Sunday, July 12, 2015

79 Million Year-Old Dinosaur Unearthed In Alberta


Old Bones: A reconstruction of Wendiceratops pinhornensis. It is a bit of art to reconstruct what a dinosaur originally looked like. Feltman writes: “But Wendi has one particularly interesting feature: Her nose horn. Ryan and his colleagues can’t be sure exactly how the nose horn was shaped, because the bones of that particular feature are fragmented in the specimens they found. But they know it was more prominent and tall than any found in dinosaurs so old before. Later horned dinosaurs developed tall nose horns, and the ones found before Wendi were all rudimentary and short, or nonexistent.”
Image Credit: Danielle Dufault

An article, by Rachel Feltman, in The Washington Post says there has been an addition to the horned dinosaur family: Wendiceratops pinhornensis, a Canadian discovered in the western province of Alberta, where many such discoveries have been made. It was found in what is called the Oldman Formation, in southern Alberta near the Montana border. At the heart of the Alberta badlands is Dinosaur Provincial Park, a UNESCO Heritage site, since 1979, and home to rich deposits of dinosaur fossils.

In “Triceratops gets a cute new cousin (with a very special nose),” Feltman writes:
Wendiceratops pinhornensis—named for Wendy Sloboda, a prolific fossil hunter who's discovered the remains of  “Wendi” and countless other important species—makes her world debut in a study published Wednesday in PLOS ONE. She’s a 79 million year old Canadian (from Alberta, to be precise) which makes her one of the oldest members of the Ceratopsidae ever found. And the paleontologists who put her together are very interested in her skull.
“Whether you're looking at a triceratops or at our Wendi, all the important evolutionary details for these horned dinosaurs are in the skulls,” study co-author Michael Ryan, Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, told The Post. “If you just cut their heads off and looked at their bodies from the neck down, you wouldn't be able to tell them apart.”
But from the neck up, each species has its own sense of style. Their ornamentation--the horns they brandished and the hooks that frilled around their heads—seems to have evolved very quickly. Within spans of just a few million years, Ryan said, paleontologists are finding dinosaurs that stayed virtually indistinguishable from each other while sprouting strange and new headpieces.
Danny Gallagher adds some more pertinent information about this discovery in CNet: “Paleontologists from the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History discovered the new, 20-foot-long dinosaur, which weighed more than a ton, from a series of more than 200 bones from four individual dinosaurs.” My initial thought upon reading this piece of information is a simple three-letter word: “Wow.” The use of this superlative reflects not only my fascination with dinosaurs, but also, I would argue, humanity’s.

It is true that one of my earliest memories of an outing to a museum is to McGill University’s Redpath Museum, opened in 1882, to see its dinosaur collection when I was seven or eight; I returned many times afterward. There was also the excellent exhibit at Royal Ontario Museum a few years ago, “Ultimate Dinosaurs,” which our whole family went to see in March 2013, joining the large crowd during its last week as a public display. One of the most revealing remarks from my then four-year-old son was “how large the dinosaurs are.”

It is also no surprise that we saw Spielberg’s dinosaur-themed movie, Jurassic World, last week; it was as expected, both entertaining and moralizing. We are far away, however, from cloning these prehistoric beasts from 65 million years ago; an article (“Jurassic World science: can we clone dinosaurs?; May 18, 2015) by Chris Edwards, in Engineering & Technology Magazine explains what science is up against. There are also a host of ethical questions on the wisdom of doing so; these need be sorted out as well.

For now, we have to rely on what we have. When we look at dinosaurs, either by looking at their reconstructed bones in museums or by viewing an animated version of them in film, we are tapping into a deep desire to understand our prehistoric world. This understanding of the evolutionary process is essential to our understanding of our modern human selves, that is, how we became the modern humans through the evolutionary process. This need to understand the past helps us better prepare ourselves for our future.

For more, go to [WashPost]