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Archeology

Alfresco art gallery ‘shows woolly mammoths and rhinos depicted by our ancestors 15,000 years ago’ (Russia & Mongolia)

By Archeology, Science and technology One Comment
The Siberian Times | April 24, 2020

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Petroglyphs some 7,000 years older than earlier thought with ancient artists using same style in Siberia and Mongolia.

Scientists have closely examined and compared intriguing rock drawings on the Ukok plateau in Russia’s Altai Republic and Baga-Oygur, and Tsagaan-Salaa in northwestern Mongolia.

The petroglyphs are now in different countries but in fact are only about 20 kilometres part.

The drawings were mostly found in the 1990s and early 2000s but many questions at the time remained unanswered.

Original photo as published by The Siberian Times. Mammoth image discovered at Baga-Oygur III in early 2000s. Picture: Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography SB RAS

In particular there was a dispute between experts as to whether the drawings showed extinct woolly mammoths that one roamed these parts – or fantastical creatures with trunks.

A new study by Russian and French researchers found new petroglyphs which helped the answer this conundrum.

For example, at Baga-Oygur II was found the image of a long-gone woolly rhino.

Most of the image is lost due to a rock slicing, but the animal is quite recognisable with an elongated, squat torso, short powerful legs, a characteristic tail, and an elongated muzzle with exaggeratedly enlarged two horns.

This was useful because these animals – like mammoths – became extinct around 15,000 years ago in this region, making the drawings the work of Palaeolithic artists.

Another new image at Baga-Oygur III evidently shows a mammoth calf.

The scientists also concluded that the artists worked with stone implements, and not metal.

They also noted a ‘desert varnish’ on the stones – a dark crust which forms on the stones in dry conditions, suggesting a greater age than earlier assumptions of between 8,000 and 10,000 years old.

Stylistic similarities between the Mongolian and Siberian petroglyphs further indicated the Ukok drawings to be woolly mammoths.

They made their petroglyphs in the so-called Kalgutinsky style.

The experts concluded: ‘We attribute the petroglyphs to the Final Upper Palaeolithic because the examples with typical features of this style depict the Pleistocene fauna (mammoths, rhinoceros).

‘These stylistic features find their parallels among the typical examples of the Upper Palaeolithic rock art of Europe.’

Russian scientists Vyacheslav Molodin said: ‘This is a new touch to what we know about the irrational activities of ancient people in Central Asia.

‘Science knows Palaeolithic era art in the region.

‘This is the famous series of sculptures in Malta in Irkutsk region, whose age is from 23,000 to 19,000 years ago, and several examples from Angara.

‘The assumption that the Pleistocene inhabitants undertook rock art on open surfaces fits into this context.’

The research was undertaken by Vyacheslav Molodin, Dmitry Cheremisin and Dr Lidia Zotkina from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Novosibirsk, part of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Jean-Michele Geneste (University of Bordeaux) and Catherine Cretin (National Museum of Prehistory, France).

Their article ‘The Kalgutinsky Style in the Rock Art of Central Asia’ was published in late 2019, in the magazine Archaeology, Ethnology & Anthropology of Eurasia (issued by Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography SB RAS).

The good, the bad and the ugly of the Indian Rhino Vision 2020

By Antipoaching, Archeology, Translocation No Comments
Mubina Akhtar, Opinion / Northeast Now | March 3, 2020

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On February 29, 2020, two more rhinos were moved out of the Kaziranga National Park to the Manas National Park –a distance of 280km–as part of the translocation programme under the Indian Rhino Vision (IRV) 2020.

Both the rhinos–mother “Faguni” and her sub adult offspring “Asha” covered the distance overnight and were released in the Bansbari Range of Manas National Park in the wee hours of March 1. With their release, altogether 20 rhinos have now been shifted to Manas under the IRV programme scheduled to end by the middle of this year. Eighteen rhinos have already been translocated to Manas since 2008.

An ideal habitat for the breeding of the Great Indian One-Horned Rhino (Rhinoceros unicornis), Kaziranga has seen a rise in the number of the species. The animal shrugged off its ‘endangered’ tag once its population crossed the 2000 mark.

This fuelled an overweening strategy–the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 designed by the Rhino Task Force– that targeted 3,000 rhinos by the year 2020 in the rhino-bearing sanctuaries of Assam.

Manas National Park, another World Heritage Site and Laokhowa and Burhachapori Wildlife Sanctuaries remained preferred destinations for the translocation of rhinos under the IRV 2020 initiative. However, translocation to these wildlife areas remained a daunting task as these sites continue to be vulnerable to poaching activities.

Original photo as published by Northeast Now: Translocated rhino at Manas National Park. (Photo: Northeast Now)

The Setback for IRV 2020

Started on April 12, 2008, IRV’s translocation process came under the scanner after more than half of the trans-located rhinos to Manas fell prey to the bullets of poachers. Without adequate patrolling staff, it was a colossal task for a few people to constantly guard the animals against human rapacity.

