Monday, January 17, 2011

News of the very old and the old: dinosaurs and wine

PBS Newshour
This has been a productive time for paleontologists. From Argentina, a dinosaur hot spot in recent years, comes news of what may be one of the most primitive of theropods, Eodromaeus ("dawn runner") murphi (see illustration at left). This scrawny four-foot-long critter lived in the Triassic Period, about 230 million years ago, when dinosaurs were just beginning to emerge, and before they attained the dominance they would enjoy in the succeeding Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods. Eodromaeus is early in a family tree that would later branch to include such diverse progeny as T. Rex and Tweety Bird. Read more about it in this PBS Newshour story.

Utah, long a preeminent source of dinosaur fossils, produced eight new species (see this Deseret News article) in 2010. One of these, Seitaad ruessi, named for a Navajo legendary sand demon because its fossils were found in petrified sand, is a small, early member of the sauropod group, the familiar long-necked herbivores that evolved into giants like Apatosaurus. Another, Abydosaurus mcintoshi, is a later, larger sauropod. Two are iguanadonts, bipedal herbivores that are relatives of Iguanadon, the second dinosaur ever to be described and named. One, Hippodraco ("horse dragon") scutodens, is relatively small for this group, while the other. Iguanacolossus fortis, as its name proclaims, is massive (See their comparative sizes, and read more about them, in this Open Source Paleontologist article). Three, Diabloceratops eatoni, Utahceratops gettyi, and Kosmoceratops richardsoni, are ceratopsians; horned dinosaurs similar to Triceratops. Only one is a carnivorous theropod: Geminiraptor suarezarum. This dinosaur got its name, which means "twin predatory thief of the Suarezes", in honor of the twin sisters Marina and Selina Suarez, both graduate students at Temple University, who studied the geology of the area where the fossils were found (see this Environment News Service article). Geminiraptor is an early troodontid, a group of small, agile predators related to Velociraptor.

Now, from paleontology to archaeology and anthropology, and to one of my favorite topics: wine. I've posted before about the role of alcoholic beverages in the development of civilizations. This Washington Post article reports the discovery of the remains of "a surprisingly advanced winemaking operation" that dates to about 6,000 years ago, located in a cave near an Armenian village. As Slate notes: "It gives 'mis en bouteille dans nos caves' a literal flavor".