This (by no means comprehensive!) list chronicles some of the major events in the history of paleontology and biology. Other significant events appear in purple type.
c. 13,000 BC-A sagacious rock-shelter resident at Arcy-sur-Cure, France, drills holes through a trilobite in order to wear it as an amulet.
c. 7,000 BC-Gazelle hunters in the Jordanian desert erect a shrine featuring stone slabs with humanlike features, and a careful arrangement of roughly 150 cephalopod fossils.
610-425 BC-Philosophers Thales, Anaximander, Pythagoras, Xenophanes and Herodotus propose that marine fossils found inland lived in the sea, and that the now dry land was once underwater. This correct supposition will be forgotten for centuries.
c. 400 BC-Herodotus relates the griffin myth. (The myth is probably inspired by Protoceratops and Psittacosaurus remains.)
58 BC-Marcus Aemilius Scaurus displays the skeleton of the "monster of Joppa," said to have a 40-foot backbone and ribs taller than elephants. Later historians will speculate that this skeleton might consist of whale bones from Palestine.
44 AD-Pomponius Mela authors De Situ Orbis — three volumes describing the "known" world, including fabulous creatures and peoples in distant lands.
c. 50-Roman army surgeon Dioscorides compiles information on medicinal plants that will survive as a trusted resource for centuries in the form of De Materia Medica.
c. 78-Pliny the Elder publishes a 37-volume natural history encyclopedia. Containing both accurate and inaccurate information, it will become the basis of many scientific disciplines.
150-The physician Galen travels from Turkey to Alexandria to study anatomy. Galen will establish the concept of humors (phlegm, blood, black bile and yellow bile) that determine both health and personality. Belief in these four humors will dominate medicine and biology for many centuries.
c. 180-Pausanias records a description of the skeleton of the hero Ajax. (It is probably a fossil mastodon or rhinoceros.)
c. 424-In The City of God, Augustine of Hippo (Saint Augustine) recounts the discovery of an enormous tooth in Utica (Tunisia), and attributes the tooth to a giant.
476-The last western emperor of the Roman Empire is deposed.
c. 512-Townspeople in a district of Constantinople present a book on plants to their patron, Julia Anicia. Juliana's codex will stand as perhaps the best compilation of Western knowledge about plants for the next 1,000 years.
c. 713-A Japanese chronicle, the Hitachi Fudoki, describes a shell mound, perhaps one of the oldest descriptions of prehistoric remains in medieval writings.
c. 860-Science writer Al Jahiz describes some 350 animal varieties in his Book of Animals, in which he mentions their "struggle for existence." Later historians will assert that this is an early exposition of evolutionary theory.
c. 975-Syrian Shiite Muslims known as the Brothers of Purity publish an encyclopedia, The Aim of the Sage, with thorough and accurate descriptions of the process of rock stratification.
1025-Muslim polymath ibn Sina (known in the West as Avicenna) compiles The Canon of Medicine, which will remain influential for centuries. He also writes an important work on erosion, perhaps describing the concept of superposition.
1095-The Christian Crusades to Jerusalem begin.
c. 1125-Philippe de Thaun produces the first French bestiary (known to later historians). It is based primarily on the Latin Physiologus, which may have been composed in Egypt in the second century AD.
c. 1137-Adelard of Bath writes Quaestiones Naturales stressing the need to look for natural causes of natural phenomena.
c. 1150-William of Conches publishes Philosophia Mundi, a comprehensive work on the natural world. In it, he argues that natural phenomena result from natural forces.
c. 1150-Abbess and polymath Hildegard of Bingen authors a work describing the unicorn, and stating that the creature is attracted only to high-born women, not peasants.
1171-As later chronicled by Ralph of Coggeshall in Essex, a river bank collapses to reveal giant fossil bones that are attributed to a 40-foot-tall man.
c. 1200-Aristotle's writings, preserved largely by Muslim scholars, become available to Europeans. The writings will be partially or completely banned by the papacy over the next five decades, but finally become mandatory material for university lectures.
1211-Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides describes a cure for kidney stones and snake bites involving lapis judaicus (fossil sea urchin spines), crocodile fat, goat and pigeon poo, duck dung, onions and honey.
1231-Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II parades through Ravenna with his personal menagerie including camels, panthers, elephants and possibly the first giraffe in Europe (a gift from the Egyptian sultan al-Kamil).
c. 1256-Albertus Magnus, author of one of the first bestiaries to express skepticism about medieval animal lore, publishes his Book of Minerals.
1256-Qi Xiangyi oversees construction of a rock shelter at the site of a Cretaceous dinosaur trackway in Sanjiao Town, Qijiang County, China. Later folklorists will surmise that this site has been chosen because the tracks are believed to provide supernatural protection.
1267-Franciscan monk Roger Bacon writes Opus Majus naming experimentation as the best way to advance science. It will not be published until nearly 450 years after his death.
c. 1285-Richard of Holdingham produces the Hereford Map, showing the "marvels of Africa" including winged salamanders, weird birds and people who walk on all fours.
1298-In a Genoan prison, Marco Polo describes his Asian travels to a medieval romance writer. The result will be Description of the World, a reasonably restrained and accurate account of distant lands.
1308-The corpse of an Umbrian abbess, Chiara de Montefalco, is dissected by her fellow nuns. In arguing for her canonization, they will describe objects found inside her body, including a crucifix in her heart and three stones in her gallbladder, which they interpret as symbols of the Trinity.
1328-1340-Jean Buridan of the University of Paris works out a hypothesis of the formation of the Earth. He rejects the 36,000-year cycle used by some other philosophers as too short, and suggests that the planet might be millions of years old.
c. 1356-Sir John Mandeville's Travels is released. The book turns out to be fiction, a composite of classical and medieval sources, describing such wonders as the phoenix, the vegetable lamb, gold-guarding griffins and gold-digging ants.
c. 1370-Theology master Nicole Oresme publishes De Causis Mirabilium describing natural causes of natural phenomena and discouraging invocations of God or demons to explain them.
1443-Workmen digging the foundation of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna find a huge femur (probably from a mammoth). The bone is inscribed with its discovery date and the motto of Emperor Frederick III, and chained to one of the cathedral doors.
1455-Gutenberg invents the Western world's first working movable type.
1460-Banker and humanist Cosimo de Medici recruits Marsilio Ficino to translate Corpus Hermeticum from Greek to Latin. The work, covering alchemy, astrology, medicine, botany, and other topics, will be translated in three years and published in 1471.
1469-A new edition of Pliny's Natural History is published in Venice.
1483-Teodoro of Gaza publishes a Latin version of the work of Theophrastus (a student of Aristotle's and an outstanding botanist).
1484-One of the first vernacular herbals is published, Johan Veldener's Herbarius in Dietsche.
1492-Columbus sails to America.
1492-A pamphlet war breaks out between Pandolfo Collenuccio (defender of Pliny) and Niccolò Leoniceno (critic of Pliny) about whether Pliny provided accurate information. The pamphlets will fly until 1509.
1493-After seeing what is probably a manatee on his second voyage near Hispaniola, Columbus claims to have seen female figures that "rose high out of the sea, but were not as beautiful as they are represented."
c. 1500-Leonardo da Vinci proposes that fossil marine shells have not been carried to their present locations by a deluge, nor created on the spot.
1514-King Manuel I of Portugal enhances the menagerie of animals owned by Pope Leo X through the gift of an Indian elephant. Curious crowds follow the beast the entire length of its journey through Italy.
1517-Martin Luther pens Ninety-Five Theses, leading to the Reformation.
1519-Tlaxcalteca warriors from the Yucatán present Cortés's army with "giant's bones" that are actually mastodon remains.
1523-Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon publish depictions of a "pope-ass" and a "monk-calf," obscene-looking monsters signifying divine displeasure with the Papacy.
1526-The Grete Herball describes two kinds of mushrooms: those that "slayeth them that eateth of them" and those that don't.
1530-1536-Otto Brunfels publishes Herbarum Vivae Eicones with woodcuts by Hans Weiditz. It turns out to be Europe's first best-selling herbal.
1536-Paracelsus publishes Great Surgery advocating minimal interference with the healing process for patients who have been wounded. It is one of the few works by Paracelsus to be published during his lifetime.
1537-Anatomist Andreas Vesalius departs from the established teachings of classical scholars and begins showing his students real anatomy in human cadavers. He will later publish immensely popular Seven Books on the Structure of the Human Body.
1539-Olaus Magnus publishes Carta Marina, a map of ocean waters around northern Europe. Many of the sea creatures in this map will be reproduced by later authors.
1542-Leonhart Fuchs publishes Historia Stirpium naming roughly 500 plant species.
1542-In a brief work titled On Meteorology, Fausto da Longiano argues that Noah's flood "cannot have been universal, according to natural reasons," and endorses a 36,000-year cycle of Earth history accepted by some other scholars.
1543-Girolamo Fracastoro expounds the germ theory of disease. He also states that infection can spread through direct contact, clothes and airborne germs.
1546-German minerologist Georgius Agricola publishes On the Nature of Fossils, the first published paleontological treatise.
1550-In Cosmographiae Universalis, the Latin edition of his 1544 German-language book, Sebastian Münster pictures Palaeoniscus freieslbeni, a fossil fish from the Permian Period. This might be the first time a fossil organism is shown in print.
1551-1558-Conrad Gesner publishes Historia Animalium ("History of Animals") in four volumes.
1554-Guillaume Rondelet publishes a thick volume on Mediterranean fish, and includes the assertion that glossopetrae, or tongue stones, resemble shark teeth. The hypothesis attracts little attention.
1554-Roman naturalist Ippolito Salviani publishes History of Aquatic Animals.
1555-The first edition of Alessio Piemontese's Secreti is published, listing about 350 medical recipes along with observations of nature. The publisher, Girolamo Ruscelli, will later claim authorship. Enormously popular, the book will total 104 editions through 1699.
1561-c.1595-Georg Bocskay and Joris Hoefnagel produce Mira Calligraphiae Monumenta for the Holy Roman Emperors Ferdinand I and Rudolf II, showing specimens from the imperial court gardens. This is part of a larger effort to amass knowledge about the natural world.
1565-Conrad Gesner publishes De Omni Rerum Fossilium ("A Book of Fossil Objects").
1565-Antwerp doctor Samuel Quicchelberg publishes a description of the curiosity cabinet of Hans Jacob Fugger, including items from the animal, vegetable and mineral world.
1573-French surgeon Ambroise Paré publishes the first edition of Des Monstres. At this time, surgeons are not regarded as real doctors, and Paré is roundly criticized for discussing larger issues of medicine and philosophy, considered well beyond his purview.
1583-Andrea Cesalpino publishes De Plantis, ordering plants in families.
1583-Agostino Michele publishes On the Magnitude of the Water and of the Earth, calling himself "determined to follow Aristotle and Plato only as much as Moses and Christ allow," and arguing that huge subterranean reservoirs made the universal deluge of Noah's flood possible.
1585-Michele Mercati establishes one of the first mineralogical curiosity cabinets in Europe.
1590-José de Acosta publishes Natural and Moral History of the Indies describing such weird creatures as iguanas.
1590-Ulrich Vogelsang carves a dragon statue at Klagenfurt, Austria, based on the skull of a Pleistocene woolly rhinoceros found in the 14th century.
1591-Girolamo Porro produces a plan for a botanical garden at Padua, arguably expecting to assemble all the world's plants. Over the next century, well-traveled naturalists will abandon such goals as unrealistic.
1594-Francis Bacon pens Gesta Grayorum, a staged debate related to science. Roger Plat composes Jewell House of Art and Nature, a motley assortment natural knowledge, and medical and practical tips.
1596-The work of Dutch cartographer Abraham Ortelius suggests the possibility of continental drift, which will be described more forcefully by Alfred Wegener centuries later.
1597-John Gerard publishes an unreliable herbal. Midway through the printing process, he is accused of copying the work of a fellow botanist, Mathias de L'Obel, and sloppily at that.
1598-Jean Bauhin, a former student of Conrad Gesner's, publishes a monograph of the medicinal waters and surrounding environment of the German fountains at Boll, the first publication of a complete set of fossils from a specific location.
1599-Ferrante Imperato publishes Natural History attempting to catalog all of nature's animal, vegetable and mineral forms.
1600-William Gilbert, court physician to Elizabeth I, describes the Earth's magnetism in De Magnete.
1602-Ulisse Aldrovandi publishes De animalibus insectis.
1603-Prince Federico Cesi establishes the Lincean, or Lyncean, Academy in Rome, perhaps the first scientific academy of the modern era.
1603-Two brothers find a mammoth tusk while fishing near Rotterdam. They rightly attribute the fossil to a proboscidean, but wrongly guess it belonged to one of Hannibal's elephants.
1605-Richard Verstegan describes plesiosaur remains but thinks they belong to "fishes."
1611-John Guillim publishes Display of Heraldrie classifying mythical creatures that have been incorporated into coats of arms.
1613-A tombstone is reportedly found in France, bearing the name of Theutobochus (a legendary giant), and covering a cache of huge bones. (The bones may actually belong to Deinotherium giganteum, a fossil proboscidian from the Miocene.)
c. 1615-Christopher Wirtzung relays a recipe for relief of bladder stones. The ingredient list includes buck blood, hare and scorpion ashes, and lapis judaicus (fossil sea urchin spines).
1616-Fabio Colonna publishes "Dissertation on Tongue Stones" arguing that "nobody is so stupid" that he or she will not agree that tongue stones are really shark teeth. Like Rondelet several decades earlier, he attracts little attention.
1616-Fortunio Liceti publishes De Monstrorum Natura claiming that God makes monsters not to show divine wrath but to cause wonder.
1616-Italian philosopher Lucilio Vanini suggests that humans descended from apes.
1619-Italian philosopher Lucilio Vanini is burned alive for suggesting that humans descended from apes.
1620-Francis Bacon publishes Novum Organum, stressing the importance of experimentation.
1622-In a book justifying his zeal for prosecuting witches, demonologist Pierre de L'Ancre mentions Miocene-age fossil shells at Sainte-Croix-du-Mont in Aquitaine, though he is undecided on their origin: consolidation of sediments, Noah's flood, or in-situ formation.
1623-Gaspard Bauhin publishes Pinax Theatri Botanici describing some 6,000 plants.
1624-Galileo presents to Cesi, founder of the Lincean Academy, a "little eyeglass" (a microscope). The invention will enable the Linceans to study natural objects with unprecedented precision. They will start with bees, then move on to flies and dust mites.
1628-William Harvey publishes On the Motions of the Heart and Blood explaining that blood travels away from the heart in arteries, and back to the heart in veins.
1628-Caspar Bartholinus publishes a slim volume on the unicorn and related topics, describing horned bugs, birds, snakes and people.
1630-Thomas d'Arcos describes the "grave of a giant of huge dimensions" north of Tunis, and relates the find to the so-called giant's tooth described by Saint Augustine in the fifth century. Over the next year, d'Arcos will send a big tooth from the site to French naturalist Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, who will identify the tooth as belonging to an elephant.
1637-Francesco Stelluti publishes a summary of research on fossil wood conducted by himself and fellow Lincean Academy member Federico Cesi. Though resulting from meticulous research, the work reaches the wrong conclusion, describing the origin of fossil wood as inorganic.
1639-Ulisse Aldrovandi posthumously publishes a history of serpents.
1641-Dutch anatomist Nicolaas Tulp produces the first formal description of an ape (a chimp, bonobo or orangutan).
1641-Calvinist lawyer Isaac La Peyrère seeks permission to publish his manuscript claiming that people have existed before Adam, and that Chaldeans can legitimately trace their civilization back 470,000 years. Permission is denied, but he will publish Men Before Adam anonymously 14 years later, inciting both outrage and mild amusement among religious leaders.
1641-René Descartes publishes Principles of Philosophy arguing that the universe is governed by simple laws and that natural processes could have shaped the Earth.
1642-Civil war breaks out in England.
1643-Workers dig up a skeleton in Flanders. A court physician to the Danish king observes the excavation, measures the skeleton in "Brabantian cubits," and attributes the skeleton to a giant. It will later be identified as a fossil proboscidian.
1644-French voyager de Mancony spies ancient elephant bones from the foundations of the Vatican.
1646-Perhaps influenced by Francis Bacon's call for a compilation of popular errors, English physician Sir Thomas Browne writes Pseudodoxia Epidemica exposing errors in medicine and natural science. Six years later, his work will be answered by Alexander Ross's Arcana Microcosmi, a refutation that defends traditional authorities. Collectively, these publications will be known as the Battle of the Books.
1648-Franciscus Hackius publishes a lavish book on the natural history and medicines available from Brazil, Historia Naturalis Brasileae.
1650-Irish archbishop James Ussher calculates the date of creation, based on the ages of biblical prophets. Using his calculations, theologians will identify the date of creation as on October 26, 4004 BC.
1651-William Harvey publishes Disputations Touching the Generation of Animals explaining that all animal life begins as eggs, whether in birds, amphibians or mammals.
1655-Danish scholar Ole Worm publishes Musei Wormiani Historia, a successful book about his cabinet of natural curiosities.
1658-Jesuit missionary Martino Martini publishes a manuscript explaining that documented Chinese history predates the time generally understood to mark Noah's flood (2,300 BC).
1659-John Tradescant deeds his family treasures to fellow collector Elias Ashmole. Ashmole will later donate the collection to Oxford University, stipulating that a separate building is to be constructed for it.
1661-Robert Boyle publishes The Sceptical Chymist helping to transform alchemy into chemistry. Though an alchemist himself with his own cache of secret notebooks, Boyle begins writing up experiments for use by others.
1663-German physician Otto von Guericke pieces together bones from different species to make a fossil "unicorn."
1664-Thomas Willis publishes The Anatomy of the Brain and Nerves.
1664-In his private museum in Rome, Virgilio Romano exhibits a Hippopotamus major canine tooth found in Pleistocene gravels along the Via Nomentana.
1665-Robert Hooke publishes Micrographia showing views of natural objects, including fossils, available with the newly invented microscope.
1665-Le Journal des Savants is first published in France, and Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society is first published in England.
1665-1678-Athanasius Kircher publishes Mundus Subterraneus.
1666-Physician Francesco Redi conducts experiments in spontaneous generation. He concludes that the dung and rotting meat in his experiments are merely breeding sites for preexisting vermin. Two years later, he will challenge the spontaneous generation claims of Kircher.