The killing of these trans-located animals since 2011 in Manas World Heritage Site triggered the World Heritage Committee to send an alarm to the state that further deterioration of protection in Manas and subsequent damage caused to key attributes in Manas may lead to de-listing Manas from the World Heritage Site list.

The death of the rhinos in Manas had been a huge setback for the IRV 2020 programme.

Instead of dealing with the long-term conservation challenges and preservation of this unique site, the Indian Rhino Vision only went on pulling out rhinos from Kaziranga and Pobitora for translocation solely keeping in view the magic figure of 3,000 rhinos by 2020.

They even went on for a temporary band-aid effort of “trimming” horns on rhinos to be trans-located to Burhachapori and also on stray rhinos. The decision, taken at the IRV 2020 partners meeting on January 30, 2014 at the Assam State Zoo was met with strong opposition from conservationists and the State forest department was compelled to abandon the idea.

However, IRV continued with the translocation process and sent another mature female and her offspring to Burhachapori. An ex forest official of the Assam forest department, on conditions of anonymity, said, “Rhinos endure a certain amount of stress during the translocation process. It was a terrible sight– when after regaining consciousness– the mother rhino wounded itself with multiple injuries each time it stumbled on the thorny barrier in the effort to free itself from captivity. Further, the mother suffered a grave cut in the ear during notching, that turned septic and the animal died a slow and painful death. The orphaned calf suffered a great deal during the floods. The calf suffered serious stomach ailments that finally brought the end to the poor animal.”

With the death of the translocated rhinos in Burhachapori the whole IRV process became very controversial. There were allegations that the IRV stakeholders simply washed off their hands once translocation process was over; they were never bothered about the safety of the trans-located animals. This was indeed a grave allegation. The death of rhinos not only contradicts the conservation efforts but undoubtedly overshadowed the whole IRV process.

After the debacle at Burhachapori, many conservation NGOs of the state were seen protesting against the translocation programme of IRV. They held responsible the IRV stakeholders– Department of Environment and Forests, Assam; WWF-India; International Rhino Foundation (IRF); Bodoland Territorial Counci; US Fish and Wildlife Service and other organizations associated with the Project — for the death of at least 13 rhinos–those trans-located from Kaziranga and Pobitora.

Kaziranga Wildlife Society, Early Birds, Aranya Suraksha Samity, Green Guard, The Green Society and Centre for Conservation, Education and Research demanded the forest department to stop the translocation process at once. The NGOs alleged that translocation was carried out without prior and proper security arrangement of the targeted area. There were also severe allegations of negligence towards security and health monitoring of the animals. The NGOs also demanded the government to institute an inquiry into the death of all trans-located rhinos and make public the post mortem report of the female rhino died in the ‘Boma’ in Burhachapori.

Several student organizations including the Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad (AJYCP) also came out to voice their concern against killing of rhinos in the name of “translocation” under Indian Rhino Vision 2020.

Some Good Things

Once home to more than 80 rhinos, the entire rhino population in Manas National Park was wiped out during the ethnic unrest between 1988 and 2001.

The Government of Assam in collaboration with Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) started the process of re-introduction of rhinos in Manas. Rhino calves orphaned by flood in Kaziranga National Park and hand-reared in the CWRC –the rescue and rehabilitation centre stationed at Kaziranga—were sent to Manas National Park between the years 2006 and 2014.

From these calves and with those captured from the wild as part of IRV translocation between 2008 and 2012–rhino population in Manas National Park increased to 42 and the population now seemed to be well established.

Along with the growth of a viable Rhino population, Manas regained her (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.

However, there have been more negatives than positives in the whole IRV story.

Grievances

A section of forest staff in the Manas and also rhino experts allege that more than 10 translocated rhinos had been killed since 2011 to 2016, but authorities failed to nab a single culprit. On the other hand, a female rhino remained untraceable for the last two years.

“The same sets of people do the security assessments before every rhino translocation to the Park,” they further alleged.

Protection measures continue to remain inadequate– so much so that–Park authorities and other organizations lost more than 20 camera traps from the Panbari and first addition areas of the Park since 2018.

Poaching simply has not stopped. Sources said a group of poachers had fired at a male rhino recently in Manas National Park. The injured rhino strayed out from the core area and it was detected near a village. Photos show bullet marks on the right shoulder and it was bleeding.

“More than five hand-reared rhinos died in Manas due to infighting as these rhinos were incapable to escape a wild bull. Mixing of hand-reared animals with those captured from the wild simply proved disastrous,” said a forest official.

The primordial wilderness of Manas has been plagued by other challenges like– shrinking of habitat, encroachment of the corridors around the Park, siltation of water bodies, rise in invasive weeds that have the capacity to kill native flora such as grasses and others that are important fodder plants for the rhino along with development activities.

