trike with thinning frill

This series of skulls illustrated Dr. Jack Horner’s thesis that Triceratops orbital horns that arched backwards in youth curved forwards in adulthood. Of particular interest were two specimens that showed the Triceratops frill thinning in an adult.

 

Pachy adult and sub-adult domed skulls

Pachy adult and sub-adult domed skulls

The Pachycephalosaurus wyomingensis display was even more controversial. Paleontologists have always believed that the adult Pachy, whose solid frontal-parietal dome measures 10 to 13 centimetres thick, was developed for head-butting. The exhibition however postulates that because the Pachy’s spongy bone tissue was only found in juveniles and the solid domes of adults might be associated with skull damage in a head-butt, that the Pachy may not have used its solid skull for territorial disputes after all.

Hadrosaur adult and juvenile skulls

Hadrosaur adult and juvenile skulls

The most fascinating aspect of the Hadrosaur display was how scientists build a rapid prototype of the nasal crest of the Hypacrosaurus stebingeri, and blew wind through it as a resonating chamber to simulate the sounds that these duckbill dinosaurs used to make. They found that the different shapes of the adult, juvenile, and baby Hadrosaurs made very different sounds. Interestingly, this research approach to mimic dinosaur sounds was dramatized in the Jurassic Park movie, where Dr. Alan Grant used a 3D-printed resonating chamber to communicate with the raptors.

 

MOR 008 - The largest real T-Rex skull in the world!

MOR 008 – The largest real T-Rex skull in the world!

The T-Rex display was particularly educational, showing how the rounding out of juvenile T-Rexes flat teeth as they matured showed that they transitioned from being meat slicers to bone crunchers. It suggests that T-Rexes might have been scavengers rather than the fearsome predators they are typically portrayed as, based on evidence of T-Rex fossils being in relative abundance, T-Rexes having had a keen sense of smell through their large olfactory bulbs, their rounded, bone-crushing teeth, and biomechanic simulations that suggested that they might not have been able to run very fast and were therefore not very effective predators. The highlight of the exhibition for us was the actual fossil of MOR 008, the largest T-Rex skull in the world. Measuring 59 inches long (the closest contender Sue at the Chicago Field Museum is only 55.4 inches long), this very special specimen was discovered at Hell Creek Formation in Montana USA by Donald Bender in 1965. It was 80 percent complete and originally found in some 1,000 pieces, and was only recently fully assembled.

The Fossil Collector with the Segnosaur egg nest and Machairodus giganteus skull

The Fossil Collector with the Segnosaur egg nest and Machairodus giganteus skull

The exhibition also featured other fossils including the Stan, the second-most complete T-Rex skeleton ever found in North America; a Giganotosaurus Carolini, a carcharodontosaurid that hunted in packs in the Early Cretaceous of Patagonia, Brazil, and Africa; some trilobites; as well as some coprolites, an actual Segnosaur egg nest, and a Machairodus giganteus skull that I had the pleasure of loaning to the Science Centre.

 

 

Ice age mammals

Ice age mammals

The finale of the exhibition brought visitors through time into the Ice Age, and featured megafauna such as the giant sloths Megatherium and Glossotherium; the South American hourse Hippidion; the saber-toothed cat Smilodon; the large, armoured armadillo relative Glyptodont; the llama-like litopturn Macrauchenia; the rhino-sized notoungulate Toxodon; the Pleistocene bear Pararctotherium; and of course the Stegodon and Wooly Mammoth.

All in all we found it a really fun, interactive, and educational experience that was really professionally-put together and enjoyable. Do catch the exhibition in the last two weeks that it is here!

