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Digging Up The Strangest Fossils

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Fossils, even strange ones, are one of the best clues we have to tracing back species' origins—from plants, to fish, to early humans. Archeologists refer to fossil records to tell the story of Earth's earliest inhabitants and can fill in significant historical and anthropological gaps. In 2001, scientists in northwest China discovered more than 100 dinosaur footprints believed to date back as far as 100 million years. In Korea, researchers found a 100-million-year-old crocodilian dinosaur fossil, believed to be the oldest complete dinosaur skull in existence. Thanks to the preservation of bones, feathers, fur, hard bodies and more through fossils, the secrets to periods such as Crustaceous and Jurassic are slowing being unlocked.

To what depth do fossils reveal the origins of species? What can they tell us about other areas of study, such as geography, geology or zoology? Scientists are looking for the answers to these questions and more. Take a journey through time with these videos as experts explain the details in discovering some of the strangest fossils.

01:10
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Paleontology is the science of studying fossils from ancient organisms, and paleontologists are scientists who find and study those fossils. Definitions of exactly what constitutes a fossil vary to some extent, but basically, fossils are naturally preserved physical traces of long-dead organisms. Usually, these traces consist of an organism's hard parts, such as bones, teeth, shells, or wood. Occasionally, when conditions are optimal, soft parts of organisms can also fossilize, such as impressions of skin, body outlines, and, more commonly, leaves. In almost all cases, fossils provide information about the original shape and structure of these physical traces; however, they usually do not provide any information about the original color of the body parts. Other traces of objects made by organisms, such as footprints, burrows, and nests, also qualify to be called fossils. Also, most definitions of fossils require that the organism's body part or other physical trace be more than 10,000 years old in order to truly be called a fossil. However, objects made by prehistoric humans, such as pottery, arrowheads and buildings, are not considered to be fossils, but instead are referred to as anthropological artifacts.
03:10
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A five-hour drive out of Adelaide in Australia takes Dr Iain Stewart to the site of some of Earth's rarest and most ancient fossils. Once a thriving ocean, 600 million years ago it was home to the Ediacarans, the first multi-cell creatures on Earth. Fascinating clip taken from the BBC natural history series Earth: The Power of the Planet. Visit http://www.bbcearth.com for all the latest animal news and wildlife videos and watch more high quality videos on the new BBC Earth YouTube channel here: http://www.youtube.com/bbcearth
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Trilobites appeared in ancient oceans well before life emerged on land. These marine arthropods existed for almost 300 million years, and over 20,000 species have been described so far. In this video, Museum Curator Neil Landman and Field Associates Andy Secher and Martin Shugar discuss trilobites, their unique features, and how fossils are collected and prepared while highlighting a new Museum exhibit that features 15 rare and beautiful trilobite fossils from the Museum's collection. Ancient trilobite fossils are now on display in the Museum's Grand Gallery. The exhibit is made possible thanks to Martin Shugar, M.D., and Andy Secher.
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IMAGINE THE THRILL OF DISCOVERING something brand-new about a creature that lived millions of years ago. Ever since the first dinosaur fossil was identified almost 200 years ago, people have wondered how these fascinating animals lived, moved and behaved. At first, dinosaur hunters used only such tools as a keen eye, shovels and compasses. Today, scientists also rely on everything from satellite technology to scanning electron microscopes. Prepare to take a journey of discovery into the exciting world of modern paleontology. New dinosaur fossils are being discovered faster than ever before. Advanced technology allows scientists to look at these fossils in fresh ways. And researchers are gaining surprising insights into these amazing animals. New discoveries, new technology and new ideas are helping today's scientists piece together what these living, breathing dinosaurs were really like.
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Few pterosaurs lived close to the places where fossils tend to form. Their fragile bones preserved poorly, so pterosaur fossils are frequently incomplete. To form a picture of a particular species, paleontologists must often gather information from several fossils, or draw conclusions from related pterosaurs that are better known. Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs is on view from April 5, 2014, through January 4, 2015. Learn more about the exhibition at http://www.amnh.org/pterosaurs. VIDEO CREDITS Music "Bedroom Jamming" by G. Small and F. Gerard/ Warner Chappell Production Music Illustration ©AMNH 2014 Animation AMNH/S. Galloway Photography AMNH/C. Chesek AMNH/M. Ellison Courtesy of Alexander Kellner Video AMNH/Department of Exhibition AMNH/J. Bauerle and Ben Tudhope
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When did human beings first develop the ability to speak? This remains one of the most exciting and perplexing questions for researchers of human evolution today. Speech, of course, doesn't fossilize, so scientists must hunt for indirect clues that early humans could talk. One route is through DNA. Geneticists can analyze the DNA preserved in early human remains for genes that play a known role in modern speech. Another indirect route is through the fossils themselves. Paleontologists can examine the bones of the vocal tract and compare them to modern humans and chimpanzees. The Atapuerca Research Team, an international group of researchers, is approaching the fossil route in a new way. By analyzing fossilized ear bones from skulls found in Sima de los Huesos, a cave in northern Spain, the team is reconstructing the capacity of these 500,000-year-old ancestors to hear sounds. Their work suggests that they could hear much like we do—perhaps to register what others were saying. By studying ear bones of older extinct relatives, the team hopes to clarify how modern hearing ability evolved and the relationship between hearing capacity and the ability to speak.
