Researchers discover unusually ancient fossil in the Amazon

By | March 30, 2024

Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in CNN’s science newsletter Wonder Theory. To receive it in your inbox, Register for free here.

Earth’s oceans teem with a multitude of life – and mysteries.

To better understand the ocean floor, enterprising marine scientists decided to attach tags with cameras to tiger sharks that patrol the shallow tropical seas of the Bahamas.

Thanks to data collected by these top predators, researchers have revealed the largest known seagrass ecosystem in the world, covering an area of ​​about 35,000 square miles (92,000 square kilometers), according to a 2022 study.

Seagrasses can store enormous amounts of carbon, which could be a crucial tool to help alleviate the climate crisis, marine biologist and study co-author Dr. Austin Gallagher recently told CNN. Gallagher is CEO of the Beneath the Waves research group.

And as scientists look back on Earth’s history, fossils paint a portrait of other aquatic ecosystems of the past.

Dig this

An artist's reconstruction shows Pebanista yacuruna in the murky waters of Peruvian proto-Amazonia.  -Jaime Bran

An artist’s reconstruction shows Pebanista yacuruna in the murky waters of Peruvian proto-Amazonia. -Jaime Bran

When researchers spotted unusual rock fragments sticking out of the ground near the Napo River in Peru’s Loreto region, they put them together and realized they were looking at something unexpected.

“We started shouting, ‘It’s a dolphin!’ It’s a dolphin!’” said Aldo Benites-Palomino, a doctoral candidate in paleontology at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

The newly identified dolphin species lived 16 million years ago in a freshwater lake in the Peruvian Amazon. And the creature was about 3.2 meters tall, making it twice the size of some humans.

The find helps fill in the gaps in the evolutionary history of freshwater dolphins, which are incredibly rare in the fossil record.

A long time ago

Genetic material from the tomb of a sixth-century Chinese emperor has allowed scientists to create a 3D reconstruction of the monarch’s face.

Emperor Wu ruled China from 560 to 580, uniting the northern part of China during a chaotic period in which dynasties rose and fell rapidly.

Although no cause of death could be determined for Wu, who died suddenly at the age of 36, ancient DNA analysis revealed that he had a genetic susceptibility to stroke.

Most intriguing to researchers, Wu belonged to a little-studied nomadic group called the Xianbei, who lived in modern Mongolia and northeastern China.

Solar update

This composite image captures the phases of a total solar eclipse as it unfolded in El Molle, Chile, in July 2019.  -Stan HondaThis composite image captures the phases of a total solar eclipse as it unfolded in El Molle, Chile, in July 2019.  -Stan Honda

This composite image captures the phases of a total solar eclipse as it unfolded in El Molle, Chile, in July 2019. -Stan Honda

On April 8, astrophotographer Stan Honda will be stationed in Fredericksburg, Texas, armed with four cameras to document the total solar eclipse.

And Honda has tips for those who want to photograph the historic celestial event, whether you use a DSLR camera or a smartphone. Make sure you have a safe solar filter for your camera and never look at the sun through an unfiltered camera, even with eclipse glasses.

Honda recommends using manual focus to capture different eclipse phases, such as the “diamond ring” effect, where the moon slowly blocks the sun’s light.

Experts have also warned about counterfeit eclipse glasses hitting the market. Here’s how to test your glasses to make sure they’re safe, and everything you need to know about eye safety before the eclipse.

And now it’s time to countdown to April 8! Mark your Apple iCal or Outlook, Google or Office365 calendar with the date of the upcoming total solar eclipse, which CNN will cover live.

We are family

A marble tomb in Mount Vernon, Virginia, is the final resting place of George Washington, the first American president. But questions remain about the fate of some of his relatives, such as Washington’s younger brother Samuel, who died in 1781.

He and 19 other members of the Washington family were buried in the cemetery of Samuel’s Harewood estate near Charles Town, West Virginia. Some graves, including Samuel’s, were unmarked, which would likely deter grave robbers.

Now researchers have taken remains excavated in Harewood in 1999 and used new DNA analysis techniques to identify two of Samuel’s grandsons and their mother.

Although the location of Samuel’s grave remains a mystery, the latest techniques may help identify unknown remains of those who served in the military.

Excavated

The remains of a decorative wall can be seen at the site of an ancient house renovation in Pompeii.  - Courtesy of the Italian Ministry of CultureThe remains of a decorative wall can be seen at the site of an ancient house renovation in Pompeii.  - Courtesy of the Italian Ministry of Culture

The remains of a decorative wall can be seen at the site of an ancient house renovation in Pompeii. – Courtesy of the Italian Ministry of Culture

Meanwhile, new excavations of Pompeii have revealed the location of a house renovation that likely took place when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.

Inside the home, archaeologists found piles of building materials near a reception room decorated with a mythological painting.

The site provides a good insight into Roman construction techniques used thousands of years ago, including durable materials and a stronger recipe for concrete that could be used today.

In addition, in a village in the English county of Oxfordshire, researchers have uncovered the remains of what Red River Archeology Group site director Francesca Giarelli called a “remarkable” Roman villa complex, including a collection of small, tightly rolled lead scrolls.

take note

Grab your favorite weekend drink and enjoy these insightful books:

– A stunning archive of human brains ranging from hundreds to thousands of years old is changing the way researchers understand the complexities of human health.

– Scientists think they have found a volcano bigger than Mount Everest on the surface of Mars – and the strangely shaped formation has likely been hiding in plain sight for decades.

– Dachshunds, Germany’s famous sausage dogs, could be endangered in the country as a new bill could ban the breeding of canines with “skeletal abnormalities”.

— Colorful paintings found in an ancient Egyptian necropolis show what daily life was like 4,300 years ago for people living south of Cairo.

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