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Timeline of the great findings of Paleontology and Biology

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Author Topic: Timeline of the great findings of Paleontology and Biology  (Read 3298 times)
Rebecca
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« on: September 05, 2008, 01:27:46 pm »

1901-Harry Govier Seeley publishes Dragons of the Air, the first popular book on pterosaurs, arguing that they were warm-blooded and should be classified parallel to birds, in between reptiles and mammals. This is in direct opposition to Richard Owen's classification of pterosaurs as cold-blooded and poor flyers.

1902-Barnum Brown of the American Museum of Natural History discovers Tyrannosaurus rex.

1902-Walter Sutton deduces that chromosomes separate for reproduction. This becomes the basis for the chromosome theory of inheritance, to become official two years later.

1903-Physicist Ernest Rutherford lectures the British Association that radioactivity could power the sun and maintain its heat, meaning the sun and earth could be much older than Lord Kelvin's estimate.

1905-Albert Einstein proposes the special theory of relativity (E=mc2).

1905-K.S. Merezhkovsky suggests that chloroplasts originated as a cyanobacterium swallowed by a protozoan, i.e., algal and plant cells result from two independent organisms that became symbionts. The idea will be largely forgotten until it is suggested again in the 1960s.

1906-The New York Zoological Park displays Ota Benga, an African Pygmy, in its Monkey House.

1907-The Mauer jaw is discovered in Germany. It will become the type specimen for Homo heidelbergensis (Archaic Homo sapiens, precursors to Neanderthals).

1908-Charles and George Sternberg discover a dinosaur mummy, a duckbill dinosaur with skin, tendons and bits of flesh all fossilized.

1908-Otto Hauser finds the body of a Neanderthal youth at Le Moustier. Later paleoanthropologists will attach limited importance to this find, however, since Hauser keeps burying and "rediscovering" the Neanderthal for important visitors.

1908-1911-Oliver P. Hay publishes several articles contending that dinosaurs had crocodilian postures (not upright legs), and recommending that museums clearly distinguish between fossil bones and casts. The first idea will never catch on, but the second eventually will.

1909-Charles Doolittle Walcott discovers the fossils of soft-bodied animals in the Burgess Shale in the Canadian Rockies. He proceeds to publish several papers in which he describes these animals, which lived over 500 million years ago, as primitive ancestors of modern groups.

1909-The Abbé Breuil discovers carefully buried Neanderthal skeletons in France.

1909-Arthur Smith Woodward lectures the British Association for the Advancement of Science on "excess growth" and tooth loss in dinosaurs, citing these things as evidence of "racial senility" that doomed the dinosaurs to extinction.


1911-A hand axe, possibly 200,000 years old and of Neanderthal design, is found in Norfolk, England. The axe has been fashioned to give prominence to a fossil bivalve.


1911-Charles Dawson discovers the Piltdown skull in southern England. Excavations of faked fossils will continue for years.

1911-1914-Ernst Stromer and Richard Markgraf find fossils of three carnivorous dinosaur species in Egypt. The fossils will be formally described in the 1930s, then completely destroyed in a 1944 WWII bombing.

1912-Alfred Wegener proposes the theory of continental drift. His ideas will be almost completely ignored until the late 1960s.

1913-Geologist-physicist Arthur Holmes concludes that the breakdown of radioactive isotopes in igneous rocks can be used to determine when the rocks solidified. The ability to determine the absolute ages of rocks will enable scientists to better date fossils.

1914-World War I begins in Europe.

1914-Charles Doolittle Walcott identifies fossil bacteria in Cryptozoon-like structures (stromatolites).

1914-Peyrony finds the remains of Neanderthal baby in southwestern France. Because no one knows the bones are Neanderthal, they are not examined closely and are later believed lost. They will be rediscovered and described nearly 90 years later.

1915-Calvin Bridges identifies strains of mutant fruit flies with extra pairs of wings. Decades later, these strains will help biologists understand Hox genes that control the head-to-toe anatomy of widely varying animals.

1916-Two duckbill dinosaur fossils, with extremely rare skin impressions, sink to the bottom of the Atlantic when a German warship fires on the vessel carrying them.

1917-The Bolshevik Revolution begins in Russia.

1920-Women gain the right to vote in the United States.

1921-Fossil mammal expert William Diller Matthew suggests dinosaurs were driven extinct by mountain building, continental uplift and replacement by mammals.

1921-Miners at Broken Hill in the British colony of Northern Rhodesia, Africa, find leg bones and a skull that will later be classified as Homo heidelbergensis.


1922-The American Museum of Natural History begins a series of excavations in central Mongolia, led by Roy Chapman Andrews. Hoping to find fossil human remains, Chapman's team instead finds dinosaurs.