Un-checked growth in tourism activities, road construction along the Indo-Bhutan border and a complete lack of protection of the watershed of Manas have raised more concerns over the future of this World Heritage site. Prime rhino habitat stretches continue to be under encroachment.

Large swathes of the species’ habitat have been lost over the years. More than 200 acres in the Bhuyanpara Range have been encroached (since 2012-2017) but there had been no action to evict the encroachers. Similarly, addition areas of some 350 sq km face the same fate. From the western bank of the river Beki to the critical Panbari range, the Park remains vulnerable without any protection. Important ranges like the Bansbari and Bhuynapara have no designated Range Officer for last couple of years.

The Way Forward

With the growth of wildlife population as well as the ever swelling human habitations in and around the Park, it has become a daunting task to meet these challenges without proper advisory and practice.

“Rhino-bearing areas need to be made encroachment free and scientific management of existing rhino-bearing areas must be taken up urgently,” said an expert on conditions of anonymity.

“Rather than Manas, the State Forest Department must search areas to broaden rhino range around Pobitora and Amchang Wildlife Sanctuaries. The Brahmaputra river channel from Kaziranga to Orang should also be declared as rhino zone.”

“What is lacking in rhino conservation in India is that we have no new research available on the species. We are dependent on other international organizations for all the data and information. The Government must encourage more research and declare a package without the support of any foreign agencies,” he added.

 

120,000-yr-old rhino found at second railway track (Slovenia)

By Archeology One Comment
Neža Loštrek, Total Slovenia News | February 25, 2020

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Last week one of the palaeontologists overseeing the construction site of the second railway track between Divača and Koper spotted bones that appeared as white stone.

It turned out that at depth of about 20 metres the excavator uncovered bones of an ancient rhino, who lived in the area at least 120,000 years ago, and perhaps much earlier.

Original illustration as published by Total Slovenia News: Stephanorhinus etruscus.

Astrid Schwar from the Karst Research Institute, who first spotted the finding, stated for Delo that the bones must have been laying in what was once a Karst cave, since parts of stalactites and flowstone were found nearby. While a full skeleton has not been found, there is perhaps enough to be eventually exhibited once it’s excavated, examined and preserved.

Irena Debeljak from Ivan Rakovec Paleontological Institute examined the site last Thursday, and found about a four-centimetre-long tooth which she ascribed with some certainty to one of the three species of rhinos that lived in the area of the Karst in the Pleistocene era.

She stated for Delo that the tooth might belong to a relatively rare species of rhino in that time and area, Stephanorhinus. But before any conclusions are made, Debeljak continued, the tooth needs to be carefully cleaned of flowstone and examined.

The works at the second track will now stall for a couple of weeks until palaeontologists complete their work. Adrijan Košir, from the Geological Survey of Slovenia, said that the rhino, especially in such a good condition, is a rare finding, but will not significantly delay the construction works.

 

A 1.7-million-year-old rhino tooth revises their family tree (The Republic of Georgia)

By Archeology No Comments
Gemma Tarlach, Discover | December 19, 2019

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A really old rhino tooth has opened a new path toward understanding the tree of life — including, potentially, our own branch.

In September, researchers detailed in Nature how, using the tooth of a 1.77-million-year-old rhino from the Republic of Georgia, they were able to revise its family tree. The team’s success has implications far beyond rhino ancestry: It’s proof of concept that it’s possible to map out evolutionary relationships between species, with confidence and on a molecular level, without DNA.

Instead, the team extracted and sequenced proteins preserved in the rhino’s tooth enamel.

“Protein sequences are the best proxy [for DNA],” says University of Copenhagen’s Enrico Cappellini, lead author of the study. Cappellini is a specialist in paleoproteomics, the study of ancient proteins preserved in fossils. “In a way, you can read [proteins] like a text. If you retrieve only a few words, you can’t read the story. If you retrieve more words, you start to understand. And if you have the ancient and the modern text side by side, you can see the differences between them.”

Each protein is a unique chain of amino acids arranged in a specific order. Like DNA, over time these complex chains accumulate small changes that can provide clues to the evolution of a species. Unlike fragile DNA, ancient proteins can last for millions of years in fossilized tissues, including bones and teeth.

Illustration as published by Discover Magazine. (Credit: Mauricio Anton)

For years, researchers have been able to extract and broadly identify these ancient proteins. More recently, however, they have been able to read the protein sequences on a much finer scale, finding subtle differences on an amino acid level. It’s similar to the way geneticists work with DNA, only instead of genomes, they’re reconstructing ancient proteomes.

Previous paleoproteomic work focused on the protein collagen, extracted from ancient bones rather than tooth enamel. Collagen, however, doesn’t change much between species, and it’s only a single protein. The tooth enamel proteome provides information on multiple proteins, and, as Cappellini puts it, “better chances to find a text we can read.”