1667-Niels Stensen (Steno) describes his dissection of the head of a giant white shark and correctly identifies shark teeth, still generally thought (despite arguments to the contrary from Rondelet and Colonna in the preceding century) to be serpent tongues.
1667-The Royal Society of London conducts a sheep-to-human blood transfusion experiment. Remarkably, the human subject survives.
1667-Johann Homilius delivers a dissertation, De Monocerote, criticizing all those who doubt the existence of the unicorn, pointing to passages in the Bible as evidence for the creature's literal existence.
1668-Robert Hooke presents a lecture to the Royal Society claiming that earthquakes, not the biblical flood, have caused fossils to be found on mountaintops and buried in stone.
1668-Jan Swammerdam dissects a caterpillar for Cosimo de Medici, demonstrating that the butterfly wings already exist inside the caterpillar's body. A year later, he will publish Historia Insectorum Generalis.
1668-Natural historian John Somner finds woolly rhino teeth near Canterbury in Kent, and figures they might be the remains of a sea monster. As he will die before he can publish his conclusions, his brother William will print his article "A Brief Relation of Some Strange Bones There Lately Digged Up In Some Grounds of Mr. John Somner."
1669-Niels Stensen (Steno) publishes Forerunner, showing diagrammatic sections of the Tuscany area geology, making the important point that sediments are deposited in horizontal layers.
1670-Agostino Scilla publishes Vain Speculation Undeceived by Sense arguing for the organic origin of fossils.
1672-1673-A German society of scholars reports that dragon bones have been found in the caves of the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania. (The bones probably really belong to a bear.)
1673-Dr. Olfert Dapper publishes Die Unbekante Neue Welt describing America. The book includes a picture of a unicorn with an American eagle on its back.
1673-Leeuwenhoek begins corresponding with the Royal Society of London describing his discoveries under the microscope.
1673-Apothecary and antiquary John Conyers finds an elephant tusk and a nearby handaxe about 12 feet below ground at Gray's Inn Lane, London. The Gray's Inn Lane handaxe will later be dated at 350,000 years old. Less far in the future, the specimens will spur Hans Sloane's interest in fossil elephants.
1675-Jan Swammerdam publishes a treatise on the mayfly entitled A Figure of Man's Miserable Life.
1676-Naturalist Robert Plot describes what is actually a dinosaur bone. Although he accurately identifies it as the distal end of a femur, he attributes it to a giant human.
1680-1689-Thomas Burnet publishes The Sacred Theory of the Earth combining scripture with rationalism. He claims that mountains (viewed as ugly signs of decay) formed from a catastrophic flood, but that the Earth will reassume a perfectly spherical shape.
1681-Royal Society member Neremiah Grew examines the "sea serpent teeth" found by John Somner in 1668 and recognizes that they are rhino teeth.
1681-Amsterdam physician Gerard Blasius publishes Anatome Animalium examining animals' internal anatomy and skeletal structure.
1682-Neremiah Grew publishes The Anatomy of Plants with microscopic observations of plant features.
1683-Oxford opens the Ashmolean Museum, the world's first public museum. The museum's practice of allowing entry to anyone who pays the admission fee horrifies scholars from continental Europe.
1684-Philippo Buonanni publishes perhaps the first book devoted entirely to shells.
1684-Dublin doctor Thomas Molyneux shows that a "giant's tooth" from the collection of Ole Worm really belongs to a whale, and a "giant's hand" shown in London is really the fin of a porpoise.
1685-1692-Martin Lister publishes Historiæ Conchyliorum — multiple volumes nicely illustrated by his daughters Susanna and Anna showing shell types. The female members of the Lister clan may be among the first of the feminine sex to use microscopes in making scientific drawings.
1686-Robert Boyle composes Free Inquiry into the Vulgarly Received Notion of Nature criticizing the notion that nature is capable of autonomy from God.
1686-Timothy Nourse makes the eugenic argument that a gentleman "ought at least to be as careful of his race as he is of that of his horses, where the fairest and most beautiful are made choice of for breed."
1688-Giovanni Ciampini describes remains of the extinct straight-tusked elephant, Elephas antiquus, found in the town of Vitorchiano in the region of Latium.
1693-Naturalist John Ray publishes Three Physicotheological Discourses about the Creation, the Deluge and the Conflagration, discussing conflicting theories about the nature of fossils.
1697-Scandinavian historian Olof Rudbeck publishes his attempt to chronologically measure sedimentary deposits, laying the foundations for the field of stratigraphy.
1698-Edward Lhwyd publishes a description of a "flatfish" in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. (The flatfish is really a trilobite, an ancient marine arthropod.)
1699-Based on a dissection he performed the year before, Edward Tyson publishes Orang Outan, sive Homo sylvestris pointing out similarities between chimpanzee and human anatomy. (Although he has dissected an infant chimp, Tyson uses the term "orang-outan.")
1699-Edward Lhwyd publishes a book devoted to British fossils. In it, he describes ichthyosaur remains as those of a fish.
1704-Michael Bernhard Valentini assembles sources of "true and false" unicorn horns.
1705-The Ambonese Curiosity Cabinet by G.E. Rumphius is published. It provides detailed descriptions of soft and hard shellfish, minerals, rocks and fossils from Indonesia.
1705-Maria Sibylla Merian publishes Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium describing insect species and other animals she has studied in Surinam.
1705-A giant fossil tooth is found along the banks of the Hudson River. It will initially be identified (by Cotton Mather) as that of a human giant who perished in Noah's flood, then correctly identified (by Georges Cuvier) as that of a mastodon.
1707-Hans Sloane publishes the first of two volumes describing the natural wonders of Jamaica. (The second volume will be published in 1725.)
1714-On the advice of Leibniz, Peter the Great opens a public museum in Saint Petersburg.
1715-Edmund Halley lectures the Royal Society that the age of the Earth could be calculated by measuring the ocean's salinity since ocean salts result from sediments carried by rivers and streams.
1717-Dutch pharmacist Albertus Seba inventories his wonder cabinet for the avid collector Peter the Great, including 1,000 European insects and 400 animal specimens. The czar buys the inventory, and Seba begins his second collection, which he will describe in print starting in 1734.
1718-Members of the Bordeaux Academy debate the origin of a Miocene-age bed of oyster shells at Sainte-Croix-du-Mont. Generally agreeing on the fossils' organic origins, the debaters consider shell deposition by the ocean, and deliberate transport by humans.
1719-William Stukeley publishes "An Account of the Almost Entire Sceleton of a Large Animal in a Very Hard Stone." The fossil is a plesiosaur, but is identified as a crocodile.
1720-René Réaumur submits a report to the Paris Academy of Sciences proposing that a brief Noachian flood cannot account for the thick sedimentary layers (composed largely of broken shells) underlying the region of Tours. He suggests instead that the region was once covered by the sea.
1722-Benoît de Maillet anonymously publishes Telliamed, named after an oriental sage who says that the Earth must be at least 2 billion years old, based on measurements of falling sea level. (In fact, no sage exists; the title is really the author's name spelled backward.)
1723-Antoine de Jussieu addresses a paper to the Académie des Sciences suggesting that an ancient object, e.g., a stone tool, made of the same material and by the same process as those used by a modern population probably has the same function.
1727-Balthasar Ehrhart identifies belemnites as fossil cephalopods.
1728-Hans Sloane publishes two papers on fossils found in Siberia and North America arguing that they are fossil elephants, not giants or monsters.
1729-In An Attempt towards a Natural History of England, John Woodward describes three "pinecones" that, upon later examination, will prove to be coprolites.
1731-Johann Jakob Scheuchzer publishes Sacred Physics, a pictorial account of Earth's history based on the Old Testament. Included is a description of what he believes is a fossilized victim of the biblical flood.
1735-Linnaeus publishes Systema Naturae, laying the groundwork for the system of binomial nomenclature that will continue for over two centuries.
1737-Having apparently missed the Enlightenment, John Brickell, an Irish physician living in North Carolina, claims that bear cubs are born "void of form" — lumps of white flesh that must be licked into shape by their mothers.
1739-Native Americans traveling with French soldiers find mastodon fossils along the Ohio River. The bones will be shipped back to France and become the first American fossils studied by scientists.
1744-Scholar and teacher Abraham Trembley publishes Mémoires Concerning the Natural History of a Type of Freshwater Polyp with Arms Shaped Like Horns. After watching them move and eat, he has concluded that the simple creatures (later to be classified as cnidarians) are animals, not plants.
1745-Bologna physician Vincenzo Menghini roasts the blood of fish, birds and mammals (including humans) then sifts through the residue with a magnetic blade, noting that roasted-blood particles adhere to it. The experiment provides evidence that blood contains iron.
1749-Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon publishes the first volume of Historie Naturelle, claiming that the planets were formed by a comet crashing into the sun. Under pressure from the Faculty of Theology of Paris, he will publish a retraction in the next volume.
1750-John Needham publishes Nouvelles Observations Microscopiques arguing that decomposing plant and animal matter can spontaneously generate new life. Fifteen years later, Italian polymath Lazzaro Spallanzani will conduct a more careful set of experiments then publish a report rejecting Needham's conclusions.
1751-Encyclopedists Diderot and d'Alembert publish the first volume of the Encyclopedia, or Classified Dictionary of Sciences, Arts and Trades emphasizing a dispassionate presentation of factual information rather than reliance on age-old "wisdom."
1752-Stung by satires of its Philosophical Transactions, the Royal Society of London forms a committee that will vote on which papers merit publication.
1752-John Hill speculates that mermaid legends might have arisen from "an imperfect view" of the sea cow.
1753-The British Museum opens.
1758-Henri-Louis Duhamel du Monceau discovers that when he turns a seedling upside down, its roots and shoots reorient so that the root continues to grow downward while the shoot continues to grow upward.
1760-Giovanni Arduino proposes a naming system for geologic strata, in order of oldest to youngest: Primary: lacking fossils; Secondary: tilted with fossils; Tertiary: horizontal with fossils; Quaternary: sands and gravels overlying Tertiary strata. Although he does not relate these systems to scripture, many people will interpret them in terms of biblical events.
1762-George III purchases the Paper Museum of Cassiano Dal Pozzo, a 17th-century patron of arts and sciences. Preserved by the Albani family, this "museum" contains more than 7,000 science illustrations, including highly accurate depictions from the Lincean Academy that will prove invaluable to later science historians.
1763-Richard Brookes writes that some people believe certain fossils to be tortoise eggs, thanks to their resemblance to tortoise carapaces. The objects are really fossil sea urchins.
1767-Benjamin Franklin writes a thank-you letter to a wealthy Irish trader for a box of proboscidian "tusks and grinders." Franklin believes the remains belong to elephants but makes astute observations about how their climate must have differed from the present.
1768-James Cook sets sail on the Endeavour bound for the South Pacific. Accompanying Cook is naturalist Joseph Banks, who will collect tens of thousands of plant and animal specimens and initiate the exchange of flora and fauna between Europe, the Americas and the South Seas.
1769-William Hunter publishes a paper describing an American fossil proboscidian as a carnivore and suggesting that it is extinct.
1769-Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola discovers the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. He discovers the tar pits only from the perspective of Europeans; Native Americans have used the natural asphalt to seal their canoes for centuries.
1770-Erasmus Darwin has the allegorical motto E conchis omnia or "Everything from shells" painted on his carriage, promoting the idea of common descent. Bowing to social pressure, he removes it shortly thereafter.
1771-Joseph Priestly discovers that a plant can produce enough breathable air to sustain a mouse and keep a candle burning. Though he describes it in different terms, he has discovered oxygen.
1771-In Gailenreuth Cave in Germany, Father Johann Esper finds human bones underlying those of extinct animals. He concludes that the bones got there by accident, an opinion Cuvier will share.
1773-German pastor J.A.E. Goeze describes tardigrades, a phylum of seemingly indestructible microscopic animals impervious to extreme environments. He calls them little water bears, and they will be given the name Tardigrada a few years later by Lazzaro Spallanzani.
1774-Lord Monboddo asserts that orangutans are simply a race of men in an arrested state of development who never acquired speech.
1774-In his History of Jamaica, Edward Long argues that orangutans are closer to negroes than negroes are to white men.
1775-Grand duke Pietro Leopoldo establishes the Royal Museum of Physics and Natural History (La Specola) in Florence. Unlike many older natural history repositories, this institution will admit any visitor, at least anyone meeting the museum's standards for dress and hygiene.
1776-Patriots in the North American colonies sign the Declaration of Independence.
1776-Abbé Jacques-François Dicquemare describes reptilian fossils in Journal de Physique but refrains from speculating about their sources.
1778-Buffon publishes Les Epoques de la Nature, asserting that the Earth is a staggering 74,832 years old, and has existed long before the arrival of humans or any other form of life.
c. 1780-Abraham Gottlob Werner asserts that all rocks have been deposited by a primordial ocean. This "Neptunian" view is accepted with little question.
1784-Charles Willson Peale establishes a natural history museum in Philadelphia, one of the first successful American museums.
1784-Historian and naturalist Cosimo Alessandro Collini publishes a description of the first known pterosaur.
1787-Thomas Jefferson publishes Notes on the State of Virginia refuting Buffon's claim that America's harsh, moist climate stunts the growth of its inhabitants. He also addresses the issue of race, describing Native Americans favorably, but African slaves unfavorably.
1787-Caspar Wistar and Timothy Matlack inform the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia that they have discovered a "giant's bone" in New Jersey. (The bone probably belongs to a dinosaur.) Soon afterwards, the bone is lost.
1787-Anatomist and artist Petrus Camper publishes On the Absurdity of the Supposed Unicorns arguing that no land species has a cranial structure that can support a single heavy bone mass above the eyes.
1788-Juan-Bautista Bru starts the assembly of an extinct animal from South America. Georges Cuvier will later classify it as Megatherium, a giant sloth, and its articulation will be refined for decades.
1789-French polymath Antoine Lavoisier publishes a paper on French geology defining peacefully deposited pelagic sediments and violently deposited littoral sediments. He argues that these sediments illustrate a fluctuating sea level on an ancient planet.
1789-The French Revolution begins.
1790-German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe writes "The Morphology of Plants" stating that all plant organs, flowers included, began as leaves — an assertion that will enjoy some support from 21st-century genetic research.
1793-Reverend James Douglas publishes Nenia Britannica; or, A Sepulchral History of Great Britain providing perhaps the first record of a fossil (sea urchin) at an archaeological site.
1794-John Frere describes and illustrates handaxes from Hoxne that will turn out to be some 400,000 years old.
1794-James Hutton publishes An Investigation of the Principles of Knowledge. Buried in the 2,138-page philosophical tome is a chapter about variety in nature in which Hutton anticipates Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection.
1795-James Hutton overturns the "Neptunian" view of rock formation in his Theory of the Earth, suggesting instead that forces of rock creation are balanced by forces of rock destruction.
1795-Johann Friedrich Blumenbach publishes De generis humani varietate nativa liber arguing that humans comprise a single species with five varieties: Caucasian, Mongolian, Ethiopian, (American) Indian and Malayan.
1799-Faujas publishes a description of the Maastricht animal, a spectacular mosasaur found in chalk quarries in the Netherlands, describing it as a crocodile.
1799-Charles White publishes An Account of the Regular Gradation in Man, and in Different Animals and Vegetables, a treatise on the great chain of being, showing people of color at the bottom of the human chain.
1799-Thomas Jefferson publishes a paper describing Megalonyx, a North American fossil ground sloth similar to the one found in South America.
1799-Alexander von Humboldt names the Jurassic System, after the Jura Mountains. This time period will later be identified as the "middle period" for the dinosaurs.
1799-George Shaw publishes a description of a platypus even though he suspects the odd animal might be a hoax.
1799-The British government purchases the collection of Scottish anatomist John Hunter, forming the Hunterian Museum.
1799-William Smith maps rock formations in the vicinity of Bath, England, making perhaps the world's first geologic map. The same year, Smith, Joseph Townsend and Benjamin Richardson recognize rocks containing the Permian and Triassic, though not necessarily by those names. (These periods will later be identified as spanning the Earth's most catastrophic mass extinction.)
1799-The Adams mammoth is discovered in the Russian tundra. The fossil will sit in a St. Petersburg museum for two centuries before geneticists piece together its DNA from small samples of its hair.
1800-Erasmus Darwin publishes Phytologia declaring that leaves breathe air through tiny pores, sugar and starch are the products of plant "digestion," and nitrates and phosphorus promote vegetation.
1800-Lamarck proposes his theory of evolution.
1802-Lamarck coins the term "biology."
1802-A Massachusetts boy named Pliny Moody finds fossil footprints, probably from theropod dinosaurs, on his father's farm. They are initially identified as the tracks of Noah's raven.
1802-In Natural Theology, William Paley uses the analogy of a watch requiring a watchmaker to argue that the universe implies an intelligent designer.
1803-The United States purchases the Louisiana Territory from France.
1803-U.S. President Thomas Jefferson appoints Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the uncharted West. Among the marvels Lewis and Clark are expected to find are erupting volcanoes, mountains of salt, unicorns, living mastodons and 7-foot-tall beavers. They will find none of these, but will find fossils.
1804-James Parkinson publishes the first of a three-volume work entitled Organic Remains of a Former World. In this volume, he describes fossils as the remains of Noah's Flood. In the next several years, he will recognize fossils as the remains of a world before people, and acknowledge as much in the third volume, published in 1811.
1804-Georges Cuvier suggests that fossils found in the area around Paris are "thousands of centuries" old. This casual observation pushes the age of the Earth well beyond its commonly accepted limits. Cuvier also publishes a paper explaining that the fossil animals he has studied bear no resemblance to anything still living, an unambiguous endorsement of the theory of extinction.
1809-Charles Darwin is born on February 12. (Abraham Lincoln is born the same day.)
1809-Jean-Baptiste de Monet de Lamarck publishes Philosophie Zoologique proposing that animals can acquire new characteristics during their lives and pass those characteristics on to their offspring, an idea for which he is openly ridiculed by Georges Cuvier.
1810-Mary Anning's brother Joseph discovers the world's first recognized fossil ichthyosaur. Mary Anning will collect the fossil the next year.
1811-Georges Cuvier identifies the "biblical flood" victim, described by Johann Jakob Scheuchzer in 1731, as a giant salamander.
1812-Georges Cuvier correctly identifies pterosaurs as flying reptiles. His conclusions will be largely ignored for many years.
1815-Relying largely on fossils to identify strata, civil engineer William Smith publishes a geologic map of England, Wales and part of Scotland, the largest region so far documented. Four years later, Smith will be arrested and sent to debtors' prison.
