Thursday, 31 December 2020


This lovely oil in water coloured ammonite is the beauty Beudanticeras sp. from the Lower Cretaceous (Upper Aptian), Krasnodar region, Northern Caucasus, southern Russia. 

This area of the world has beautiful fossil specimens with their distinct colouring. The geology and paleontological history of the region are fascinating as is its more recent history. 

The territory of present Krasnodar Krai was inhabited as early as the Paleolithic, about 2 million years ago. It was inhabited by various tribes and peoples since ancient times. There were several Greek colonies on the Black Sea coast, which later became part of the Kingdom of the Bosporus. In 631, the Great Bulgaria state was founded in the Kuban. In the 8th-10th centuries, the territory was part of Khazaria.

In 965, the Kievan Prince Svyatoslav defeated the Khazar Khanate and this region came under the power of Kievan Rus, Tmutarakan principality was formed. At the end of the 11th century, in connection with the strengthening of the Polovtsy and claims of Byzantium, Tmutarakan principality came under the authority of the Byzantine emperors (until 1204).

In 1243-1438, this land was part of the Golden Horde. After its collapse, Kuban was divided between the Crimean Khanate, Circassia, and the Ottoman Empire, which dominated in the region. Russia began to challenge the protectorate over the territory during the Russian-Turkish wars.

In 1783, by decree of Catherine II, the right-bank Kuban and Taman Peninsula became part of the Russian Empire after the liquidation of the Crimean Khanate. In 1792-1793, Zaporozhye (Black Sea) Cossacks resettled here to protect new borders of the country along the Kuban River. 

During the military campaign to establish control over the North Caucasus (Caucasian War of 1763-1864), in the 1830s, the Ottoman Empire for forced out of the region and Russia gained access to the Black Sea coast.

Prior to the revolutionary events of 1917, most of the territory of present Krasnodar Krai was occupied by the Kuban region, founded in 1860. In 1900, the population of the region was about 2 million people. In 1913, it ranked 2nd by the gross harvest of grain, 1st place for the production of bread in the Russian Empire.

The Kuban was one of the centres of resistance after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. In 1918-1920, there was a non-Bolshevik Kuban People’s Republic. In 1924, North-Caucasian krai was founded with the centre in Rostov-on-Don. In 1934, it was divided into Azov-Black Sea krai (Rostov-on-Don) and North Caucasus krai (Stavropol).

September 13, 1937, the Azov-Black Sea region was divided into the Rostov region and Krasnodar Krai that included Adygei autonomous oblast. During the Second World War, the region was captured by the Germans. After the battle for the Caucasus, it was liberated. There are about 1,500 monuments and memorials commemorating heroes of the war on the territory of Krasnodar Krai.

The lovely block you see here is in the collections of the awesome John Fam, Vice-Chair of the Vancouver Paleontological Society in British Columbia, Canada.

Wednesday, 30 December 2020


Paper clams or "flat clams" were widespread in the Triassic. They often dominate the rocks in which they are found, as in these specimens from the Daonella dubia zone of the West Humboldt Range and the Desatoya Range of Nevada where they are associated with Ceratities trinodosus, Nevadites Whitney, Daonella lindstomi, D. moussoni and other species.

This designation was coined by J. P. Smith in the early 1900s for specific localities in the Humboldt Mountain Range. Because of their widespread distribution and very high species turnover rates, they make for excellent biochronological macrofossils, helping us to correlate biological events through time.

We see the "cousins" of these Nevada specimens up in  Pine Pass near Chetwynd, British Columbia.

Pine Pass is part of the Pardonet Formation. Just a short hike from the road we were able to easily find the abundant outcroppings of the paper clam Monotis subcircularis, perfectly preserved and cemented in this strata from the Late Triassic.

Monday, 28 December 2020


This glorious chocolate block contains the creamy grey ammonite Kepplerites gowerianus (Sowerby 1827) with a few invertebrate friends, including two brachiopods: Ivanoviella sp., Zeilleria sp. and the deep brown gastropod Bathrotomaria sp. There is also a wee bit of petrified wood on the backside.

These beauties hail from Jurassic, Lower Callovian outcrops in the Quarry of Kursk Magnetic Anomaly (51.25361,37.66944), Kursk region, Russia. Diameter ammonite 70мм. 

Back in the USSR — in the mid-1980s — during the expansion and development of one of the quarries, an unusual geological formation was found. This area had been part of the seafloor around an ancient island surrounded by Jurassic Seas. 

The outcrops of this geological formation turned out to be very rich in marine fossils. This ammonite block was found there years ago by the deeply awesome Emil Black. Sadly, he has not been able to collect there for some time. In more recent years, the site has been closed to fossil collecting and is in use solely for the processing and extraction of iron ore deposits.

Sunday, 27 December 2020


Otodos megalodon with Cam Muskelly in scuba for scale
23-million-years ago to just over 3-million-years ago, the apex predator of the seas was the hulking cousin to today's Great White Shark. Otodus megalodon was the largest shark ever to grace our oceans and the largest fish as well. 

This big boy swam in at a whopping fifty-tonnes and grew to 18 metres or 60 feet in length — twice the size of an ankylosaur or triceratops and larger than a Tyrannosaurs rex but a wee bit smaller than a brontosaurus. 

From our modern oceans and their modern cousins, that is a full three times larger Deep Blue, the 2.5 tonne, 6-metre long shark found off Oahu's south shore in 2019. Deep Blue weighed the equivalent of two Stonehenge Sarsen stones or half a house. Picture your house, now add another half and that is the size of Otodus megalodon. It truly puts their size in perspective. 

We often estimate the size of animals and what they ate by the size and shape of their teeth. Megalodon had large serrated teeth up to 18 centimetres long — perfect for dining on dolphins and humpback whales — and they had loads of them. Their mouths were lined with up to 276 teeth and these packed a punch with one of the most powerful bites on record. We have a rather paltry bite force of around 1,317 Newtons (N) when we chomp down with gusto. 