And although the approach is destructive — tiny chips of enamel are pulverized and fed into a mass spectrometer — teeth are among the most common finds in the fossil record.

Paleoproteomics does have limitations. For example, proteomes are much smaller than genomes, so they provide fewer data points, and the extraction and sequencing of ancient proteins is difficult work. Still, the rhino tooth study shows that it’s possible to study organisms on a molecular level well beyond ancient DNA’s expiration date — theoretically including early members of our own family tree.

“I’m always fascinated to see something invisible become visible,” says John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

While he stressed that he admires the careful, thoughtful work of Cappellini and his colleagues, Hawks cautions that their success may have unintended consequences.

“The reality is that there is a bone rush,” Hawks says. “Copycats will come around to [museum collection curators] and say, ‘I’ll give you a paper in Nature … just give me some teeth to grind up.’ ”

For now, Cappellini is focused on refining the method to obtain more detailed proteomes, from potentially even older fossils.

“We don’t know how far back we can go,” says Cappellini. “I’m looking forward to finding out.”

 

Genetic data from 1.77 million-year-old rhino tooth could solve some of the biggest mysteries in evolution

By Archeology, Science and technology No Comments
The University of York / SciTech Daily | November 23, 2019

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New research on ancient rhino tooth could unlock evolution mysteries.

Scientists from the University of York were involved in a project to extract original proteins providing genetic data from a 1.77 million-year-old rhino tooth.

It marks a breakthrough in the field of ancient biomolecular studies by allowing scientists to accurately reconstruct evolution in mammals from further back in time than ever before – offering the potential to solve some of the biggest mysteries of animal and human development.

Researchers identified an almost complete set of proteins in the dental enamel of the rhino, the largest genetic data-set older than one million years to ever be recorded.

Original illustration as published by SciTechDaily: Artistic reconstruction of Stephanorhinus in its natural environment. (Credit: Mauricio Anton)

Tooth Enamel

Researchers at the University of York played a vital role ensuring that the proteins recovered were authentic and not contaminated. Dr. Marc Dickinson and Dr. Kirsty Penkman, both from the Department of Chemistry, have been developing a method for isolating protein trapped within fossil tooth enamel, and they applied this to the rhino tooth as well as other fossils from the site.

Dr. Dickinson said: “It was exciting to see such clear evidence from our data that the proteins within the tooth enamel were original, which enables the genetic data derived from them to be used with confidence.”

Professor Enrico Cappellini, a specialist in Palaeoproteomics at the Globe Institute, University of Copenhagen, and first author on the paper, said: “This new analysis of ancient proteins from dental enamel will start an exciting new chapter in the study of molecular evolution.

“Dental enamel is extremely abundant and it is incredibly durable, which is why a high proportion of fossil records are teeth.”

Shift in Understanding

The fossil of the rhino tooth was found in Georgia at a site called Dmanisi, an important archaeological site with the oldest human fossils outside of Africa.

This rearranging of the evolutionary lineage of a single species may seem like a small adjustment, but identifying changes in numerous extinct mammals and humans could lead to massive shifts in our understanding of the way nature has evolved.

The team of scientists is already implementing the findings in their current research. The discovery could enable scientists across the globe to collect the genetic data of ancient fossils and to build a bigger, more accurate picture of the evolution of hundreds of species, including our own.

Reference: “Early Pleistocene enamel proteome from Dmanisi resolves Stephanorhinus phylogeny” by Enrico Cappellini, Frido Welker, Luca Pandolfi, Jazmín Ramos-Madrigal, Diana Samodova, Patrick L. Rüther, Anna K. Fotakis, David Lyon, J. Víctor Moreno-Mayar, Maia Bukhsianidze, Rosa Rakownikow Jersie-Christensen, Meaghan Mackie, Aurélien Ginolhac, Reid Ferring, Martha Tappen, Eleftheria Palkopoulou, Marc R. Dickinson, Thomas W. Stafford Jr, Yvonne L. Chan, Anders Götherström, Senthilvel K. S. S. Nathan, Peter D. Heintzman, Joshua D. Kapp, Irina Kirillova, Yoshan Moodley, Jordi Agusti, Ralf-Dietrich Kahlke, Gocha Kiladze, Bienvenido Martínez-Navarro, Shanlin Liu, Marcela Sandoval Velasco, Mikkel-Holger S. Sinding, Christian D. Kelstrup, Morten E. Allentoft, Ludovic Orlando, Kirsty Penkman, Beth Shapiro, Lorenzo Rook, Love Dalén, M. Thomas P. Gilbert, Jesper V. Olsen, David Lordkipanidze and Eske Willerslev, 11 September 2019, Nature.

DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1555-y

 

Ancient rhinos roamed the Yukon

By Archeology, Education No Comments
University of Colorado at Boulder, Phys.Org | October 31, 2019

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In 1973, a teacher named Joan Hodgins took her students on a hike near Whitehorse in Canada’s Yukon Territory. In the process, she made history for this chilly region.