The Titans of the Past exhibition at the Science Centre is open from 25 October 2013 to 23 February 2014, with admission charges at $25 for adults and $19 for children.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fossil Show & Tell at The Science Centre

On the 6th Dec 2013, The Fossil Collector was invited to give a special talk to an incredible group of 30 dinosaur enthusiasts at the Science Centre Singapore.

sc6

Aged between nine and twelve years old, the attendees were participants who had signed up for the Adventure Camp with Dinosaurs, an intensive overnight camp that included a hands-on workshop on fossils, a guided tour of the Titans of the Past exhibition, a wildlife discovery tour at the Ecogarden, and the opportunity for campers to make their own dinosaur documentary.

Our team, comprising Han, Andy, Kemi, Cindy, Cayden, and Calvin, arrived early to set up the fossil exhibits we had brought along and to do quick run through of the exhibition so as to customize our talk accordingly.

Setting up our fossil exhibits

Setting up our fossil exhibits

However, as soon as the excitable children started filtering in, we were immediately presented with an endless stream of questions and thoughts about dinosaurs. This allowed us to improvise our storyline on the go, but most of all it simply astounded the team with the sheer breadth of knowledge the children had and their obvious passion.

“Was the Kronosaurus a type of pliosaur?”
“Yes! It should have been called Cretaceous Park!”
“Why isn’t the Dimetrodon considered a dinosaur?”
“The Spinosaurus was 13 – 18 metres long!”
“Carcharodontosaurus was the largest theropod predator, not T-Rex!”

Simply. Amazing.

We used our time together to dispel some dinosaur myths, talk about the relative sizes of prehistoric fauna, and share about topics such as the practice of paleontology, the fossilization process, trace fossils, plate tectonics, living fossils, and the impact of dinosaurs on human culture.

Kemi & Andy

Kemi & Andy answering questions from the floor

Han showing the geological time scale

Han showing the geological time scale

The kids were particularly spirited in discussing evolution and debating controversies in paleontological science. The highlight of the session must have been when the campers got an opportunity to handle actual fossils ranging from a large Triceratops horn to a massive Mammoth femur and even an actual Allosaurus jaw.

sc2

“Thank you so much for the team’s presence. The talk was well-organised and presented in an interesting way,” said Ms. Anne Dhanaraj Senior Director of Education Programmes at Science Centre Singapore.

“Although there was a lot of information, the participants were really on your wavelength and asking so many questions! All of you really impressed them since they were asking for autographs! Thanks again so much guys and I will definitely look for ways to work together again,” she said.

Thank you Science Centre for this opportunity to share our passion and in so doing, get doubly inspired ourselves by the next generation of fossil enthusiasts!

Do like the Science Centre’s Facebook page to receive information on their future Family Programmes.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Set in Stone Gallery Winter 2013 exhibition

Tucked away in the warehouse district of Tanjong Pagar Distripark is a collection of high-quality fossils available for sale. The Set in Stone Gallery returns for its second exhibition, and positions itself as Asia’s premier fossil gallery.

Founded by our friend and fellow Singaporean collector Cliff Hartono, the exhibition features sixteen fossils including ammonites, a horseshoe crab, fish, palms, sea lilies, sea urchins, and turtles sourced mostly from the Eocene deposits of the US, and a few items from the Jurassic layers of Germany, Madagascar, and Morocco.

Here are a few of our favorite specimens:

IMG_3010

 

IMG_2977

Trionyx Green River Turtle from Wyoming, USA (50 myo)

IMG_2978

Closeup of Trionyx

 

 

Sea Lily Seirocrinus subangularis from Holzmaden, Germany (160 myo)

Sea Lily Seirocrinus subangularis from Holzmaden, Germany (160 myo)

 

Heliobatis radians stingray with Knightnia eoceana fish from Wyoming, USA (%0 myo)

Heliobatis radians stingray with Knightnia eoceana fish from Wyoming, USA (%0 myo)

 

 

 

Pachycormus bollensis fish from Holzmaden, Germany (160 myo)

Pachycormus bollensis fish from Holzmaden, Germany (160 myo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Closeup of Pachycormus bollensis

Closeup of Pachycormus bollensis

 