1924-1934-British biochemist J.B.S. Haldane publishes 10 mathematical papers arguing that natural selection of genetic variations, as described by Mendel, can enable populations to adapt to change.

1925-Raymond Dart publishes a description of the "Taung Child," a hominid child's skull from Africa. He classifies it as Australopithecus africanus and concludes that it's the missing link between humans and apes.


1925-Tennessee schoolteacher John Thomas Scopes is tried for teaching evolution in the famous "Scopes Monkey Trial." Two-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan leads the prosecution. Labor lawyer Clarence Darrow leads the defense and goads Bryan into declaring that humans are not mammals. The conviction will be overturned on a technicality, and the anti-evolution law will remain on the books for decades.

1926-Harvard geology professor William Morris Davis publishes a paper entitled "The Value of Outrageous Geological Hypotheses" warning against quick dismissal of new ideas. The paper will become famous.

1929-Davidson Black announces the find of Sinanthropus pekinensis, or Peking Man. The fossil will be lost during World War II.

1929-Estonian paleobiologist Alexander Audova publishes a paper rejecting racial senility as the cause of dinosaur extinction and instead pointing to environmental change.

1931-The highly influential paleobotanist Sir Albert Charles Seward rejects the biologic interpretation of Cryptozoon fossils (stromatolites). This rejection will become known among paleontologists as "Seward's folly."

1932-A Harvard expedition to Australia collects Kronosaurus queenslandicus, a 135 million-year-old marine reptile fossil with a 9-foot skull and banana-sized teeth. Researchers excavate the fossil from a limestone quarry with the aid of an explosives expert nicknamed "The Maniac."

1936-Robert Broom finds the first skull of an adult australopithecine near Johannesburg.

1937-Anthropologist Ales Hrdlicka publishes a paper asserting that aboriginal peoples of the Americas always resembled modern Native Americans. This view will predominate for decades.

1938-Fishermen find a coelacanth, a fish long believed to be extinct, off the coast of South Africa.

1939-About 200 worked ivory fragments, roughly 32,000 years old, are found in the Hohlenstein-Stadel cave in Germany. Three decades later, the pieces will be reassembled as statue of a lion-headed man.

1939-World War II begins in Europe.

1940-Frank Morton Carpenter collects a 2.5-foot wing from a dragonfly-like giant insect that lived in Oklahoma during the Permian Period.

1940-1944-Seventeen dinosaur fossils, including several type specimens (fossils used as examples of named species) are lost when the European museums housing them are damaged or destroyed in various WWII battles.

1941-Anthropologist E.T. Hall excavates the ruins of a dwelling in New Mexico occupied between 700 and 900 AD. He finds two fossil jawbones of Eocene mammals that were deliberately carried to the dwelling by Paleo-Indians.

1942-Ernst Mayr publishes Systematics and the Origin of Species, and Julian Huxley publishes Evolution: The Modern Synthesis. Both books are significant contributions to the neo-Darwinian synthesis combining elements of natural selection, genetics, mutation, population biology and paleontology.

1943-Oswald Avery, Colin MacLeod and Maclyn McCarty submit a paper for publication in the Journal of Experimental Medicine describing nucleic acid DNA as the carrier of genetic messages.

1944-Theoretical physicist Erwin Schrödinger publishes What is Life? arguing that living organisms store and pass along information, perhaps using something like Morse code. This book will inspire James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, who will share the Nobel prize for discovering the structure of DNA.

1946-Geologist Reg Sprigg discovers fossils near the Ediacara Hills in Australia. The fossils are of multicellular organisms that predated the Cambrian Period, making them the oldest complex fossils yet discovered. At least some of the fossils are generally assumed to be related to modern cnidarians like jellyfish and corals.

1947-American Museum of Natural History curator Edwin Colbert finds a massive quarry of Coelophysis dinosaurs in New Mexico and concludes from their skeletons that these Triassic dinosaurs were swift runners with a bird-like posture.


1947-Rudolph Zallinger completes The Age of Reptiles mural in the Yale Peabody Museum. This image of slow-moving dinosaurs will prevail until the 1960s.


1948-Mary Leakey finds the skull of the ape Proconsul, about 16 million years old. Although a very significant find, it does little to bolster Louis and Mary Leakey's meager research funding.

1949-French prehistorian André Leroi-Gourhan discovers the Cave of the Reindeer near the village of Arcy-sur-Cure where he will conduct a 15-year excavation. Discoveries at Arcy will include evidence of a growing artistic sense among Neanderthals, including the collection of fossil mollusk shells and fossil coral.