While exploring the tailings left behind by a now-defunct copper mine, Hodgins and her students stumbled across a few fragments of fossils—bits and pieces of what seemed to be teeth alongside pieces of bone.

The ancient fragments of teeth were so small and in such bad shape that “most paleontologists may not have picked them up,” said Jaelyn Eberle, a curator of fossil vertebrates at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Museum of Natural History.

But Hodgins did. Now, more than 40 years after the teacher’s fateful hike, an international team led by Eberle used modern technology to identify the origins of those enigmatic fossils.

In a study published today, Eberle and her colleagues report that the fossil tooth fragments likely came from the jaw of a long-extinct cousin of today’s rhinoceroses. This hefty animal may have tromped through the forests of Northwest Canada roughly 8 to 9 million years ago.

And it’s a first: Before the rhino discovery, paleontologists had not found a single fossil vertebrate dating back to this time period in the Yukon.

“In the Yukon, we have truckloads of fossils from ice age mammals like woolly mammoths, ancient horses and ferocious lions,” said Grant Zazula, a coauthor of the new study and Yukon Government paleontologist. “But this is the first time we have any evidence for ancient mammals, like rhinos, that pre-date the ice age.”

Original photo as published by Phys.org: An artist’s imagining of an ancient relative of today’s rhinoceroses splashing through a stream next to turtles and fish in the Yukon. (Credit: Julius Csotonyi)

It’s a gap in the fossil record that scientists have been keen to fill.

To understand why, imagine the Earth during the Tertiary Period, a span of time that began after the dinosaurs went extinct and ended about 2.6 million years ago. In that age, a land bridge called Beringia connected what are today Russia and Alaska.

Paleontologists believe that animals of all sorts, including mammoths and rhinos, poured over that bridge.

There’s just one problem: The geology and environment of the Yukon, which sat at the center of that mass migration route, isn’t conducive to preserving fossils from land animals.

“We know that a land bridge must have been in operation throughout much of the last 66 million years,” Eberle said. “The catch is finding fossils in the right place at the right time.”

In this case, the people at the right place and at the right time was a Yukon schoolteacher and her students.

When Eberle first saw Hodgins’ fossil teeth, now housed in the Yukon Government fossil collections in Whitehorse, she didn’t think she could do much with them.

Then she and her colleagues landed on an idea: Eberle put one of the small pieces under a tool called a scanning electron microscope that can reveal the structure of tooth enamel in incredible detail.

She explained that mammal teeth aren’t all built alike. The crystals that make up enamel can grow following different patterns in different types of animals, a bit like a dental fingerprint. The Yukon tooth enamel, the team found, carried the tell-tale signs of coming from a rhinoceros relative.

“I hadn’t thought that enamel could be so beautiful,” Eberle said.

The method isn’t detailed enough to determine the precise species of rhino. But, if this animal was anything like its contemporaries to the south, Eberle said, it may have been about the same size or smaller than today’s black rhinos and browsed on leaves for sustenance. It also probably didn’t have a horn on its snout.

The group also looked at a collection of fossils found alongside the rhino’s tooth chips. They belonged to two species of turtle, an ancient deer relative and a pike fish. The discovery of the turtles, in particular, indicated that the Yukon had a warmer and wetter climate than it does today.

Hodgins, now-retired, is excited to see what became of the fossils she and her students discovered more than 40 years ago: It’s “just so wonderful to learn what has developed with them from long ago,” she said.

Eberle added that the Yukon’s newly-discovered rhino residents are a testament to the importance of museums.

“The fact that these specimens were discovered in the Yukon museum collection makes me really want to spend more time in other collections, including at CU Boulder, looking for these kinds of discoveries that are there but haven’t had the right eyes on them yet,” Eberle said.

More information: Jaelyn Eberle et al, The First Tertiary Fossils of Mammals, Turtles, and Fish from Canada’s Yukon, American Museum Novitates (2019). DOI: 10.1206/3943.1

Provided by University of Colorado at Boulder

Woolly rhinos, giant lions and super-elephants – Britain’s forgotten ancient animals revealed

By Archeology No Comments
Sean Keach, The Sun | October 13, 2019

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Ancient Britain was home to a menagerie of long-forgotten creatures – including woolly rhinos and the cave lion.

We reveal some of the most exotic animals to roam the British Isles over the last 2.6million years.

Woolly Rhinoceros

The woolly rhinoceros was an ice age mammal coated in thick fur to protect against cold weather.

Just like modern rhinos, they were large and strong – but maintained a strict plant-only diet.

An adult woolly rhino typically measured up to 12.5 foot in length, and weighed as much as 2,700 kilos.

They could also grow up to 6.6 foot tall, and had horns roughly two-foot long.