Sloenbachia Ammonite with hollowed core from Arbala, Morocco (170 myo)

Sloenbachia Ammonite with hollowed core from Arbala, Morocco (170 myo)

White River turtle trio Stylemys nebrascensis from South Dakota, USA (30 myo)

White River turtle trio Stylemys nebrascensis from South Dakota, USA (30 myo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mesolimulus walchi from Solnhofen, Germany (160 myo) with trail

Mesolimulus walchi from Solnhofen, Germany (160 myo) with trail

Closeup of horseshoe crab

Closeup of horseshoe crab

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exhibition details
Date: 6 Dec 2013 – 19 Jan 2014 (Open Fri – Sun)
Time: 12:00pm – 7:00pm
Venue: ARTSPACE@Helutrans, 39 Keppel Road, Tanjong Pagar Distripark Singapore 089065
Entrance: Free

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jack Horner in Singapore

This was a very special week for many of us, as the most famous paleontologist, Professor John “Jack” Horner, visited Singapore to open the Science Centre’s latest exhibition Titans of the Past.

photo 1

Titans of the Past tells a story through time, from the era of the dinosaurs, with “The Growth and Behaviour of Dinosaurs” segment in collaboration with The Museum of the Rockies and animatronics from Kokoro in Japan that showcases real fossils including MOR008, the world’s largest Tyrannosaurus rex skull that measures 59 inches long from its snout to the back of its skull. This is even larger than Sue from The Field Museum in Chicago, whose skull is 55.4 inches long. It also features a skull growth series that evidences the ontogeny of the Triceratops and evidences Prof Horner’s hypothesis that Triceratops and Torosaurus were in fact the same animal. The second segment, organized in collaboration with Aurea Exhibitions, features life-sized cast of an Argentinosaurus,  a Giganotosaurus, and a T-rex. In the final segment, “Ice Age, The Exhibition”, visitors will marvel at animatronic mammals from the Ice Age including a mammoth, a mastodon, and a saber-toothed tiger.

photo 2

As the world’s most famous preeminent paleontologist, Prof Horner is a legendary superstar who needs little introduction. He is Regents Professor of Paleontology at Montana State University, Curator of Paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies, recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant”, technical advisor to Steven Spielberg for the Jurassic Park franchise, and inspiration to author Michael Crichton for the lead character Dr. Alan Grant. Perhaps even more than that, Prof Horner’s personal story of how he achieved the epitome of success in spite of his dyslexia has been incredibly inspiring. In his inimitable style, Prof Horner gave a special Science in the Café talk on “Why Some Dinosaurs had Horns, Frills and Crests on their Heads”.

Here is a summary of his arguments:

Dinosaurs have evolved to become birds. In the past, dinosaurs were portrayed as slow, unintelligent, cold-blooded reptiles. However, the fossil record has shown over 100 characteristics that dinosaurs shared with birds, such as being warm-blooded, feathered, having wishbones, hollow bones, oblong eggs, hard-shelled eggs, and sharing similar growth phases.

Dinosaurs were social. The largest concentration of dinosaur fossils is a monospecific bone bed of an estimated 115,000 skeletons averaging 30 bones per square meter for two square kilometers in North-Central Montana. This mass mortality of a single species show that duckbill dinosaurs lived in large herds, and needed to migrate frequently as the large size of their herd would have continually exhausted the vegetation in each area they travel to.

Dinosaurs cared for their young. One of Dr Horner’s earliest discoveries was dinosaur nests in the Western Hemisphere, as well as the first dinosaur embryos. These were of the Maiasaura species he discovered and named. Cutting into the bones of Maiasaura juveniles still congregating in a nest, he learnt that their bone structure was not fully ossified, with relatively soft and spongy ends made of cartilage that would not have allowed them to move out of the nests. This nest-bound behavior for grown, 3-feet long juveniles (hatchlings were only 12 inches long) indicated that their mothers would have stayed on to feed them even after their birth.