1951-Barbara McClintock publishes a paper describing "jumping" genes that can move around within an organism's genome.

1952-Russian geologist Boris Sokolov establishes the term Vendian. Based on rock strata in the Soviet Union, it designates the period immediately preceding the Cambrian, coinciding with fossils found near the Ediacara Hills.

1952-1953-Stanley Miller and Harold Urey combine gases generally believed to be in the earth's early atmosphere (methane, ammonia and water vapor) and charge them with electricity. These experiments produce several amino acids.

1953-Piltdown Man is determined to be a hoax: the jaw of an ape and a human skull.

1953-James Watson and Francis Crick publish their paper on the molecular structure of DNA in Nature Magazine. Rosalind Franklin, whose X-ray photographs of DNA were essential to this discovery, publishes a paper on her own research in the same issue.

1953-Fiesel Houtermans and Claire Patterson publish independent estimates inferring the age of the earth through radiometric dating of meteorites. Both estimates are over 4.5 billion years.

1954-Elso Barghoorn and Stanley Tyler report the discovery of bacterial cells in Canadian rock formations that are nearly 2 billion years old.

1956-Paleontologist M.W. de Laubenfels publishes a paper suggesting that the dinosaurs were driven to extinction by a meteorite impact. His paper will not be taken seriously, but this hypothesis will be presented again in 1980 with more compelling evidence.

1956-Keith Runcorn publishes a paper describing polar wandering based on paleomagnetic studies of Europe and North America. He suggests continental drift, but his paper attracts little attention.

1957-The Soviet Union launches Sputnik.

1957-Francis Crick proposes the "central dogma" of genetic information transfer: DNA specifies RNA and RNA specifies cell proteins.

1959-Mary Leakey finds hominid skull belonging to Australopithecus boisei.

1961-Henry Morris and Old Testament Scholar J.C. Whitcomb publish The Genesis Flood, attracting new support for the previously insignificant biblical literalist movement.

1961-Martin Glaessner determines fossils in the Ediacara Hills of South Australia (Ediacaran fauna) to be Precambrian in age (approximately 600 million years old), making them the oldest-known multicelled organisms.

1961-Gene Shoemaker and E.C.T. Chao publish a paper characterizing the Ries Basin in Bavaria as the result of a meteorite impact. This will help pave the way for eventual acceptance of asteroid and comet impacts as potential causes of mass extinction.

1963-Fred Vine and Drum Matthews publish a paper describing magnetic stripes formed at ocean ridges. Their findings will pave the way for the acceptance of continental drift over the next decade.

1964-W. Brian Harland and Martin J.S. Rudwick publish a theory that the earth experienced a great ice age in the Neoproterozoic (late Precambrian). Rudwick suggests that the climate's return to moderate conditions paved the way for the evolution of multicelluar life.

1964-Louis Leakey describes Homo habilis, meaning "handy." The new species designation is not well received by the scientific community.

1964-Vincent Dethier publishes "Microscopic Brains," an article on insect behavior, in Science. He calls for a more empathetic approach to animal subjects, even tiny invertebrates.

1966-Harry Whittington begins reexamining Burgess Shale fossils originally identified by Charles Walcott starting in 1909. Over the next two decades, Whittington (with the assistance of his graduate students Simon Conway Morris and Derek Briggs), will eventually overturn some of Walcott's theories and propose that most of the animals left no living relatives.

1966-Willi Hennig works on a new approach to assessing evolutionary relationships, known as cladistics. Although it will be hotly debated, this technique will eventually become standard practice in paleontology, botany and zoology.

1967-Lynn Sagan (later Lynn Margulis) hypothesizes that chloroplasts originated as cyanobacteria, and that mitochondria originated as bacteria. She suggests that both were engulfed by other cells and began functioning as symbionts.

1967-Richard Leakey finds two fossil skulls, Omo I and Omo II, in Ethiopia. Though initially dated at 130,000 years, the fossils will later be dated (using argon decay) at 195,000 years, and designated as the oldest examples of Homo sapiens.

1968-A.G. Cairns-Smith publishes a paper suggesting that the first life on earth might have been fine-grained clay crystals. He will publish on this topic several more times, but the experimental evidence will remain scant.

1969-Americans land the first man on the moon.

1969-John Ostrom publishes a description of Deinonychus with a frontispiece illustration by Bob Bakker, suggesting that the dinosaur is alert, agile and intelligent.

1969-R.H. Whittaker proposes to divide all living things into five kingdoms: Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, Protista and Monera.

1971-A.G. Sharov describes a pterosaur with fossil "hair" impressions at Sordes pilosus (hairy devil).