These creatures roamed Doggerland, a now-sunken land mass surrounding Britain and France.

And they common in southern England, which was a cold and arid desert at the time.

It’s believed that the woolly rhino first appeared 300,000 years ago, and died out in 8,000BC.

Original illustration as published by The Sun: Woolly rhinos were coated in thick fur and could weigh 2,700 kilos. (Credit: Alamy)

Cave Lion

The Eurasian cave lion, or Panthera spelaea, is an extinct species.

It evolved in Europe less than 600,000 years ago, and is genetically distinct from the modern lion found in Africa and Asia.

The oldest bone fragments of Eurasian cave lions date back around 62,400 years.

The species finally became extinct around 13,000 years ago.

They would have stood roughly 3.9 feet tall with a body length of around 6.9 feet.

Experts say the species may have been around 10% larger than modern lions.

They were probably similar in colour to modern lions, although slightly lighter.

They roamed from Europe to Alaska over the Bering land bridge, and were even found in Spain and the UK.

Cave Bear

The cave bear is a now-extinct species of bear that lived across Europe and Asia.

They were bigger than grizzly bears, reaching 5 feet tall and 10 feet long – and weighing up to 600 kilos (and possibly even 1,000 kilos at the extreme end).

Cave bears would have had broad domed skulls with steep foreheads, and boasted stout long bodies.

Despite their fearsome appearance, they were likely largely vegetarian, although may occasionally have eaten meat.

Members of the species often died during hibernation, or from fighting during breeding seasons.

Estimates suggest that they rarely lived beyond 20 years of age.

It’s believed that the cave bear died out around 24,000 years ago.

Woolly Mammoth

The legendary woolly mammoth first emerged around 400,000 years ago, and is one of the ice age’s most iconic creatures.

They were roughly the size of modern African elephants, growing to around 11.2 feet and 6 tons in weight. Even a newborn calf could weigh as much as 90 kilos.

Woolly mammoths were well-adapted to cold temperatures, thanks to a thick coating of fur, and short ears and tails to minimise frostbite and heat loss.

These mammoths would have co-existed with early humans, and were also hunted for food.

But they disappeared around 10,000 years ago, probably because of a combination of hunting and climate change.

Scimitar-Toothed Cat

The scimitar-toothed cat is an extinct genus of the sabre-toothed cat, and roamed across Britain, North and South America, Europe and Africa.

They existed for around 4million years, but became extinct around 28,000 years ago in Europe.

Scimitar-toothed cats had deadly upper canines with serrated edges for tearing through flesh.

Their body structure gave them a hyena-like appearance, primed for leaping.

But they were large at nearly four foot tall, 5.5 foot long and weighing roughly 100 to 190 kilos.

Scimitar-toothed cats were meat-eaters, and may have declined due to the disappearing of large mammals (like mammoths).

They arrived in Britain around 750,000 years ago, but moved south to warmer parts of Europe over time.

Straight-Tusked Elephant

This extinct species of elephant inhabited Europe and Western Asia between 781,000 and 50,000 years ago. They reached up to 13.8 feet in height – about three feet taller than modern African elephants.

And they could weight up to 15 tonnes, making them significant bigger than the woolly mammoth.

They were named after their long tusks, and likely lived in herds.

It’s believed that straight-tusked elephants may have been hunted by early humans.

They disappeared from Britain around 120,000 years ago, and eventually became extinct on the Iberian peninsula.

Texas A&M student identifies unique 5-million-year-old rhino species

By Archeology, Science and technology No Comments
Kay Ledbetter / Texas A&M, North Texas E-News | October 10, 2019

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COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS: Rhinoceros don’t roam the prairies of Texas today, and some might not even know they once roamed the Great Plains. But one Texas A&M University student knows about rhinos: she’s identified unique specimens from fossilized remains found in the mountains of Tennessee dating back almost 5 million years.

Rachel Short, a doctoral candidate in the department of ecosystem science and management at Texas A&M University, is part of a team that identified a new species of ancient rhinoceros, Teleoceras aepysoma, from the late Hemphillian-aged Gray Fossil Site of eastern Tennessee.

The genus, Teleoceras, has been described as the “pot-bellied rhinos,” though this new, taller species changes that, and the species name, aepysoma, means “high-bodied,” Short said. Longer front legs and the lack of a nasal horn are only a few of the body features that make this rhino different from other species already identified.

Original photo as published by North Texas e-News: Lead author Rachel Short stands behind the skull of “Big Boy”. (Photo by Laura Emmert)

Short recently published her findings with co-authors Laura Emmert with the Don Sundquist Center of Excellence in Paleontology, and Dr. Steven Wallace, professor and curator of the Museum of Natural History, both at East Tennessee State University.

Short and Emmert completed their master’s degrees at East Tennessee in 2013, and Wallace was their advisor. Short said she got involved with the project because of an interest in North American rhinoceroses that started when she interned at Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park in northeastern Nebraska.

