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An Introduction To Paleontology

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If you've ever been awed by the colossal skeletal remains of dinosaurs on display in a museum, you can thank a paleontologist. Working at the unique intersection of biology, geology and archeology, paleontologists study the prehistoric creatures that roamed the earth millions of years ago. The entire area of study hinges upon a research team's ability to gather evidence through bones, fossils, trace fossils and following the ways rock formations have changed over time—then analyze that evidence to determine species, era, date, possible cause of death and much more. In fact, in 1971, two researchers found a set of dinosaur skeletons in the Gobi Desert still situated in a battle stance, as if they were caught fighting frozen in time. The dinosaurs' limbs remained entangled, with the smaller of the two engaged in the fight of its life to retrieve its arm from its opponent. And in 1990, paleontologist Sue Hendrickson uncovered "Sue," a Tyrannosaurus rex and the world's largest, most intact and well-preserved dinosaur to date. She now resides on full display at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

So how exactly can a couple of old rocks open the floodgates of history? Paleontologists help us get to the heart of the Earth's origins, and revel much about the world we live in today. Put on your best safari hat because this playlist takes you right to the dig sites, museum halls and laboratories where old rocks are transformed into windows to the past.

03:37
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If you've ever watched a hollywood movie, like Jurrasic Park, you probably think Paleontologists go out looking for beautifully preserved fossil skeletons in the field. Truth be told, that's not exactly what Paleontoligists are likely to find in the field. In this video, I went out to the NC Museum of Natural Sciences to meet up with Lindsay Zanno. She helped walk me through the details of what it's like to get a Dinosaur from the field into a display. The key things she emphasized were that a) it's a lot of work b) it's not glamorous c) rarely to they find complete skeletons d) they don't excavate it with little brushes out in the field and e) they spend close to 50 times the effort on a skeleton, in the lab, once it's been pulled out of the earth.
02:31
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Paleontology Collections Manager Carl Mehling gives us a behind-the-scenes tour of the Big Bone Room, which houses some of the largest items in the Paleontology collection. Its holdings include one of the largest complete limb bones in the world: the 650-pound thigh bone of the long-necked, plant-eating dinosaur Camarasaurus. Visitors will be able to see this spectacular specimen in the upcoming major exhibition The World's Largest Dinosaurs (April 16, 2011-January 2, 2012), which explores the amazing anatomy of a uniquely super-sized group of dinosaurs, the sauropods. More than 3 million specimens make up the Museum's world-class paleontology collections, and only a small fraction can be displayed at any given time. In fact, only 0.02 percent of the Museum's vertebrate paleontology specimens are on view; the rest are stored behind the scenes, where they continue to be studied by Museum scientists and their colleagues.
01:55
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To find fossils, paleontologists conduct short field trips and longer expeditions to regions around the world where fossils are likely to be found. To be successful, this fieldwork requires considerable funding and careful planning. Each trip is designed to try and find fossils that will shed new light on particular research questions. Commonly, fossils have already been found in the region where the fieldwork is conducted, but if not, geologic maps and satellite photos are used to identify areas where rocks of the right age and ancient environment are exposed on the surface. To find fossils, paleontologists first carry out an operation called prospecting, which involves slowly hiking across ridges and through ravines, while keeping one's eyes focused on the ground in hopes of finding fragments of fossils weathering out on the surface. Commonly, one covers 5-10 miles in a day of prospecting. Once a fossil fragment is found, the collector brushes away the loose dirt on the surface to see if more of the specimen is buried in the ground. If so, quarrying is initiated to collect the fossil. First, awls, rock hammers, chisels, and other tools are used to remove the rock covering the bones to see how much of the skeleton is present. As bone is exposed, special glue is applied to the cracks and fractures to hold the fossil together. Next, a trench is dug around the bones so that they essentially sit on a low pedestal. A covering of damp toilet paper is placed over the bones before a layer of plaster bandages is wrapped around the bones to create a hard cast, just like a doctor does around a broken bone. Once the cast hardens, excavating the bone is completed, and the fossil in its cast is packed for shipment back to the museum.