1971-Polish and Mongolian paleontologists discover the entwined skeletons of a Protoceratops and a juvenile Velociraptor in the Gobi Desert, most likely locked in mortal combat.

1971-Grad student Douglas Lawson discovers the humerus of a giant pterosaur in Texas. Over the next four years, he will continue collecting and finally publish a description of Quetzalcoatlus northropi, the largest flying animal ever found, with an estimated wingspan of 39 feet.

1972-Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge publish their theory of punctuated equilibrium, stating that evolution often occurs in short bursts, followed by long periods of stability.

1972-Bob Bakker publishes "Anatomical and Ecological Evidence of Endothermy in Dinosaurs" in Nature, arguing that dinosaurs were warm-blooded animals.

1973-Peter and Rosemary Grant begin a long-term study of finches on the Galapagos Islands. In succeeding years, as they watch finches adapt to alternating wet and dry conditions, the Grants will uncover evidence that evolution proceeds more rapidly than what Darwin estimated.


1974-Donald Johanson and his team discover a female fossil hominid (to be later named Australopithecus afarensis) and call her Lucy. Lucy's discovery establishes that hominids walked upright before developing large brains, overturning some long-held beliefs about hominid evolution. Her status as a direct ancestor of modern humans, however, will remain controversial.


1974-John Ostrom publishes a paper titled "Archaeopteryx and the Origin of Flight" reviving Thomas Henry Huxley's arguments from the 1860s.

1975-Mary-Claire King and Allan Wilson publish their finding that human and chimpanzee DNA sequences differ by roughly 1 percent, meaning humans have more in common with chimps than chimps do with gorillas. King and Wilson suggest that humans and chimps differ largely in the DNA that switches on and off genes.

1976-Paleontologists looking for cave bear remains explore Sima de los Huesos ("Pit of the Bones") at Atapuerca, Spain. For many years afterwards, it will remain the densest accumulation of fossil human bones ever discovered.

1976-Overturning the classifications introduced by R.H. Whittaker seven years earlier, Carl Woese proposes to divide all living things into three categories: Bacteria, Archaea and Eukarya.

1977-Submersible vehicle Alvin reveals deep sea vents on the ocean floor that give rise to an ecosystem owing nothing to photosynthesis. This finding prompts speculation that life on earth first arose in deep-sea, not shallow-water, ecosystems.

1977-Fred Sanger and collaborators publish the first complete DNA sequence of an organism, a bacteriophage, or virus infecting bacteria.

1978-J.W. Kitching discovers a clutch of prosauropod eggs in South Africa, the oldest dinosaur embryos yet found. They will show that sauropods walked on all fours as small animals, but the significance of this find will be overlooked for nearly three decades.

1978-Mary Leakey announces the discovery of fossil footprints at Laetoli demonstrating that hominids walked upright 3.6 million years ago.

1980-Louis W. Alvarez, Walter Alvarez, Frank Asaro and Helen V. Michel publish their asteroid impact theory of dinosaur extinction. The theory will not gain widespread acceptance among scientists for several years.

1980-Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Eric Wieschaus describe genetic mutations affecting the body plan of the fruit fly Drosophila, and identify genes controlling the basic body plans of all animals. These genes will eventually be known as Hox genes.

1983-German paleobiologist Adolf Seilacher suggests that most of the Ediacaran fossils discovered in the 1940s are not related to any modern forms. Calling them vendobionts, he argues that they went extinct after the emergence of large predators. Seilacher's interpretation, however, will remain in dispute.

1982-1983-Amateur fossil collector Bill Walker finds a dinosaur claw in a Surrey clay pit. A previously unknown theropod, the animal will be formally named Baryonix walkeri and nicknamed "Claws."

1984-Richard Leakey and his team discover Turkana Boy, the most complete Homo erectus fossil yet discovered.

1984-David Raup and Jack Sepkoski publish the controversial claim that mass extinctions are regularly spaced at 26 million years.

1987-Jenny Clack finds Acanthostega, the most complete Devonian tetrapod yet discovered. It has evidence for functional gills as well as legs, strongly suggesting that animals evolved legs while still living in the water.

1987-Allan Wilson and Rebecca Cann announce that all humans share a common ancestor who lived in Africa as recently as 150,000 years ago. Because the discovery is based on examination of mitochondrial DNA, the ancestral entity will be given the popular (and somewhat misleading) name of "Mitochondrial Eve." The controversial finding will be supported by another discovery in 2000.

1989-Philip Gingerich finds a fossil whale, Basilosaurus in Egypt. It has tiny legs, just inches long, retaining all five toes. Five years later, he will discover an even more primitive whale ancestor, Rodhocetus, with even bigger hind legs, in Pakistan.