04:03
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Complete video at: http://fora.tv/2010/01/12/Todd_Disotell_A_New_Tale_of_the_Primate_Split Todd Disotell, a professor of anthropology at NYU, examines the human-chimp split in relation to bipedal fossils that date back to the time period during which many scientists believe the evolutionary leap occurred. ----- Recent advances in molecular genetics are radically changing ideas about the appearance of primates and the subsequent branching off of the major lineages. Previously, it was thought primates first appeared some 65 million years ago; now experts are proposing dates as far back as 80-90 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. The hazy image of our lineage provided by the fossil record is now coming into focus thanks to new molecular analytical techniques; researchers now have whole genome sequences representing at least one member of each major lineages and whole mitochondrial lineages of nearly every genus in the order Primates. - California Academy of Sciences Dr. Todd Disotell is a professor of anthropology at New York University. His research interests are centered upon the theme of primate and human evolution, at all levels from the populational to the supra-ordinal. Those interests encompass primate evolution, molecular evolution, mammalian evolution, molecular systematics, phylogenetic analysis, population genetics, phylogeography, computer modeling, human evolution, human variation, and the history of anthropology. Dr. Disotell received his Ph.D. and Masters degrees from Harvard University, and his Bachelor's degree from Cornell University.
03:29
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Even with modern GPS, scientists must "look and look and look and look" for remains worth digging up. Question: How do scientists locate and recover fossils?Donald Johanson:  Well I think when someone sees a brand-new discovery, for example in the pages of a National Geographic magazine or whatever, they think you just kind of travel out there and look around and run into one of these bones and it's almost by luck that one finds these things, but we apply a pretty strategic plan to surveying and completely scouring an area.  We will map out an area on aerial photographs and systematically work through the various grid system that we set up, spend three or four days in an area the size of a New York City block for example with maybe five or six people and the only way to find a fossil is to look and look and look and look and hope that the light is right, that you're concentrating on a particular spot and once you find something you then kneel down, have a close look at it.  Before you even pick it up make a photograph, map it exactly.  Now of course we can use GPS units and in the case of a fossil that has been broken, you try to keep people out of the area, so that there is no damage done to any of the bone fragments and you set up a micro-grid system, so that you map every piece and number it as you pick it up and photograph it and bag it and bring it back to the research camp where we identify it, catalog it and actually photograph it in more detail. Question: In what ways is new technology making the search for fossils easier?Donald Johanson:  Well there is nothing really that helps us search for fossils.  We can use satellite imagery to eliminate areas that are where there are volcanic rocks for example.  Fossils are best preserved in sedimentary rocks like sands and silts and things like that and they leave a particular signature in these aerial photographs, so we know where not to go and we know where we might have a possibility.  So that finding fossils themselves still involves all of the ground survey, going out, making preliminary surveys in a vehicle, finding a place that has fossils then concentrating on that area and searching day in and day out and then ultimately determining whether or not we should any excavations.  Sometimes we actually do excavation.  In the case of the Lucy skeleton that I found in '74, most of her was exposed on the surface.  She had been eroded out by the rainstorms in the area, but other places we've had to do significant excavation.Recorded on March 19, 2010Interviewed by Austin Allen
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In 1993, spelunkers came across an extraordinary find in the farthest chamber of a winding underground cave near the town of Altamura in southern Italy. It is a hominid skeleton—possibly in the Neanderthal line—which appears extraordinarily well-preserved and nearly complete. Scientists from the University of Bari have been investigating the remains ever since. For preservation's sake, the scientists and the Italian government have decided to leave the skeleton in the cave, making analyzing it a technological challenge. This Bulletin highlights the 3D and remote sensing tools that scientists are now using to study and classify this unique fossil.
47:55
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Principles of Evolution, Ecology and Behavior (EEB 122) The fossil record holds a lot of evolutionary information that can't be seen on shorter time scales, although the more recent fossil record is more complete. Among other things, the fossil record demonstrates that extinctions can open up ecological space for new speciation and radiation, and that life forms tend to begin small and evolve to be bigger over time. 00:00 - Chapter 1. Introduction 04:18 - Chapter 2. Cambrian Animal Radiation 14:52 - Chapter 3. Plant Radiation and Vertebrates Coming Ashore 24:39 - Chapter 4. Patterns in Radiation of Life 31:46 - Chapter 5. Vanished Communities of Life 40:21 - Chapter 6. Stasis 46:57 - Chapter 7. Summary Complete course materials are available at the Open Yale Courses website: http://open.yale.edu/courses This course was recorded in Spring 2009.

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