04:14
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Complete video at: http://fora.tv/2011/12/06/A_Debate_Who_Was_the_Hobbit Ian Tattersall, paleoanthropologist and curator at the American Museum of Natural History, describes the discovery of fossil LB1 (nicknamed the "hobbit"), and the mystery surrounding the nearly complete skeleton. ----- Leakey Lecture - A Debate: Who was the Hobbit? Dr. Robert Martin Field Museum of Natural History Dr. Ian Tattersall American Museum of Natural History Found on an obscure island, the tiny, small-brained, big-footed, "Homo florensiencsis," or "the hobbit," is unlike any other discovery. Where did this being come from, and who are its ancestors? In this light-hearted debate, two eminent biological anthropologists, attempt to lift a corner of the veil obscuring one of paleoanthropology's most intriguing mysteries. This program is jointly sponsored by the Leakey Foundation and the California Academy of Sciences. Ian Tattersall is currently Curator in the Department of Anthropology of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Born in England and raised in East Africa, he has carried out fieldwork in countries as diverse as Madagascar, Vietnam, Surinam, Yemen, and Mauritius. Trained in archaeology and anthropology at Cambridge, and in geology and vertebrate paleontology at Yale, Tattersall has concentrated his research over the past quarter-century in two main areas, in both of which he is an acknowledged leader: the analysis of the human fossil record, and the study of the ecology and systematics of the lemurs of Madagascar.
06:36
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Last summer, a team led by the Museum's Provost of Science Mike Novacek and Paleontology Division Chair Mark Norell headed to the Gobi for the joint American Museum of Natural History/Mongolian Academy of Sciences expedition. The group included Aki Watanabe, one of Mark Norell's students at the Museum's Richard Gilder Graduate School, who was recently chosen as a beta-tester for Google Glass and who recorded video on Glass throughout the trip. In this video, Watanabe takes us out into the Gobi Desert to prospect for fossils, showing the tools of trade and some of the fossilized bones he finds on the way.
03:07
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Fossil preparators are highly skilled technicians who restore the naturally fractured bones and teeth of fossil to the original state, somewhat like art conservators restore damaged paintings and sculptures. When fossils arrive from the field, they are encased in plaster jackets, and the rock, or matrix, which was deposited around the fossils. Fossil preparation involves cutting open the plaster jacket and removing this matrix surrounding the fossil. The matrix may be soft and crumbly when the sand or mud is poorly cemented together, or it can be extremely hard when the sediments are well-cemented. Accordingly, a wide variety of tools is required to remove the matrix and stabilize the fossil. Commonly, dental tools are used to carefully pick away sediment near the bone, along with custom-made needles composed of carbide steel. Preparators carefully select the materials used to strengthen or repair specimens. Adhesives, glues, and fillers must stand the test of time and not become brittle or discolored, just like the materials used to conserve works of art. The types of materials used are recorded in order to aid future preparators if further preparation or repair is required. Watch as Justy Alicea, a senior preparator at the American Museum of Natural History, works on a specimen and then gives a tour of the Museum's fossil preparation lab. For more information visit http://www.amnh.org Produced/edited by James Sims
03:12
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Using the latest 3D printing technology and dinosaur fossils from the Museum's paleontology collections, a group of high school students recently spent two weeks producing models of dinosaurs—and learning to think like paleontologists—as part of the innovative program "Capturing Dinosaurs: Reconstructing Extinct Species Through Digital Fabrication." Developed by Museum educators and scientists, the program introduced students to comparative fossil anatomy through digital 3D capturing, modeling and printing technologies. Asked to replicate a dinosaur but not told its species, students worked with a collection of Allosaurus fossils from the Museum's Paleontology collection to scan, digitally model, and print the bones using 3D printers. They were then challenged to identify the dinosaur and construct a skeletal model from the printed bones. For reference, the class explored the Museum's fourth-floor dinosaur halls, studying mounted specimens of Tyrannosaurus rex and Apatosaurus as they tried to determine their dinosaur's species. To help students better understand how paleontologists work, museum scientists and staff led behind-the-scenes tours of the Museum's Big Bone Room, Fossil Preparation Lab, and the Division of Paleontology's Fossil Reptiles Collections. Students also got a first-hand look at the scanning technologies used by Museum researchers, including a computed tomography (CT) scanner and a scanning electron microscope. The "Capturing Dinosaurs" program was developed by the Museum's Education department with the Richard Gilder Graduate School and the Division of Paleontology, in collaboration with the educational services cooperative HTINK and the 3D printer manufacturer, MakerBot. Learn more about youth programs offered at the Museum: http://www.amnh.org/learn-teach
32:36
