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Figure 1.12 Finding the most complete titanosaur, Rapetosaurus, in Madagascar: (a) Kristi Curry Rogers (front right) with colleagues excavating the giant skeleton; (b) after preparation in the lab, the whole skeleton can be laid out - this is a juvenile sauropod, so not as large as some of its relatives. (Courtesy of Kristi Curry Rogers.)

2001. It turned out to be different from titanosaurians already named from other parts of the world, and the specimen was unique in being nearly complete and in preserving the skull, which was described in detail by Curry Rogers and Forster in 2004. Its name refers to "rapeto", a legendary giant in Madagascan folklore. To date, Rapetosaurus krausei is the most complete and best-preserved titanosaur ever discovered.

Kristi Curry Rogers is now Curator and Head of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Science Museum of Minnesota, where she continues her work on the anatomy and relationships of sauropod dinosaurs, and on dinosaur bone histology. Read more about her at http://www.blackwellpublishing. com/paleobiology/. You can find out more about Rapetosaurus in Curry Rogers and Forster (2001, 2004) and at http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/paleobiology/.

Continued a long-running program of study of dinosaurs and other fossil groups from the Cretaceous of Madagascar (Box 1.4).

Field expeditions attract wide attention, but most paleontological research is done in the laboratory. Paleontologists may be motivated to study fossils for all kinds of reasons, and their techniques are as broad as in any science. Paleontologists work with chemists to understand how fossils are preserved and to use fossils to interpret ancient climates and atmospheres. Paleontologists work with engineers and physicists to understand how ancient animals moved, and with biologists to understand how ancient organisms lived and how they are related to each other. Paleontologists work with mathematicians to understand all kinds of aspects of evolution and events, and the biomechanics and distribution of ancient organisms. Paleontologists, of course, work with geologists to understand the sequence and dating of the rocks, and ancient environments and climates.

But it seems that, despite centuries of study, paleobiologists have so much to learn. We don't have a complete tree of life; we don't know how fast diversifications can happen and why some groups exploded onto the scene and became successful and others did not; we don't know the rules of extinction and mass extinction; we don't know how life arose from non-living matter; we don't know why so many animal groups acquired skeletons 500 million years ago; we don't know why life moved on to land 450 million years ago; we don't know exactly what dinosaurs did; we don't know what the common ancestor of chimps and humans looked like and why the human lineage split off and evolved so fast to dominate the world. These are exciting times indeed for new generations to be entering this dynamic field of study!

1 What kinds of evidence might you look for to determine the speed and mode of locomotion of an ancient beetle? Assume you have fossils of the whole body, including limbs, of the beetle and its fossilized tracks.

2 Which of these statements is in the form of a scientific hypothesis that may be tested and could be rejected, and which are non-scientific statements? Note, scientific hypotheses need not always be correct; equally, non-scientific statements might well be correct, but cannot be tested:

• The plant Lepidodendron is known only from the Carboniferous Period.

• The sabertoothed cat Smilodon ate plant leaves.

• Tyrannosaurus rex was huge.

• There were two species of Archaeop-teryx, one larger than the other.

• Evolution did not happen.

• Birds and dinosaurs are close relatives that share a common ancestor.

3 Do you think scientists should be cautious and be sure they can never be contradicted, or should they make statements they believe to be correct, but that can be rejected on the basis of new evidence?

4 Does paleontology advance by the discovery of new fossils, or by the proposal and testing of new ideas about evolution and ancient environments?

5 Should governments invest tax dollars in paleontological research?

Further reading

Briggs, D.E.G. & Crowther, P.R. 2001. Palaeobiology II. Blackwell, Oxford.

Bryson, B. 2003. A Short History of Nearly Everything. Broadway Books, New York.

Buffetaut, E. 1987. A Short History of Vertebrate Palaeontology. Croom Helm, London.

Cowen, R. 2004. The History of Life, 4th edn. Blackwell, Oxford.

Curry Rogers, K. & Forster, C.A. 2001. The last of the dinosaur titans: a new sauropod from Madagascar. Nature 412, 530-4.

Curry Rogers, K. & Forster, C.A. 2004. The skull of Rapetosaurus krausei (Sauropoda: Titanosauria) from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 24, 121-44.

Dong Z.-M. & Currie, P.J. 1996. On the discovery of an oviraptorid skeleton on a nest of eggs at Bayan Mandahu, Inner Mongolia, People's Republic of China. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 33, 631-6.

Foote, M. & Miller, A.I. 2006. Principles of Paleontology. W.H. Freeman, San Francisco.

Fortey, R. 1999. Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth. Vintage Books, New York.

Review questions

Hammer, O. & Harper, D.A.T. 2005. Paleontological Data Analysis. Blackwell, Oxford.

Kemp, T.S. 1999. Fossils and Evolution. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Mayr, E. 1991. One Long Argument; Charles Darwin and the Genesis of Modern Evolutionary Thought. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

Palmer, D. 2004. Fossil Revolution: The Finds that Changed Our View of the Past. Harper Collins, London.

Rudwick, M.J.S. 1976. The Meaning of Fossils: Episodes in the History of Paleontology. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Rudwick, M.J.S. 1992. Scenes from Deep Time: Early Pictorial Representations of the Prehistoric World. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Alvarez, L.W., Alvarez, W., Asaro, F. & Michel, H.V. 1980. Extraterrestrial causes for the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction. Science 208, 1095-108.

Beringer, J.A.B. 1726. Lithographiae wirceburgensis, ducentis lapidum figuatorum, a potiori insectifor-mium, prodigiosis imaginibus exornatae specimen primum, quod in dissertatione inaugurali physico-historica, cum annexis corollariis medicis. Fuggart, Wurzburg, 116 pp.

Briggs, D.E.G., Erwin, D.H. & Collier, F.J. 1994. The Fossils of the Burgess Shale. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.

Curry Rogers, K. & Forster, C.A. 2001. The last of the dinosaur titans: a new sauropod from Madagascar. Nature 412, 530-4.

Curry Rogers, K. & Forster, C.A. 2004. The skull of Rapetosaurus krausei (Sauropoda: Titanosauria) from the Late Cretaceous of Madagascar. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 24, 121-44.

Darwin, C.R. 1859. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. John Murray, London, 502 pp

Gould, S.J. 1989. Wonderful Life. The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History. Norton, New York.

Hammer, O. & Harper, D.A.T. 2005. Paleontological Data Analysis. Blackwell, Oxford.

Hunter, W. 1768. Observations on the bones commonly supposed to be elephant's bones, which have been found near the river Ohio, in America. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society 58, 34-45.

Norell, M.A., Clark, J.M., Chiappe, L.M. & Dashzeveg, D. 1995. A nesting dinosaur. Nature 378, 774-6.

Norell, M.A., Clark, J.M., Dashzeveg, D. et al. 1994. A theropod dinosaur embryo and the affinities of the Flaming Cliffs Dinosaur eggs. Science 266, 779-82.

References

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