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CHINA - Prehistory

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« Reply #30 on: February 02, 2009, 04:26:55 pm »

« Last Edit: February 02, 2009, 04:57:51 pm by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #31 on: February 02, 2009, 04:28:07 pm »


Dr. McGovern first met with archaeologists and scientists, including his co-authors on the paper, in China in 2000, returning there in 2001 and 2002. Because of the great interest in using modern scientific techniques to investigate a crucial aspect of ancient Chinese culture, collaboration was initiated and samples carried back to the U.S. for analysis. Chemical tests of the pottery from the Neolithic village of Jiahu was of special interest, because it is some of the earliest known pottery from China. This site was already famous for yielding some of the earliest musical instruments and domesticated rice, as well as possibly the earliest Chinese pictographic writing. Through a variety of chemical methods including gas and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry, infrared spectrometry, and stable isotope analysis, finger-print compounds were identified, including those for hawthorn fruit and/or wild grape, beeswax associated with honey, and rice.

The prehistoric beverage at Jiahu, Dr. McGovern asserts, paved the way for unique cereal beverages of the proto-historic 2nd millennium BC, remarkably preserved as liquids inside sealed bronze vessels of the Shang and Western Zhou Dynasties. The vessels had become hermetically sealed when their tightly fitting lids corroded, preventing evaporation. Numerous bronze vessels with these liquids have been excavated at major urban centers along the Yellow River, especially from elite burials of high-ranking individuals. Besides serving as burial goods to sustain the dead in the afterlife, the vessels and their contents can also be related to funerary ceremonies in which living intermediaries communicated with the deceased ancestor and gods in an altered state of consciousness after imbibing a fermented beverage.

"The fragrant aroma of the liquids inside the tightly lidded jars and vats, when their lids were first removed after some three thousand years, suggested that they indeed represented Shang and Western Zhou fermented beverages, " Dr. McGovern noted. Samples of liquid inside vessels from the important capital of Anyang and the Changzikou Tomb in Luyi county were analyzed. The combined archaeochemical, archaeobotanical and archaeological evidence for the Changzikou Tomb and Anyang liquids point to their being fermented and filtered rice or millet "wines," either jiu or chang, its herbal equivalent, according to the Shang Dynasty oracle inscriptions. Specific aromatic herbs (e.g., wormword), flowers (e.g., chrysanthemum), and/or tree resins (e.g., China fir and elemi) had been added to the wines, according to detected compounds such as camphor and alpha-cedrene, beta-amyrin and oleanolic acid, as well as benzaldehyde, acetic acid, and short-chain alcohols characteristic of rice and millet wines.
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« Reply #32 on: February 02, 2009, 04:29:59 pm »


            A mandible from a 40,000-year-old
            early modern human skeleton found in China.

           Erik Trinkaus)

                                                  China's Earliest Modern Human

(Apr. 3, 2007) —

Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing have been studying a 40,000-year-old early modern human skeleton found in China and have determined that the "out of Africa" dispersal of modern humans may not have
been as simple as once thought.

Erik Trinkaus, Professor of Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, his colleague Hong Shang, and others at the IVPP examined the skeleton, recovered in 2003 from the Tianyuan Cave, Zhoukoudian, near Beijing City.

The skeleton dates to 42,000 to 38,500 years ago, making it the oldest securely dated modern human skeleton in China and one of the oldest modern human fossils in eastern Eurasia.

The specimen is basically a modern human, but it does have a few archaic characteristics, particularly
in the teeth and hand bone. This morphological pattern implies that a simple spread of modern humans
from Africa is unlikely, especially since younger specimens have been found in Eastern Eurasia with similar feature patterns.

According to Trinkaus and Shang, "the discovery promises to provide relevant paleontological data for
our understanding of the emergence of modern humans in eastern Asia."

The research result will be published in the Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences on
April 3.

Article #01269 "An Early Modern Human from Tianyuan Cave, Zhoukoudian, China" by Hong Shang,
Haowen Tong, Shuangquan Zhang, Fuyon Chen and Erik Trinkaus.