Examining the author's Stygimoloch spike specimen

Examining the author’s Stygimoloch spike specimen

Dinosaurs changed their appearances as they matured. One of Dr Horner’s research approaches is to collect many of the same species, so as to study the developmental differences across specimens when they age (as indicated by the growth rings in their bone). He has amassed a growth series of over 100 Triceratops specimens of all ages, which evidence bone deposition and resorption in the horns, frills, crests, and spikes of Triceratops as they mature to dramatically change their appearances over time. These not only demonstrated that there were in fact fewer species of dinosaurs than previously thought, but also that dinosaurs’ physical appearances changed as they grew. For instance, he postulated that the Dracorex hogwartsia, the Stygimoloch, and the Pachycephalosaurus were the juvenile, sub-adult, and adult variations of the same dinosaur species. This indicated that the change in appearance could have been to signal maturity to their caregiving parents.

Physical features mostly likely as a signal to parents. Prof Horner believes that the dinosaurs’ horns, frills, crests, and spikes were not for combat, as birds are visual creatures who rely on display rather than physical attacks. Triceratops postorbital horns for instance hollowed out internally at the base, which would have rendered them unsuitable for territorial clashes.

It was also unlikely that the horns were used as defense from predators, as the changed in orientation as they matured. Postorbital horns are straight as babies, curved posteriorly in juveniles, straightened in subadults, and recurved anteriorly in adults.

Because there is no evidence for sexual dimorphism, i.e. male and female Triceratops horn features were not differentiated, it is also unlikely that they were used for sexual attraction.

Prof Horner argues that it is most likely that these features changed as dinosaurs attained sexual maturity, in order to visually signal to adults that they no longer required caring. This is similar to how modern birds such as the Cassowary only form their crest when they are 80% into adulthood, dinosaurs retained juvenile characteristics in their bone structures so they would be cared for by adults.

Prof Horner's autographs on the author's fossil and book "How to Build a Dinosaur"

Prof Horner’s autographs on the author’s fossil and book “How to Build a Dinosaur”

In person, Prof Horner turned out to be really passionate, informed, and humorous. After a lifetime of collecting fossils, his eyes still light up when he talks about dinosaurs. He backs up his theories with hard evidence, and despite his self-effacing charm you can tell that it is his contrarian opinions that have been really pushing the envelope in paleontology. Best of all, he is incredibly nice. He was gracious to stay till the very last visitors (our group!) left, generously answering all our questions, and signing autographs on our books, fossils, and memorabilia. We also got to meet his lovely researcher Vanessa, who very kindly helped to identify this fossil as a rarer Stygimoloch spike rather than a Pachycephalosaurus on the basis of its provenance and longer size. What a day!

The Titans of the Past exhibition at the Science Centre is open from 25 October 2013 to 23 February 2014, with admission charges at $25 for adults and $19 for children.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Dinosaurs in the Land of the Smiles

 

photo 5I was delighted to meet Plai on a recent trip to Bangkok, where he very graciously brought me on a tour of several fossil shops in Chatuchak Market.photo 2 (1)

Now I’ve visited this market on numerous occasions but have rarely stumbled onto many fossil shops, so I would strongly suggest fellow collectors give Plai a ring whenever they are in town. He’s a great guy with a fabulous collection of his own, and also the passionate founder of the Thai Fossils Collectors Facebook Group.

photo 3I was very surprised to learn from Plai that the closest dinosaurs to Singapore can be found in Thailand. Apart from the Sirindhornae Museum, actual fossil sites are found in the northeast, with the oldest region photo 4in Thailand being the Khorat Plateau.
Provinces such as Nakhon Ratchasima, Khon Kaen, Kalasin are especially rich in dinosaurs, as well as other sites in Chaiyaphum, Ubon, Nakhon Phanom, and Phayao.