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Darwin's gradualism required that the fossil record's imperfections be emphasized in the Origin, but paleontological data are robust for many questions, and can provide crucial insights into many large-scale evolutionary questions. Enlarged temporal and spatial scales reveal evolutionary patterns and processes that are virtually inaccessible to, and unpredictable from, short-term, localized observations. These larger-scale phenomena range from evolutionary stasis at the species level and the mosaic assembly of complex morphologies in ancestral forms to the non-random temporal and spatial distribution of the origin of major evolutionary novelties and clades. Extinction, particularly clade-specific extinction, is the Achilles' heel of many neontological approaches to reconstructing evolutionary processes, from diversity-dependence of evolutionary dynamics to the assembly and consequences of key innovations. Paleontological data both fill these gaps and drive novel research programs on evolutionary processes across scales and hierarchical levels, and the increasing interchange between paleontology and evolutionary biology promises to illuminate many issues neither field could address adequately on its own. http://darwin-chicago.uchicago.edu/
02:37
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They've finally found a fossilized mosquito full of prehistoric blood! So a real Jurassic Park is right around the corner, right? Trace explains what exactly this discovery means, and if this means you'll be visiting Isla Nublar any time soon. Read More: Hemoglobin-derived porphyrins preserved in a Middle Eocene blood-engorged mosquito http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/10/08/1310885110 "Although hematophagy is found in ?14,000 species of extant insects, the fossil record of blood-feeding insects is extremely poor and largely confined to specimens identified as hematophagic based on their taxonomic affinities with extant hematophagic insects; direct evidence of hematophagy is limited to four insect fossils in which trypanosomes and the malarial protozoan Plasmodium have been found." A Fossilized Blood-Engorged Mosquito Is Found For the First Time Ever http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/science/2013/10/a-fossilized-blood-engorged-mosquito-is-found-for-the-first-time-ever "In the 20 years since the movie Jurassic Park fantasized about how dinosaurs could be cloned from blood found in ancient amber-trapped mosquitoes, fossil collectors have been on the hunt for a similar specimen. Over the years, a few different groups of scientists have claimed to find a fossilized mosquito with ancient blood trapped in its abdomen, but each of these teams' discoveries, in turn, turned out to be the result of error or contamination." First Fossil of Blood-Filled Mosquito Discovered http://westerndigs.org/first-fossil-of-blood-engorged-mosquito-discovered/ "Through a series of events that scientists themselves admit was "extremely improbable," a mosquito that feasted on the blood of Eocene animals some 46 million years ago managed to die and become trapped in sediment, but remain in tact, all while carrying a belly full of blood - its last meal." How long does DNA last? http://www.theguardian.com/science/2005/jan/13/thisweekssciencequestions1 "Human DNA has been recovered from a Neanderthal fossil 70,000 years old. That's a record, but there may be plenty of DNA recoverable from a human body 10, 50 or even 150 years after death." Shades of 'Jurassic Park;' Ancient mosquito's last blood supper trapped in fossil, study says http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/shades-of-jurassic-park-ancient-mosquitos-last-blood-supper-trapped-in-fossil-study-says/2013/10/14/5d45cf2c-3506-11e3-89db-8002ba99b894_story.html "In a steamy tropical forest 46 million years ago, a prehistoric mosquito bit a critter, drew blood and was blown into a lake in what is now northwestern Montana. Belly full, she died and sank." DNA has a 521-year half-life http://www.nature.com/news/dna-has-a-521-year-half-life-1.11555 "Few researchers have given credence to claims that samples of dinosaur DNA have survived to the present day, but no one knew just how long it would take for genetic material to fall apart. Now, a study of fossils found in New Zealand is laying the matter to rest - and putting an end to hopes of cloning a Tyrannosaurus rex." 'Jurassic Park' May Be Impossible, But Dino DNA Lasts Longer Than Thought http://www.livescience.com/23861-fossil-dna-half-life.html "In "Jurassic Park," scientists extract 80-million-year-old dino DNA from the bellies of mosquitoes trapped in amber. Researchers may never be able to extract genetic material that old and bring a T. rex back to life, but a new study suggests DNA can survive in fossils longer than previously believed." Watch More: No Jurassic Park EVER: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=446cFXMTqvE TestTube Wild Card: http://testtube.com/dnews/dnews-476-allergies?utm_campaign=DNWC&utm_medium=DNews&utm_source=YT The Dinosaurs You Love Are Fake: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMpVZ_p_7Bc ____________________ DNews is dedicated to satisfying your curiosity and to bringing you mind-bending stories & perspectives you won't find anywhere else! New videos twice daily. Watch More DNews on TestTube http://testtube.com/dnews Subscribe now! http://www.youtube.com/subscription_center?add_user=dnewschannel DNews on Twitter http://twitter.com/dnews Anthony Carboni on Twitter http://twitter.com/acarboni Laci Green on Twitter http://twitter.com/gogreen18 Trace Dominguez on Twitter http://twitter.com/trace501 DNews on Facebook http://facebook.com/dnews DNews on Google+ http://gplus.to/dnews Discovery News http://discoverynews.com