Adapted from materials provided by Washington University in St. Louis, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.
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 MLA Washington University in St. Louis (2007, April 3). China's Earliest Modern Human. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 5, 2008, from­ /releases/2007/04/070402214930.htm
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« Reply #33 on: February 02, 2009, 04:35:50 pm »

Stone artifacts and modified bones from Majuangou.

Top left, nortch made on a flake.

Top right, chopper made on angular fragment.

Middle left, multi-platform polyhedron made on angular fragment.

Middle right, scraper made on a flake.

Bottom left, hammerstone.

Bottom right, mammalian long-bone fragments with impact notches and flake scars.

(Credit: Permission granted,
R. Potts)
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« Reply #34 on: February 02, 2009, 04:36:58 pm »

            Out Of Africa: Scientists Find Earliest Evidence Yet Of Human Presence In Northeast Asia

(Oct. 1, 2004) —
Arlington, Va. --

Early humans lived in northern China about 1.66 million years ago, according to research reported in the journal Nature this week. The finding suggests humans—characterized by their making and use of stone tools—inhabited upper Asia almost 340,000 years before previous estimates placed them there, surviving in a pretty hostile environment.

The research team, including Richard Potts of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, reports the results of excavating four layers of sediments at Majuangou in north China. All the layers contained indisputable stone tools apparently made by early humans, known to researchers as “hominins.”

The top layer, located about 145-148 feet deep in the Earth’s soil, contains the oldest known record of hominin stone tools, dating back to 1.32 million years ago. But the fourth and deepest layer, in which Potts and his team also found stone tools, is about 340,000 years older than that.

According to Potts, “Because the oldest layers show humans made tools and extracted bone marrow like early people in Africa, the Majuangou evidence suggests strong connections with African hominins and their rapid spread across Asia.”

All four sediment layers the researchers examined contained evidence that early humans used stone tools to strike other stones, most likely to fashion chopping and scraping tools. In the three deepest layers, the stone tools are made of rocks unlike those in the surrounding sediment, indicating the Asia humans transported the rocks from another place. It also appears these humans used their tools on bones of deer- and horse-sized mammals, perhaps to butcher them for food.

According to Mark Weiss, physical anthropology program director at the National Science Foundation, which funded the discovery, “This research is helping us gain a picture of the adaptability of humans as they evolved and moved out of the tropics and into other environments.”

The research team used rock-magnetic dating methods to establish the age of the artifacts collected at the Majuangou site and compared them to the soil history of a nearby site that contained a more-complete record of sediment deposits through time. Factoring in other known geological events, such as the natural movement of the Earth’s magnetic poles over time, the scientists pieced together a detailed age sequence for the archeological levels.

These findings suggest that humans reached northeast Asia earlier than scientists had previously thought. Furthermore, the Majuangou site evidence is only slightly older than evidence found at the same latitude in western Eurasia and about the same age as the earliest known human fossils found in southeast Asia. This implies that African human populations came to Asia and spread rapidly to many areas.


Adapted from materials provided by National Science Foundation.
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 MLA National Science Foundation (2004, October 1).
Out Of Africa: Scientists Find Earliest Evidence Yet Of Human Presence In Northeast Asia.

ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 19, 2008, from­ /releases/2004/10/041001092127.htm
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« Reply #35 on: February 02, 2009, 04:39:21 pm »

                                  Red color said to rule fashion world 15,000 years ago 
Nov. 26 (Xinhua) --

   The color red, which represents luck, happiness and passion in China, could have been used in clothing 15,000 years ago.

    Li Zhanyang, a researcher with Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, said
in an interview with Xinhua on Wednesday.

    Li has been leading an eight-member archaeological team doing excavation and related research
on lake-based ruins in Xuchang, central China's Henan Province, in recent years.

    The Xuchang ruins made headlines in foreign media in January when State Administration of Cultural Heritage announced that Chinese archaeologists had found a human skull dating back at least 80,000 years in the ruins last December.

