January 08, 2007

He's ba-ack...(with STUFF!)

Dr. Christian Sidor, vertebrate paleontology curator, has returned from his expedition to Niger with a bag of goodies for the Burke’s paleontology collection. He unveiled his research team’s fossil finds on Monday to a bevy of reporters and photographers, so look for the news in your local Seattle papers.

All of the fossils collected by Christian’s team are from the Late Permian period, approximately 260 million years old (that’s 40 million years older than the first dinosaurs!), representing an exciting array including:

•The nearly complete backbone of a new, large, plant-eating reptile called a pareiasaur.
•The skeleton of a small, new reptile called a captorhinid.
•The lower jaw of the large captorhinid reptile Moradisaurus (a fossil named by French paleontologists in 1967).
•The first plant fossils from the Upper Permian of Niger.
•A 60-foot fossil tree log, the first of this size from the Permian of West Africa.
•The first fossil footprints and trackways of land-living animals from the Permian of West Africa.

These fossils represent life on Earth during a time when all the continents were aligned as one supercontinent, Pangea. Yet what the team found are animals that are unique, despite this shared geography. If it’s not geography that isolated these animals, then what was it that allowed them to evolve differently from other reptiles found across Pangea? Christian and his team, which includes UW undergraduate, Tara Smiley, are investigating the role of climate in this phenomenon.

Below: Just some of the fossils from Niger awaiting treatment in the fossil prep lab