Thursday, February 5

Archaeology Rules!

Well, at least it did this week, stealing the science headlines three days in a row:

Tuesday, Feb. 3 – A paper was published describing two fossils found in Pakistan of a whale-like species that may have been able to walk (or more likely drag themselves around) on land. Furthermore, one of the fossils was of a pregnant female, and evidence suggests the animal gave birth on land. Dating from 47.5 million years ago (MYA), these fossils provide A MISSING LINK IN THE TRANSITION OF MAMMALS FROM LAND TO OCEAN – quite a significant find!

Wednesday, Feb. 4 – Just one day later, an arguably more significant paper was published. However, while it could be more significant, the evidence behind this paper is not as solid – literally. The paper reports the discovery of traces of a chemical currently known to be produced only by demosponges – considered by many to be descendants of the last common ancestor of animals – dating to 635 MYA. What’s the significance? This discovery represents THE EARLIEST SIGNS OF ANIMAL LIFE, at least 5 million years older than what was previously considered to be so, which may help to explain – if not solve – the mystery behind the sudden proliferation of animal life, often referred to as the Cambrian explosion.

Thursday, Feb. 5 – In my opinion, the paper published today is more cool than significant. The paper describes the fossil remains, dating to 60 MYA, of the LARGEST PREHISTORIC SNAKE ON RECORD. Scientists believe it WEIGHED OVER A TON (2,500 lbs) and measured almost 45 FT. LONG, tip to tail – a big fatty over 6x heavier and 10 ft. longer than the largest of todays snakes (according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest living snake to be measured was 33 ft. long, and the heaviest snake recorded weighed in at a measly 400 lbs). Two significant implications of the find are: 1) not all giant reptiles died with the dinosaurs – this snake survived for 6 million years after the extinction of the dinosaurs; and 2) the temp. of the equator must have been at least 10 deg. (F) warmer than it is today in order to support such a large, cold-blooded beast.

Gingerich, et al. "New Protocetid Whale from the Middle Eocene of Pakistan: Birth on Land, Precocial Development, and Sexual Dimorphism." Public Library of Science ONE, Vol. 4 No. 2, Feb. 3, 2009.
Brocks & Butterfield. "Early animals out in the cold." Nature, Vol. 457 No. 7229, Feb. 4, 2009.
Head, et al. "Giant boid snake from the paleocene neotropics reveals hotter past equatorial temperatures." Nature. February 5, 2009