In 2012, we learned that the most powerful bite recorded from a living animal belongs to the saltwater crocodile. Gregory Erickson of Florida State University in Tallahassee compared 23 crocodilian species and discovered that the largest saltwater crocodiles can bite with an impressive 16,414N. That is more than 3.5 times the crushing force of the previous record-holder, the spotted hyena. Still, our aquatic friends beat that, if only slightly. A great white shark does indeed have a mightier bite than a crocodile.

We have known the estimated bite force of a great white a while longer. In 2008, Stephen Wroe of the University of New England in Australia and his colleagues used computer simulations to estimate the chomping pressure of a great white. Not surprisingly, great white sharks chomp in at an impressive 18,216N — greater than a saltwater crocodile but a full ten times less than Otodus

But all those bites pale in comparison to Otodus megalodon — this beastie takes the cake — or the whale — with a bite force of 182,201N.  

It is amazing to think of something as large and majestic as a whale being on any creatures menu but feast they did. Megalodon could open their toothy jaws 3.4 metres wide — that is wide enough to make a meal of a whale or swallow you and a friend whole. 

I added a brave and deeply awesome human, Cam Muskelly, award-winning Avocational Paleontologist & Geologist in Georgia, USA, Science Writer, Fossil Hunter, ASD in the image above to give you a sense of scale. Cam is five feet, five inches tall or 1.65 metres tall. Our dear Otodus megalodon is more than ten times longer. Now, Cam is a brave man and reached his hand out as an act of solidarity, but fortunately for him, there is 20-million-years separating his hand and those chompers.

Otodus megalodon was a bit blunt-nosed in comparison to a great white. They hail from a different lineage that broke off deeper in their hereditary history around 55-million-years ago. We now know that Otodus megalodon was the last of their lineage and the great grandbaby of Otodus obliquus and possibly Cretalamina appendiculata, who cruised our ancient seas 105 million years ago.           

We sometimes see Otodus megalodon referred to as Carcharodon or Carcharocles megalodon, particularly in the labels from older fossil collections but those names have fallen out of favour. 

If you would like to check out a talk by the award-winning Cam Muskelly, visit:

Cameron Muskelly is an award-winning avocational palaeontologist from Georgia who is a fantastic science communicator. Join him for a fun, short chat about two important Permian fossils from his personal collection, which he uses for education and outreach across his home state. He shared this talk as part of the Discovery Day: National Fossil Day for the KU Natural History Museum.

Cam Muskelly Paleo 101 YouTube:

Cam Muskelly on Twitter: @PaleoCameron. He's a good man that Cam. You should follow him. I do and love his posts!

Scuba vs Shark Image: Fossil Huntress. Scuba Model: Cam Muskelly, Georgia, USA 

Saturday, 26 December 2020


An exquisite specimen of the delicately ridged ammonite, Porpoceras verticosum, from Middle Toarcian outcrops adjacent the Rhône in southeastern France.

Porpoceras (Buchman, 1911) is a genus of ammonite that lived during the early and middle Toarcian stage of the Early Jurassic. We see members of this genus from the uppermost part of Serpentinum Zone to Variabilis Subzone. These beauties are found in Europe, Asia, North America and South America.

Ammonites belonging to this genus have evolute shells, with compressed to depressed whorl section. Flanks were slightly convex and venter has been low. The whorl section is sub-rectangular. 

The rib is pronounced and somewhat fibulate on the inner whorls — just wee nodes here — and tuberculate to spined on the ventrolateral shoulder. It differs from Peronoceras by not having a compressed whorl section and regular nodes or fibulation. Catacoeloceras is also similar, but it has regular ventrolateral tubercules and is missing the classic nodes or fibulation of his cousins.

This specimen hails from southern France near the Rhône, one of the major rivers of Europe. It has twice the average water level of the Loire and is fed by the Rhône Glacier in the Swiss Alps at the far eastern end of the Swiss canton of Valais then passes through Lake Geneva before running through southeastern France. This 10 cm specimen was prepared by the supremely talented José Juárez Ruiz

Friday, 25 December 2020


God Jul & the Very Best of the Holiday Season to You & Yours. 

However you celebrate, sending you love and light for a wonderful holiday season with family and friends. Merry Ho Ho. Joyeux Noël. Chag Urim Sameach. Seku Kulu. Vrolijk Kerstfeest. Prettige Kerst. Wesołych Świąt. Nadelik Lowen. Glædelig Jul. Hyvää joulua. Bon Natale. Feliz Natal. Frohe Weihnachten. Mele Kalikimaka. Gleðileg jól. Christmas MobArak. Buon Natale. Meri Kuri. Felicem Diem Nativitatis.  Среќен Божик. Quvianagli Anaiyyuniqpaliqsi. Gledelig Jul. Maligayang Pasko. Crăciun Fericit. Blithe Yule. Veselé Vianoce. Hanukkah Sameach. Nollaig Chridheil. Счастливого рождества. Cualli netlācatilizpan. חג מולד שמח. Nollaig Shona Dhuit. Śubh krisamas (शुभ क्रिसमस). Prabhu Ka Naya Din Aapko Mubarak Ho. And Ho Ho Ho!

Thursday, 24 December 2020


Puffins are any of three small species of alcids or auks in the bird genus Fratercula with a brightly coloured beak during the breeding season.

Their sexy orange beaks shift from a dull grey to bright orange when it is time to attract a mate. While not strictly monogamous, most Puffins choose the same mate year upon year producing adorable chicks or pufflings (awe) from their mating efforts.

Female Puffins produce one single white egg which the parents take turns to incubate over a course of about six weeks. Their dutiful parents share the honour of feeding the wee pufflings five to eight times a day until the chick is ready to fly. Towards the end of July, the fledgeling Puffins begin to venture from the safety of their parents and dry land. Once they take to the seas, mom and dad are released from duty and the newest members of the colony are left to hunt and survive on their own.