According to the new rhino research, the occurrence of Teleoceras aepysoma in the Appalachian Mountains is unique within a genus typically found in the Great Plains.

“Habitat is most likely a major factor in the unique features,” she said. “We suspect the longer forelimbs helped the rhinos browse on shrubs and trees in the oak-hickory forest. It was a forested environment with little grass, and the smaller tapirs would have been browsing on shorter shrubs, so the rhinos would have had to raise their heads higher.”

Short said it was upon the completion of that project and her interest in the unique morphology and habitat of the Gray Fossil Site rhinos that led her to develop questions that turned in to her Texas A&M dissertation.

At Texas A&M, Short works with Dr. Michelle Lawing to investigate trait-environment relationships of hoofed mammals using bones in the ankle and elbow. The shape of these bones is directly tied to the environment in which the animals live, so fossils can be used to understand past environments as well as how animals respond to environmental change.

“We know mammal communities are being severely impacted by environmental changes,” she said. “We can better predict responses to these ongoing changes if we understand the responses that have been preserved in the information-rich fossil record.”

Teleoceras is a widespread Miocene rhinoceros that has been reported in North American faunas from approximately 20 million years ago to approximately 5 million years ago. The Gray Fossil Site represents one of the last known populations of North American rhinoceroses.

In 2000, late Miocene fossils were found during road construction near Gray, Tennessee, and the Gray Fossil Site was established at the location. There, the fossil material at the site is found primarily in an organic-rich clay deposit that filled a large sinkhole. This sinkhole once served as a watering hole for local fauna, including tapirs, red pandas, alligators and turtles, she said.

Fossils from a minimum of six rhinoceroses, including two nearly complete, articulated skeletons, have been unearthed, Short said, and while Wallace knew they were different, they weren’t studied until she started her master’s thesis in 2011. Availability of such complete specimens enabled a thorough bone-by-bone description of the new species.

Excavations are still ongoing, and as more material is uncovered, the understanding of this unique fauna will improve, she said.

More information on the Gray Fossil Site is available on the Center of Excellence in Paleontology website: www.etsu.edu/cas/paleontology.

The publication on the new rhinoceros species can be found in the Bulletin of the Florida Museum of Natural History at tinyurl.com/newrhinoceros.

1.7-million-year-old rhino tooth provides oldest DNA data ever studied

By Archeology, Science and technology No Comments
Jason Daley, Smithsonian.com | September 12, 2019

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DNA sequencing has revolutionized the way researchers study evolution and animal taxonomy. But DNA has its limits—it’s a fragile molecule that degrades over time. So far, the oldest DNA sequenced came from a 700,000-year-old horse frozen in permafrost. But a new technique based on the emerging field of proteomics has begun to unlock the deep past, and recently researchers extracted genetic information from the tooth enamel of a rhinoceros that lived 1.7 million years ago.

In traditional DNA sequencing, the molecule is run through a machine that amplifies the genetic material and is able to read off the sequence of nucleotides—adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T)—that make up the DNA strand and encode instructions to make amino acids and proteins. The quality and completeness of a genome depends on how well the DNA is preserved.

Original photo as published by Smithsonianmag.com: The skull of the 1.77-million-year-old Stephanorhinus rhino. (Mirian Kiladze, Georgian National Museum)

The new proteomics approach is essentially reverse engineering. Using a mass spectrometer, researchers look at preserved proteins and are able to determine the amino acids that make them up. Because researchers know what three-letter DNA sequence encodes each amino acid, they can then determine the DNA sequence for the protein.

“It’s reading DNA when you don’t have any DNA to read,” Glendon Parker, a forensic scientist at the University of California, Davis, says in a press release. He and colleagues are developing proteomics techniques that can be used in criminology, evolutionary biology and anthropology. “Protein is much more stable than DNA, and protein detection technology is much better now.”

The most stable protein that we know of is tooth enamel, which can remain intact in fossils for millions of years. Enrico Cappellini of the University of Copenhagen and colleagues focused on this protein in a new study in the journal Nature. The researchers took a miniscule amount of enamel from the tooth of a 1.77-million-year-old Eurasian rhinocerous species called

Stephanorhinus, which was dug up in Dmanisi, Georgia. The DNA had long since degraded, but mass spectrometry allowed the team to retrieve genetic data from the enamel, the oldest ever to be recorded, according to another press release.

“For 20 years ancient DNA has been used to address questions about the evolution of extinct species, adaptation and human migration, but it has limitations. Now for the first time we have retrieved ancient genetic information which allows us to reconstruct molecular evolution way beyond the usual time limit of DNA preservation,” Capellini says. “This new analysis of ancient proteins from dental enamel will start an exciting new chapter in the study of molecular evolution.”

