The NY Times' "Notes from the field" feature is following paleobotanist Bonnie Jacobs, working a fossil field locality in the Mush Valley of Ethiopia:
None of us has ever experienced a site like this. Not only are the shales full of leaf fossils, but we have now also found beautiful and important fossil bones, including the tooth of a small mammal and the scapula of an artiodactyl. (This is an order of hoofed animals that are also known as even-toed ungulates — picture a mammal that walks on its tippy-toes, like a gazelle.)
These discoveries mean there is great potential for finding other mammals here, including primates. This site will fill a gap in the record of African vertebrate evolution — there are no others of this age known.
The fossils are 22 million years old, which would be a wonderful time to have primates represented. I hope they find some!
Gretchen sends this link: "Seven rock-solid careers from the Stone Age. A little slide show with some recent anthro-stories, including:
"The holes were so perfect, so nice," study co-author David Frayer, an anthropology professor at the University of Kansas, told the Associated Press. "I showed the pictures to my dentist and he thought they were amazing holes."
I wouldn't think that becoming an ancient brewer was an idle career choice. I think that takes some serious dedication.
Time magazine has named paleoanthropologist Tim White as one of its 2010 top 100 influential people. Sean B. Carroll provides a short profile of White's recent work -- I think that's cool, as when Gretchen quizzed me ("Somebody you know is on this list!"), my second guess was Sean Carroll.
My first guess, by the way, was Svante Pääbo.
Interestingly, Time also does a social network (i.e., Facebook, Twitter) index for its top 100. On this score, White is one of a couple dozen who have essentially no online social network following. It's interesting that the people Time classifies as "thinkers" on the list are quite often in this category. Really different kinds of social influence are raising people to prominence in different parts of society today. The scientists and intellectuals aren't directing their effort toward young people who dominate the online categories, and I wonder what effect that will have in the future.
A story about Malapa in the Times of South Africa gives just a few more details about the discovery of the infant remains near the two reported skeletons: "Baby hominid found at Cradle"
Meanwhile, there's also this:
Berger took the juvenile's fossils to the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in France, in February, to test them using highly sophisticated equipment.
At ESRF - an international research institute with cutting-edge technology - a fine X-ray beam, less than half the width of a strand of human hair, was used to scan the skull over four days.
Berger said French scientist, Dr Paul Tafforeau, based at the ESRF, suspected that the juvenile's brain was still intact.
He said the scan created a permanent record of the skull, adding: ''If something ... should happen to that skull, there's an electronic record of it at the highest resolution that human kind can produce right now."
(via an especially sharp reader)
Ivan Oransky writes "Embargo Watch", which reports on issues related to journal embargoes and science reporting. His story about the Malapa embargo "break" last weekend is fascinating: "Now it can be told: My take on the Science hominin 'missing link' study embargo."
It's an interesting look inside the world of science journalism, and the comments include replies from the press office at Science and some of the journalists involved in breaking the story. By their account, the initial stories this weekend were a result of old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting, finding scientists outside the research team willing to comment on what they knew. In this way, the Sunday Telegraph could run with the story before Science had even released its press kit.
Reuters correspondent Zoran Radosavljevic reports on the recent opening of the new museum at Krapina, Croatia. The museum is devoted to Neandertals, and represents the long work of Croat paleoanthropologist Jakov Radovcic.
Visitors can touch parts of a digital Neanderthal body to get a medical explanation of their diseases and ailments - most of them very similar to our own, like knee and shoulder problems at a later age.
The central scene -- a big Neanderthal family gathered in a cave around the fire -- is particularly impressive because of the accompanying acrid smells of sweat and burning meat, and sounds meant to recreate those typical of the Stone Age.
The article includes a few photos of the reconstructions in the museum. This one gives an impression of the space:
I can't wait until I get a chance to visit, it looks truly impressive!
By popular request from scads of readers:
Was Neanderthal man the original metrosexual? New study suggests he wore make-up
That's in The Daily Mail. I actually like the window title even better, which I assume was an older draft of the story's headline:
Neanderthal 'make-up' discovered: Proof the human subspecies were not the 'half-wits'?
It's like something from the Onion. The story is more or less reasonable, and I love the quote at the end:
Professor Chris Stringer, a palaeontologist from the Natural History Museum in London, supported the findings but added that the view of Neanderthals as 'dim-wits' would be hard to change.
He said: 'I agree that these findings help to disprove the view that Neanderthals were dim-witted. It's very difficult to dislodge the brutish image from popular thinking.
'When football fans behave badly, or politicians advocate reactionary views, they are invariably called "Neanderthal", and I can't see the tabloids changing their headlines any time soon.'
Well, let's see how many of those football fans are wearing makeup!
Matthew Cobb writes about the Devonian tetrapod trackway story, including:
Swedish paleontologist Per Ahlberg, who helped guide the discovery into the pages of Nature, writes: Niedzwiedzki made his amazing finding by looking in the “wrong” place (“everyone” knew that the tetrapod transition to land took place at another time, in different kinds of rocks): “If you’re thinking of applying to a research council for a grant to do that, you are virtually certain to be turned down. But you need to have the opportunity to do what might seem to be crazy things. It’s only by doing this kind of stuff that wildly unexpected things can be discovered.”
This is sort of sad: National Geographic News' "Top Ten Archaeology" stories of 2009. The top four all involve buried treasure of some kind.
Oh, and one of them involves vampires.
UPDATE (2009-01-05): A reader writes to suggest I tell everybody these are the top ten by views, not by editor choices. I had hoped that would be apparent to those who read the list; that's the main reason I find it sad!