1815-1822-Lamarck restates his transmutational theories in a seven-volume study on invertebrates, Histoire Naturelle des Animaux sans Vertèbres.
1818-Physician William Wells hypothesizes about selection and human evolution. Charles Darwin will later acknowledge Wells as someone who anticipated the theory of natural selection.
1820-Gideon Mantell discovers, in England, a fossil trunk of a tree resembling that of a tropical palm, evidence of a much warmer climate.
1820-1821-Mary Anning excavates the world's first fossil plesiosaur to be correctly identified, formally described by Henry De la Beche and William Conybeare.
1822-Etienne Geoffroy publishes Anatomical Philosophy discussing similarities between skeletal structures — such as bat wings, paws and hands — that support the evolutionary claims of Lamarck. He also argues that arthropods and vertebrates have similar but inverse body plans, an assertion that will ultimately be widely accepted.
1822-William Buckland publishes an account of how ancient hyenas lived and fed in Kirkdale Cave, based on their fossil remains. This is one of the first descriptions of living habits based on fossil evidence.
1822-Omalius d'Halloy names the Cretaceous System, after massive chalk deposits. This time period will later be identified with the last dinosaurs and the first flowering plants.
1822-William Conybeare and William Phillips name the Carboniferous System, a period associated with coal deposits. This time period will also become known as the Mississippian and Pennsylvanian Periods in the United States.
1822-Gideon Mantell ponders the animal or vegetable nature of some curious fossils near Lewes. He concludes they are fish parts. They will later turn out to be coprolites.
1823-William Buckland finds a skeleton covered in ocher. Called the Red Lady, it will later be identified as Cro-Magnon (and male).
1824-William Buckland publishes Notice on the Megalosaurus ("giant lizard"), the first dinosaur fossil to be described and named, although the term "dinosaur" doesn't yet exist. Buckland also announces the discovery of the first fossil mammal from the Mesozoic.
1825-Gideon Mantell publishes Notice on the Iguanodon, the second description of a dinosaur and the first description of an herbivorous fossil reptile.
1825-Father John MacEnery starts digging in Kent's Cave in Devon. He'll eventually find human remains in the same layer as those of extinct mammals, a finding that will be dismissed by Buckland.
1825-1827-Robert Grant publishes a series of articles on sea sponges demonstrating that they are animals (not plants) and supporting the theory of transmutationism.
1826-M. Charles Desmoulins publishes Hist. Nat. des Races Humaines arguing for 16 distinct, unchanging human species.
1827-1838-John James Audubon publishes Birds of America, in four volumes.
1828-Adolphe Brongniart publishes Prodrome d'une histoire des Végétaux Fossils, a study of fossil plants. He outlines four distinct phases in plant prehistory: (1) primitive plants from the Coal Measures, (2) the first conifers, (3) domination by cycads and conifers, and (4) flowering plants.
1828-A year after discovering the mammalian egg cell, Karl Ernst von Baer publishes Entwickelungsgeschichte der Thiere tracing the developmental history of animals.
1828-Mary Anning discovers Britain's first recognized pterosaur fossil. (Gideon Mantell has already found pterosaur remains, but has attributed them to a bird).
1829-Jules Desnoyers names the Quaternary System, a time in which humans have lived.
1829-Philippe-Charles Schmerling discovers a Neanderthal fossil, the partial cranium of a small child. The fossil will not be accurately identified as Neanderthal, however, for a century, though Charles Lyell will illustrate it in Antiquity of Man in 1863.
1830-Charles Lyell publishes Principles of Geology, a book that Charles Darwin will later take with him aboard the Beagle.
1830-Georg Goldfuss announces that he sees "hairs" on a pterosaur fossil. This outlandish assertion will be supported by later finds.
1831-William Buckland conducts experiments with tortoises and crocodiles to compare their footprints with fossil tracks found in Scotland.
1831-Patrick Matthew publishes On Naval Timber and Arboriculture with an appendix describing what Charles Darwin will later name natural selection. After becoming aware of Matthew's hypothesis, Darwin will acknowledge it in a reprint of On the Origin of Species.
1831-Encouraged by Cambridge professor William Whewell, the Royal Society of London commissions reports of manuscripts received. This move will later be cited as the beginning of the peer-review process.
1831-1836-Charles Darwin sails on the Beagle, visiting, among other locations, the Galápagos Islands.
1832-Gideon Mantell finds the first fossil Hylaeosaurus, an ankylosaur. He will formally name it the following year, making it the third identified dinosaur species.
c. 1833-Solicitor André Brouillet discovers a reindeer bone with an engraved illustration of two female deer in Chaffaud Cave. He assumes the carving was made by the Celts. Later research will show the artwork to be about 13,000 years old.
1834-William Whewell coins the term "scientist."
1834-Friedrich von Alberti names the Triassic System. This time period will later by identified with the first dinosaurs.
1834-Based on a vertebrae and other fragments from Alabama, anatomist Richard Harlan identifies Basilosaurus as a fossil reptile. It will later be identified as a fossil whale.
1834-1842-Based on Persian "Titan" legends about the region, paleontologist Hugh Falconer excavates literal tons of proboscidian and giraffid fossils from the Siwalik Hills.
1835-Adam Sedgwick names the Cambrian System, recognizing the first rich assemblage of fossils in the rock record. Roderick Murchison names the Silurian System. He believes (not entirely accurately) that the Silurian predates the fossils of land plants, and consequently any economically valuable coal seams. Murchison and Sedgwick will later develop a bitter priority dispute over these systems.
1836-Edward Hitchcock publishes his first paper on stone footprints in Connecticut. He continues to study and publish papers on these footprints, believing they have been made by giant birds. (They will later prove to be the footprints of bipedal dinosaurs.)
1836-Henry Riley and Samuel Stutchbury name Thecodontosaurus, the fourth named dinosaur species.
1837-Hermann von Meyer names Plateosaurus, the fifth named dinosaur species.
1837-Louis Agassiz presents the theory of the Ice Age at a meeting of the Swiss Society of Natural Sciences. The shocked audience reacts with hostility.
1837-Friedrich Tiedemann publishes Das Hirn des Negers ("The Brain of the Negro") describing his measurements of brain size, which have found no significant differences between Caucasian, Mongolian, (American) Indian, Malayan and Negro races. He also tells the stories of some members of the Negro race who have been educated and subsequently contributed to science and literature. Given the times, Tiedemann's book is unusual.
c. 1837-Charles Darwin formulates the theory of natural selection to explain evolution. Fearful of the reaction his theory will cause, he delays publishing.
1838-1842-Celebrity painter John Martin produces dramatic illustrations of feisty dinosaurs, for books written largely for the public. These dragon-like depictions are hits with their intended audience but many scientists reject them as inaccurate.
1839-Roderick Murchison and Adam Sedgwick name the Devonian System.
1840-1850-Several scientists see chromosomes under the microscope, but don't understand what they are.
1841-Roderick Murchison names the Permian System.
1841-William Smith's nephew John Phillips formally proposes the geologic eras Paleozoic, Mesozoic and Cainozoic (Cenozoic).
1841-1842-English anatomist Sir Richard Owen proposes the term Dinosauria ("terrible lizards").
1842-Richard Owen names Cetiosaurus, the sixth named dinosaur species.
1842-Based on Agassiz's Ice Age theory, self-taught science enthusiast Charles Maclaren publishes a newspaper article explaining that substantial ice sheets in the northern hemisphere would have lowered global sea level.
1842-P.T. Barnum lures crowds of thousands to see his "Feejee Mermaid."
1843-Louis Agassiz completes Les Poissons Fossiles describing fossil fish of the world. This single monograph increases tenfold the formally described vertebrates known to science.
1843-Based on earlier interpretations by Samuel Thomas von Soemmering, Edward Newman portrays a pterosaur as a furry bat.
1844-Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation is published, arguing that species evolve over time to superior forms, directed by divine intervention. Although it's an immensely popular book, it is considered heretical, and the author (essayist Robert Chambers) keeps his identity secret until his death 27 years later.
1845-The School of Medicine in Paris creates a gallery of comparative anatomy.
1846-Joseph Leidy identifies in pork the parasite that causes trichinosis, a potentially fatal human disease.
1847-Jakob Mathias Schleiden and Theodor Schwann announce that cells are the basic units of all living structures.
1848-The American Association for the Advancement of Science is established.
1848-Richard Owen describes "homologies" — similarities of design in bird wings, fish fins and human hands.
1848-A Neanderthal skull is excavated from Forbes Quarry on the northern side of the Rock of Gibraltar. Over the next few decades, the skull will be stashed in a library cabinet in Gibraltar, dusted off and sent to London, accurately likened to the ancient skullcap from Neander Valley in Germany, nearly named Homo calpicus, and finally stored and largely forgotten in the Royal College of Surgeons.
c. 1849-Showmen Moses Kimball and P.T. Barnum purchase the contents of the Peale Museum (established in 1784).
1849-Based on a humerus 58 inches in circumference, Mantell names a new dinosaur species: Pelorosaurus, the first recognized sauropod.
1851-1854-Charles Darwin publishes monographs on cirripedes (marine invertebrates including barnacles) in four volumes. His thorough research wins him the Royal Medal.
1852-Confident the term will be familiar to his readers, Charles Dickens includes a reference to Megalosaurus in Bleak House.
1853-1854-Under the supervision of Sir Richard Owen, Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins constructs scenes of prehistoric life in Crystal Palace Park.
1856-The first recognized fossil human, a Neanderthal, is discovered near Düsseldorf.
1856-Heinz Christian Pander describes conodonts — toothy microfossils that will puzzle paleontologists for many years.
1856-Louis Agassiz publishes Essay on Classification advocating a theory of multiple creations and contradicting both evolution and Noah's ark.
1857-Philip Henry Gosse publishes Omphalos (later titled Creation in hopes of improving sales) arguing that God created a young Earth that simply looks really old because all life "moves in a circle" and creating living organisms requires creating fossils inside mountains of rock. The book is a flop.
1858-Although he uses different terminology, Alfred Russel Wallace independently reaches the same conclusion as Darwin: natural selection is the driving force behind evolution. Wallace's and Darwin's papers are both read at the same Linnean Society meeting.
1858-The first relatively complete dinosaur skeleton, of Hadrosaurus foulkii, is found in New Jersey.
1858-Rudolf Virchow finalizes the cell theory originally announced by Schleiden and Schwann 11 years earlier by declaring that cells are the basic units of all living things, and all cells are formed by the division of existing cells.
1859-Charles Darwin publishes On the Origin of Species. The initial printing (1,000 copies) sells out in a day.
1859-Catholic priest Jean-Jacques Pouech describes fossil eggshell fragments. They will eventually prove to be the first described dinosaur eggs.
1859-An exceptionally well-preserved skeleton is discovered in Bavaria. Two years later, this bird-like, bipedal dinosaur will be named Compsognathus, meaning "dainty jaw."
1860-John Phillips diagrams the progressive but fluctuating diversity of life on Earth based on the fossil record. His work evidences massive extinctions at the end of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic, and increased diversity in each subsequent age.
1861-Civil war breaks out in the United States.
1861-First recognized fossil Archaeopteryx lithographica skeleton is found in the stone quarries of Solnhofen.
1861-In his presidential address to the Geological Society of London, Leonard Horner proposes removing the world's "creation" date of 4004 BC from the English Bible, citing geological evidence of a much older planet.
1862-Lord Kelvin asserts that the Earth and sun are cooling from their initial formation, between 20 and 400 million years ago. He will later adopt the smaller number.
1862-London's Great Exhibition features a frog that miners claim to have found alive in a coal seam hundreds of feet underground. Naturalist Frank Buckland publishes an angry letter in The Times demanding that the frog be removed from the display.
1863-Abraham Lincoln forms the National Academy of Sciences.
1863-Alfred Russel Wallace describes the "Wallace line," the dividing line between Indo-Malayan and Austro-Malayan fauna, in Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London.
1863-T.H. Huxley publishes Man's Place in Nature discussing human and primate paleontology, and showing similarities between humans and other animals.
1863-Anti-evolutionist James Hunt, founder of the Anthropological Society of London, gives a presidential address to the society stating that human races were created separately. He further argues that the African species is closer in ability to apes than to Europeans.
1863-Father-and-son glassworkers Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka begin making glass models of marine invertebrates. Marine biologists will refer to their exquisitely detailed, accurate models 150 years later while trying to see how many of the depicted species can still be found in the wild.
1864-W. Winwood Reade writes, "The existence of the Roc of Marco Polo and The Arabian Nights is now proved by the discovery of an immense egg in a semi-fossil state in Madagascar." While the giant Aepyornis (elephant bird) egg he refers to belongs to a bird that couldn't fly, much less fly off carrying an elephant like the fabled Roc, the fossil bird does qualify as the biggest bird species yet discovered.
1864-French archaeologist Edouard Lartet finds a fragment of mammoth tusk at a cave in La Madeleine. The tusk is engraved with a picture of a woolly mammoth accurate enough to indicate that the engraver saw at least one mammoth in the flesh.
1865-Sir John William Dawson of McGill University identifies "shells" of huge foraminiferal protozoans. Known as Eozoön or "dawn animal," this find is used as an argument against evolution because it shows a relatively "modern" animal early in the fossil record. It will prove, however, to be a geologically young pseudofossil formed by heat and pressure on limestone.
1865-John Lubbock publishes Prehistoric Times dividing what has previously been understood to be the Stone Age into two parts: the older Paleolithic and the newer Neolithic. In the same book, he also argues that modern Tasmanians and Fuegians are throwbacks to archaic humans.
1865-Paolo Mantegazza publishes Degli Innesti Animali e della Produzione Artificiale delle Cellule (On Animal Grafts and Artificial Cell Production) describing the results of a series of interspecies animal grafts, such as the transplant of a cockspur onto a cow ear. Grafts described include transplants between dogs, frogs and rodents. Mantegazza reports that some grafts decomposed while others became "pathological tumours."
1866-German zoologist Ernst Haeckel publishes General Morphology of Organisms, the first detailed genealogical tree relating all known organisms, incorporating the principles of Darwinian evolution.
1866-Austrian monk Gregor Mendel proposes his thesis on the basic laws of heredity. His work will be largely ignored until 1900.
1867-Orléans Railway Company employee Peccadeau de l'Isle presents a paper to the French Academy of Sciences on his recent discoveries at Montastruc, including a mammoth carved from a reindeer antler, and two reindeer (found in separate pieces) carved from a mammoth tusk. The finds will eventually be dated at about 13,000 years old.
1868-Ernst Haeckel publishes Natürliche Schöpfungsgeschichte, subdividing humanity into 12 separate species. He also asserts that evolution consists of 22 phases, the 21st being the "missing link" between apes and humans.
1868-Thomas Henry Huxley publishes "On the Animals which are Most Nearly Intermediate between Birds and Reptiles," arguing that birds are descendants of dinosaurs. This suggestion will not be taken very seriously for another century.
1868-Three human skulls and other skeletal remains, roughly 30,000 years old, are discovered at a rock shelter called Cro-Magnon (old French for "big hole").
1869-Huxley, Norman Lockyer and others found Nature Magazine, which becomes one of the world's two most important scientific journals. (The other journal is Science.)
1869-Biochemistry graduate student Johann Friedrich Miescher begins examining bandages from hospital patients in hopes of finding something interesting. He eventually succeeds, and determines that cell nuclei are composed of nitrogen, phosphorus and chromatin. He names the substance nuclein.
1870-The rivalry between fossil collectors O.C. Marsh and E.D. Cope turns ugly when Marsh publicly points out Cope's error in reconstructing a fossil marine reptile (putting its head on the tip of its tail). Their rivalry is the public's gain as they try to outdo each other in identifying new dinosaur species — over 130.
1870-O.C. Marsh discovers the first North American pterosaur, from chalk deposits in Kansas. He calculates the wingspan at 20 feet. The following year, he will collect more fossils that confirm this calculation.
1870-Quarry workers in the Valley Forge area discover the Port Kennedy Bone Cave, under roughly the same site where the Continental Army wintered over a century earlier. The site proves rich in Pleistocene plant and animal fossils, but will be accidentally flooded decades later. The site will be lost to science until its rediscovery after the turn of the 21st century.
1871-Charles Darwin publishes The Descent of Man.
1871-Lord Kelvin suggests that "the germs of life might have been brought to the Earth by some meteorite," an idea that will enjoy support a century later.
1873-Francis Galton publishes a paper entitled "Hereditary Improvement" arguing that people "of really good breed" should be encouraged to reproduce while their inferiors should be discouraged from doing so. This, he argues, will improve humanity the way selective breeding improves livestock.
1874-The Hamburg Tierpark features an "anthropological-zoological" display of Lapps acting out "daily life" with reindeer. The show draws enthusiastic crowds.
1874-The Mütter Museum buys 139 human skulls from Viennese anatomist Joseph Hyrtl. Hyrtl has compiled the collection to show the remarkable variation within European populations, and to debunk the claims of phrenologists. The collection is unusual for the time, when most skull assemblages are aimed at emphasizing differences between ethnic groups.
1875-Paleontologist Roberto Lawley collects a badly eroded Pliocene whale bone near Pisa, Italy, and donates it to the paleontology museum of Florence. In the 21st century, close examination will indicate boreholes of Osedax, mouthless, gutless marine worms (nicknamed zombie worms) that extract nutrients by drilling into bones.
1875-Anton Dohrn observes similarities between the central nerve cords in annelids and vertebrates, and argues that these different groups of animals shared a common ancestor.
1876-Charles Doolittle Walcott becomes the first to successfully find and describe elusive trilobite legs, ending speculation about how the animals moved.
1876-Robert Koch validates the germ theory of disease, postulated by Louis Pasteur in the 1860s, and publishes a paper identifying a bacterium as the cause of anthrax.
1876-Cesare Lombroso publishes The Criminal Man describing physical characteristics that identify inborn criminals.
1877-Comparative anatomy professor François Louis Paul Gervais undertakes thin-section microscopy studies of fossil eggs. His work will be largely forgotten until Roy Chapman Andrews discovers dinosaur eggs in Mongolia in the 1920s.
1877-A new Archaeopteryx fossil is discovered in Solnhofen, complete with a toothy jaw. This well-preserved fossil, which will become known as the Berlin Archaeopteryx, supports Huxley's previous observations about its reptilian affinities.
c.1878-Charlotte Hill collects a well-preserved fossil butterfly, later named Prodryas persephone, from the Florissant Formation in Colorado. The fossil is about 35 million years old.
