Sunday, December 28, 2014

Born This Day: Alfred Sherwood Romer

”Romer (Dec. 28, 1894 – Nov. 5, 1973) was director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University until his retirement in 1961 and was one the singularly most influential vertebrate paleontologists of the 20th Century. His work ranged over virtually every conceivable subject within that field, although it was the osteology and taxonomy of the therapsids and other proto-mammals which was nearest his heart.

In addition to this work, Romer was acutely interested in the origin and initial adaptive radiation of tetrapods, and his work became the basis for a theory of tetrapod origins which was canon until the description of Acanthostega gunnari by Clack & Coates in the 1990s. Romer was ahead of his time in his defense of monophyly of Dinosauria though he did feel that Theropoda was not ancestral to birds.” link from

Romer’s book, Vertebrate Paleontology (1966), was for many years THE textbook on VP and is still well worth picking up. One of Romer’s students, Bob Carroll, wrote an updated version entitled, ‘Vertebrate Paleontology and Evolution’, in 1987. image

Friday, December 12, 2014

Aquilops americanus, the oldest horned-dinosaur from North America

A Ceratopsian Dinosaur from the Lower Cretaceous of Western North America, and the Biogeography of Neoceratopsia. Farke, A., et al. PLoS One

Abstract [edit]: An associated cranium and lower jaw from the Cloverly Formation (?middle–late Albian, between 104 and 109 million years old) of southern Montana is designated as the holotype for Aquilops americanus gen. et sp. nov. Aquilops americanus. A. americanus probably originated via a dispersal from Asia into North America. LiveScience article.

Born This Day: Erasmus Darwin

Erasmus (Dec. 12, 1731 – April 18, 1802) was a prominent English physician, poet, philosopher, botanist, naturalist and the grandfather of naturalist Charles Darwin and the biologist Francis Galton. Erasmus Darwin was one of the leading intellectuals of 18th century England.

As a naturalist, he formulated one of the first formal theories on evolution in Zoonomia, or, The Laws of Organic Life (1794-1796). Although he did not come up with natural selection, he did discuss ideas that his grandson elaborated on sixty years later, such as how life evolved from a single common ancestor, forming "one living filament".
Although some of his ideas on how evolution might occur are quite close to those of Lamarck, Erasmus Darwin also talked about how competition and sexual selection could cause changes in species. link

Download Zoonomia HERE

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Died This Day: Mary Leakey

Mary Douglas Nicol Leakey (Feb. 6, 1913 – Dec. 9, 1996) was in London, England. She meet her future husband, Louis Leakey, when he asked her to illustrate his book, 'Adam’s Ancestors'. Mary and Louis spent from 1935 to 1959 at Olduvai Gorge in the Serengeti Plains of northern Tanzania where they worked to reconstruct many Stone Age cultures dating as far back as 100,000 to two million years ago. They documented stone tools from primitive stone-chopping instruments to multi-purpose hand axes.

In October of 1947, while on Rusinga Island, Mary unearthed a Proconsul africanus skull, the first skull of a fossil ape ever to be found. It was dated to be twenty million years old. An Australopithecus boisei skull was uncovered in 1959. Not long afterwards, a less robust Homo habilis was found. In 1965 the duo uncovered a Homo erectus cranium.

After her husband died in 1972, Mary continued her work at Olduvai and Laetoli. She discovered Homo fossils at Laetoli which were more than 3.75 million years old, fifteen new species and one new genus. From 1978-81 Mary and her staff worked to uncover the Laetoli hominid footprint trail which was left in volcanic ashes 3.6 million years ago. From the Minnesota State University site

Image from HERE where you will also find a slightly more colourful account of her life with Louis.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Died This Day: Herbert Spencer, who coined "Survival of the Fittest"

Spencer (April 27, 1820 - Dec. 8, 1903) was an English sociologist and philosopher who was an early adherent of evolutionary theory. He regarded society as an organism which was evolving from a simple primitive state to a complex heterogeneous form according to the designs of an unknown and unknowable absolute force. Similarly, knowledge developed from an undifferentiated mass into the various separate sciences.

Formulating his ideas independently of Darwin, Spencer coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” as early as 1852. He applied Darwin's theory of natural selection (proposed four years later) to social development and in A System of Synthetic Philosophy (1862-96) presented a philosophical system to the natural and social sciences, synthesizing metaphysics, biology, psychology, sociology, and ethics. From HERE

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Women In Science In Canada

Today is the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre at École Polytechnique in Montreal, Quebec that saw 14 women murdered, and another 10 women and 4 men injured by killer who deliberately targeted women.

Mika McKinnon at io9 honours the deceased by reminding us of a small fraction of women who have contributed to science in Canada, including Frances Wagner, a micropalaeontologist from Hamilton. She was one of the first two women permitted to do fieldwork with the Geologic Survey of Canada.

And a big tip of the hat to another micropalaeontologist, Dr. Claudia Schröder-Adams , my colleague at Carleton University, who continues to be an excellent educator & to do outstanding work in the Arctic.

Claudia with the 'Students On Ice' Program in Antarctica in 2011

Born This Day: Louis Dollo

Louis Antoine Marie Joseph Dollo (Dec. 7, 1857 – April 19, 1931) was a French vertebrate paleontologist who stated Dollo's Law of Irreversibility whereby in evolution an organism never returns exactly to its former state such that complex structures, once lost, are not regained in their original form. (While generally true, some exceptions are known.)

He began as an assistant (1882), became keeper of mammals (1891) at the Royal Museum of Natural History in Brussels where he stayed most of his life. He was a specialist in fossil fishes, reptiles, birds, and their palaeoecology. He supervised the excavation of the famous, multiple Iguanodons found in 1878 by miners deep underground, at Bernissart, Belgium. image From Today In Science History