Some of the Thai dinosaurs include:
1. Named after Princess Chakri Sirindhornae who visited the dig site at Huay Pratu Tee Mah in the Khon Kaen province of Northeast Thailand in 1981, Phuwiangosaurus sirindhornae is a giant titanosaur sauropod from 110 million years ago in the Early Cretaceous, and Thailand’s first dinosaur discovery.

2. Siamotyrannus isanesis was either an early Cretaceous tyrannosaurid (!) or a carnosaur, allosaurid, or sinraptorid from 130 million years ago. Estimated to measure six to eight metres long based on a partial skeleton of a pelvis, sacrum, and a few vertebrae, the fossils were found in 1993 by Somchai Traimwichanon in the Sao Khua Formation of Khon Kaen in 

photo 4 (1)northeastern Thailand, as well as Kalasin and Chaiyaphum provinces.

3. Siamosaurus suteethorni was a 30-foot long relative of the Spinosaurus, and is believed to have mainly fed on fish in the Early Cretaceous 100 million years ago, when Northeast Thailand was covered by a inland sea. 

4. Isanosaurus attavipachi was a 40-foot long primitive herbivore dinosaur that travelled in herds and lived in both forest and swamps. It is from the Late Triassic, and found in Northeast Thailand, and believed to walk on four legs like

photo 3 (1)sauropods but could also stand on its two back legs like prosauropods.

 

4. Ginnareemimus was a 17-foot long dinosaur from the early Cretaceous that resembled the Gallimimus. Its fossils have been found in Khon Kaen, Kalasin, and Nakhon Phanom province.

 

 

 

photo 2

In 2007, palaeontologists unearthed a fossil graveyard in Ban Saphan Hin village in Muang district of Nakhon Ratchasima Province, with remains of allosaurs, iguanodon, hadrosaurs,and pterosaurs from the late Jurassic.

 

Amazing Thailand indeed! Time for an excursion anyone?

 

 

photo 1 photo 1 (1)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dinosaurs at The Little Skool House!

IMG_3227

In August, we were invited to The Little Skool House to talk about dinosaurs to a class of 5 year old preschoolers.

Our team, comprising Calvin, Andy, and Han Yang arrived early at their cheery campus in Tampines to set up.

We started our presentation by first showing the children pictures of dinosaurs and their fossilized skeletons, to provide a sense of scale and awe.

IMG_3248

We then talked briefly about the fossilization process, how old they were, how they lived, and how they went extinct.

Teacher Ms. Ery Rosa Indah says,” The kids thoroughly enjoyed the entire presentation! It was a new and fascinating experience for them and they couldn’t contain their enthusiasm when they saw the bones and IMG_3303fossils right before their eyes!! Calvin, Andy and Han did a wonderful job educating and spreading knowledge and love of dinosaurs to my 5 year olds. A job well done! 46 thumbs up (from the teachers and the children)! :)”

IMG_3255Most of the time however, was on letting the kids excitedly handle the actual fossils that we brought along. They got to hold actual dinosaur horns, claws, teeth, eggs, tracks, and bones. The adorable tikes could recognize ‘dino poo’, and were surprisingly familiar with all the dinosaur names!

IMG_3308After answering all their questions, another class dropped by to take a look at the fossils. It’s really amazing how much kids love dinosaurs, and it is my wish that they would not forget this fascination even as they grow up.

We can’t wait to do another school visit either!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Largest true Sabertooth Cat ever

Perhaps one of the greatest predators that mankind ever had to come face-to-face against was the saber-toothed cat. Movies such as 10,000 B.C., Ice Age, The Croods, and even the Flintstones have popularised the Smilodon of the La Brea Tar Pits of 1.6 million to 10,000 years ago.