1878-Entire skeletons of Iguanodon are discovered in Belgium, enabling a more accurate reconstruction of this dinosaur than those of Owen and Waterhouse Hawkins in the 1850s. Engineer-turned-paleontologist Louis Dollo will publish the first of several papers on these fossils in 1882.
1878-Sketches of Creation author Alexander Winchell loses his job at the University of Vanderbilt for suggesting that Adam descended from earlier humans. Winchell's critics are particularly incensed by the notion that Adam's ancestors just might have been black.
1879-Charles Lapworth resolves a priority dispute between Adam Sedgwick and Roderick Murchison by assigning older rocks to the Cambrian (named by Sedgwick), younger rocks to the Silurian (named by Murchison), and naming the Ordivician System in between.
1879-The United States Geological Survey is formed.
1879-Eight-year-old Maria de Sautuola finds a Paleolithic cave drawing of bison on her father's property in Spain. It is the oldest artwork yet discovered, but it will be dismissed as a forgery for years, considered too beautiful to be the work of prehistoric savages.
1880-French geologist Le Mesle visits an Algerian track site to verify local legends about the tracks belonging to a giant bird. He concurs. The tracks actually belong to dinosaurs.
1880-Charles Darwin and his son Francis publish the results of their studies on plant responses to light, explaining that phototropism (bending toward the light) results from light reaching the top of a plant's shoot.
1882-Karl Alfred von Zittel describes an exceptionally well-preserved pterosaur wing showing flight membranes in detail.
1882-Walther Flemming publishes accurate depictions of cell division (mitosis) in Zellsubstanz, Kern und Zelltheilung.
1882-Charles Darwin publishes his final letter to Nature, on the dispersal of freshwater bivalves. His obituary appears the same month.
1882-Workers digging sandstone blocks in the Nevada State Prison yard find giant footprints belonging to a giant "pre-Adamaite man." E.D. Cope confirms the interpretation. O.C. Marsh refutes it, instead arguing that the tracks belong to giant ground sloth.
1883-Geologist James Hall names Cryptozoon, based on cabbagelike rocks up to meter across. Although Hall's biologic interpretation of these structures will be heavily criticized, it will ultimately prove correct.
1883-Newnham College graduate Alice Johnson lectures the Cambridge Philosophical Society on comparative anatomy of dinosaurs and birds. She's the first female lecturer to the society, which does not yet admit women.
1886-Geologist Charles Gould publishes Mythical Monsters surveying weird creatures from several cultures and explaining that some myths might have been inspired by fossil remains of extinct animals.
1886-John Bell Hatcher develops the "ant hill method of collecting minute fossils," collecting hundreds of tiny fossil teeth and jaws pushed to the surface by ants. He even carries shovelfuls of ants and sediment to other fossil localities in need of excavation by the arthropods.
1886-A. Ficatier publishes an account of the discovery of a trilobite perforated with two holes (perhaps to hang on a thread) at a Magdalenian-age site in France. The fossil lends the site its name of La Grotte du Trilobite.
1887-Harry Govier Seeley determines that dinosaurs consist of "lizard-hipped" (saurischian) and "bird-hipped" (ornithischian) branches.
1887-Theodore Boveri describes cell division to produce gametes (meiosis).
1887-Worthington George Smith excavates a Bronze Age grave of a mother and child, surrounded by at least 200 fossil sea urchins, on Dunstable Downs. He nicknames the mother Maud.
1888-German anatomist W. von Waldeyer names chromosomes.
1891-Ethnologist Frank Cushing learns of a Zuni legend explaining how many life forms turned to stone when the Earth was young. The Zunis apply this explanation to fossils found in the American southwest.
1892-Joseph Whiteaves describes Anomalocaris, meaning "anomalous shrimp," from the Cambrian. The fossil that Whiteaves identifies as a shrimp will later prove to be part of a much larger animal.
1893-Entomologist E.B. Poulton studies caterpillars from the species Gastropacha quercifolia, noting how siblings look different depending on where they live and what they eat. His discovery will become known as phenotypic plasticity.
1894-Eugène Dubois publishes his monograph of Pithecanthropus erectus, or Java Man, a missing link between humans and apes.
1894-French paleontologist Charles Brongniart describes a fossil dragonfly from the Carboniferous with a 2-foot (63-centimeter) wingspan. The find implies a higher oxygen content in the Earth's ancient atmosphere.
1894-The intricately carved mammoth ivory figurine known as the Lady (or Venus) of Brassempouy is discovered in France. At roughly 25,000 years old, it ranks among the earliest known depictions of a human face.
1895-A team of paleontologists, including Samuel Williston, Elmer Riggs and Barnum Brown, successfully excavates a Triceratops fossil in Wyoming.
1896-Dublin anatomist Daniel Cunningham concludes that Neanderthals represent an intermediate step between Pithecanthropus erectus and modern humans.
1896-A gelatinous blob washes ashore in St. Augustine, Florida. Cephalopod expert Addison Verrill describes the blob as the remains of a giant octopus but, after examining a tissue sample, reverses his decision and describes it as a decomposing whale.
1896-J. de Morgan describes nine pierced fossil urchins found in a Chalcolithic tomb at Toukh.
1897-Renowned physicist Lord Kelvin gives a lecture at London's Victoria Institute claiming that the sun, which is cooling from its initial formation, can be no more than 20 million years old.
1897-Marie Curie begins research of "uranium rays" that will lead to the discovery of radioactivity.
1899-Charles Doolittle Walcott identifies Chuaria, millimeter-sized black fossil disks. He thinks they're compressed shells of marine invertebrates. He's wrong about that, but correct in deducing a biologic origin — the fossils are likely from unusually large planktonic alga.
1899-1905-Geologist Dragutin Gorjanovic-Kramberger oversees the excavation of a Neanderthal site near Krapina (later part of Croatia). Associated with the ancient human remains are 130,000-year-old eagle talons. Reexamination of the talons more than a century later will reveal cut marks and abrasion marks suggesting the talons were used in necklaces.
1900-1903-"Racial" anthropologist Ludwig Woltmann submits a paper to a social Darwinist essay contest, takes offense at placing third instead of first, withdraws his essay, refuses the prize money, starts Political Anthropology Revue warning of contamination of the "Nordic race," and publishes his essay in book form.
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.
1903-Cheddar Man is discovered at Gough's Cave in Cheddar Gorge, England. Sometimes referred to as the earliest Englishman, Cheddar Man turns out to be only about 15,000 years old.
1903-L. de Vesly describes first- to third-century remains at Gallo Roman temples and wells near Rouen, France. Finds there include a cache of Neolithic axes and fossil sea urchins — evidence of association of axes and urchins over thousands of years.
1903-1906-Ernesto Schiaparelli conducts excavations at Heliopolis, Egypt. One of his finds includes a fossil sea urchin engraved with an account of its own discovery. The hieroglyphs on the fossil will eventually be translated as, "Found in the south of the quarry of Sopdu by the god's-father Tja-nefer." Archaeologists will surmise that the fossil might have been found by a New Kingdom miner or scribe, perhaps near Sinai.
1904-Entomologist G.W. Kirkaldy publishes species descriptions of a series of insects whose names all end in "-chisme" (pronounced "kiss me"). Perhaps wishfully, he names Polychisme, Marichisme and Dollischisme, among many others.
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.
1905-Abbé Henri Breuil pieces together two reindeer carved from mammoth ivory found decades earlier by Peccadeau de l'Isle. The Swimming Reindeer are the largest ivory carving from the late Ice Age yet found.
1906-Othenio Abel identifies the hip bones of Basilosaurus (a fossil whale originally identified as a fossil reptile) as the shoulder bones of an extinct, giant, flightless bird.
1906-In his presidential address to the Geological Society of America, Raphael Pumpelly claims that the end of the Pleistocene started the Neolithic Revolution.
1906-The New York Zoological Park (the Bronx Zoo) displays Ota Benga, "a genuine African pygmy," in its Monkey House.
1907-P. Raymond describes a Neolithic deposit in Saône-et-Loire in France containing an axe with three fossil sea urchins.
1907-The Mauer jaw is discovered in Germany. It will become the type specimen for Homo heidelbergensis (Archaic Homo sapiens, precursors to Neanderthals).
1907-Chemist Bertram Boltwood measures the ratio of isotopes of uranium and lead in a mineral from Connecticut. He concludes the mineral formed 410 million years ago. His estimate will later be changed to 265 million, but this experiment lays the groundwork for radiometric dating techniques.
1908-Charles and George Sternberg discover a dinosaur mummy, a duckbill dinosaur with skin, tendons and bits of flesh all fossilized.
1908-Amadee and Jean Bouyssonie find a Neanderthal skeleton in a pit at La Chapelle-aux-Saints. The find spurs hypotheses of intentional Neanderthal burial of the dead, although some anthropologists will dispute this interpretation several decades later.
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 starts digging 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-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.
1909-1921-Excavations at La Ferrassie in France yield the remains of several Neanderthal individuals in what archaeologists interpret as Neanderthal graves.
1909-Abbé Breuil depicts a presumed Neanderthal burial at La Ferrassie.
1910-A few years after the find of some isolated teeth from the same species, British paleontologist Clive Forster Cooper finds better specimens of what will later be identified as Paraceratherium in an area that will later be part of Pakistan. A century later, Paraceratherium will still hold the title of the biggest land mammal yet discovered.
1910-While digging the foundation for an imposing home, two laborers, Mercer and Crittenden, discover the remains of a cremation from the Iron Age, including a Neolithic axe and a fossil echinoid.
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-A chance discovery turns up the astonishingly well-preserved Clacton Spear. Made of yew and over 400,000 years old, it's one of the world's oldest wooden artifacts.
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-San Diego hosts the Panama-California Exposition and features an exhibit, The Science of Man. It combines human remains and artwork to discuss human prehistory, but the main emphasis is on race.
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.
1917-British polymath D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson publishes On Growth and Form arguing that the forms Darwinian natural selection can evolve are constrained by physical and mathematical laws, and that organic structures often emulate inorganic natural structures.
1917-Stone tools discovered at Bir el Ater in eastern Algeria include triangular objects that might have been arrowheads or spear points. The tools will be dubbed Aterian, but their age will be underestimated for decades.
1919-Swedish geologist Johann Andersson discovers a major "dragon bone works" in northern China. Otto Zdansky also examines the works several years later, discovering that the fossils are referred to as dragons even though the workers recognize them as more pedestrian species such as horses and deer.
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.
1922-1924-Archaeologists Guy Brunton and Flinders Petrie discover caches of fossil bones in shrines and tombs devoted to the Egyptian deity Set at Qau and Matmar. The sites date to the 13th century BC.
1923-Jesuit priests Émile Lincent and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin discover ancient stone tools at Shuidonggou, China. Their discoveries resemble those of the Middle Paleolithic industry in Europe.
1924-Winifred Goldring publishes a description of a fossil forest discovered during excavations for the Gilboa Dam. Dating from the Devonian Period, the site will become known as the world's oldest fossil forest.
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.
1925-Francis Turville-Petre finds Galilee Man, the first fossil hominid discovered in Western Asia. The fossil will later be dated to more than 250,000 years old, and classified as neither modern Homo sapiens nor Neanderthal.
1925-The film adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's dinosaurs-and-cavemen fantasy The Lost World premieres.
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.
1927-Johns Hopkins University biologist Raymond Pearl publishes an article entitled "Why Lazy People Live the Longest." He will expand on this rate-of-living hypothesis in a book the next year, arguing that a faster rate of biochemical reactions leads to a shorter lifespan.
1927-Excavations in Kent's Cavern in southern England turn up a fragment of a human upper jaw, roughly 43,000 years old. Arthur Keith will provisionally identify it as anatomically modern human, and this finding will be confirmed in a 2011 study.
1928-In a letter to Science, Louise Sudbury states that fossil plants, Cycadeoidea Etrusca, were collected by Etruscans over 4,000 years ago.
1928-John Henry Pull, a postman and amateur archaeologist, finds fossil urchins in two separate Neolithic burial sites. His efforts to publish on his findings, however, will be thwarted due to his pedestrian background.
1928-In trying to piece together a Burgess Shale organism over 500 million years old, Danish zoologist K.L. Henriksen glues an Anomalocaris appendage to a Tuzoia carapace to make what he thinks is a reasonable looking shrimp-like animal. This mistaken interpretation will persist for years.
1929-Davidson Black announces the find of Sinanthropus pekinensis, or Peking Man, discovered at Zhoukoudian, China. Over the next several years, five nearly-complete skulls will be recovered from the same site. Peking Man will be lost, however, 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.
1929-1934-Research expeditions led by Gunnar Save-Soderbergh find remains of a transitional animal between fish and amphibians on Greenland. The species will later be named Ichthyostega soderberghi.
1930-Themistocles Zammit publishes Prehistoric Malta: The Tarxien Temples about excavations showing fossil sea urchins in Bronze Age temples.
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.
1932-Fossil diggers discover a 25-million-year-old toothed, dwarf whale in Australia. Seven years later it will be named Mammalodon. More than 70 years later, it will be described as a "bottom-feeding mud-sucker."
1933-Robert Broom publishes The Coming of Man: Was it Accident or Design? arguing that evolution is really driven by spiritual agencies, some with conflicting priorities, and that mankind is the ultimate aim of all evolution.
1933-The Field Museum opens two new exhibitions: The Hall of Races of Mankind and The Hall of Prehistoric Man. The hall on prehistory includes an exhibit on the not-yet-debunked Piltdown Man. Explanatory text in the hall on race includes the remark that "even intermarriage with whites" won't change the racial characteristics of blacks.
1933-A laborer working in Japanese-occupied northeastern China finds a supersized hominid skull. Rather than turning it over to the occupiers, he hides it in a well where it will sit for 85 years. He'll tell his family shortly before dying at a ripe old age. After paleoanthropologists examine "Dragon Man," they'll debate the species identification, contenders including Homo longi, Homo daliensis, and Denisovan.
1934-With funding from Sinclair Oil, Barnum Brown begins excavating in Wyoming's Howe Quarry. His finds will lead to the green dinosaur logo for Sinclair's gas stations. Many of them will simply be named "Dino."
1935-M. Baudouin describes more than 80 fossil sea urchins drilled for use as jewelry, some worked as long as 35,000 years ago.
1936-Robert Broom finds the first partial skull of an adult australopithecine near Johannesburg. He describes it as Plesianthropus transvaalensis, a species designation that will eventually be overturned.
1936-Physical anthropologist W. Montague Cobb publishes two popular articles about race: "Race and Runners" (addressing questions about African American track-and-field wins at the Olympics) and "The Physical Constitution of the American Negro." In both articles, Cobb explains that racial differences are insignificant. In the second article, he describes racial characteristics as "largely variations of form which have no distinct functional survival value in modern civilization."
1937-Anthropologist Ales Hrdlicka publishes a paper asserting that aboriginal peoples of the Americas always resembled modern Native Americans.
1938-Thomas Stanley Westoll describes Elpistostege watsoni, a fragmentary Devonian fossil he describes as "a perfect transition" between a lobe-finned fish and an amphibian. More fossils and more research over the next several decades will indicate the species is a lobe-finned fish with digit bones.
1938-Fishermen find a coelacanth, a fish long believed to be extinct, off the coast of South Africa. Margaret Courtney-Latimer, a curator at the East London Museum in South Africa, keeps the fish preserved long enough for its identity to be confirmed by ichthyologist J.L.B. Smith.
1939-World War II begins in Europe.
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.
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.
1941-German paleontologist H. Kirchner suggests that dinosaur tracks in the Rhine Valley might have inspired the legend of Siegfried slaying the dragon Fafnir.
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.
1946-Along the Kolyma River in northeastern Siberia, Gulag prisoners discover a nest with three frozen, mummified ground squirrel carcasses. They turn the carcasses over to the Gulag camp geologist, Yuriy Popov, who relays them to other Soviet scientists. Seventy years later, radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis of the ground squirrel mummies will identify their age at over 30,000 years old, and indicate that they are not direct ancestors of modern ground squirrels in the region.
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. Later examination of two fossils will lead Colbert to conclude they were also cannibals, but the "last meals of juvenile coelophyses" will eventually prove to be crocodilian.
1947-Rudolph Zallinger completes The Age of Reptiles mural in the Yale Peabody Museum. His image of slow-moving dinosaurs will prevail until the 1960s.
1947-Robert Broom and John T. Robinson find a well-preserved australopithecine skull in Sterkfontein Cave near Johannesburg. Initially identified as Plesianthropus transvaalensis, the skull is nicknamed Mrs. Ples. It will later be reclassified as Australopithecus africanus and, less definitively, as male.
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.
1948-Following up on earlier reports of an oddly shaped, fossil-bearing cave above Blue Lake, Washington, a team from UC Berkeley makes a plaster mold of the cave's interior. They find it's shaped like a bloated rhinoceros, likely covered and cooked by a roughly 15-million-year-old lava flow.
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 suggest to some researchers an artistic sense among Neanderthals, including the collection of fossil mollusk shells and fossil coral. Doubts about ages of objects, however, will leave the subject open to debate.
1950-At a Cold Spring Harbor Symposium, Ernst Mayr argues that all hominid specimens so far found should be categorized in the genus Homo: H. transvaalensis, H. erectus and H. sapiens.
1951-Barbara McClintock publishes a paper describing "jumping" genes that can move around within an organism's genome.
1951-Known for culinary adventure, the Explorers Club hosts a dinner that will become legendary. The meat is (1) advertised on the menu as giant ground sloth (Megatherium) from Alaska, (2) reported by The Christian Science Monitor as mammoth, and (3) actually from a thoroughly modern green sea turtle.
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 Clair Patterson publish independent estimates inferring the age of the Earth through radiometric dating of meteorites. Both estimates are over 4.5 billion years.
1953-1968-Dutch priest and archaeologist Theodor Verhoeven publishes a series of papers arguing that stone tools found on the island of Flores were made by Homo erectus around 750,000 years ago. His arguments are largely ignored or dismissed for decades.
1954-Elso Barghoorn and Stanley Tyler report the discovery of bacterial cells in Canadian rock formations that are nearly 2 billion years old.
1954-Philip Abelson and his team detect amino acids in fish that are over 300 million years old.