    According to Li, this month, their excavation team found from the soil strata dating back 15,000 years, or the late Paleolithic Era, at the Xuchang ruins more than 20 pieces of hematite, one of iron oxides commonly used as a dyestuff, alongside three dozen thin instruments made of animal tooth enamel, plus seven needles made of the upper cheek tooth enamel of a rhinoceros sub-species now extinct.

    It is the first time in China that iron oxide of such high concentration has been excavated from
the ruins of the late Paleolithic Era, claimed Li.

    "Through excavation, we are confident that these hematite were deliberately brought to the Xuchang ruins from afar by ancient people, as Xuchang does not produce such minerals," said Li.

    The ruins used to be the location of a lake where activities such as clothes making, food preparing, water drinking were clustered, said Li.

    "I believe the people who lived there might have used hematite to dye clothes, which was quite different from Upper Cave Man at Zhoukoudian of Beijing who used hematite as a sacrifice to the
dead, or from Europe, where ancient people there used hematite to draw cave murals."

    Li said lab work proved the thin instruments made of animal tooth enamel might have be used as articles similar to buttons in present times.

    "There has been evidence suggesting people dating back 15,000 years could have made advanced fur apparel. If that is true, the most popular color might have been red," said the Chinese archaeologist.

    The Paleolithic site at Xuchang was discovered in 1965, when Chinese scientists found animal fossils and stone artifacts from soil dug for a well. The most recent large scale excavation started in June 2005.

    The archaeologists declared in January this year that they found the fossil consisted of 16 pieces
of the skull with protruding eyebrows and a small forehead from the excavation last December.

    That find was heralded as the greatest discovery since Peking Man and Upper Cave Man skulls were found in Beijing early last century.

    The Peking Man skull fossil dates back 200,000 to 700,000 years, while the Upper Cave Man skull fossils date back about 18,000 years.

    Besides the skull, more than 30,000 animal fossils, and stone and bone artifacts were found in the Xuchang ruins over the past two years. The pieces were fossilized because they were buried near the mouth of a spring, whose water had a high calcium content, according to Li.
Editor: Du Guodong 
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« Reply #36 on: May 05, 2009, 11:40:44 am »

                                   Oldest Known Turtle Fossil, 220 Million Years Old

(Nov. 26, 2008) —

With hard bony shells to shelter and protect them, turtles are unique and have long posed a mystery
to scientists who wonder how such an elegant body structure came to be.

Since the age of dinosaurs, turtles have looked pretty much as they do now with their shells intact,
and scientists lacked conclusive evidence to support competing evolutionary theories. Now with the discovery in China of the oldest known turtle fossil, estimated at 220- million-years-old, scientists have a clearer picture of how the turtle got its shell.

Working with colleagues in China and Canada, Olivier Rieppel, PhD, chairman of The Field Museum's department of geology, has analyzed the Chinese turtle fossil, finding evidence to support the notion that turtle shells are bony extensions of their backbones and ribs that expanded and grew together to form a hard protective covering.

The fossilized turtle ancestor, dubbed Odontochelys semitestacea (translation: half-shelled turtle with teeth), likely lived in the water rather than on land.

A report from Chun Li of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, and Xiao-Chun Wu of the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa, along with Field's Rieppel, will appear in the journal Nature. Other co-authors include Li-Ting Wang of the Geological Survey of Guizhou Province in Guiyang, China, where the fossil was discovered and Li-Jun Zhao of the Zhejiang Museum of Nature History in Hangzhou, China.

Prior to discovery of Odontochelys, the oldest known turtle specimen was Proganochelys, which was found in Germany. Because Proganochelys has a fully-formed shell, it provides little information about how shells were formed. Odontochelys is older than Proganochelys and is helpful because it has only a partial shell, Rieppel said.

"This is the first turtle with an incomplete shell," Rieppel said. "The shell is an evolutionary innovation. It's difficult to explain how it evolved without an intermediate example."