North America’s Smilodon fatalis weighed in at 160 to 280 kg, had a shoulder height of up to 100 cm, and reached a body length of 175 cm. However, it was dwarfed by the machairodontine species, which lived in Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America from 11.6mya—126,000 years ago, and existed for about 11.5 million years between the Miocene and the Pleistocene. For instance, a large Machairodus kabir found in the Taurus-Menella in Africa weighed 350kg and was 130 cm tall, comparable with the largest Cave Lions and American Lions.

photo

Axes of the canines and curvatures

In the 1997 book The big cats and their fossil relatives, palaeontologist Alan Turner and illustrator Mauricio Anton divided the genus Machairodus into two grades of evolutionary development: M. aphanistus and the North American “Nimravides” catacopis representing the more primitive grade, and M. coloradensis and M. giganteus representing the more advanced grade. The latter developed a longer forearm and shorter lumbar region, to more closely resemble living pantherine cats. This further evolved in in Homotherium, which is believed to be a descendant of Machairodus.

Size comparison of actual M. giganteus skull with resin of modern-day tiger skull

Size comparison of actual M. giganteus skull with resin of modern-day tiger skull

Machairodus giganteus, the largest known species known within the genus Machairodus, was a large lion-sized saber-toothed cat with elongated upper canines and cheek teeth efficiently adapted for slicing meat. The animal is known mostly from a variety of fragmentary fossils found through Europe and Asia, with the best-preserved skulls coming from China. Once believed to represent two separate species, one existing in Europe and the other in Asia, the fossils were later united by the Swiss paleontologist Gérard de Beaumont to represent a single species.

measurements

 

photo 3

Long muzzle of the Machairodus giganteus

Machairodus was about 200 cm long and more muscular than a modern lion. Its powerful build and short legs suggests that it was an effective ambush predator. It was likely to have featured spots or stripes for concealment. M. Giganteus featured sexual dimorphism, with males much larger than females.The Machairodus skull is narrower than that of the modern pantherine big cats, with a longer muzzle, relatively small orbits, and a jaw that could open 120 degrees.

 

 

 

Its maxillary canines were broad like the Homotherium, serrated on the front and back edges as they first grew and worn down in the first few years of life.

Serrations on front and back of sabers

Serrations on front and back of sabers

They were more firmly rooted to its mouth, fit more easily in its mouth, were less fragile than other saber-toothed cats, and hung out less awkwardly. This suggested that they were likely used to slice open the throats of its prey rather than suffocate them.

This ‘king-of-saber-tooths’ was possibly a pack hunter, the apex predator roaming the savannahs of Central Asia, such as the Hezheng County of Gansu Providence in China. These plains that resembled the Serengeti in Africa today. M. giganteous preyed on herds of gomphotheres, hippo-like rhinos, giraffids, and medium-sized fast-running antelope. It closest competitor was Dinocrocta, the giant hyena, which reached the size of a grizzly bear.

Fossil specimens of M. giganteus are exceedingly rare, with many museums discovering only fragmentary specimens. This has resulted in high prices on the rare occasion that specimens are publicly-available. For instance, two years ago Bonhams auctioned another M. giganteus specimen from  Asia for USD 116,500.

This impressive 5 million year old specimen of a Machairodus giganteus skull from Asia is 16″ long, 9″ high, and 10″ wide, with its canines measuring 4.5″ top to bottom. The skull is 98% inflated with very slight distortion.

photo 1 (1)

photo 2

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paleontology Talk at National Junior College

This month, Singapore Fossil Collectors Calvin, Steve, Han, and Andy were honoured with an invitation to National Junior College’s Junior High Science Day 2013 to deliver a pro bono talk on Paleontology.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The team arrived early on the bright sunny morning of 1 June, and got to work setting up for the event. The audience had self-selected to attend our session from among other science talks that were going on at the same time, and therefore comprised of some 100 students who were already quite curious, interested, and knowledgeable about Paleontology.

We started the talk using images to remind the audience of how the sheer size of giant prehistoric creatures such as the Kronosaurus or Diplodocus inspired wonder in all of us since childhood.