1955-Homer Jacobson publishes a paper entitled "Information, Reproduction and the Origin of Life" on the conditions surrounding the Earth's initial cooling. Fifty-two years later, Jacobson will retract his work after discovering errors, and after the paper is cited by creationists as evidence of the need for divine intervention in the development of life.
1955-Professional pipefitter and amateur paleontologist Francis Tully finds an enigmatic fossil near Morris, Illinois. Dating from about 300 million years ago, the fossil will be formally named Tullimonstrum gregarium and nicknamed the Tully monster. Although it will defy classification for decades, it will nevertheless be named the state fossil of Illinois.
1956-Brian Logan and fellow geologists find living stromatolites in Shark Bay, Australia. The find is somewhat surprising as stromatolites have no defenses against mouth-bearing organisms and have probably been relatively rare since the Cambrian Period.
1956-Fifteen-year-old English schoolgirl Tina Negus finds a specimen of the fossil species that will later be named Charnia masoni, from the geologic period that will later be named the Ediacaran. Unfortunately, Negus can't convince her geography teacher that the fossil she has found is Precambrian and gives up, leaving the fossil to be extracted by local schoolboy Roger Mason the next year.
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 Paranthropus boisei.
1960-Alister Hardy promotes his Homo aquaticus or "aquatic ape" hypothesis to the British Sub Aqua Club. He will follow up this announcement with several magazine articles.
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.
1962-Anthropologist James Neel develops the "thrifty genotype" hypothesis that human ancestors endured feast-famine cycles that made the human body very effective in storing fat for lean times.
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.
1963-Lantian Man, a 500,000-year-old Homo erectus specimen, is found in Lantian County, China, just north of Xi'an.
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.
1964-Two deciduous molars, roughly 44,000 years old, are collected at Grotta del Cavallo in southeastern Italy. After an initial classification as Neanderthal, they will be assigned to modern humans in a 2011 study.
1965-N.H. Field publishes "Fossil sea-echinoids from a Romano-British site" describing the centuries-long occupation of a Romano-British settlement in Dorset. Newer buildings have been built upon older ones, with fossil urchins in each.
1965-H. Tobien identifies trace fossils of ancient insects boring into ancient bones, kicking off a decades-long research spree on the topic.
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 identifications and propose, at least for a time, that most of the animal phyla 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.
1966-1967-A joint American, British, and South African expedition uncovers Triassic dinosaur fossils in the Transkei (Herschel) District of South Africa. After decades in Harvard's collections, the fossils will be reexamined and identified by Paul Sereno as Pegomastax africanus, a cat-sized plant eater with fangs, a parrot-like beak, and porcupine-like quills.
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 so far found of Homo sapiens.
1967-P.S. Martin suggests that fast-moving bands of human hunters caused the extinctions of Pleistocene big-game species.
1967-Graduate student S.B. Misra discovers a well-preserved sea floor with numerous fossils dating from the late Precambrian (later to be dubbed the Ediacaran Period) at Mistaken Point, Newfoundland.
1967-Daniel Janzen argues that, because they live under "easy" conditions, tropical plants cannot likely survive a wide range of temperature, light, or hydrologic conditions.
1967-In The Geats of "Beowulf", Jane Leake contends that the legendary King Hygelac, long said to be a giant, might have been inspired by the remains of "a prehistoric monster found near the place where he fell in battle."
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 before his death, but the experimental evidence will remain scant, perhaps in part because sufficient technology doesn't yet exist to test the hypothesis.
1968-Teenaged fossil enthusiast Tadashi Suzuki finds a plesiosaur fossil in his hometown of Iwaki City, Japan. The fossil turns out to be a new species, but it won't be identified as such for nearly 40 years.
1968-Richard Fox describes a Paleocene mammal, Prothryptacodon albertensis, retrieved from a well dug in Alberta, Canada. This find eerily resembles that of another Paleocene mammal recovered from a Louisiana oil well and described in 1932 by George Gaylord Simpson.
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.
1969-Archaeologist Joachim Hahn pieces together the fragmens of the lion-headed man found 30 years earlier the Hohlenstein-Stadel Cave in Germany.
1971-A.G. Sharov describes a pterosaur with fossil "hair" impressions as 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.
1971-Five pairs of adult wall lizards are moved between two islands in Croatia. Over the next few decades, the lizards on the new island will evolve larger heads, stronger bites, and a greater tolerance for an herbivorous diet than the original lizard population.
1971-1974-Crystal Bennett collects Iron Age archaeological specimens at Busayra in southern Jordan. The excavations uncover large numbers of fossils showing signs of human modification, including 70 sea urchins.
1972-Harry Whittington shows a preliminary reconstruction of the Burgess Shale species Opabinia at a Palaeontological Association meeting, and the crowd roars with laughter.
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 Galápagos 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.
1973-Heinz Tobien collects a primate tooth fragment from limestone rocks in southern Germany. Studies published decades later, in 2001 and 2011, will suggest that the fossil is 17 million years old, and that a hominoid migration into Eurasia occurred 3 million years earlier than previously thought.
1973-Half in jest, Francis Crick and Leslie Orgel suggest that ancient aliens may have seeded the early Earth with DNA, and all life on this planet arose from that.
1973-Taking a line from Through the Looking Glass, Leigh Van Valen establishes the "Red Queen" hypothesis of coevolution between predator and prey: "it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"
1973-Dorothy Retallack publishes The Sound of Music and Plants arguing that plants have musical tastes that just happen to resemble her own. She claims that plants exposed to Bach, easy listening and Muzak thrive while plants forced to listen to Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin wither. Few professional scientists take her claims seriously although her book will enjoy a New Age following.
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.
1974-Heavy equipment operator Porky Hansen accidentally uncovers a mammoth tusk while leveling ground for a building. The site will reveal many more mammoths, becoming a tourist attraction for Hot Springs, South Dakota.
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.
1975-Armed with an old geological map, selt-taught fossil hunter Joan Wiffin finds New Zealand's first recognized dinosaur fossil, a theropod tail vertebra, in the Maungahouanga Valley.
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, including the remains of more than 30 Homo heidelbergensis individuals.
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-F. Metzger-Krahé describes a ninth-century Viking settlement in southern Jutland — perhaps the first city-like settlement in Northern Europe — holding 185 fossils, most of them sea urchins.
1978-Mary Leakey announces the discovery of fossil footprints at Laetoli demonstrating that hominids walked upright 3.6 million years ago.
1979-Crystal Bennett finds a human-altered sea urchin fossil in Islamic (Fatimid) deposits dating from the 10th to 12th centuries in the Amman Citadel.
1979-Fresh out of law school and short on cash, Robert Heggestad buys an antique cabinet on an installment plan from a Virginia antique shop. The cabinet turns out to contain some 1,700 plant and invertebrate specimens from the personal collection of Alfred Russel Wallace.
1979-The Geological Society of America awards 96-year-old Harlen Bretz the Penrose Medal for identifying the cause of the Channeled Scablands in the northwestern United States: a massive flood from Glacial Lake Missoula after it broke through its ice dam. The recognition is somewhat late as Bretz first hypothesized a megaflood in the 1920s.
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.
1980-A monk finds a partial jawbone in Baishiya Karst Cave on the Tibetan Plateau. Nearly 40 years later, protein analysis will indicate the fossil is Denisovan, providing evidence that the ancient hominins lived at high altitude 160,000 years ago.
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. Claws's fishy fossilized gut contents raise suspicions that it might have been semi-aquatic, a hypothesis supported by oxygen isotopes later found in its tooth enamel.
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.
1983-Private collecters find an exceptionally well-preserved primate fossil at Messel, Germany. Over the next 26 years, the fossil will be split into two pieces (one of which will be doctored), reunited, and described amid media hoopla as "the missing link" and a potential human ancestor. A number of paleontologists will express doubts about some of the ancestry claims.
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.
1985-Paleoanthropologists excavate an artifact-rich portion of Cueva de los Aviones in Iberia. Fifty-thousand-year-old perforated and pigment-stained shells from the cave will prompt researchers to argue, 25 years later, that Neanderthals had the good sense to wear both makeup and jewelry.
1985-Kenneth Oakley publishes Decorative and Symbolic Uses of Fossils describing, among other things, a hand axe crafted by Homo heidelbergensis featuring a fossil sea urchin, and a fossil urchin set within a bronze locket from a Gallo-Roman temple.
1986-Norman H. Sleep submits a paper calculating the probability of life forms surviving an extraterrestrial impact in the Hadean Period (first 700 million years of Earth's existence). The paper is rejected on the grounds there would have been no life on Earth yet.
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.
1987-Dhananjay Mohabey discovers what looks like a simple clutch of dinosaur eggs in India. Twenty-three years later, he, Jeffrey Wilson and colleagues will report that the fossil find includes not just sauropod eggs, but a predatory Cretaceous snake that apparently snacked on hapless sauropod hatchlings.
1987-Kansas rancher Charles Bonner collects a plesiosaur mother-and-fetus fossil. Nearly 25 years later, O'Keefe and Chiappe will describe this as evidence that that plesiosaurs gave live birth and might have been attentive mothers.
1988-Molecular biologist John Cairns describes experiments suggesting that bacteria facing environmental stress can "direct" their mutations to produce favorable adaptations. Directed mutation will remain a controversial idea, but the possibility that organisms mutate at a greater rate (hypermutation) under environmental stress will gain more acceptance.
1988-Paleontologist James Kitching discovers fossils of a sauropodomorph not far from the South Africa-Lesotho border. After spending about a decade largely forgotten on museum shelves, the fossils will eventually be named Ledumahadi mafube. Thirty years after their discovery, the bones will be presented as evidence that quadrupedalism evolved in sauropodomorphs about 10 million years earlier than previously thought, and disappeared from the fossil record before reemerging.
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. Eighteen years later, Hans Thewissen will announce the discovery of another missing link in cetacean evolution: fox-like Indohyus found in Kashmir.
1989-Ned Colbert finally completes his definitive species description of the Coelophysis dinosaurs he found in 1947.
1989-Rob Gargett argues that sites interpreted as Neanderthal graves at La Chapelle-aux-Saints, La Ferrassie, Shanidar and several other localities can all be explained by natural processes, and that the evidence for deliberate burial is lacking.
1989-Based solely on fossil footprints, creationist Carl Baugh declares a new species, Homo bauanthropus, despite the fact that the footprints have already been identified as dinosaur tracks and invertebrate burrow casts.
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.
1990-Scott Wing of the Smithsonian Institution discovers the Big Cedar Ridge fossil plant site in Wyoming. The locality will become known as the Pompeii of Cretaceous plants.
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.
1992-A team led by Tim White finds the first traces of a hominid fossil that will later be named Ardipithecus ramidus. Seventeen years later, the team will publish a detailed description of a 4.4-million-year-old, 120-centimeter-tall, nearly complete adult female, along with fossils from 35 other individuals. The team will argue that "Ardi" should supplant Lucy at the base of the hominid tree.
1992-Suburban San Diego roadwork uncovers mastodon bones and broken rocks at what becomes known as the (Richard) Cerutti Mastodon site. Roadwork halts while paleontologist Tom Deméré examines the find. Twenty-five years later, Deméré, Cerutti and nine other researchers will contend that the site is evidence of human presence in North America 130,000 years ago.
1993-A calcite-encrusted hominid skeleton is discovered in a karst cave near Altamura, Italy. About two decades later, researchers will date the rock layers and test a scapula fragment, eventually concluding that the skeleton is probably 128,000 to 187,000 years old, and ranks among so-called "early Neanderthals."
1993-J. William Schopf publishes a description of microfossils of the Apex Basalt in Australia. His claims that they are 3.5-billion-year-old microbes that could photosynthesize and produce oxygen will later be challenged. One of his challengers, Martin Brasier, will coauthor a 2011 study on microfossils from a nearby outcrop, claiming that the 3.4-billion-year-old microbes fed off sulfur.
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.
1993-Geology student Iwan Stossel stumbles across a nearly 400-million-year-old tetrapod fossil trackway on the island of Valentia, County Kerry, Ireland.
1993-1994-Roger Pedersen, a volunteer archaeologist at Boxgrove, finds the shin bone of what was apparently a strapping specimen of Homo heidelbergensis, from an individual likely weighing in at a muscular 200 pounds. Named for his discoverer, fossil "Roger" is about half a million years old.
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 Clarke 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 roughly 9,000-year-old Kennewick Man skeleton is found in the northwestern United States. Craniometric analysis initially suggests an affiliation to Ainu and Polynesian groups. Better DNA sampling methods will finally allow genetic analysis nearly 20 years later, and that will indicate a relationship closest to modern Native Americans.
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-Tim White's team discovers horse, antelope and other mammal bones with cut marks from stone tools — evidence of tool use 2.5 million years ago.
1996-Chen Pei Ji unveils Sinosauropteryx prima from Liaoning, China, the first feathered dinosaur discovered, at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology's annual meeting. Fourteen years later, a team of Chinese and British paleontologists will argue that this animal had a striped tail, a reddish color alternating with white, based on pigment-rich microscopic spheres in the fossilized feathers.
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.
1997-Excavations near Koblenz in northern Germany turn up a Neanderthal skullcap, estimated at 170,000 years old, that was apparently used as a bowl.
1997-Paleontologist Paul Sereno discovers the delicate Darth Vader-like skull of a dinosaur he will later name Nigersaurus taqueti and nickname the Mesozoic Cow.
1997-Two 5-foot-long Humboldt squid in the Sea of Cortez "mug" a diver working on a PBS documentary, making off with the gold chain hanging around the diver's neck, and demonstrating that Humboldt squid have bad manners but good taste.
1997-A team of archaeologists finds evidence of human occupation 14,000 years ago at Monte Verde, Chile, pushing back the arrival date of humans in the Americas.
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-Xiao, Zhang and Knoll describe fossilized animal embryos in Nature. Li, Chen and Hua simultaneously describe embryos in Science. The fossils all come from the Doushantuo phosphorites in southern China, and all are estimated to be about 570 million years old, making them the oldest fossil embryos so far discovered. Nine years later, however, Bailey and collaborators will challenge this interpretation, arguing the "fossil embryos" could just as easily be large bacteria. That challenge will be answered by the announcement of fossil embryos inside egg cysts.
1998-Andrew Parker publishes a paper suggesting that some Cambrian animals (Wiwaxia, Canadia and Marella) developed flickering displays of iridescent color at about the same time that eyes evolved.
1998-Aterian artifacts (named for stone tools discovered in Algeria in 1917) are estimated at 70,000 years old at sites in Libya. Over the next dozen years, the age of artifacts found at various sites in northern Africa will be pushed back to at least 110,000 years old.
1998-2003-Paleontologists collect fragments of a juvenile titanosaur in Madagascar. Initially misidentified, the terrier-sized bones will be identified as a baby Rapetosaurus nearly 20 years later, and the identifying team will argue that, unlike baby duck-billed dinosaurs, this adult-proportioned baby titanosaur could probably fend for itself soon after hatching.
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.)
1999-Pierre-Jean Texier and colleagues begin studying etched ostrich shells from Diepkloof Rock Shelter in Western Cape, South Africa. Eleven years later, they will argue that the artifacts, numbering roughly 280, show evidence of graphic communication dating back 60,000 years.
2000-Phil Currie publishes a paper suggesting that T. rex was a social animal that hunted in packs.
2000-Based on studies of Y chromosomes, Peter Underhill publishes his finding that all modern humans share a common ancestor, bolstering the 1987 announcement from Cann and Wilson. This suggests a "bottleneck" event (population crash) among human ancestors living in Africa roughly 150,000 years ago.
2000-A research team led by Paul Sereno discovers Rugops primus ("first wrinkle face") in the Sahara. This dinosaur's resemblance to South American fossils suggests that Africa separated from the ancient landmass of Gondwana more recently than previously thought.
2000-Sally McBearty and Alison Brooks publish "The Revolution that Wasn't" challenging the long-held notion of a "big bang" in human intellectual evolution approximately 40,000 years ago. Instead, they cite evidence for earlier appearances of modern behavior.
2001-The International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium (Human Genome Project) publishes the initial sequence and analysis of the human genome in Nature Magazine. Celera Genomics simultaneously publishes a draft human genome sequence in Science Magazine.
2001-Joshua Smith and collaborators publish a description of a giant sauropod from Egypt, possibly the largest Cretaceous sauropod yet discovered. It is considered a possible food source for three large carnivorous dinosaur species discovered decades earlier by Ernst Stromer.
2001-Luann Becker and collaborators publish a paper describing carbon fullerenes (buckyballs) at the Permo-Triassic boundary in China, Japan and Hungary. Because they can occur in meteorites, the fullerenes are cited as evidence of a meteorite impact at the end of the Permian. Other scientists will have difficulty reproducing their results, however, and the researchers' claim will remain controversial.
2001-Chris Henshilwood and collaborators discover and describe 77,000-year-old artwork: stones carved with lines and triangles, from Blombos Cave on the Southern Cape coast of Africa. Three years later, Henshilwood and collaborators will describe more Blombos artifacts: tiny snail shells that were apparently pierced and worn as jewelry about 76,000 years ago. A few years after that, another research team will describe similar shell beads, at least 100,000 years old, in Israel and Algeria.
2001-Odin and Néraudeau publish a description of a Neanderthal flint tool found in southwestern France with a fossil sea urchin on one side.
2001-Andreas Maas and Dieter Waloszek describe Cambrian fossils of tardigrades (water bears).
2002-David Lordkipanidze and collaborators excavate a 1.77-million-year-old Homo erectus skull of a "toothless old man" in Dmanisi. New bone growth after the loss of his teeth suggests that he was cared for by others, the oldest evidence yet found of care for the sick in fossil hominids.
2002-Michel Brunet and collaborators publish a description of Sahelanthropus tchadensis, a hominid fossil from western central Africa. Suspected to be 6 to 7 million years old, it is possibly the oldest hominid fossil yet found. Its location, in Chad, is expected to spur hominid fossil hunting west of Africa's Rift Valley.
2003-A bus-length blob (similar to the St. Augustine blob of 1896) washes ashore in Chile. Though some suspect it is the remains of a giant octopus, DNA analysis will reveal a year later that it is just old whale blubber.
2003-M.R. Sánchez-Villagra, O. Aguilera and I. Horovitz publish a description of Phoberomys, a fossil rodent from Venezuela the size of a buffalo.
2003-Paleontologists in Germany identify the world's oldest pantry: an underground burrow system probably dug by an extinct species of ground squirrel or hamster. Estimated at 17 million years old, the food stash is stuffed with more than 1,800 fossilized nuts.
2003-Two separate teams, digging 2,000 miles apart, find two new Antarctic dinosaurs in the same week. One appears to be a Jurassic sauropod, the other a Cretaceous theropod.
2003-Paleontologists led by John Horner find a T. rex fossil that will later yield evidence of blood vessels and blood cells. The fossil will also prove to be an egg-laying female.
2004-Heather Wilson and Lyall Anderson publish a paper describing the oldest land animal fossil yet discovered: Pneumodesmus newmani, a 428-million-year-old, centimeter-long millipede found by amateur fossil hunter Mike Newman.
2004-M.-Y. Zhu and collaborators publish a description of munched trilobite parts inside another arthropod, confirming earlier suspicions that other animals snacked on the little water bugs.
2004-Naama Goren-Inbar and her team announce the discovery of controlled fire use by hominids at a 790,000-year-old site in Israel, pushing the earliest known use of fire back 300,000 years from previous estimates.
2004-The International Union of Geological Sciences adds a new period to the Earth's geologic timescale: the Ediacaran. Ranging from approximately 600 million years ago to 542 million years ago, it begins after the last Snowball Earth ice age and precedes the Cambrian. It's the first new geologic period designated in 120 years.
2004-X. Wang and Z. Zhou publish a description of the first known pterosaur egg containing an exquisitely preserved embryo. Though the egg is slightly smaller than the average chicken egg, the embryo sports a 27-centimeter wingspan. Several months later, Z. Zhou and F. Zhang publish a description of a Cretaceous bird embryo, the first found with feathers.
2004-Using CT scans on femurs of the early hominid Orrorin tugenensis discovered in Kenya, Galik and collaborators push back the development of bipedalism in hominids to 6 million years ago (2 million years earlier than in Australopithecus anamensis).
2004-Qingjin Meng and collaborators publish a description of an adult Psittacosaurus dinosaur associated with 34 juveniles, apparent evidence of parental care.
2004-A team of Japanese researchers take the first photograph ever of a giant squid in the wild. Unfortunately, they rip off one of the poor creature's tentacles in the process.
2004-D. Néraudeau describes deposits in western France revealing hundreds of Acheulian and Mousterian tools, 12 of them bearing fossils.
2004-Peter Brown, Mike Morwood and collaborators announce the find of a 1-meter-tall hominid skeleton on the Indonesian island of Flores. Found near the remains of giant lizards and pygmy elephants, the new species is formally named Homo floresiensis and nicknamed the hobbit. Though some suspect it's a kind of malformed, small-brained midget, this interpretation will be answered by braincase scans, wrist bones too primitive to be Homo sapiens, and the announcement of several more individuals of the same species. Later studies will suggest direct ancestry from Homo erectus, although another study will argue the remains really indicate Down syndrome. The species is initially given an estimated age as young as 11,000 years, but later research will indicate an age of at least 50,000 years.
2004-The British Museum begins an excavation project at Happisburgh in Norfolk. Over the next six years, researchers will uncover artifacts pushing back the earliest evidence of human activity at such a high latitude — 45 degrees — to perhaps as much as 950,000 years ago.
2004-A 70-million-year-old mammal jaw is found in Pui, Romania, some 100 miles from Vlad Dracula's castle. Eleven years later, the animal will be formally named Barbatodon transylvanicus by scientists who note that strengthening iron, not blood drinking, gives the teeth their bright red color.
2005-Yaoming Hu, Jin Meng, Yuanqing Wang and Chuankui Li publish a description of two large carnivorous mammals from the Cretaceous, one of which appears to have the remains of a diminutive dinosaur in its stomach. These fossils overturn long-held notions that Mesozoic mammals were all rat-sized plebeians scurrying around dinosaur feet.
2005-Yohannes Haile-Selassie and colleagues announce the find of a nearly 4-million-year-old hominid from Ethiopia, possibly the remains of Australopithecus anamensis.
2005-Adrian Glover and Thomas Dahlgren announce the discovery of a new species of marine worm, discovered off the Swedish coast, that lives on whale bones on the sea floor. They name the species Osedax mucofloris, meaning (literally) "bone-eating snot flower."
2005-M.A. Whyte announces the discovery of a 330-million-year-old trackway of a 5-foot-long, six-legged water scorpion (eurypterid) that could walk on land while the first tetrapods tried to do the same thing. Two years later, Simon Braddy, Markus Poschmann and collaborators will announce the find of fossil claw from an 8-foot eurypterid.
2006-Qiang Li and colleagues describe Castorocauda lutrasimilis, a Jurassic mammal that looked something like a mix between a beaver, otter, and platypus. Their discovery pushes back mammalian adaptation to an aquatic lifestyle by more than 100 million years.
2006-Paleontologist Neil Clark suggests that some Loch Ness "sightings" may have been inspired by partial glimpses of traveling circus elephants taking dips in the lake.
2006-The Research Council of Norway announces that oil drillers have struck a piece of dinosaur bone off the country's coast. At 1.4 miles below the North Sea, the bone fragment obtains the status of the world's deepest dinosaur.
2006-Jean Moliner, Gerhard Ries, Cyril Zipfel and Barbara Hohn publish their findings on stressed plants that not only mutate at a greater rate, but also pass an increased mutation tendency to their offspring.
2006-Zeresenay Alemseged and collaborators publish a description of a 3.3-million-year-old partial skeleton from a juvenile Australopithecus afarensis from Ethiopia. The remains indicate that the australopithecene toddler walked upright and climbed trees.
2006-Jin Meng and collaborators describe a Mesozoic gliding mammal that pushes back the origin of mammalian flight by 70 million years, and suggests mammals maybe dabbled in flight earlier than birds.
2007-Kate Trinajstic and collaborators announce the discovery of 380-million-year-old Australian fossil fish sporting fossilized muscle.
2007-Xing Xu and collaborators describe Gigantoraptor erlianensis, a 25-foot-long, 3,000-pound, bird-like dinosaur from Inner Mongolia. The find runs counter to earlier assumptions that dinosaurs necessarily got smaller as they acquired more features resembling those of birds.
2007-Fred Spoor, Meave Leakey and collaborators describe remains of Homo habilis and Homo erectus from the same rock layer a short distance apart. The finds suggest that the two species coexisted in the same area for up to 500,000 years, and that H. erectus probably did not descend from H. habilis as previously thought.
2007-John Kappelman and collaborators announce the find of a 500,000-year-old hominid skull from Turkey showing signs of tuberculosis. The researchers argue that condition could be induced by a Vitamin D deficiency resulting from a dark-skinned individual migrating to an area with less sunlight.
2007-Divers find a submerged cavern in the Yucatán and name it Hoyo Negro. The cavern contains the remains of a teenage female who likely died between 12,000 and 13,000 years ago.
2008-Chinese and Brazilian researchers describe a sparrow-sized pterosaur from northeastern China. Although a juvenile, the pterosaur is no hatchling, and it's more mature than any of the smaller pterosaurs so far found. The researchers name the species Nemicolopterus crypticus meaning "hidden flying forest dweller."
2008-Susan Evans, Marc Jones and David Krause describe a bowling-ball-sized fossil frog from Madagascar. Because the Cretaceous creature's closest living relative is in South America, the scientists posit a land link connecting South America, Antarctica and Madagascar. The frog is named Beelzebufo ampinga, translated loosely as "armored devil toad" or more loosely as "fossil frog from hell."
2008-After studying grunting fish, Andrew Bass and colleagues report that the part of the brain controlling volcalization is extremely primitive, and propose that vertebrates evolved the ability to communicate through sound some 400 million years ago.
2008-Based on studies of fossils and extant carnivores, Chris Carbone and collaborators suggest that sabertooth cats were sociable animals that hunted in packs.
2009-Gabriele Gentile and colleagues describe a previously overlooked pink iguana, referred to as "rosada," on the Galápagos Islands. The pink lizard species may represent the earliest divergence of land animals on the island chain that Charles Darwin made famous.
2009-Chris Henshilwood and collaborators describe 13 engraved ochre artifacts from South Africa's Blombos Cave, some dating back 100,000 years. This discovery supplements earlier finds pushing back the advent of human artwork.
2009-Nicholas Conard and collaborators describe 35,000-year-old flutes, one nearly complete flute carved from bird bone, and flute fragments carved from ivory, discovered in Hohle Fels Cave in Ulm, Germany.
2009-Anthony Martin and colleagues announce the discovery of three 106-million-year-old burrows in Australia that they identify as dinosaur burrows, perhaps used by the ancient reptiles to keep warm during the winter when Australia was closer to the South Pole.
2009-Australian paleontologists announce the find of Zac, a plant-munching sauropod, on a sheep farm — the same sheep farm where paleontologists discovered Cooper, an armor-plated titanosaur, in 2004.
2009-Erik Seiffert and coauthors argue that "missing link" Darwinius masillae described earlier in the year is not an ancestor of modern apes and monkeys but instead of modern lemurs and lorises.
2010-Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki and colleagues publish a description of 395-million-year-old tetrapod tracks from Poland — 18 million years before tetrapods were thought to exist. The tracks' early date, large size and marine environment cause some skepticism about the find.
2010-Adam Brumm, Mike Morwood and colleagues publish a paper arguing that more than 40 stone artifacts found in situ and dated to approximately 1 million years ago indicate that the ancestors of Homo floresiensis (the "hobbits") arrived on Flores some 120,000 years earlier than previously thought.
2010-The Smithsonian opens its new human origins hall. A week later, Johannes Krause and colleagues announce the find of a fossil finger fragment from an unknown hominid from Siberia coincident with Neanderthals and modern humans (later dubbed Denisovans, and found distantly related to modern New Guineans). A few weeks after that, Lee Berger and colleagues announce the find of a new hominid from South Africa, Australopithecus sediba. Several weeks later, an international team announces a small DNA overlap between modern humans and Neanderthals that suggests interbreeding.
2010-In the same week, separate research teams announce the finds of a 100-million-year-old mammal hair preserved in amber, and a 30-million-year-old pelican fossil with a 30-centimeter-long beak.
2010-Abderrazak El Albani and colleagues describe 2.1-billion-year-old macroscopic fossils from Gabon. The authors argue that the fossils are multicellular, pushing back the record of macroscopic life by more than 200 million years. The team also contends that the complex shapes of the fossils suggest cell signaling and coordinated growth.
2010-Nicholas Longrich describes a new dinosaur species from previously misidentified fossils at the American Museum of Natural History. Perhaps nudged by drinking buddies, he names the ceratopsian — with pretty heart shapes in its crest — Mojoceratops.
2010-Ryan Kerney announces the discovery of algae (Oophila amblystomatis) living inside spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) embryo cells — the first discovery of a photosynthetic symbiont living inside vertebrate cells.
2010-Scott Sampson and colleagues describe two species of exuberantly horned ceratopsian dinosaurs from late Cretaceous sediments in Utah: Utahceratops gettyi and Kosmoceratops richardsoni.
2010-Bulldozer operator Jesse Steele uncovers bones while digging a reservoir in Snowmass, Colorado. Excavations at the site will turn up more than 40 kinds of Ice Age animals.
2010-Juan Amat and colleagues announce that flamingos use makeup (admittedly makeup acquired from their own behinds) to pretty up their pink feathers during mating season.
2010-Candy makers Hershey and Mars finance competing genomic sequences for cacao (the primary ingredient of chocolate).
2010-Meijer and Due announce the discovery of a 1.8-meter-tall, 16-kilogram, likely landlubbing, carnivorous stork (Leptoptilos robustus) on the island of Flores. Whether the storks ate Homo floresiensis juveniles, the hobbits hunted the storks, or everybody left each other alone is unresolved.
2011-Junchang Lü and colleagues announce the find of a Jurassic fossil from China, a probable female pterosaur who died while laying an egg. The egg is tiny compared to the mother, and has a parchment-like eggshell. The find suggests that pterosaurs buried their eggs, and that females lacked head crests.
2011-Jianni Liu and colleagues describe Diania cactiformis, or "walking cactus." It's a kind of leggy worm known as a lobopodian that lived in the Cambrian Period some 520 million years ago. The authors indicate that it might be close to the ancestral line for arthropods — jointed animals ranging from lobsters to ladybugs.
2011-Longrich and Olson describe a newly discovered wing feature on an extinct, flightless Jamaican bird named Xenicibis: built-in nunchucks.
2011-Michael Waters and coauthors describe a stone tool assemblage at the Buttermilk Creek Complex in Texas documenting the presence of humans in the New World about 15,500 years ago — more than 2,000 years before the earliest Clovis sites.
2011-Relying on molecular dating and some (literally) lousy fossils, Vincent Smith and colleagues assert that lice have been rapidly evolving since well before the end of the Cretaceous, and may have hung out on feathered dinosaurs before annoying other species.
2011-Bruce Archibald and coauthors describe a hummingbird-sized flying ant species that hopped continents during the early Eocene.
2011-Esther Ullrich-Lüter and colleagues describe photoreceptors in sea urchin tube feet, meaning the animals may have functioned as big, compound eyes, and never needed the advice to watch their steps.
2011-On the sesquicentennial of its discovery, a new study challenges the status of Archaeopteryx as the earliest known bird. Xing Xu and coauthors argue that Archaeopteryx and newly discovered Xiaotingia are closer to nonavian dinosaurs. Reactions to the paper are mixed.
2011-Darren Naish and coauthors describe a 27.5-centimeter bird jaw from the Late Cretaceous found in Kazakhstan. With only the jaw, the paleontologists can't be sure whether it loped like an ostrich, or pelted unfortunate land lubbers with effluvia missiles from above.
2011-Lee Berger and coauthors publish several papers on Australopithecus sediba arguing that the species is a direct ancestor of modern humans and the family tree will need to be redrawn. Other paleoanthropologists aren't so sure. They do agree that the Sediba's weird mix of primitive and advanced features demonstrates remarkable hominid diversity.
2011-Two studies released in the same week indicate that modern Melanesians and Aboriginal Australians descended from an earlier migration out of Africa than did other populations. Further, the studies suggest that participants in the earlier migration interbred with Denisovans.
2011-Robert Anemone and coauthors describe the use of a computer neural network (artificial intelligence) to spot fossil-rich localities in Wyoming.
2011-John Paterson and coauthors report their findings on Anomalocaris, a meter-long Cambrian predator so weird its remains were once mistaken for a shrimp and a jellyfish. They find that its eyes, mounted on the ends of stalks, were compound eyes, each with 16,000 separate lenses. Like dragonfly eyes but supersized.
2012-Eric Rittmeyer and coauthors describe Paedophryne amauensis, a 7.7-millimeter-long frog from New Guinea, "the smallest known vertebrate species."
2012-After examining fossil feathers with an electron microscope and comparing them to modern feathers, a team of American and Chinese scientists announces that Microraptor, a four-winged dinosaur from China probably had an iridescent sheen to its feathers.
2012-Frank Glaw and coauthors describe several new species of miniature chameleons from Madagascar. Among the tiniest is Brookesia micra, with juveniles little enough to stand on the head of a match.
2012-Chinese and Canadian researchers announce the discovery of Yutyrannus huali, a distant T. rex relative in which the 1.5-ton adult still sported long filamentous feathers.
2012-Extrapolating from contemporary cows, a team of British scientists contends that sauropod flatulence, releasing the potent greenhouse gas methane, played a significant role in the Mesozoic's warm, moist climate.
2012-Walter Joyce and coauthors announce a new discovery in Germany's Messel Pit, a famous Eocene fossil site. The discovery includes multiple pairs of fossil turtles petrified in a state of indelicacy.
2012-An international team of researchers publishes a study indicating that aphids might be able to engage in a photosynthesis-like process, using carotenoids for the "capture of light energy."
2012-A team of British and U.S. scientists describe the color mechanism of a brilliant iridescent blue African fruit, Pollia condensata. Like some beetle shells, butterfly wings, and bird feathers, the fruit gets its color from microscopic structures rather than pigments, but the fruit's coiled strands of cellulose are like nothing before discovered in nature.
2012-Clive Finlayson and coauthors argue that Neanderthals collected bird feathers for use in personal adornment.
2012-Two studies, released the same week in Science and Nature and done partly by the same researchers, describe two groups of ancient tools from South Africa. The studies say that one group, estimated to be about 71,000 years old, has small bladelets likely made from heat-treated stone, and the other group, estimated to be about 500,000 years old, has spear tips.
2012-Gregory Retallack publishes a paper arguing that Ediacaran fossils long thought to be marine animals were actually land-based lichens. His argument pushes back the beginning of land-based life by 65 million years. Anticipating "sharp intakes of breath in the paleontological community," Nature sets up a comment forum at the same time it publishes Retallack's paper.
2012-While sorting and relocating the Cambridge Herbarium, a university librarian finds fungi and seaweed collected by Charles Darwin on his Beagle voyage, still wrapped in newspaper from 1828.
2012-A boy named Evgeniy Solinder discovers a well-preserved mammoth in the Siberian Arctic. Later examination will show evidence that the mammoth was killed by spear-wielding humans, and radiocarbon dating will indicate that the animal is 45,000 years old, pushing back the earliest known human occupation of the region by 10,000 years.
2013-Using genetic material from more than 300 individuals, including aboriginal Australians from the Northern Territory, a team of geneticists argues that Australians — long believed isolated from other populations for some 45,000 years — received substantial gene flow from India about 4,230 years ago.
2013-Robert Reisz and collaborators announce the "discovery of an embryonic dinosaur bone bed from the Lower Jurassic of China, the oldest such occurrence in the fossil record." The find includes the remains of many individual dinosaurs at different stages of development.
2013-David Legg describes a Cambrian arthropod with scissor-like front appendages. He names the species Kootenichela deppi after Johnny Depp.
2013-Robert DePalma and coauthors describe a likely T. rex tooth lodged between hadrosaur vertebrae. The authors also describe regenerated bone that "massively overgrew" after the hadrosaur was bitten. They cite the find as evidence that T. rex hunted, at least some of the time, and that this lucky hadrosaur lived to munch leaves another day.
2013-Marie Soressi and coauthors contend that Neanderthals made leather-working tools similar to modern-day lissoirs used on pricey handbags.
2013-Dale Greenwalt and coauthors describe a 46-million-year-old fossil female mosquito from Montana with traces of her last bloody meal (iron and porphyrin) in her bloated abdomen — strong evidence that these bugs have been irritating nicer animals for tens of millions of years.
2013-David Lordkipanidze and coauthors publish a new paper on the hominid fossils from Dmanisi, Georgia. They argue that all the fossils from the site are Homo erectus, and make the controversial claim that hominid species found worldwide from that period — Homo erectus, Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis — might all belong to one species with a lot of variability.
2013-Based on new genetic research, David Reich, Svante Pääbo and collaborators announce at a Royal Society of London meeting that Denisovans bred with Neanderthals, ancestors of people now living in East Asia and Oceania, and another group of extinct archaic humans who were genetically dissimilar to both Neanderthals and modern humans. A few weeks later, Matthias Meyer, Svante Pääbo and coauthors describe the oldest hominin DNA sequence to date, from a 400,000-year-old femur from Spain's Sima de los Huesos. The mitochondrial DNA indicate an unexpected link to Denisovans.
2013-Reporting on some 12 years of research at La Chapelle-aux-Saints, William Rendu and coauthors support the original interpretation of intentional Neanderthal burials. They conclude that the burial pits are not explained by natural processes and, unlike the site's scavenged animal bones, the relatively undamaged human remains at the site must have been buried quickly.
2013-Operating on the principle that filing a lawsuit against the stolen object is more expedient than tracking down the thieves, attorneys file United States v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skeleton. (Smuggled out of Mongolia, the skeleton is actually a Tarbosaurus.) It's a strangely named case, but not quite as weirdly named as a suit filed several years earlier: United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins.
2014-Nick Ashton and coauthors describe human footprints discovered along England's east coast in May 2013 — exposed and eroded by ocean water in a matter of weeks. Based on the geologic setting, the researchers estimate the tracks at about 800,000 years old (making them the oldest hominid footprints yet found outside Africa), and suggest the footprints might have been left by Homo antecessor.
2014-Matt Lamanna and coauthors describe Anzu wyliei, an bipedal, bird-like feathered dinosaur found in North and South Dakota. Measuring 11 feet and 500 pounds, the oviraptorosaur is nicknamed the Chicken from Hell.
2014-Xiaoya Ma and coauthors describe a well preserved 520-million-year-old fossil arthropod of the species Fuxianhuia protensa. The team identifies the animal's circulatory system from dark carbon lines in the fossil. The researchers argue that this fossil preserves the oldest cardiovascular system yet known, and that complex cardiovascular systems evolved early in the Cambrian Period.
2014-Researchers affiliated with the Museum of Paleontology Egidio Feruglio announce the discovery of what they claim is the biggest dinosaur yet discovered: a seven-story-tall titanosaur from Patagonia. A few months later, an international research team names the species Dreadnoughtus schrani, and states that multiple aspects of the skeleton indicate the animal was still growing when it died. A year later, though, another study will downgrade its mass: roughly 35 tons, about as heavy as a jetliner.
2014-Ainara Sistiaga and colleagues describe what they contend is the oldest human coprolite yet positively identified: a roughly 50,000-year-old Neanderthal calling card from El Salt, Spain. Their analysis indicates that Neanderthals balanced their meaty diets with nuts, berries and vegetables. Other researchers find the study intriguing but hope for confirmation that the fossil turd is from a human and not, say, a bear.
2014-Bryan Sykes and colleagues publish their DNA analysis of 37 hair samples purported to be remains of Bigfoot or Yeti, collected from Russia, the Himalaya and the United States. They announce that two samples match the DNA of fossil polar bears, and the rest match animals such as dogs, cows, horses, raccoons, and goat-like serows.
2014-Nizar Ibrahim, Paul Sereno and collaborators describe the aquatic adaptations of Spinosaurus, a massive carnivorous dinosaur species first studied by Ernst Stromer around 1912. Citing the animal's tiny nostril high on the head, dense limb bones, long forelimbs and flat feet, the authors argue that the dinosaur lived a semiaquatic life.
2014-An international research team announces the age of Indonesian cave art, originally discovered in the 1950s. The authors state that radiometric dating indicates the artwork is about 40,000 years old, making it comparable in age to the oldest reliably dated art found in Europe. The authors describe one hand stencil from Sulawesi's Maros karsts as "the oldest known hand stencil in the world."
2014-After reexamining mussel shells collected by Eugène Dubois in Indonesia in the 1890s, a team of researchers announces that one of the shells bears the oldest-yet-known geometric engraving. They date the shell at around 500,000 years and attribute the handiwork to Homo erectus.
2015-Jérémie Teyssier and coauthors attribute panther chameleons' ability to quickly change color to their ability to rapidly tune a network of photonic crystals under their skin. The authors also argue that a deeper layer of larger crystals in the chameleons' skin reflects sunlight, especially in the near-infrared. In short, the crystals keep the chameleons both cool and colorful.
2015-An international research team describes Aegirocassis benmoulae, a 480-million-year-old arthropod similar to Anomalocaris that might have measured as much as 2 meters (6 feet) long. Found in Morocco, the fossils have been preserved in three dimensions, and indicate that the giant arthropod was a filter feeder.
2015-An international research team announces that Sterkfontein Cave's "Little Foot," classified as Australopithecus prometheus, is 3.67 million years old, making the fossil older than the iconic Lucy.
2015-Nature publishes "Here Be Dragons" explaining that medieval dragons, who engaged in a centuries-long slumber encouraged by the Little Ice Age and "a bewildering lack of knights," might undergo a resurgence due to global warming since higher temperatures benefit "buccal and nasal furnaces." The article is published online on April 1 with the editorial note that "some of its content may merit a degree of scepticism."
2015-Silvia Danise and Nicholas Higgs describe trace fossils suggesting that the marine worm genus Osedax fed on the bones of Cretaceous plesiosaurs that fell to the ocean floor 100 million years ago. They hypothesize that the genus of the species Osedax mucofloris ("bone-eating snot flower" first described in 2005) ate the bones of Mesozoic marine reptiles and sea turtles before whales evolved into the worms' favorite food.
2015-A team led by Sonia Harmand announces the discovery of stone tools at Lomekwi, Kenya, estimated to be 3.3 million years old, meaning older than the genus Homo. The heaviest of the tools prompt archaeologist David Braun to ask about their makers, "What the hell do these things look like if they can use 15-kilogram tools?"
2015-Xing Xu and colleagues describe Yi qi, a small Jurassic dinosaur with weird rod-like bones projecting from its wrists, and traces of membranes. The researchers assert that the rod-like bones might have supported membranes that might have been used in flight, but probably just gliding. They also note that the dinosaur had a relatively heavy behind and would have occasionally stalled.
2015-Bhart-Anjan Bhullar, Arhat Abzhanov and colleagues announce that they have reverse engineered dinosaur snouts in chicken embryos by altering beak-building gene expressions.
2015-Nohemi Sala and coauthors describe a 430,000-year-old skull from Spain's Sima de los Huesos Cave bearing two fractures indicative of deadly blunt-force trauma. The authors describe the find as "the earliest evidence of lethal interpersonal violence in the hominin fossil record."
2015-Caleb Brown and Donald Henderson describe Regaliceratops peterhewsi, a new species of ceratopsid dinosaur that they have nicknamed Hellboy. At the very end of the paper, Brown proposes to a fellow researcher and sweetheart, "Lorna, will you marry me?"
2015-Fernando Novas and coauthors describe Chilesaurus diegosuarezi, a "bizarre herbivorous" theropod, i.e., a member of a group of typically carnivorous dinosaurs, from Jurassic-aged rocks in Chile. The dinosaur species is named for Diego Suárez, who found the first fossil bones in the rock formation when he was seven years old.
2015-After studying Chinle Formation rocks at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, Jessica Whiteside and coauthors argue that weather extremes, drought and fires kept dinosaurs from dominating Earth's tropics for the first 30 million years of the Mesozoic Era.
2015-Based on new specimens from Burgess Shale, Martin Smith and Jean-Bernard Caron describe the elusive head of the Cambrian animal Hallucigenia, noting that it is shaped like a spoon with "a really cheeky semicircular smile" next to multiple appendages. They also note that what had previously been mistaken for the head was at the other end of the body — "decay fluids" squeezed out of the gut during fossilization.
2015-Emily Mitchell and coauthors hypothesize that Fractofusus, an Ediacaran Period rangeomorph (unlike a modern plant or animal, but big enough to leave a distinctive fossil), reproduced in two ways: by sprouting clones from its body, and by releasing propagules (akin to seeds) into the ocean water.
2015-James Lamsdell and coauthors describe the oldest-yet-known sea scorpion (eurypterid), from 467-million-year-old rocks in Iowa. The researchers state that Pentecopterus decorahensis grew to over 5 feet long and, unlike any other arthropod known (living or extinct), radically changed limb shape during the growth process. The authors suggest that eurypterids either diversified very quickly, or originated much earlier than previously thought.
2015-After recruiting skinny spelunkers to excavate a cave he can't reach, and recruiting "early career scientists" to interpret the fossils, Lee Berger, with his coauthors, announces Homo naledi from South Africa. Berger and coauthors suggest that the hominid might be more than 2 million years old and that it might have intentionally disposed of its dead. In an accompanying commentary, Chris Stringer expresses surprise at "the apparent lack of attempts" to date the fossils.
2015-A team of scientists describes Acmella nana collected from the forests of Borneo. The shells range in size from 0.60 to 0.79 millimeters, roughly 0.30 millimeters smaller than the previous tiniest-snail-species record holder identified just a month before.
2015-Stephen Hackley publishes a review article arguing that human brains retain vestigial neural circuitry, the same circuitry that currently allows other mammals (and once allowed our ancient ancestors) to orient their ears toward novel stimuli.
2015-Xiaoya Ma and coauthors argue that brain tissue has been fossilized in seven specimens of the Cambrian arthropod Fuxianhuia protensa from the Chenjiang fossil beds in southwest China.
2016-A team led by Victoria McCoy publishes an analysis of Tullimonstrum gregarium (the Tully monster, originally found in 1955) concluding that the animal was a vertebrate related to lampreys. One of the paper authors, Carmen Soriano, remarks, "If you put in a box a worm, a mollusk, an arthropod and a fish, and you shake, then what you have at the end is a Tully monster." This isn't the end of the debate, though; in a few years, another research team will counter that the element ratios in the animal's eye pigmentation suggest invertebrate affinity.
2016- Mary Higby Schweitzer and coauthors publish a study of medullary bone (known as a ready-to-use source of calcium for making eggshells in modern birds) in a Tyrannosaurus rex fossil. The researchers argue that the medullary tissue shows that this T. rex was not only female but also knocked up.
2016-Nichole Gunter and coauthors hypothesize that dung beetles probably evolved during the Cretaceous Period to eat dinosaur poo, and that "the switch in dinosaur diet to incorporate more nutritious and less fibrous angiosperm foliage provided a palatable dung source that ultimately created a new niche for diversification."
2016-Gerrit van den Bergh and coauthors announce the find of Homo floresiensis-like fossils from a new site on the island of Flores, about 50 miles east of the 2004 "hobbit" discovery site. The new find, including a partial mandible and some teeth, is estimated at 700,000 years old, more than half a million years older than the fossils found in 2004.
2016-Mikkel Pedersen and coauthors argue that Beringia did not shed glaciers and gain vegetation early enough to support the ancestors of Clovis people, though later migrants to the Americas might have traveled that route.
2016-Julius Nielsen and coauthors publish an account of the longest-lived vertebrate so far discovered: a Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) that ranges in age from 272 to 512 years old.
2016-Błażej Błażejowski and coauthors argue that Trimerocephalus chopini, 365-million-year-old eyeless Devonian trilobites, migrated by forming single-file lines, keeping their queues together through touch and/or chemical signals such as pungent urine.
2016-John Kappelman and colleagues claim that the Australopithecus africanus specimen Lucy fell from a tree more than 30 feet high, dying in the fall that left observable fractures in her fossil bones. The claim attracts skepticism from Donald Johanson and Tim White, members of the original Lucy discovery team.
2016-Elizabeth Martin-Silverstone and coauthors describe fossil pterosaur fragments (an upper arm bone and some vertebrae) from Hornby Island, British Columbia. The researchers state that the internal structure of the humerus and the partially fused condition of the vertebrae suggest the individual was nearly full grown when it died, and had a wingspan of just 1.5 meters (5 feet). If the pterosaur was as little as the researchers suspect, then when it was perched, it would be about as short as a house cat.
2016-Allen Nutman and colleagues argue that a group of metamorphic rocks from the Isua Supracrustal Belt in southwest Greenland preserve 3.7-billion-year-old stromatolites. If the claim is correct, the fossils are the oldest so far discovered, but other researchers express doubts.
2016-Frido Welker and coauthors argue that 40,000-year-old jewelry, collected decades earlier from Arcy-sur-Cure, was made by Neanderthals. The researchers base their claim on the amino acids found in the collagen of bone fragments associated with the ancient bits of bling — amino acids indicative of Neanderthals as opposed to archaic humans.
2016-David Norman and colleagues announce that a mineral lump found on a Sussex beach in 2004 is fossilized brain tissue from a 133-million-year-old dinosaur, perhaps an Iguanodon or related species.
2016-Lida Xing and coauthors describe the feathered tail of a theropod dinosaur, perhaps a young coelurosaur. The fossil is preserved in Cretaceous amber from Myanmar (Burma).
2017-Thomas Hegna and coauthors describe possible eggs from a roughly 450-million-year-old pyritized trilobite, Triarthrus eatoni. The tiny eggs are clustered near the animal's head, indicating that the head was the gamete-ejection point. (Crazy as that sounds, modern horseshoe crabs keep their naughty bits in their heads, too.)
2017-Darren Naish and Mark Witton describe a robust cervical verterbra from the Transylvanian azhdarchid pterosaur Hatzegopteryx. The researchers argue that the animal had a short, thick neck that could withstand torsion and compression, and could bear heavy loads. Considering the fossil locality (the Romanian town of Haţeg) was an island during the Cretaceous, and therefore lacked typical terrestrial predators, the authors contend that Hatzegopteryx might have occupied the top of the food chain. Witton describes these pterosaurs as "giraffe-sized, quadrupedal Panzer-storks."
2017-After studying von Ebner lines (microscopic daily growth lines in teeth) from Protoceratops andrewsi and Hypacrosaurus stebingeri embryos, Gregory Erickson and coauthors argue that the dinosaurs had months-long gestation periods, developing more like slow-growing reptiles than fast-growing birds.
2017-Gerald Mayr and colleagues describe a 150-centimeter- (60-inch-) long, 61-million-year-old fossil penguin, almost the biggest fossil penguin ever found, and the oldest of that size. The researchers state that this fossil's differences from more primitive penguins implies that penguins arose earlier than previously thought, probably during the Mesozoic.
2017-A Chinese-U.S. team announces the discovery of two hominid skullcaps, 105,000 to 125,000 years old, from eastern China. Although the researchers don't assign the crania to any species, some of their peers speculate that the fossils might be Denisovan.
2017-An international team describes California's Cerutti Mastodon site, found in 1992. The researchers argue that the assemblage of broken mastodon bones and rocks comprises evidence of human activity. Based on measures of radioactive uranium and thorium in the bones, they argue that the site is 130,000 years old. Because this date is generally understood to precede modern Homo sapiens spreading beyond Africa, the paper suggests that Neanderthals, Denisovans or even late Homo erectus might have reached North America via the Bering Land Bridge and Pacific Coast. Nature, the paper's publisher, calls the study a "jaw-dropping claim." Parties to the announcement anticipate skepticism.
2017-An international research team describes a well-preserved baby bird specimen in a 99-million-year-old piece of amber collected from Burma. The scientists classify the hatchling as a member of the enantiornithes, extinct relatives of modern birds that still had clawed wings and teeth.
2017-After studying almost 50,000 eggs from roughly 1,400 species, Mary Stoddard and coauthors publish an explanation for the varied asymmetry and ellipticity of bird eggs. They argue that egg shape is an indirect result of how much the species flies, with more frequent fliers needing lighter bodies and narrower hips — hence more elongated, asymmetrical eggs.
2017-Caleb Brown and coauthors describe Borealopelta markmitchelli, a 110-million-year-old ankylosaur from Alberta, Canada. Originally found in 2011, the fossil is so well preserved, it's practically a statue. The authors contend that the armored dinosaur had a reddish-brown hue, likely for camouflage.
2017-Researchers in the eFLOWER Project produce a model-based reconstruction of Earth's earliest flower species, which might have lived 140 million years ago. Though not dramatically different from modern flowers, it has some unusual combinations of traits, including concentric petal rings, three petals in each ring.
2017-Zhe-Xi Luo and coauthors describe two new Mesozoic mammal species: Maiopatagium and Vilevolodon. Both found in China, both about 160 million years old, the mammals are ancient gliders like flying squirrels or sugar gliders, but both from an extinct mammal lineage with more reptilian characteristics.
2017-José Carballido and coauthors name a new titanosaur, Patagotitan mayorum. Estimating the 100-million-year-old fossil animal's mass at almost 70 tons, the research team contends that it's the biggest dinosaur so far found, though other paleontologists caution that Argentinosaurus or Puertasaurus might be just as big or even bigger.
2017-At the annual meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, Caleb Brown announces that the spiky body armor of the ankylosaur species Borealopelta markmitchelli wasn't to deter predators so much as to impress rivals and prospective sweethearts. At the same meeting, Greg Funston describes the discovery of three oviraptorid dinosaurs communally roosting like birds. The dinosaurs were seized from poachers who pried them out of the Mongolian Desert.
2017-Jasmina Wiemann and colleagues describe their chemical analysis of some Cretaceous eggs collected in China. Linked to the oviraptor species Heyuannia huangi, the blue-green eggs contain traces of protoporphyrin and biliverdin, pigments found in modern bird eggshells. In other words, robin egg blue goes back way before robins.
2017-Karen Chin and coauthors describe 75-million-year-old coprolites collected from southern Utah. Inferring that the fossil turds came from local hadrosaurs, the authors argue that these dinosaurs weren't strictly vegetarian as long assumed; the coprolites contain remnants of crustaceans.
2017-Patrícia Pečnerová and colleagues publish a study of 98 woolly mammoths that lived in Siberia over the past 60,000 years. They find that two-thirds of the mammoths who died in natural traps favoring preservation — falling through thin ice, disappearing into sinkholes — were male. Study coauthor Love Dalén tells The New York Times, "In many species, males tend to do somewhat stupid things that end up getting them killed in silly ways."