These are pelagic seabirds that feed primarily by diving in the water. They breed in large colonies on coastal cliffs or offshore islands, nesting in crevices among rocks or in burrows in the soil. Two species, the tufted puffin and horned puffin are found in the North Pacific Ocean, while the Atlantic puffin is found in the North Atlantic Ocean. This lovely fellow, with his distinctive colouring, is an Atlantic Puffin or "Sea Parrot" from Skomer Island near Pembrokeshire in the southwest of Wales. Wales is bordered by Camarthenshire to the east and Ceredigion to the northeast with the sea bordering everything else. It is a fine place to do some birding if it's seabirds you're after.

These Atlantic Puffins are one of the most famous of all the seabirds and form the largest colony in Southern Britain. They live about 25 years making a living in our cold seas dining on herring, hake and sand eels. Some have been known to live to almost 40 years of age. They are good little swimmers as you might expect, but surprisingly they are great flyers, too! They are hindered by short wings, which makes flight challenging but still possible with effort. Once they get some speed on board, they can fly up to 88 km an hour.

The oldest alcid fossil is Hydrotherikornis from Oregon dating to the Late Eocene while fossils of Aethia and Uria go back to the Late Miocene. Molecular clocks have been used to suggest an origin in the Pacific in the Paleocene. Fossils from North Carolina were originally thought to have been of two Fratercula species but were later reassigned to one Fratercula, the tufted puffin, and a Cerorhinca species. Another extinct species, Dow's puffin, Fratercula dowi,  was found on the Channel Islands of California until the Late Pleistocene or early Holocene.

The Fraterculini are thought to have originated in the Pacific primarily because of their greater diversity in the region. There is only one extant species in the Atlantic, compared to two in the Pacific. The Fraterculini fossil record in the Pacific extends at least as far back as the middle Miocene, with three fossil species of Cerorhinca, and material tentatively referred to that genus, in the middle Miocene to late Pliocene of southern California and northern Mexico.

Although there no records from the Miocene in the Atlantic, a re-examination of the North Carolina material indicated that the diversity of puffins in the early Pliocene was as great in the Atlantic as it is in the Pacific today. This diversity was achieved through influxes of puffins from the Pacific; the later loss of species was due to major oceanographic changes in the late Pliocene due to closure of the Panamanian Seaway and the onset of severe glacial cycles in the North Atlantic.

Wednesday, 23 December 2020


This tasty block of Semenovites (Anahoplites) cf. michalskii ammonites hails from Cretaceous, Albian deposits that outcrop on the Tupqaraghan — Mangyshlak Peninsula on the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan. 

Present-day Kazakhstan is made up of several micro continental blocks that were broken up in the Cambrian and then crushed back together then smashed up against Siberia and came to rest where we find them today. 

Mangyshlak or Mangghyshlaq Peninsula is a large peninsula located in western Kazakhstan. It borders on the Caspian Sea in the west and with the Buzachi Peninsula, a marshy sub-feature of the main peninsula, in the northeast. The Tyuleniy Archipelago lies off the northern shores of the peninsula.

Lowlands make up one-third of Kazakhstan’s huge expanse, hilly plateaus and plains account for nearly half, and low mountainous regions about one-fifth. Kazakhstan’s highest point, Mount Khan-Tengri (Han-t’eng-ko-li Peak) at 22,949 feet (6,995 metres), in the Tien Shan range on the border between Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and China, contrasts with the flat or rolling terrain of most of the republic. 

The western and southwestern parts of Kazakhstan are dominated by the low-lying Caspian Depression, which at its lowest point lies some 95 feet below sea level. South of the Caspian Depression are the Ustyurt Plateau and the Tupqaraghan (formerly Mangyshlak) Peninsula jutting into the Caspian Sea. 

Vast amounts of sand formed the Greater Barsuki and Aral Karakum deserts near the Aral Sea, the broad Betpaqdala Desert of the interior, and the Muyunkum and Kyzylkum deserts in the south. Most of these desert regions have slight vegetative cover eeking out a slim existence fed by subterranean groundwater.

Depressions filled by salt lakes — whose water has largely evaporated — dot the undulating uplands of central Kazakhstan. 

In the north, the mountains reach about 5,000 feet, and there are similar high areas among the Ulutau Mountains in the west and the Chingiz-Tau Range in the east. In the east and southeast, massifs — enormous blocks of crystalline rock — are furrowed by valleys. 

The Altai mountain complex to the east sends three ridges into the republic, and, farther south, the Tarbagatay Range is an offshoot of the Naryn-Kolbin complex. Another range, the Dzungarian Alatau, penetrates the country to the south of the depression containing the icy waters of Lake Balkhash. The beautiful Tien Shan peaks rise along the southern frontier with Kyrgyzstan. 

As well as lovely ammonite outcrops, dinosaurian material and pterosaur remains are also found in Kazakhstan. The ammonites you see here are in the collections of the deeply awesome Emil Black.

Paleo Coordinates: 44 ° 35'46 ″ 51 ° 52'53″ 

Tuesday, 22 December 2020


We sometimes find fossils preserved by pyrite. They are prized as much for their pleasing gold colouring as they are for their scientific value as windows into the past. 

Sometimes folk add a coating of brass to increase the aesthetic appeal — a practice is frowned upon in paleontological communities.

Pyrite, sometimes called Fool's Gold, is a brass-yellow mineral with a bright metallic lustre. I popped a photo of some pyrite below so you can see the characteristic shape of its cubic crystal system.

Fool's Gold has a chemical composition of iron sulfide (FeS2) and is the most common sulfide mineral. It forms at high and low temperatures usually in small quantities, in igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks. If these sulfide minerals are close at hand when a fossil is forming, they can infuse specimens, replacing their mineral content to beautiful effect.

When we find a fossil preserved with pyrite, it tells us a lot about the conditions on the seabed where the organism died. Pyrite forms when there is a lot of organic carbon and not much oxygen in the vicinity. 

The reason for this is that bacteria in sediment usually respire aerobically (using oxygen), however, when there is no oxygen, they respire without oxygen (anaerobic) typically using sulphate. 