We then went onto cover the impact of fossils on our culture, from biblical times, through ancient Greek and Norse mythology, all the way to how they are influencing modern culture and religion today, including fossil-inspired designs in modern architecture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Going into the science of Paleontology, we introduced the class to the geological time scale from precambrian era to modern times, using actual fossil specimens that are used as common references in each period.

Delving deeper into how fossils are used to illustrate possible ecological environments, ecosystems, behavioral patterns, and morphological adaptations of prehistoric creatures, the specimens helped to bring to life concepts such as plate tectonics, carbon dating, evolution, genetic sequencing, and extinction events. In addition, students could start to understand the linkages and relevance of related fields of inquiry such as anthropology, archaeology, biochemistry, botany, cytology, forensics, geochronology, mathematics, physiology, and even robotics.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

 

The students were interested in learning about collecting fossils, so we shared on the nature of investing in fossils, how to tell apart fake fossils from authentic ones, and even some viable careers in related fields.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The highlight of the event was when the students took turns to handle the actual specimens that the team brought along that day, which ranged from fossils of fish and vegetation, to insects in amber, numerous dinosaur and megafauna bones, and how they related to their modern-day descendants.

We greatly enjoyed sharing our passion with the students, and answering the many questions they had. However, it was not only the students who had a great time!

 

IMG_2680

“It was definitely a learning experience for me too,” says Caroline Manonmani, National Junior College’s Head of Department for Junior Science. “I thoroughly enjoyed watching Calvin and his friends share their personal artifacts with the students. That kind of passion is infectious. I hope that my students find that something that they feel so passionately about in their own lives and are as committed as you all to share it with others.”OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Giant Lion that wasn’t

photo 1Modern sloths are members of the superorder Xenarthra, which includes anteaters and armadillos. They are slow moving, and often host many other parasites and organisms such as insects and fungi. They sleep anywhere from 10 to 18 hours a day, and spend most of their time on one tree with which they have a symbiotic relationship (they bury their excretion at the base of the tree). Their young are particularly cute in appearance, with strong bones that help them survive even falls from trees. But what did their ancestors look like?

In 1796, Colonel John Stuart sent Thomas Jefferson some fossil bones from a cave in what is now Greenbrier County in West Virginia. Thomas Jefferson, who was at that time Vice-President of the United States, was fascinated with them and thought that they might be the remains of a giant lion, which he named Megalonyx (“giant claw”). In 1797, Jefferson presented a paper titled “Certain Bones” to the American Philosophical Society. The presentation of this paper is widely regarded as the start of vertebrate paleontology in the United States.

Jefferson believed that the lion was still extant, and even warned Lewis and Clark about the lion when they left for their expedition in 1804 to explore and cross the new western territories of the United States. However, physician and anatomist Dr Caspar Wistar correctly identified the remains as belonging to a giant ground sloth in 1799, and named it Megalonyx jeffersonii to honour the former president in 1822.

Sloths descended from ground sloths like the Megalonyx and Megatherium, and these Pleistocene megafauna were far from cute. Measuring 20 feet tall and weighing up to four tons, they were primarily herbivourous. Their fossilised footprints tell us that they could stand upright on two feet, and their height allowed them to reach leaves that other animals could not. They were the largest land animals – smaller in size than only a few species of Mammoth and Paraceratherium- and are said to have used their claws like daggers and taken over the kills of the fearsome sabertooth tigers! Here’s a size comparison with a ground sloth specimen at the Harvard Museum of Natural History:IMG_9254

This specimen that just arrived is a completely unrestored Megalonyx toe, with the metacarpels found right next to each other from the Peace River in Florida, USA. It measures 8″ in length and the claw itself measures 5 1/4″ on a straight line. It is unusual to find all the complete units together, and their perfect fit and articulation wonderfully demonstrates the range of motion of the animal.

8

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment