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Whale Fossil Found In Kitchen Counter Leads To Important Discoveries

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Author Topic: Whale Fossil Found In Kitchen Counter Leads To Important Discoveries  (Read 708 times)
Bianca
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« on: May 23, 2009, 07:28:20 pm »







                                             Whale Fossil Found in Kitchen Counter



                                                 Leads To Important Discoveries






National Geographic News
May 4, 2009

Early Whales Gave Birth on Land, Fossils Reveal Egypt Facts, Pictures, Map, More May 5, 2009—After a factory had found a 40-million-year-old whale fossil in a limestone kitchen counter, researchers investigated the stone's fossil-packed Egyptian quarry, which could shed light on the origins of African wildlife.


http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/05/090504-egypt-fossils-video-wc.html

Video by Public Television's Wild Chronicles,
from National Geographic Mission Programs






Unedited Transcription



AT THE F.M.S. STONECUTTING YARD IN NORTHERN ITALY BLOCKS OF EXOTIC MARBLE AND COLORFUL GRANITE ARE IMPORTED FROM ACROSS THE WORLD.

HERE THEY ARE CUT INTO SLABS DESTINED FOR HIGH-END KITCHEN AND BATHROOM COUNTERTOPS.

NOT TOO LONG AGO THE MASONS SLICED A MASSIVE BLOCK OF EGYPTIAN LIMESTONE MUCH LIKE A LOAF OF BREAD.

BUT THE SLABS COULDNT BE USED FOR COUNTERTOPS -- THEY WERE RIDDLED WITH WHAT APPEARED TO BE FOSSILIZED BONES.

"BEING MASONS WE WERE IGNORANT OF THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DISCOVERY WE HAD MADE" SAYS SUPERVISOR RICARDO FRANCIONI.

BUT THEY KNEW ENOUGH TO CALL IN SOME ITALIAN EXPERTS WHO DETERMINED THEY HAD INADVERTENTLY CREATED AN ALMOST PERFECT CROSS SECTION OF AN ANCIENT WHALE.

IT LIVED IN EGYPT 40 MILLION YEARS AGO.

FINDING ANCIENT WHALES FROM EGYPT, A COUNTRY THATS 95 PERCENT DESERT, MIGHT SEEM UNUSUAL --- BUT IT ISNT.

FOR DECADES, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC GRANTEE PHILIP GINGERICH HAS BEEN DIGGING UP WHALE BONES NEAR THE OASIS OF FAYOUM.

DURING THE TIME OF THE DINOSAURS THE AREA WAS COVERED BY THE OCEAN AND IS NOW FILLED WITH MARINE FOSSILS.

STILL, GINGERICH THE PREMIER EXPERT IN EGYPTIAN WHALES WAS INTRIGUED WHEN HE WAS NOTIFIED ABOUT THE DISCOVERY. SO GINGERICH AND EGYPTIAN AUTHORITIES DROVE OUT TO VISIT THEM IN PERSON.

THEY DETERMINED THAT ANY POTENTIAL WHALE BONES WOULD BE EMBEDDED DEEP IN THE LAYERS OF LIMESTONE ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO DISCOVER EXCEPT BY CHANCE.

HOWEVER -- THEY FOUND SOMETHING ELSE OF INTEREST.

THE QUARRIES ALSO CONTAINED COLUMNS OF RED STONE FROM A LATER PERIOD AFTER THE WATER AND WHALES HAD DISAPPEARED. "SUDDENLY IT DAWNED ON ME THAT SHOULD HAVE BONES IN IT, THERE SHOULD BE ANIMALS PRESERVED IN THAT SEDIMENT TOO. SO I WENT OVER TO THE BASE OF THE FIRST OUTCROP, GOT DOWN ON MY HANDS AND KNEES AND THERE WERE BONES ALL OVER THE PLACE."

SOME SAMPLES WERE REMOVED FOR FURTHER INVESTIGATION.

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC RESEARCHERS GREGG GUNNELL AND ELLEN MILLER WERE ABLE TO TEASE OUT A PILE OF SMALL MAMMAL BONES FROM THE ROCK. THEY REALIZED THESE LITTLE JAWS AND LEGS HAVE AN AMAZING SIGNIFICANCE.

THEY MAY BE THE REMAINS OF SOME OF THE FIRST MAMMALS TO MIGRATE FROM ASIA TO THE AFRICAN CONTINENT.

SEE WAY BACK AS LAND MASSES WERE SHIFTING AFRICA WAS AN ISOLATED ISLAND DRIFTING TOWARD EURASIA.

THEN ABOUT 20 MILLION YEARS AGO AS SEA LEVELS DROPPED THE TWO CONTINENTS WERE JOINED.