Sulphate is a polyatomic anion with the empirical formula SO2−4. It is generally highly soluble in water. Sulfate-reducing bacteria, some anaerobic microorganisms, such as those living in sediment or near deep-sea thermal vents, use the reduction of sulfates coupled with the oxidation of organic compounds or hydrogen as an energy source for chemosynthesis.

The sulfide mineral Pyrite, FeS2
High quantities of organic carbon in the sediment form a barrier to oxygen in the water. This also works to encourage anaerobic respiration. Anaerobic respiration using sulphate releases hydrogen sulphide, which is one of the major components in pyrite. 

So, when we find a fossil preserved in pyrite, we know that it died and was buried in sediment with low quantities of oxygen and high quantities of organic carbon. 

If you have pyrite specimens and want to stop them from decaying, you can give them a 'quick' soak in water (hour max) then wash them off, dry thoroughly in a warm oven. 

Cool, then soak in pure acetone for a couple of days. Then soak in paraloid, a thermoplastic resin surface coating or acetone for a couple of days. Keep in a sealed container with a desiccant pack afterwards to keep them dry — or leave them out on display to enjoy knowing that the decay will come in time. We do this with cut flowers so why not fossils sometimes.

I have a friend who gives her pyrite fossils on display a quick thumb wipe with vasoline or petroleum jelly. I'm not sure if the hydrocarbons there will play nice over time but it will act as a protective barrier.  

Monday, 21 December 2020


This beautifully prepped specimen of a Balearites cf. balearis (Nolan, 1984) ammonite is from Upper Hauterivian deposits near Tamri, a small seaside town and rural commune in Agadir-Ida Ou Tanane Prefecture, Souss-Massa, Morocco. Aside from wonderful fossil localities, this area of Morocco has some of the most amazing surfing and banana plantations.

Balearites, with their planispiral shell or conch and compressed whorls, is an extinct ancyloceratin genus ammonite in the family Crioceratitidae, suborder Ancyloceratina.

We find fossils of this genera in Romania, Slovakia, Austria, France, Spain, Switzerland, Hungary, Italy, Russia, Bulgaria and Morocco. 

This specimen is in the collection of José Juárez Ruiz and is roughly 202 mm. If you find this lovely interesting, you'll enjoy reading more on this genus and others in Arkell, W. J. et al., 1957. Mesozoic Ammonoidea, Treatise on Invertebrate Paleontology Part L, Mollusca 4. 1957.

Sunday, 20 December 2020


 This marvellous block is filled with Aristoptychites (syn=Arctoptychites) euglyphus (Mojsisovics, 1886) and Daonella sp., oyster-like saltwater clams or bivalves from the Middle Triassic (Ladinian) outcrops in the Botneheia Formation of Spitzbergen, in Edgeøya and Barentsøya, eastern Svalbard, Norway. 

Daonella and Monotis are important species for our understanding of biostratigraphy in the Triassic and are useful as an index fossil. Daonellids preferred soft, soupy substrates and we tend to find them in massive shell beds.

Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago between mainland Norway and the North Pole. One of the world’s northernmost inhabited areas, it's known for its rugged, remote terrain of glaciers and frozen tundra sheltering polar bears, reindeer and Arctic fox. The Northern Lights are visible during winter, and summer brings the “midnight sun”—sunlight 24 hours a day.

The Botneheia Formation is made up of dark grey, laminated shales coarsening upwards to laminated siltstones and sandstones. South of the type area, the formation shows several (up to four) coarsening-upward units. 

The formation is named for Botneheia Mountain, a mountain in Nordenskiöld Land at Spitsbergen, Svalbard. It has a height of 522 m.a.s.l., and is located south of Sassenfjorden, east of the valley of De Geerdalen. 

Polar Bears, Ursus maritimus
As well as lovely ammonoids and bivalves, we've found ichthyosaur remains here. We had been expecting too, but it was not until the early 2000s that the first bones were found.

Two specimens have of ichthyosaur have been recovered. They comprise part of the trunk and the caudal vertebral column respectively. 

Some features, such as the very high and narrow caudal and posterior thoracic neural spines, the relatively elongate posterior thoracic vertebrae and the long and slender haemapophyses indicate that they probably represent a member of the family Toretocnemidae. 

Numerous ichthyosaur finds are known from the underlying Lower Triassic Vikinghøgda Formation and the overlying Middle to Upper Triassic Tschermakfjellet Formation, the new specimens help to close a huge gap in the fossil record of the Triassic ichthyosaurs from Svalbard.

There is a resident research group working on the Triassic ichthyosaur fauna, the Spitsbergen Mesozoic Research Group. Lucky for them, they often find the fossil remains fully articulated — the bones having retained their spacial relationship to one another. Most of their finds are of the tail sections of primitive Triassic ichthyosaurs. In later ichthyosaurs, the tail vertebrae bend steeply downwards and have more of a fish-like look. In these primitive ancestors, the tail looks more eel-like — bending slightly so that the spines on the vertebrae form more of the tail.

Maisch, Michael W. and Blomeier, Dierk published on these finds back in 2009: Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie - Abhandlungen Band 254 Heft 3 (2009), p. 379 - 384. Nov 1, 2009

The lovely block you see here is in the collections of the deeply awesome John Fam. The image of the Polar Bears, Ursus maritimus, is courtesy of the Fossil Huntress. 

Saturday, 19 December 2020


Ammonites were prolific breeders that evolved rapidly. If you could cast a fishing line into our ancient seas, it is likely that you would hook an ammonite, not a fish.

They were prolific back in the day, living, and sometimes dying, in schools in oceans around the globe.  We find ammonite fossils in sedimentary rock from all over the world. In some cases, we find rock beds where we can see evidence of a new species that evolved, lived and died out in such a short time span that we can walk through time, following the course of evolution using ammonites as a window into the past.

For this reason, they make excellent index fossils. An index fossil is a species that allows us to link a particular rock formation, layered in time with a particular species or genus found there. Generally, deeper is older, so we use the sedimentary layers of rock to match up to specific geologic time periods, rather like the way we use tree rings to date trees.