Some contemporary reptiles such as crocodiles have skin with bony plates and this was also seen in ancient creatures such as dinosaurs. Some researchers theorized that turtle shells started as bony
skin plates, called osteoderms, which eventually fused to form a hard shell.

There are problems with this idea, including studies of how shells form in turtle embryos as they develop within eggs, Rieppel said. Embryo studies show that the turtle backbones expand outward and the ribs broaden to meet and form a shell, he said.

While paleontologists take such studies into account, they aren't sufficient to prove how anatomy evolved over time, and evidence can be read in different ways. The limbs of Proganochelys, for example, show signs of bony plates in the skin.

But Odontochelys has no osteoderms and it has a partial shell extending from its backbone, Rieppel said. It also shows a widening of ribs. Although Odontochelys has only a partial shell protecting its back, it does have a fully formed plastron – complete protection of its underside – just as turtles do today.

This strongly suggests Odontochelys was a water dweller whose swimming exposed its underside to predators, Rieppel said. "Reptiles living on the land have their bellies close to the ground with little exposure to danger," he said.

Other arguments favor the notion that turtle shells evolved as extensions of the reptile's backbones
and ribs, Rieppel said, but the partial shell of Odontochelys speaks very clearly.

"This animal tells people to forget about turtle ancestors covered with osteoderms," he said.


Adapted from materials provided by Field Museum, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.
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« Reply #37 on: May 05, 2009, 11:42:31 am »


                    Fossils of Odontochelys semitestacea, a 220-million-year-old primitive
                    turtle (above, an artists rendering), were found recently in China.

                    The fossils, which do not have fully formed shells, may be the missing
                    link that shows how modern-day turtles evolved their distinctive hard
                    backs, experts said in November 2008.

                    Illustration courtesy
                    Marlene Donnelly
                    National Geographic Magazine
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« Reply #38 on: May 05, 2009, 11:43:53 am »

                               Oldest Turtle Found; May Crack Shell-Evolution Mystery

Brian Handwerk for
National Geographic News
November 26, 2008

Fossils of the oldest-known turtles, unearthed in southwestern China, may help answer an evolutionary
enigma—how did the turtle get its shell?

The 220-million-year-old animals did not have full shells, or carapaces, on their backs, researchers found.

But the newfound creatures did sport fully developed plastrons—the flat part of a turtle shell that covers and protects the belly.

The discovery supports the theory that turtle shells formed from the underside—plastron first—and grew bony extensions of ribs and backbones that eventually joined to form the classic shell that exists today.

(Related: "Earliest Swimming Turtle Fossils Found—New Species" [November 19, 2008].)

Alternate Theory

An alternate theory of shell evolution suggests that turtle shells developed from the fusion of bony armor plates
in the skin, known as osteoderms, seen in some dinosaurs and some modern-day reptiles, including crocodiles.

But the prehistoric turtle, dubbed Odontochelys semitestacea and described in a recent edition of the journal Nature, has no osteoderms.

"So far there is no direct evidence for the osteoderm theory," said study co-author Chun Li of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

"On the contrary, here, in our hands, there is an ideal missing link for turtle evolution. It has no osteoderms on
its back, but only ossified neural [central] plates and expanded ribs."

(Explore a prehistoric time line.)

The study also notes that embryonic evidence from modern turtles suggests that their shells begin to form in a similar manner.

"If plastrons developed first, they may point to a marine lifestyle in which turtle bellies needed protection from predators," Li noted.

"We are not sure if the water [was] marine or [from other water bodies], so we presumed … that the animal inhabited marginal areas of the sea or deltas," he said.

Exciting Discovery

Scientists have waited a long time for a find like Odontochelys, Li said: The previously oldest known turtles featured fully formed shells.

"The new specimens are a very exciting discovery," agreed Robert Reisz of the University of Toronto, who was not involved in the research.

But Reisz suggests an alternate evolutionary interpretation for the intriguing fossils.