1990-The Human Genome Project is launched with the goal of sequencing all 3 billion base pairs of human DNA by 2005.

1990-Mongolia invites the American Museum of Natural History to reinstate excavations in the Gobi desert.

1991-The Soviet Union ends, and so does the Cold War.

1991-Chicxulub crater is discovered in the Yucatán Peninsula, supporting the asteroid impact theory first suggested in 1980.

1992-Ian Campbell and collaborators publish a paper pointing to the Siberian Traps, an area of massive volcanic activity, as the cause of the Permo-Triassic mass extinction 251 million years ago.

1992-Paleontologists led by Jim Kirkland discover Utahraptor, a super-sized velociraptor that conveniently supports the super-sized velociraptors that will appear in the screen version of Jurassic Park a year later.

1992-Joe Kirschvink publishes "Late Proterozoic Low-latitude Glaciation: The Snowball Earth," a short book section in a specialized monograph. This snowball earth hypothesis will attract little attention until expanded by Paul Hoffman and his collaborators several years later.

1993-J. William Schopf publishes a description of the oldest fossils known to science — 3.5 billion-year-old microfossils of the Apex Basalt in Australia. His claim that some of the microbes could photosynthesize and produce oxygen will later be questioned.

1993-On an expedition in the Gobi desert, paleontologists from the American Museum of Natural History discover the skeleton of an Oviraptor dinosaur crouching over a nest of eggs, apparently incubating them in the same fashion as modern birds.

1993-Roland Anderson and Jennifer Mather publish "Personalities of Octopuses" in the Journal of Comparative Psychology.

1994-Elaine Morgan supports the "aquatic ape" hypothesis that modern humans evolved from semiaquatic apes, as suggested by our hairless bodies and subcutaneous layers of fat.

1994-In what will later be named Chauvet cave, French cavers discover 32,000-year-old paintings showing 400 animal images.

1994-Anthropologist Ron Clark finds previously overlooked foot bones, showing both ape and human qualities, from Sterkfontein. Future finds will associate these bones with a skeleton nicknamed Little Foot.

1995-Lee Berger and Ron Clarke publish an article in the Journal of Human Evolution arguing that the Taung child, discovered in 1924, may have been killed by a bird of prey.

1996-Alan Walker and Pat Shipman publish a description of advanced vitamin A poisoning in a 1.7 million-year-old Homo erectus skeleton. They assert that it is evidence of both meat eating, caused by consuming the liver of a large carnivore, and sufficient sociability in Homo erectus to care for an ill and incapacitated individual.

1996-The 9,500-year-old Kennewick Man skeleton is found in the northwestern United States. Bearing little resemblance to modern Native Americans, it suggests a more complicated early population of the Americas than previously thought.

1996-Using "molecular clock" estimates of mutation rates, Greg Wray and collaborators hypothesize that metazoan phyla diverged from each other 1 billion years ago, or even earlier. In other words, they argue that metazoans existed hundreds of millions of years before the earliest metazoan fossils (about 600 million years old) yet found.


1996-Chen Pei Ji unveils Sinosauropteryx prima from Liaoning, China, the first feathered dinosaur discovered, at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology's annual meeting.


1997-Paleontologist Karen Chin receives a 17-inch coprolite excavated in Saskatchewan. Estimated at 65 million years old and full of crunched bone, it is likely the calling card of a T. rex.

1998-Paul Hoffman, Alan Kaufman, Galen Halverson and Daniel Schrag publish a Neoproterozoic snowball earth theory arguing that in the late Precambrian, the earth underwent global glaciations followed by extreme greenhouse conditions, spurring the evolution of multicellular life forms.

1998-Shuhai Xiao, Yun Zhang and Andrew Knoll publish a description of fossilized animal embryos in Nature Magazine. Chia-Wei Li, Jun-Yuan Chen and Tzu-En Hua simultaneously publish another description of embryos in Science Magazine. The embryos all come from the Doushantuo phosphorites in southern China, and all are estimated to be approximately 570 million years old, making them the oldest fossil embryos so far discovered.

1998-Andrew Parker publishes a paper suggesting that Cambrian animals developed flickering color displays at the same time that eyes evolved.

1999-Chinese paleontologists discover an exceptionally well-preserved feathered dinosaur, probably a juvenile dromaeosaur. Citing the confusion caused by language barriers and jet lag, the paleontologists' American collaborators nickname the fossil "Dave the fuzzy raptor," after a character alluded to in a Cheech and Chong routine. This fossil will be assigned to the genus Sinornithosaurus. (The next fuzzy discovery will be nicknamed "Chong.")
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