Friday, 18 December 2020


66 million years ago, dinosaur still roamed the Earth. We know from abundant fossil bones, teeth and trackways that their reign lasted an impressive 230 million years. But a massive extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous wiped out three-quarters of the Earth's species — dinosaurs included. 

Our planet also lost the ammonites and our mighty marine reptiles — mosasaurs, ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. 

Never again would pterosaurs, flying reptiles, cruise our skies. Their departure gave rise to the age of mammals and the diversity we see today. 

One of the most well-known theories for the death of the dinosaurs is the Alvarez hypothesis, named after the father-and-son duo Luis and Walter Alvarez. In 1980, these two scientists proposed the notion that a meteor the size of a mountain slammed into Earth 66 million years ago, filling the atmosphere with gas, dust, and debris that drastically altered the climate.

Their key piece of evidence is an oddly high amount of the metal iridium in what’s known as the Cretaceous-Paleogene, or K-Pg, layer—the geologic boundary zone that seems to cap any known rock layers containing dinosaur fossils. 

Iridium is relatively rare in Earth's crust but is more abundant in stony meteorites, which led the Alvarezs to conclude that the mass extinction was caused by an extraterrestrial object. The theory gained even more steam when scientists were able to link the extinction event to a huge impact crater along the coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. At about 93 miles wide, the Chicxulub crater seems to be the right size and age to account for the dino die-off.

In 2016, scientists drilled a rock core inside the underwater part of Chicxulub, pulling up a sample stretching deep beneath the seabed. This rare peek inside the guts of the crater showed that the impact would have been powerful enough to send deadly amounts of vaporized rock and gases into the atmosphere and that the effects would have persisted for years. 

And in 2019, palaeontologists digging in North Dakota found a treasure trove of fossils extremely close to the K-Pg boundary, essentially capturing the remains of an entire ecosystem that existed shortly before the mass extinction. Tellingly, the fossil-bearing layers contain loads of tiny glass bits called tektites—likely blobs of melted rock kicked up by the impact that solidified in the atmosphere and then rained down over Earth.

Thursday, 17 December 2020


This partial specimen of Deinotherium giganteum hails from Middle-Upper Miocene, c. 15.97-5.33 Million Years outcrops near Cerecinos de Campos, Zamora Castile and León, northwestern Spain.

Deinotherium  means "terrible beast," which feels a bit unkind to this vegetarian — though he was one of the largest elephants to walk this Earth. 

are relatively recent in the evolutionary story of the Earth. They first appeared 17 million years ago, had a short run of it and became extinct relatively recently — just 1.6 million years ago. This fellow's cousin, Deinotherium bozasi would likely have interacted with some of our oldest relatives. Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo ergaster likely laid eyes on one of these big beasties.

One of the distinguishing features of Deinotherium is their curved tusks inserted only in the jaw. One of the tusks from this fellow, on display at the Museo Nacional De Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, Spain, while incomplete, was preserved rather nicely and shows the detail of where the tusk meets the jaw.

Deinotherium could reach a height of over 3.5 meters. Its structure and size are similar to those of the present-day elephant. 

Wednesday, 16 December 2020


Palaeontologist Earl Douglass, 1909
About 150 million years ago, a severe drought ravaged the western interior of North America. In eastern Utah, malnourished dinosaurs gathered near a dwindling river to live out their last days. 

Today, this site is known as the Carnegie Quarry at Dinosaur National Monument, and it is one of the most incredible fossil sites in the world.

The celebrated fossil quarry at what is now recognized as Dinosaur National Monument in Utah was discovered in 1909 by Carnegie Museum field collector Earl Douglass.

“I saw eight of the tail bones of a Brontosaurus in exact position. It was a beautiful sight.”  — Earl Douglass in his diary on August 17, 1909, recounting the moment he found the first dinosaur remains of a Brontosaurus at the Carnegie Quarry. Those vertebrae were part of a fully articulated skeleton that became the type for a new species, Apatosaurus louisae, (Gilmore, 1936), published a detailed quarry map showing the skeleton, with "outcrop" identifying the discovery bones. The specimen is now mounted in the Carnegie Museum and those eight tail bones, freed from their sandstone tomb. 

From 1909–1923, Douglass and his crews collected more than 350 tons (700,000 pounds) of fossils from that site alone. Several dinosaur skeletons discovered by Douglass at this quarry are featured in our core exhibition hall, Dinosaurs in Their Time.

Others grace the exhibit halls of other prominent North American museums, such as the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

If you would like to visit Dinosaur National Monument, you can explore extensive outcrops of the Morrison at the Dinosaur Quarry, on the Fossil Discovery Trail, the Sounds of Silence Trail, and other areas in the park.

To learn more about this fossil site, visit:

Tuesday, 15 December 2020


This lovely with her colourful body is an octopus. Like ninety-seven percent of the world's animals, she lacks a backbone. 

To support their bodies, these spineless animals — invertebrates — have skeletons made of protein fibres. This flexibility can be a real advantage when slipping into nooks and crannies for protection and making a home in seemingly impossible places.

On the east side of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, there is an area called Madrona Point where beneath the surface of the sea many octopus have done just that. This is the home of the Giant Pacific Octopus, Enteroctopus dofleini, the largest known octopus species.

The land above is the home of the Snuneymuxw First Nation of the Coast Salish who live here, on the Gulf Islands, and along the Fraser River. They speak Hul'q'umin'um' — a living language that expresses their worldview and way of life. In Hul'q'umin'um' an octopus is sqi'mukw'. In the Kwak̓wala language of the Kwakiutl or Kwakwaka'wakw, speakers of Kwak'wala, further north on Vancouver Island, octopus or devil fish are known as ta̱k̕wa.

I have gone scuba diving at Madrona Point many times and visited the octopus who squeeze into the eroded sections of a sandstone ledge about 18 metres or 60 feet below the surface. 