"Their argument is valid," he said of Li and colleagues.

"But we argue that it's equally possible that this could already be a [shell] reduction in an earlier turtle that we haven't found. Lots of marine turtles actually reduce their shell once they get into the water."

"Hopefully we'll find more," Reisz added. "We're closing the gap, but there is still a big morphological gap between this turtle and its non-turtle ancestors."

Odontochelys also boasts another feature seen in no other turtles so far—teeth, Reisz added.

"Basically if you look at all the turtles we know, other than this one, they all have a beak rather than teeth," he said.

"Turtles come from reptile ancestors with teeth so we expected this, but it's still a great thing to find." 
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« Reply #39 on: May 05, 2009, 11:45:00 am »

                                  Chinese scientists discover origin of turtles' shells

DEC. 4, 2008

Chinese scientists have discovered the oldest known turtle fossils and revealed the origin of the turtle's shell. This discovery was reported in the latest issue of Nature.

Nature says that the discovery opens up a completely new path in the research of reptile evolution, and will force scientists to rethink the origins of the turtle.

The fossils were found in sediments deposited in Guanling Buyi-Miao Autonomous County, Guizhou Province, 220 million years ago. Because the specimen has dense teeth and primitive embryonic shell, scientists named it Odontochelys semitestacea.

According to Li Chun of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, fossil turtle specimens are extremely rare. Just three primitive turtle specimens have been found – in Germany, Thailand and Argentina – but their body structures are very similar to today's turtle, so give few clues as to the creature's origins.

Astonishingly, this Chinese specimen has a fully developed plastron – the flat underside of the shell. Its body structure suggests that the plastron was formed earlier than the carapace – the upper, dorsal part, and that the two sections of the shell evolved separately. What's more, the carapace grew from vertebra, which contradicts the prevailing hypothesis that the shell was formed by bony deposits fusing together.

The origin of turtles turns out to be more complex than had been thought. Many scientists had believed turtles evolved on land but the bone structure of Odontochelys semitestacea and the geological conditions of its location strongly suggest turtles originated in water.

This research was supported by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the 973 Program of the Ministry of Science and Technology. Professor Wang Liting from Guizhou Institute of Geological Survey, and Zhao Lijun from Zhejiang Museum of Natural History contributed to this discovery, along with experts from Canada and the United States.


by Fan Junmei,
November 28, 2008)
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« Reply #40 on: May 05, 2009, 11:47:26 am »

                                 Experts: Shandong dinosaur fossil field "world's largest" 
2008-12-29 20:01:03     
JINAN, Dec. 29 (Xinhua)

-- A dinosaur fossil field discovered this year in eastern China appears to be the largest in the world,
a paleontologist told Xinhua on Monday.

    More than 7,600 fossils have been discovered so far in Zhucheng City in eastern Shandong Province and the number is climbing, said Zhao Xijin, the paleontologist in charge of the project.

    Zhao is from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

    "The discoveries are expected to contribute to research on the mystery of dinosaur extinction," Zhao said. He added that the fossils dated mainly from the Late Cretaceous of the Mesozoic Period, when dinosaurs became extinct.

    The city has a major field of large hadrosaurus fossils, discovered in the 1960s by a Chinese oil expedition. More than 50 tons of fossils have been discovered since then.

    The world's largest hadrosaurus fossil was found here in the 1980s and exhibited in the local museum.

    A new fossil site was found during another mining expedition in March in Longdu, Shunwang, Jiayue and Zhigou Towns. One field in Longdu is 300meters long by 10m wide and 5m deep. More than 3,000 fossils have been found at that site, among which new genera or species might be found, Zhao said.

    A 2m skull of a large ceratopsian was found here, the first such discovery outside of North America, said Xu Xing, researcher of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

    In the 15 sub-fields, other new genera of ankylosaurus, tyrannosaurus and ceolurus were also found, Xu said.