2017-Xiaolin Wang and colleagues report the find of hundreds of three-dimensional pterosaur eggs, 16 of them containing embryonic remains, from a site in China. They hypothesize that the species, Hamipterus tianshanensis nested in colonies.
2017-An international team of paleontologists describe Halszkaraptor escuilliei, a relative of Velociraptor. The New York Times article about the 75-million-year old fossil includes the terms "neck like a swan," "snout like a goose," "forelimbs like flippers," "turkey-sized" and "crocodile-like teeth." The article also includes the term "checkered past" as the fossil spent years on the black market and in private collections before being formally described. The research team contends that the animal had an amphibious existence.
2017-An international team of researchers publishes their DNA analysis of nine purported Yeti specimens from Tibet and the Himalaya. Eight belong to regional bear species, and the ninth belongs to a dog.
2018-Victoria Arbour and Lindsay Zanno publish their findings on tails weaponized with clubs or spikes in living and extinct mammals, reptiles, birds and dinosaurs. They find that the common themes among scary-tailed amniotes are relatively large size, stiff thoraxes, preexisting body armor, and a dietary preference for plants. The exception is the small-bodied, spiky-tailed lizard Smaug giganteus.
2018-Timo van Eldijk and coauthors describe "the earliest evidence for Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies)" dating from the Triassic-Jurassic boundary roughly 200 million years ago. Because this predates the known evolution of flowers, the authors hypothesize that the early sucking-proboscis-bearing insects fed on pollination drops from gymnosperms.
2018-Self-taught fossil hunter Ray Stanford and coauthors describe a fossil-bearing rock collected from the grounds of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. The 9-foot slab contains some 70 tracks left by probable theropods, sauropods, iguanodontids, ankylosaurids, pterosaurs and mammals. The slab also contains a likely coprolite, though the researchers don't know just what left that.
2018-Two simultaneously released papers, written by an overlapping group of authors, push back the dates of some of Europe's earliest art, all found in Spain. The art includes cave paintings more than 64,000 years old, and pigmented and perforated shells as much as 120,000 years old. Because these ages predate the earliest known arrival of modern humans on the continent, the implied ancient artists would be Neanderthal.
2018-Fabien Knoll and coauthors describe a "diminutive perinate European Enantiornithes" (in plainer language, a wee baby bird from the time of the dinosaurs). The nearly complete cute little hatchling measures roughly 2 inches long, about the same size as an un-cute cockroach.
2018-Dean Lomas and coauthors describe a jaw fragment from a Triassic ichthyosaur found in Lilstock, Somerset. They also reinterpret "dinosaur" fossils from Aust Cliff, Gloucestershire, as ichthyosaur jaw fragments. The sizes of the bone fragments suggest that these marine reptiles might have been on par with modern blue whales.
2018-Gavin Schmidt and Adam Frank publish a paper addressing the Silurian hypothesis, specifically the question, " If an industrial civilization had existed on Earth many millions of years prior to our own era, what traces would it have left and would they be detectable today?" The authors don't provide a definitive answer but instead propose possible tests.
2018-David Bustos and coauthors argue that, 12,000 years ago, in what is now New Mexico's White Sands National Park, humans chased a giant sloth, and the researchers have the tracks to prove it, including a human-within-sloth footprint. The authors contend that the Pleistocene humans probably worked as a team, with one person distracting the 8,000-pound animal while another human crept up from behind, though the authors aren't in complete agreement about whether the activity recorded by the tracks was hunting or just harassing.
2018-Maria João Fernandes Martins and coauthors argue that some species of ostracods (distant relatives of trilobites) living in modern-day Mississippi between 84 million and 66 million years ago evolved into a "danger zone" for extinction because their sexual dimorphism was great enough to drive different selection pressures for males versus females. Among the shortest-lived species, males were much bigger because they devoted extra space to their naughty bits.
2018-Kohei Tanaka and coauthors publish their analysis of oviraptor nests. The authors find that, while all the egg clutches are arranged radially, roughly like a doughnut, the prehistoric pastry shapes varied. Daintier species could apparently rest their weight on their tightly wound doughnuts, while the bigger species had to rest their weight on their big doughnut holes to avoid smashing their babies.
2018-Daniel Field and coauthors contend that the same asteroid that killed the dinosaurs also killed most birds, sparing only ground-dwelling birds similar to modern quail. In other words, the authors argue, today's tree-dwelling birds didn't descend from Cretaceous tree dwellers but from Cretaceous ground dwellers.
2018-Maria McNamara and coauthors argue that Cretaceous-era feathered dinosaurs and early birds shed their skin in tiny bits like modern birds (not all at once like modern reptiles) but still had lower body temperatures than modern birds. The researchers arrive at these conclusions based on their microscopic study of 125-million-year-old dandruff.
2018-Zhe Chen and coauthors report apparent Ediacaran Period trackways and associated burrows from South China. Besides estimating the size of the trace-fossil maker at likely more than 13.8 millimeters in width, the authors report, "All that can be said about the Shibantan trackways maker is that it is probably a bilaterian with paired appendages."
2018-An Zeng and colleagues describe their isolation of the stem cells that facilitate flatworms' scary ability to regenerate no matter how hard people try to destroy them. The practically preternatural cells take their orders from a gene known as tetraspanin 1 (tspan-1), and the transplantation of just one such cell enables a flatworm to make itself good as new after a lethal dose of radiation.
2018-Benedict King and coauthors describe a weird new fossil fish species, Brindabellaspis. With upward-facing eyes and a platypus-like snout, it's likely a bottom-feeder from a 400-million-year-old reef system in New South Wales. The researchers argue that the fossil suggests specialization, and though the animals inhabiting coral reef systems have changed over time, reefs have been biodiversity hotspots for hundreds of millions of years.
2018-Lida Xing and coauthors describe the first known teeny, tiny baby snake fossil trapped in amber. The authors contend that the Cretaceous fossil is from a forested environment, indicating that early snakes slithered through a greater diversity of environments than previously thought.
2018-Lee Koren and coauthors describe the results of testosterone extraction from several 10,000-year-old to 60,000-year-old mammoths found in Siberian permafrost. The team concludes that two of the female mammoths had elevated testosterone levels, indicative of third-trimester pregnancy.
2018-Science in Poland announces the find of 115,000-year-old finger bones from a Neanderthal child, collected from Ciemna Cave (Ojcow Cave). Riddled with tiny holes, the phalanges show signs of having passed through the digestive tract of a big bird.
2018-Phil Bell and coauthors describe a new dinosaur species, Weewarrasaurus pobeni, from Australia. The roughly dog-sized herbivore dates from the Cretaceous, but what's really cool about the fossils is that they're not just fossils, they're opals. The species is named for Mike Poben, the opal collector who donated the type specimen.
2018-Maxime Aubert and colleagues describe a cave painting of a Bornean banteng (a wild cattle species that still lives on Borneo). By dating calcium carbonate deposits overlying the cave painting, the researchers estimate the painting is at least 40,000 years old, and they contend that it is the world's oldest figurative painting so far discovered.
2018-Zixiao Yang and coauthors contend that two pterosaur fossils from China demonstrate that pycnofibers — small structures that often resemble hair or fur — are more like primitive feathers. If true, the finding pushes back the origin of feathers by about 70 million years, and attaches feathers to animals other than birds and dinosaurs, but other paleontologists are skeptical.
2019-Tomasz Sulej and Grzegorz Niedźwiedzki describe Lisowicia bojani, a Triassic stem-group mammal from Poland. The authors contend that the animal had upright (not splayed) legs and, more remarkably, that it weighed 9 tons.
2019-Yara Haridy and coauthors describe a 240-million-year-old case of bone cancer in Pappochelys, a shell-less stem-turtle from the Triassic.
2019-Lindsay Zanno and coauthors describe Moros intrepidus, a 96-million-year-old tyrannosauroid, based on a hind leg found in Utah. The authors argue that this human-sized dinosaur find means North American tyrannosauroids remained small into the late Cretaceous Period, and supersized into T. rex within about 15 million years.
2019-Alida Bailleul and coauthors describe a new species of fossil bird, Avimaia schweitzera from China. The authors conclude that the fossil contains the remains of an egg still in the oviduct, and that the egg has an additional layer of eggshell, meaning it's abnormal. The team speculates that the bird may have died from egg binding.
2019-Via The New Yorker, doctoral student Robert DePalma and colleagues announce the find of a North Dakota fossil bed formed possibly within minutes of the dinosaur-exterminating asteroid impact. Some paleontologists express concerns — because the announcement has preceded a peer-reviewed paper, the forthcoming paper doesn't mention many of the publicized fossils, and DePalma plans to control those fossils even after they're in museum collections.
2019-An international team of paleontologists describes Callichimaera perplexa, a mid-Cretaceous crab, based on fossils from the United States and Colombia. Lead author Javier Luque says the animal looks like it has "the eyes of a larva, the mouth of a shrimp, the claws of a frog crab, and the carapace of a lobster."
2019-Min Wang and coauthors describe Ambopteryx longibrachium — the second dinosaur after Yi qi, described in 2015 — to sport membranous, bat-like wings.
2019-Two teams of scientists announce two fossil bird species within days of each other. Nearly three times the size of a modern ostrich, the Pleistocene-era Pachystruthio dmanisensis is the first giant flightless bird so far found in the Northern Hemisphere. Smaller but likely prettier, Eocoracias brachyptera bears melanosomes (feather microstructures) similar to those of modern rollers. The big bird is from north of the Black Sea. The pretty bird is from Messel, Germany, and the only thing keeping it from being perfectly pretty is that it lacks iridescence.
2019-Katerina Harvati and coauthors identify the "oldest Homo sapiens fossil" so far found outside Africa, collected from the southern Peloponnese in Greece in the 1970s. They describe a partial skull preserving the back of the head, claiming it's at least 210,000 years old, and from a modern human. Other scientists, however, express some doubts about the identification and dating methods.
2019-Kohei Tanaka and coauthors describe an 80-million-year-old dinosaur-nesting site in the eastern Gobi Desert preserving at least 15 nests and more than 50 eggs. The authors argue that the nests in this 3,000-square-foot site were made in the same breeding season by colonial-nesting, attentive parents.
2019-Christian Püntener and coauthors argue that a flattened fossil carapace found near Jurassic dinosaur footprints in Switzerland likely belonged to a sea turtle that wandered onto a tidal flat, died, and subsequently got squashed by the foot of an unwitting sauropod.
2019-British cider brandy distiller Julian Temperley announces that he has excavated a Jurassic ichthyosaur fossil from his family property in Somerset. Temperley claims that his ancestors buried the fossil 170 years earlier, to shield their Victorian sensibilities from evidence of geologic time. He plans to print a picture of the family fossil on labels for his forthcoming 20-year-old cider brandy.
2019-Tyler Lyson and colleagues announce a lucky fossil find: a Colorado cache of mammal fossils from immediately (geologically speaking) after the dinosaur-killing asteroid. Through a Science paper and news outlets, they describe the first million years after the K-Pg (K-T) extinction, including rapid growth in maximum mammal body size, plant diversification (from ferns to palms to lots of walnuts), and changing patterns of insect-inflicted leaf damage.
2019-Madelaine Böhme and coauthors describe Danuvius guggenmosi, which lived in Bavaria 11.6 million years ago. The authors contend that this Miocene ape's legs and spine indicate the ability to walk on two legs, meaning bipedalism emerged millions of years ahead of the oldest hominid fossils found in Africa. Other researchers in the field, however, express skepticism.
2019-While being walked by their owner, Jon Gopsill, two canine paleontologists find a 190-million-year-old ichthyosaur on a Somerset beach. Gopsill expresses the hope that the fossil is a new species that can be named after its discoverers, Poppy and Sam.
2020-Based on internal bone structures, Holly Woodward and coauthors contend that two theropod specimens collected from the Hell Creek Formation in the early 2000s are not adult specimens of a separate species identified as Nanotyrannus. Instead, the authors argue that Jane and Petey died as fast-growing T. rex teenagers.
2020-Erin Fry and coauthors argue that the last known surviving population of woolly mammoths, which died out on Wrangel Island about 4,000 years ago, suffered genetic defects from generations of inbreeding. As the population dwindled, the authors claim, the proboscideans likely had problems with their sense of smell, neurological development and fertility.
2020-Qing Tang and coauthors describe Proterocladus antiquus, a millimeter-long chlorophyte estimated at a billion years old — possibly the oldest specimen of green algae so far discovered.
2020-Alexander Pryor and coauthors describe a human-made, 40-foot-wide structure from the Kostenki 11 site in Russia. Estimated at 25,000 years old, the circle contains skeletal remains of more than 60 woolly mammoths. Though the structure's purpose is mysterious, the authors surmise it dates from the Last Glacial Maximum when sites at similar latitudes in Europe had already been abandoned.
2020-Thomas Mörs and coauthors describe the skull and ilium of a roughly 40-million-year-old frog fossil from Seymour Island on the Antarctic Peninsula. Finding the fossil closely related to modern-day helmeted frogs living in Chilean wet woodlands, the authors argue that cold-blooded amphibians could live in Antarctic lowlands even as short-lived ice sheets existed in the continent's high-altitude interior.
2020-Malcolm Hart and colleagues describe fossil evidence of a 200-million-year-old squid attack. They announce that a fossil found near Lyme Regis in the 19th century preserves the remains of the cephalopod Clarkeiteuthis montefiorei taking out the fish Dorsetichthys bechei.
2020-Kevin Hatala and coauthors describe an assemblage of more than 400 human footprints at Engare Sero, Tanzania. Dated to the very late Pleistocene, the tracks comprise the biggest set of fossil human tracks so far discovered, and represent a mix of genders and ages.
2020-Caleb Brown and coauthors describe what they interpret as a cololite (ball of stomach contents) of Borealopelta markmitchelli, a Cretaceous armored dinosaur. They announce the dinosaur ate leaves, stems, wood and even charcoal.
2020-Lucas Legendre and coauthors describe Antarcticoolithus bradyi, which looks like a deflated football. They characterize it as the first fossil egg found in Antarctica, and the second-largest egg so far found anywhere (after the elephant bird's). They attribute this soft-shelled egg to a Cretaceous mosasaur mother.
2020-Megan Whitney and Christian Sidor describe stressful growth marks, suggesting torpor, in the lifelong-growing tusks of Lystrosaurus. Because this animal lived within the polar circle 250 million years ago, the authors conclude that it may have hibernated, and this may be the oldest evidence of hibernation so far found.
2020-Based on embryonic fossils found in Alberta and Montana, Gregory Funston announces that tyrannosaurs started their lives roughly the size of chihuahuas, but with longer tails.
2020-Lucas Weaver and colleagues describe dense clusters of Cretaceous mammal bones from western Montana, calling the fossils the earliest evidence so far found of mammalian sociability.
2021-Adam Brumm and coauthors announce the discovery of an ancient cave painting from Sulawesi showing what is probably a warty pig. Dated at 45,500 years old, the image may be the oldest cave art yet discovered, though the authors state that they suspect there are other, older images not yet identified in eastern Indonesia.
2021-Russell D. C. Bicknell and collaborators announce that, similar to modern horseshoe crabs, some trilobite species chewed up prey with their legs.
2021-Frank Glaw and coauthors describe an even littler chameleon species than the smallest one described in 2012. An adult male Brookesia nana is tiny enough to stand on a human fingertip.
2021-Katlin Schroeder and coauthors offer a solution to a Mesozoic mystery: Why were carnivorous dinosaur species giant or teensy and rarely in between? Because, the authors allege, teen dinosaurs of big species, like teenaged humans, gobbled all the goodies that medium-sized species might have eaten.
2021-Tetsuto Miyashita and coauthors describe an exquisitely preserved 360-million-year-old lamprey hatchling from Waterloo Farm, South Africa. Unlike modern blind, burrowing, larval lampreys, the fossil hatchling gives indications of winsome eyes fresh out of the egg.
2021-Father-son team of David and Joshua Malone, along with coauthors, argue that rocks found on in Morrison Formation sediments in Wyoming traveled there from Wisconsin in the gizzards of sauropods.
2021-Martin Qvarnström and coauthors describe a new species of 230-million-year-old beetle, Triamyxa coprolithica. What's remarkable about the tiny bug is that it's been identified entirely from specimens found in probable Triassic dinosaur turds.
2021-Elizabeth Turner contends that she has found 890-million-year-old fossil evidence of sponges in northwestern Canada, pushing back the earliest known occurrence of sponges by 350 million years. Some other specialists call for stronger evidence.
2021-Matthew Bennett and coauthors describe human footprints found at White Sands National Park in New Mexico. Citing radiocarbon dating of plant seeds found in the footprint layers, the authors contend that the footprints are roughly 23,000 years old.
2021-An international team led by Diego Pol describes an early Jurassic assemblage of sauropod dinosaurs, Mussaurus patagonicus, from Patagonia. With more than 100 eggs and 80 individuals, the authors argue, the assemblage indicates lifelong herd behavior predating all previous sociable-dinosaur evidence by at least 40 million years.
2021-An international research team identifies a new dinosaur species from Greenland: a 214-million-year-old sauropodomorph named Issi saaneq meaning "cold bone" in local Inuit language.
2022-Dean Lomax and colleagues announce the biggest and most complete ichthyosaur so far found in Britain. Excavated from the Rutland Water Nature Reserve, the fossil is tentatively identified as Temnodontosaurus trigonodon.
2022-A newly discovered Chinese fossil preserves a pterosaur and associated pool of effluvium. The find prompts this Nature headline: "Petrified puke shows that ancient winged reptiles purged."
2022-Natalia Jagielska and coauthors describe a newly discovered Jurassic pterosaur, Dearc sgiathanach from Scotland. With a wingspan as big as that of the largest living flying birds, the fossil suggests pterosaurs supersized sooner than previously thought.
2022-In a talk at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Robert DePalma announces that he has found a dinosaur, Thescelosaurus, that was killed and buried the day of the end-Cretaceous asteroid strike. Some paleontologists await peer-reviewed research before agreeing.
2022-Aude Cincotta and coauthors describe colored feathers in the pterosaur Tupandactylus. Even more significantly, the researchers contend that feathers evolved once, in the common ancestor of dinosaurs, birds, and pterosaurs (all belonging to the clade Avemetatarsalia).
2022-Phil Bell and colleagues announce the discovery of the oldest-known belly button: an umbilical scar from a yolk sac in an exquisitely preserved Psittacosaurus specimen roughly 130 million years old.
Narrative text and graphic design © 1998-2022 by Michon Scott - Updated June 10, 2022