On one of those trips, my friend Suzanne Groulx ran into one of the larger males swimming just offshore. I was surfacing as I heard her shriek clear as a bell. Sound moves through water about four times faster than it does through the air — faster than a jet plane. 

On that day, I suspect Suzanne was neck and neck both in sound and motion. Seconds later, she popped up a good three feet above the surf, still screaming. I have never seen anyone surface quite so quickly — dangerous and impressive in equal measure. It was on another of those trips that I met Philip Torrens, with whom I would later co-author, In Search of Ancient BC.     

While the entire coastline is beautiful to explore, it was visiting the octopus that drew me back time and time again. I have seen wee octopus the size of the palm of your hand, large males swimming and feeding and the lovely females tucked into their nursery homes.

After forty days of mating, the female Giant Pacific Octopus attach strings of small fertilized eggs to the rocks within these crevices and call it home for a time — generally five months or 160 days. When I visit, I sometimes bring crab or sea urchin for her to snack on as the mothers guarding these eggs do not leave to hunt, staying ever vigilante protecting their brood from predators. All the while she is here, she gently blows fresh water over the eggs.

And sadly, this will be her only brood. Octopus breed once in their too-short lives. Males die directly after mating and females die once their young have hatched. They live in all the world's oceans and no matter the species, their lifespans are a brief one to five years. I rather hope they evolve to live longer and one day outcompete the humans who like to snack on them.

Octopus are soft-bodied, eight-limbed molluscs of the order Octopoda. They have one hard part, their beaks, which they use to crack open clams, crab and crustaceans. 

They are ninja-level skilled at squeezing through very tight holes, particularly if it means accessing a tasty snack. The size of their beaks determines exactly how small a hole they can fit through. 

Looking, you would likely guess it could not be done, but they are amazing — and mesmerizing!

At the Vancouver Aquarium, they have been known to unscrew lids, sneak out of one tank to feed in another then slip back so you do not notice, open simple hooks and latches — burglars of the sea. They can also change the colour and texture of their skin to blend perfectly into their surroundings. You can look for them around reefs and rocky shores. There are 300 species of octopus grouped within the class Cephalopoda, along with squid, cuttlefish, and nautiloids. 

The oldest fossil octopus at 300 million years old is Pohlsepia mazonensis from Carboniferous Mazon Creek fossil beds in Illinois. The only known specimen resembles modern octopuses with the exception of possessing eight arms and two tentacles (Kluessendorf and Doyle 2000).

My favourite fossil octopus is the darling Keuppia levante (Fuchs, Bracchi & Weis, 2009), an extinct genus of octopus that swam our ancient seas back in the Cretaceous.

Sunday, 13 December 2020


In 1788, this magnificent specimen of a Megatherium sloth was sent to the Royal Cabinet of Natural History from the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata.

The megaterios were large terrestrial sloths belonging to the group, Xenarthra. These herbivores inhabited large areas of land on the American continent. Their powerful skeleton enabled them to stand on their hind legs to reach leaves high in the trees, a huge advantage given the calories needed to be consumed each day to maintain their large size.

Avocados were one of the food preferences of our dear Giant ground sloths. They ate then pooped them out, spreading the pits far and wide. The next time you enjoy avocado toast, thank this large beastie. One of his ancestors may have had a hand (or butt) in your meal.

In 1788, Bru assembled the skeleton as you see it here. It is exhibited at the Museo Nacional De Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, Spain, in its original configuration for historic value. If you look closely, you'll see it is not anatomically correct. But all good palaeontology is teamwork. Based upon the drawings of Juan Bautista Bru, George Cuvier used this specimen to describe the species for the very first time.

Saturday, 12 December 2020


This disarticulated fellow is Mammutus primigenius a Woolly Mammoth from the Pleistocene of Siberia, Russia. 

He's now housed in the Museo Nacional De Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, Spain in a display that shows thoughtful comparisons between the proboscideans. They have a wonderful display of mammoth teeth, the diagnostic flat enamel plates and the equally distinct pointy cusped molars of the mastodons.

He was a true elephant, unlike his less robust cousins, the mastodons. Mammoths were bigger — both in girth and height — weighing in at a max of 13 tonnes. 

They are closely related to Asian elephants and were about the size of the African elephants you see roaming the grasslands of Africa today.

If you stood beside him and reached way up, you might be able to touch his tusks but likely not reach up to his mouth or even his eyes. 

He would have had a shaggy coat of light or dark coloured hair with long outer hair strands covering a dense thick undercoat. His oil glands would have worked overtime to secrete oils, giving him natural — and I'm guessing stinky — waterproofing.

Some of the hair strands we have recovered are more than a meter in length. These behemoth proboscideans boasted long, curved tusks, little ears, short tails and grazed on leaves, shrubs and grasses that would have been work to get at as much of the northern hemisphere was covered in ice and snow during his reign. It is often the teeth of mammoths like those you see in the photo here that we see displayed. 

Their molar teeth were large and have always struck me as looking like ink plates from a printing press. If they are allowed to dry out in collection, they fall apart into discreet plates that can be mistaken for mineralized or calcified rock and not the bits and pieces of mammoth molars that they indeed are. Their large surface area was perfect for grinding down the low nutrient, but for the most part, plentiful grasses that sustained them.

Woolly Mammoth Tusk, Wrangel Island
How did they use their tusks? Likely for displays of strength, protecting their delicate trunks, digging up ground vegetation and in dry riverbeds, digging holes to get at the precious life-giving water. It's a genius design, really. A bit like having a plough on the front of your skull. In the photo here you can see a tusk washed clean in a creek bed on Wrangel Island.

Their size offered protection against other predators once the mammoth was full grown. Sadly for the juveniles, they offered tasty prey to big cats like Homotherium who roamed those ancient grasslands alongside them.