The finding has big implications for evolutionary biology. While DNA is scarce, tooth enamel is plentiful. “[Tooth enamel] seems to protect its protein almost like a little time capsule,” co-author and chemist Kirsty Penkman of the University of York tells David Behrens at The Yorkshire Post. “It’s a step forward from Darwin. He was making his predictions based on the shape of bones—we’re now able to get molecular information from the bone and the teeth. The potential for this to be applied to a huge range of different species, including humans, is enormous.”

Scientists already have a massive amount of material for genetic analysis available at their fingertips. “There are tons of these fossils sitting around in museums and in sediments around the world, and we can now get useful evolutionary information from them,” Penkman says.

One of the potential applications of this technique is sorting out the human family tree. Currently, the oldest DNA researchers have from human ancestors is about 400,000 years old, enough to tell us a little bit about Homo sapiens, Neanderthals and Denisovans. But beyond that, reports Phoebe Weston at The Independent, paleoanthropologists have primarily relied on changes in anatomy to decide if an ancient hominin is our direct ancestor. For instance, there is no direct genetic link between modern humans and Homo erectus, which may be a direct ancestor. Some evidence also suggests that early humans interbred with Homo erectus. A genome from that species would help iron out the relationship.

The new technique has already shaken up the family tree of ancient rhinoceroses. According to the paper, the enamel DNA reveals that the Stephanorhinus rhino is not a direct ancestor of the better known woolly rhino, which survived until the Pleistocene about 10,000 years ago, but is a sister lineage and the two likely evolved from a common ancestor. And this probably isn’t the only branch on the tree of life that will be reshaped by proteomics in the near future.

Ivory hunters decimate 50,000 year old mammoth graveyard

By Archeology No Comments
Svetlana Skarbo, The Siberian Times | September 3, 2019

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A 50,000 year old mammoth graveyard in Yunyugen, north of Yakutia, Siberia is a paleontological world treasure site with multiple remains of mammoths, woolly rhinos, Pleistocene era bison and deer, which have been preserved in perfect condition in the permafrost. This is where these prehistoric animals, many of which are now extinct, came to die. But these valuable remains are now being ransacked by gangs to sell in the illegal ivory market.

Unique Site Attracts ‘Bone Hunters’

The unique site on the Yana River above the Polar Circle was discovered at the turn of the 20th century by Arctic explorer Baron Eduard von Toll. Some of the skulls found here are so well-preserved they still have skin on them, while ancient antlers still display their outer velvet covering.

“This level of preservation is unheard of in most of Eurasia, and this is what became the site’s curse, because dozens of bone hunting brigades flock here every summer with their pumps”, said palaeontologist Sergey Leshchinsky, “Most of the skulls are completely preserved with tendons and cartilage intact”.

The plunderers use high pressure industrial water jets, like you might see used by fire-fighters, to ‘dig’ out the bones and remains. As you might expect, these jet pumps obliterate the permafrost and can destroy the relics.

Original photo as published by Ancient-origins.net.

White Gold Creates Bone Rush

Professor Leshchinsky from Tomsk State University has worked at Yunyugen mammoth graveyard with colleagues from St Petersburg and Yakutia. They find themselves working next to dozens of bone hunters.

Mammoth tusks no less than woolly rhino horn are commodities in Russia and abroad, with each find selling for between half and five million rubles ($7500 – $75000). The price depends on weight and level of preservation.

Such demand has created a mammoth bone rush in Yakutia, with prospective millionaires making their way to Yunyugen, with scientists often facing an ugly scramble with hunters for finds.

Seven years ago the area around the Yunyugen river was all covered by forest.

Now, for about two kilometers to each side of the river there are endless man made caves washed out by the destructive pumps of ivory hunters. ‘The hunters use fire extinguishing hoses to suck water from the Yunyugen river and direct it at the walls of the permafrost hills. Bone washing goes on all summer long’, Professor Leshchinsky said.

‘The business demands colossal investment as one pump takes up to 300 litres of diesel a day. Hunters wash away permafrost and pick only what they see as valuable, which is mammoth tusks and whole rhino tusks’, he explained.

Hundreds of bones which could be easily assembled into complete skeletons are abandoned, as it is too expensive to transport them.

Thousands of prehistoric remains get destroyed at Yunyugen every summer, and the chaos continues as the site is not protected by the state.

Plea to World Scientific Community

This summer participants of the scientific expedition decided it was time to call on the science world to rescue the site.

‘We must declare Yunyugen a geological site, a monument protected by the state in order to preserve and comprehensively study it. This unique location of the mammoth fauna must belong to humanity’, the palaeontologist said.

Now scientists from Tomsk State University, North-Western Medical University from St Petersburg and North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutia plan to appeal to the government of Yakutia, also known as the Sakha Republic, the largest region in the Russian Federation.

The appeal will include signatures of leading geologists and palaeontologists. A petition with the call to preserve the Yunyugen mammoth graveyard will be posted on change.org website.