    Zhao said the fossils had only the slimmest chance to have survived all these years. According to current research, the region might have been a watery area with abundant grass. That would have made it an ideal habitat for duck-billed dinosaurs, Zhao said.

    The geologists said there might have been a volcanic eruption that was fatal to the dinosaurs and later a flood that brought the fossils to their resting place.

    Mining had been suspended because of weather but would resume in the spring, Zhao said.

    Research on the findings would be published at the end of next year, he said. A fossil park will be built in the region, local authorities said.
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« Reply #41 on: May 05, 2009, 11:48:13 am »

                                     Huge dinosaur discovery in China: state media

Dec. 30, 2008

– Paleontologists in east China have dug up what they believe is one of the world's largest group of dinosaur fossils including the remains of an enormous "platypus", state press said Tuesday.

Paleontologists have discovered 15 areas near Zhucheng city in Shandong province that contain thousands of dinosaur bones, the Beijing News reported.

"This group of fossilised dinosaurs is currently the largest ever discovered in the world... in terms of area," the paper cited paleontologist Zhao Xijin of the China Academy of Sciences as saying.

In one area measuring 300 metres (990 feet) by 10 metres, more than 3,000 bones were found, the report said. Since digging began in March scientists have discovered more than 7,600 bones.

Included in the find was the largest "platypus" -- or "duck-billed dinosaur" in Chinese -- ever discovered measuring nine metres high with a wingspan wider than 16 metres, the report said.

Zhao said the discovery of so many dinosaurs in such a dense area could provide clues on how the animals became extinct towards the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago, the Beijing News said.

Scientists have also identified the remains of ankylosaurus, tyrannosaurus and coelurus, according to China's official Xinhua news agency.

Xinhua said paleontologists are expecting to find many more remains in the area, which lies in a region that has produced more than 50 tonnes of dinosaur fossils since the 1960s.

Plans are being made to set up a fossil park in the area, but local mine operations that were suspended for the dig are eager to resume mining, it said.
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« Reply #42 on: May 05, 2009, 11:49:21 am »

                                               Ancient Fossil Suggests Origin of Cheetahs

Jeanna Bryner
Senior Writer –
Tue Dec 30, 2008

A nearly complete skull of a primitive cheetah that sprinted about in China more than 2 million years ago suggests the agile cats originated in the Old World rather than in the Americas.

The skull was discovered in Gansu Province, China, and represents a new cheetah species, now dubbed Acinonyx kurteni. The animal probably lived some time between 2.2 million and 2.5 million years ago, the researchers estimate, making the specimen one of the oldest cheetah fossils identified to date.

"This is extremely exciting stuff," said Luke Hunter, executive director of Panthera, an organization that aims to conserve the world's wild cats. "We know amazingly little about the evolutionary history of most of the large cats, with the cheetah being a prime example: The existing fossils we have are largely similar to the modern cheetah," said Hunter, who was not involved in the current discovery.

Cheetahs are the fastest land animals, capable of reaching speeds of 75 mph (120 kph), but they are not good climbers, unlike others in the cat family - Felidae. Still they are carnivores, like the other big cats. Today, cheetahs live primarily in Africa in the wild. Their status is threatened worldwide.

Cheetah features

Scientists have long debated the origin of these super-fast felines, with clues coming from relatively few fossils. These include the European Acinonyx pardinensis with an estimated age of 2.2 million years, and the North African A. aicha, which dates to about 2.5 million years ago.

Making things more confusing, fossils of cheetah-like cats in the Miracinonyx genus (also called American cheetahs) have been discovered in North America.

"This new fossil is around as old as the oldest cheetah fossils we already have," Hunter told LiveScience, "but unlike all those, it has a unique set of 'primitive' characteristics that strongly suggest it is an earlier ancestor to all cheetahs, allowing us to go back deeper in the evolutionary sequence of the cheetah."

For instance, the cat had enlarged sinuses for air intake during sprinting, as do modern cheetahs. But its teeth showed primitive features.