They roamed widely in the Pliocene to Holocene, roaming much of Africa, Europe, Asia and North America. We see them first some 150,000 years ago from remains in Russia then expanding out from Spain to Alaska. They enjoyed a very long lifespan of 60-80 — up to 20 years longer than a mastodon and longer than modern elephants. They enjoyed the prime position as the Apex predator of the megafauna, then declined — partially because of the environment and food resources and partially because of their co-existence with humans. In places where the fossil record shows a preference for hunting smaller prey, humans and megafauna do better together. We see this in places like the Indian Subcontinent where primates and rodents made the menu more often than the large megafauna who roamed there. We also see this in present-day Africa, where the last of the large and lovely megafauna show remarkable resilience in the face of human co-existence.  

The woolly mammoths from the Ukrainian-Russian plains died out 15,000 years ago. This population was followed by woolly mammoths from St. Paul Island in Alaska who died out 5,600 years ago — and quite surprisingly, at least to me, the last mammoth died just 4,000 years ago in the frosty ice on the small island of Wrangel in the Arctic Ocean — their final days spent scratching out a dwindling existence of genetic mutations, howling winds, rain-darkened hills and subsistence on tough grasses grown in thin soil. 

Further reading: Laura Arppe, Juha A. Karhu, Sergey Vartanyan, Dorothée G. Drucker, Heli Etu-Sihvola, Hervé Bocherens. Thriving or surviving? The isotopic record of the Wrangel Island woolly mammoth population. Quaternary Science Reviews, 2019; 222: 105884 DOI: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2019.105884

Tuesday, 8 December 2020


A lovely 5.5 cm specimen of a cut and polished slice of Cenoceras sp. from the Oolite of Ilminster, Somerset, UK. 160 Million years old. Jurassic age. Nautilus are very scarce compared to ammonites in these beds.

Monday, 7 December 2020


Silver tetradrachm coin depicting the owl of Athena (circa 449–413 BCE). The inscription “ΑΘΕ” is an abbreviation of ΑΘΗΝΑΙΩΝ, which may be translated as “of the Athenians”. In daily use, the Athenian drachmas were called glaukes (γλαῦκες, “owls”).

In Greek mythology, a little owl (Athene noctua) traditionally represents or accompanies Athena, the virgin goddess of wisdom, or Minerva, her syncretic incarnation in Roman mythology. Because of such association, the bird — often referred to as the “owl of Athena” or the “owl of Minerva” — has been used as a symbol of knowledge, wisdom, perspicacity, and erudition throughout the Western world.

The reasons for the association of Athena and the owl are uncertain. Some mythographers suggest that she may descend from a Minoan palace goddess associated with birds and some claim to trace Athena’s origins as an Old European bird and snake goddess.

On the other hand, some theorize about the appeal of some characteristics of owls–such as their ability to see in the dark–to be used as symbol of wisdom, while others propose a simple association between founding myths of Athens and the significant number of little owls in the region (a fact noted since antiquity by Aristophanes in The Birds and Lysistrata).

In any case, the city of Athens seems to have adopted the owl as proof of allegiance to its patron virgin goddess, which according to a popular etiological myth reproduced on the West pediment of the Parthenon, secured the favor of its citizens.

Owls were commonly reproduced by Athenians in vases, weights and prize amphoras for the Panathenaic Games. The bird even became the common obverse of the Athenian tetradrachms after 510 BCE and according to Philochorus, the Athenian tetradrachm was known as glaux (γλαύξ, “little owl”) throughout the ancient world. They were not, however, used exclusively by them to represent Athena and were even used for motivation during battles by other Greek cities, such as in the victory of Agathocles of Syracuse over the Carthaginians in 310 BCE–in which owls flying through the ranks were interpreted as Athena’s blessing.,may%20be%20translated%20as%20%E2%80%9Cof%20the%20Athenians

Sunday, 6 December 2020


A sweet little water bug from the suborder Heteroptera (Latreille, 1810). He looks more like a cartoon character that any other specimen I've seen. 

This fun fellow is in the collections of Tim Dingman. The deeply awesome Jim Barkley gets credit for this charming photo. The cartoon effect comes from this guy missing his abdomen. He hails from Eocene deposits of the Green River Formation of Western Colorado.

The Green River Formation is an Eocene geologic formation that records a 12 million year history of sedimentation in a group of intermountain lakes in three basins along the present-day Green River in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. It is one of the most important outcrops we have for insight into life in the Eocene. It gives a window into what our world looked like about 50 million years ago. 

The first documented records of invertebrate fossils from what is now called the Green River Formation are in the journals of early missionaries and explorers such as S. A. Parker, 1840, and J. C. Fremont, 1845. Geologist Dr. John Evans collected the first fossil fish, described as Culpea humilis — later renamed Knightia eocaena — from the Green River beds in 1856.

Edward Drinker Cope collected extensively from the area and produced several publications on the fossil fish from 1870 onwards. Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, geologist-in-charge of the United States Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories, the forerunner of the United States Geological Survey,  first used the name "Green River Shales" for the fossil sites in 1869.

Millions of fish fossils have been collected from the area, commercial collectors operating from legal quarries on state and private land have been responsible for the majority of Green River vertebrate fossils in public and private collections all over the world.

Saturday, 5 December 2020


An Eocene Cryptodiran Fossil Turtle, Baena arenosa, from fine-grained lime mud outcrops in the Green River Formation, Wyoming, USA.

This fellow, with the extra-long tail, marks the last of his lineage. The now extinct family Baenidae appeared first in the Jurassic and died out at the end of the Eocene. We've found specimens of Baena, along with 14 other species of turtles in seven genera and five families in the Lower Eocene San Jose Formation, San Juan Basin of New Mexico.

This specimen is from the Green River Formation of Wyoming which was once the bottom of one of an extensive series of Eocene lakes. The Green River Formation is particularly abundant in beautifully preserved fossil fish, eleven species of reptiles including a 13.5ft crocodile, an armadillo-like mammal, Brachianodon westorum, bats, birds and other fresh-water aquatic goodies.