"FOR THE FIRST TIME YOU GET A LAND BRIDGE BETWEEN EURASIA AND AFRICA. AND AT THAT TIME, YOU GET A WHOLE ARRAY OF DIFFERENT TYPES OF ANIMALS FLOODING INTO AFRICA. AND THE DEPOSITS HERE PRESERVE THE REMAINS OF THOSE ANIMALS, THE FIRST IMMIGRANTS FROM EURASIA INTO AFRICA."

EGYPT WAS LIKELY ONE OF THE POINTS OF ENTRY FOR THAT FLOOD OF ASIAN ANIMALS.   
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Bianca
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« Reply #1 on: May 23, 2009, 07:31:10 pm »









AND THEY EVOLVED OVER MILLIONS OF YEARS TO BECOME SOME OF THE ICONIC ANIMALS OF AFRICA.

ZEBRAS .

RHINOCEROS

WILDEBEEST

COULD THE QUARRY PROVIDE CLUES FROM THAT PERIOD?

TO FIND OUT NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PARTIALLY FUNDED AN EXPEDITION TO THE QUARRIES TO COLLECT MORE EVIDENCE.

THE TEAM INCLUDED MILLER AND GUNNELL ALONG WITH BILL SANDERS AND AHMED AL-BARKOOKI OF CAIRO UNIVERISTY.

"I DIDNT FIND ANYTHING OVER THERE. WHAT DO YOU HAVE OVER HERE? I DIDNT FIND ANYTHING IN HERE YET."

THEY CHIP AWAY AT SAMPLES.

ITS HARD AND DUSTY WORK.

"INSIDE THE LITTLE ROCKS WE LOOK FOR ANY SIGN THAT THERES ANY KIND OF BONE OR TEETH OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT AND IF WE FIND SOME IDEA THIS IS GOING TO CONTAIN BONE WE TAKE IT BACK TO THE LAB AND WE PROCESS IT THERE."

THE BONES ARE OF SMALLER MAMMALS LIKE RATS AND BATS. THEYLL HELP THE SCIENTISTS ESTABLISH WHAT LIFE WAS LIKE HERE ALL THOSE MILLIONS OF YEARS AGO.

"THE SMALL ANIMALS ARE REALLY IMPORTANT BECAUSE THEYRE VERY SENSITIVE TO TEMPERATURE AND CLIMATE. THEY DONT MOVE VERY FAR DURING THEIR LIFETIME SO THEYRE A VERY GOOD INDICATOR OF RELATIVE HUMIDITY, RAINFALL, THINGS LIKE THAT."

THE FINDINGS MAY CONFIRM THAT THIS BARREN DESERT WAS A DIFFERENT PLACE WHEN THE MAMMALS STARTED TO CROSS FROM ASIA.

IT WAS A LUSH TROPICAL DELTA --WITH A SERIES OF LARGE RIVER SYSTEMS -- IT WAS A TEMPTING NEW HOME FOR ANIMALS ON THE MOVE.

WHEN THEY FIRST ARRIVED, THESE ANIMALS LOOKED VERY DIFFERENT FROM WHAT THEY LOOK LIKE TODAY. BUT ON THE WIDE OPEN PLAINS, REMOVED AND ISOLATED FROM THEIR NOW DISTANT ASIAN ANCESTORS, THEY BEGAN TO EVOLVE.

THE GIRAFFES NECK GREW LONGER, THE ZEBRA DEVELOPED ITS STRIPES. THEY BECAME WHAT MANY THINK OF TODAY AS UNIQUELY AFRICAN ANIMALS, NOT REALIZING THAT THEY HAVE ASIAN ROOTS.

THE RESEARCHERS HAVENT FOUND ANY MAJOR FOSSILS AT THE QUARRIES YET, BUT THEYRE GATHERING MORE PIECES OF A FASCINATING PUZZLE.

"ACTUALLY EVERY FOSSIL HAS GOT ITS OWN IMPORTANCE. ITS NOT ONLY THAT WE FIND ONE FOSSIL BUT TO INTEGRATE THE INFORMATION TOGETHER TO GET THE BIGGER PICTURE."

"EVERY DAY YOU COME OUT AND YOU WORK AS HARD AS YOU CAN AND YOU HAVE TO BE OPTIMISTIC IF YOURE A PALEONTOLOGIST. YOU HAVE TO ALSO BE LUCKY. AND EVERY DAY YOU COME OUT AND YOU THINK THIS IS THE DAY THIS IS THE DAY THIS IS THE DAY AND SOME DAYS, ITS RIGHT!"

THIS IS EXACTLY WHERE YOU OFTEN FIND THE LITTLE BONES.

AND FOR THESE PALEONTOLOGISTS, THIS WAS JUST ONE OF THOSE PROVERBIAL DAYS.