"The enlarged sinuses cause the forehead of the skull to bulge. If you look at a cheetah's skull, it is remarkably tall and domed compared to similar sized cats such as pumas, ocelots or leopards, in particular around the upper nose region," said researcher Per Christiansen of the Zoological Museum in Denmark.

"Our specimen also has a bulging nose, and, presumably large air sinuses for fast running," Christiansen said. "So running fast and becoming really good at it was one of the first steps in cheetah evolution. Later, the teeth changed as well."

Christiansen and Ji Mazák of the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum detailed the finding this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research was supported by a grant from the Carlsberg Foundation.

Cat home

The scientists say the newly analyzed cheetah is the most primitive known to date, which sheds light on cheetahs' original home.

"Because this new skull is more primitive than both cheetahs and Miracinonyx cats, and was found in China, it argues for a Eurasian/African ancestry of the entire group, with the Miracinonyx cats (or their ancestors) dispersing into the Americas later," Hunter said.

The new species brings the tally to five or six (scientists are not sure whether one of the previously found specimens is from a cheetah) cheetah and cheetah-like species known, with only one still alive today. (The living cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus, is found almost exclusively along African grasslands and semi-deserts.)

"It suggests that the 'sprinting cat' specialization is a fragile one, prone to extinction even under natural circumstances," Hunter said. "In light of this, we need to remind ourselves how imperiled the cheetah of today finds itself, where the threats are primarily human ones. If we lose this cheetah, it would be the end of this wonderful, unique lineage of sprinting cats."   
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« Reply #43 on: May 05, 2009, 11:51:51 am »

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« Reply #44 on: May 05, 2009, 11:54:24 am »

                           Scientists Discover First Swimming Mammal From The Jurassic

(Feb. 24, 2006)

— A team of international researchers have discovered a new species of primitive mammal capable of swimming in the Middle Jurassic lake beds of China.

In a cover article published in Science, the team of researchers from Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Nanjing University, and Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences describe a fossilized skeleton of Castorocauda lutrasimilis ([Castoro] - Latin for beaver, [cauda] - Latin for tail, [lutra] -Latin river otter] and [similis] - Latin for similarity). Castorocauda had a beaver-like tail, strong arms for digging, and sharp teeth specialized for aquatic feeding, similar to the modern river otter.

Castorocauda is a new taxon of docodonts, an extinct mammal group that existed from the Middle Jurassic to Late Cretaceous. But this Mesozoic group has no modern descendants, and is not directly related to modern placental mammals.

Uncovered from the Middle Jurassic Jiulongshan Formation of the Inner Mongolia Region, dated approximately 164 million years ago, Castorocauda is the earliest-known mammal that had specialized skeletal and soft-tissue features for swimming and teeth for eating fish. This significant fossil offers the first evidence that some Mesozoic mammals occupied the semi-aquatic niche and that Mesozoic mammals as a whole had a much great ecological diversification than previously thought.

Castorocauda is preserved with a pelt (guard hairs and under furs), making it the most primitive-known mammal to be preserved with hairs. Carbonized in the fossil, the short and dense under-furs were to keep water from the skin; the longer guard hairs are preserved as impressions on the fossil slab. Fossilized furs of this animal provide fresh evidence on phylogenetic evolution of mammalian fur â�" this kind of specialized pelt developed well before the rise of modern mammals. All previously discovered fossils with fur belong to the more derived taxa within the Mammalia or mammalian crown group.

"Its lifestyle was probably very similar to the modern day platypus," said Dr. Zhe-Xi Luo, curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. "It probably lived along river or lake banks. It doggy-paddled around, ate aquatic animals and insects, and burrowed tunnels for its nest."

Dr. Luo pointed out that, perfectly shaped for aquatic life, Castorocauda had a broad and scaly tail that propelled it through water just like the modern beaver. Its tail vertebrae are also similar to those of beavers and otters. Because Castorocauda is not related to modern placentals, its adaptation for swimming is a convergent evolution to the modern beaver and modern river otter, both of which are placentals. 
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