WHEN AN ACCIDENTAL DISCOVERY IN A LIMESTONE COUNTER-TOP IN ITALY

. LED TO NEW INFORMATION ABOUT THE ANCESTORS OF ICONIC AFRICAN ANIMALS. 
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Bianca
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« Reply #2 on: May 29, 2009, 09:37:18 pm »









                            Google Earth Aids Discovery Of Early African Mammal Fossils






ScienceDaily
(Apr. 29, 2009)

— A limestone countertop, a practiced eye and Google Earth all played roles in the discovery of a
trove of fossils that may shed light on the origins of African wildlife.

The saga began when University of Michigan paleontologist Philip Gingerich, an authority on ancient whales, learned of a whale fossil from Egypt that had been discovered in a most unconventional way.

At a stonecutting yard in Italy where blocks of stone from around the world are sliced up for countertops, masons had noticed what looked like cross-sections of a skeleton in slabs cut from a
huge hunk of limestone imported from Egypt. Paleontologist Giovanni Bianucci of the University of
Pisa recognized these as fossilized remains of a whale that lived in Egypt 40 million years ago, when
the region was covered by ocean.

His curiosity piqued by the discovery, Gingerich wanted to visit the site where the limestone was quarried, but the exact location was something of a mystery. Bianucci had reported that the counter
top whale came from a site near the Egyptian city of Sheikh Fadl, but a colleague in Egypt told Gingerich the quarry was probably farther east—exactly where, he wasn't sure.

Instead of setting out blindly across the desert, Gingerich sat down at his computer and clicked on Google Earth. After locating Sheikh Fadl, he scanned eastward until he found a range of limestone
bluffs trailing across the desert like the backbone of some enormous serpent. Continuing his virtual expedition, Gingerich followed the bluffs, looking for roads branching off the main highway that might lead to quarries. Finally, about 75 miles east of Sheikh Fadl, he came across a road that traveled
north to a deeply pocked area that just had to be a cluster of quarries. 
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Bianca
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« Reply #3 on: May 29, 2009, 09:38:48 pm »











Through associates in Egypt, Gingerich made arrangements to travel to Khasm el Raqaba, the area he had located on Google Earth. "Sure enough, when we got there, there was a huge quarry operation with trucks everywhere, blasting out blocks of limestone," said Gingerich,

who is the Ermine Cowles Case Collegiate Professor of Paleontology and director of the U-M Museum of Paleontology. Within minutes of seeing the site, though, Gingerich realized any whale fossils that might be there would be impossible to locate.

Scanning the scene, however, something else caught his eye: bands of red in the white limestone walls of the quarry. He quickly realized the red bands represented layers of loose soil that were blown into ancient caves.

"Suddenly it dawned on me: There should be animals preserved in that sediment, too, because caves often act as traps," Gingerich said. When he searched at the base of one rock outcrop, there were tiny bones everywhere.

Gingerich collected some of the fossils and took them back to the U-M Museum of Paleontology where Gregg Gunnell, an associate research scientist, began studying them and identified teeth and bones of fossil bats. Gunnell shared the materials with Ellen Miller of Wake Forest University, who found a few rodent jaws and some additional teeth. Recently, with funding from National Geographic Society, Gunnell, Miller, U-M assistant research scientist William Sanders and Ahmed El-Barkooky of Cairo University visited the site to collect more of the fossils, which may have an interesting story of their own.

The bones and teeth—remains of small mammals that lived in the early Miocene Epoch, some 18 to 20 million years ago—are the first small mammal fossils of that age to be found in Egypt. They may even represent some of the first mammals to migrate from Asia to Africa when the land bridge between the two continents first formed.

"It's likely that animals moving from Asia to Africa passed through the Khasm el Raqaba area," Gunnell said. Were the tiny bats, rats and other creatures whose fossils the researchers found among those very first migrants, the progenitors of today's iconic African wildlife?

"The record isn't good enough to pin that down yet," Gunnell said. "But when these animals are studied in detail, they should lead to a better understanding of biogeography and dispersal events between Asia and Africa and between North Africa and the rest of the African continent."

The circuitous and serendipitous story, featuring University of Michigan paleontologists Philip Gingerich, Gregg Gunnell and Bill Sanders, is the subject of a segment on the award-winning television series "Wild Chronicles," currently airing on public television stations (Episode 412—Looking Back). "Wild Chronicles" is produced by National Geographic Television and presented by WLIW21 in association with WNET.ORG.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Adapted from materials provided by University of Michigan.
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 MLA University of Michigan (2009, April 29). Google Earth Aids Discovery Of Early African Mammal Fossils. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 8, 2009, from



http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2009/04/090428171006.htm
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