This specimen of a beautiful Baena was found and prepped by the Green River Stone Company. They purchased their private 12-acre quarry about 20 years ago. It's at the Eocene lake's centre, shared with Fossil Butte National Monument about 24 kilometres (15 miles) west of Kemmerer, Lincoln County, Wyoming.

Friday, 4 December 2020


From Russia with Love — a lovely iridescent block of ammonites with Deshayesites volgensis (Sasonova, 1958), and Aconeceras (Sinzovia) trautscholdi (Sinzow. 1870) with their natural pink, blue and purple candy colouring. These beauties are from Lower Cretaceous, Aptian, 120 - 112 million-year-old outcrops near Shilovka, Ulyanovsk Region, Russia. This lovely block was collected by and is in the collections of the deeply awesome Emil Black.

Aptian deposits near the Volga River between Ul'yanovsk and Saratov have been studied for more than a century. The age of lower Aptian deposits was traditionally established based on changing ammonite assemblages of the family Deshayesitidae.

The diverse assemblage of heteromorphic ammonites, Ancyloceratidae, inhabitants of relatively deep basins, has made it possible to propose a new scheme of ammonoid zonation in the lower Aptian epipelagic deposits of the Russian plate.

Many of the identified ancyloceratids were established here for the first time. The analysis of coexisting deshayesitids and heteromorphs enabled a correlation of stratigraphic schemes for the monomorphic Deshayesitidae and heteromorphic Ancyloceratidae. The described generic taxa and species are Volgoceratoides I. Michailova et Baraboshkin, gen. nov., V. schilovkensis I. Michailova et Baraboshkin, sp. nov., Koeneniceras I. Michailova et Baraboshkin, gen. nov., K. tenuiplicatum (von Koenen, 1902), K. rareplicatum I. Michailova et Baraboshkin, sp. nov.

In few sections of the Saratov Volga area (central part of the Russian Platform), representing both offshore and nearshore lithofacies of the epicontinental Middle Russian Sea, researchers have recognized simultaneous changes in ammonite and belemnite successions. The significant influence of anoxic events on faunal turnovers in marine communities is well-established. However, many studies are focused on the impact of anoxic conditions on benthic organisms, not on the hunter-gatherers living higher up in the sea column. This means that coeval changes in pelagic cephalopod assemblages remain relatively poorly understood.

Belemnites, represented by the late members of the family Oxyteuthididae, are common in the interval directly preceding the anoxic event, but totally disappear with the onset of the black shale deposition. We see a reduction in the shell size of the Deshayesites ammonites across the mudstone – black shale boundary (maximum shell diameter of adults reduces from ∼20 cm to 7–8 cm).

Some other ammonites become numerous (Sinzovia) within the black shale interval or show the first occurrence in it (Koeneniceras and Volgoceratoides). In our opinion diminishing of Deshayesites shell size during the early Aptian OAE could be caused by the coupling of palaeoenvironmental factors such as progressive warming and regional input of brackish water. Preliminary results of carbon isotope studies of aragonite deriving from the ammonite nacreous layer are also provided.

The significant influence of anoxic events on faunal turnovers in marine communities is well-established. However, many studies are focused on the impact of anoxic conditions on benthic organisms, not on the hunter-gatherers living higher up in the sea column. This means that coeval changes in pelagic cephalopod assemblages remain relatively poorly understood. The maximum diameter on the Deshayesites shown here in the photo by Emil Black is 70 mm.

Rogov, Mikhail & Shchepetova, Elena & Ippolitov, Alexei & Seltser, Vladimir & Mironenko, Aleksandr & Pokrovsky, Boris & Desai, Bhawanisingh. (2019). Response of cephalopod communities on abrupt environmental changes during the early Aptian OAE1a in the Middle Russian Sea. Cretaceous Research. 10.1016/j.cretres.2019.01.007.

E. Yu. Baraboshkin and I. A. Mikhailova. New Stratigraphic Scheme of the Lower Aptian in the Volga River Middle Courses. Stratigraphy arid Geological Correlation, Vol 10, No 6, 2002, pp 603-626 Translated from Stratigrafiy a Geologicheskaya Korrelyatsiya, Vol 10, No 6, 2002, pp 82-105

Wednesday, 2 December 2020


A beautiful example of the decapod, Dorippe sinica, from Holocene deposits near Shizuoka, Japan. This regal fellow has a strongly sculptured carapace. He looks like he would have been quite the bruiser moving about on the seafloor looking for tasty snacks. He likely enjoyed just about any form of meat, potentially dining on fish, worms, eggs, squid, starfish or even a few of his slow-moving cousins.

The carapace is deeply grooved with conspicuous wart-like tubercles; anterolateral margin, between the base of the exorbital tooth and cervical groove, smooth, without tubercles or denticles.

The teeth on the lower orbital margin in the cluster. Carpus of cheliped distinctly granulated on the upper surface and with a conspicuous row of granules along the anterior margin. Though missing here, the merus of second and third pereiopods are almost cylindrical. (Türkay 1995). This specimen was collected and is the collection of the deeply awesome Takashi Ito of Japan

Tuesday, 1 December 2020


A stunning example of the heteromorph ammonite, Hyphantoceras orientale macroconch. This beauty corresponds to 'Morphotype C' from Aiba (2017). 

The specimen is a handful at 136 mm and was lovingly prepared by the hand holding it, that of the talented José Juárez Ruiz.

This an adult specimen (not the juvenile stage) from Upper Santonian outcrops near Ashibetsu, Hokkaido, Japan.

Aiba published on a possible phylogenetic relationship of two species of Hyphantoceras (Ammonoidea, Nostoceratidae) earlier this year, proposing that a phylogenetic relationship may exist based on newly found specimens with precise stratigraphic occurrences in the Kotanbetsu and Obira areas, northwestern Hokkaido.

Two closely related species, Hyphantoceras transitorium and H. orientale, were recognized in the examined specimens from the Kotanbetsu and Obira areas. Specimens of H. transitorium show wide intraspecific variation in the whorl shape. The stratigraphic occurrences of the two species indicate that they occur successively in the Santonian–lowermost Campanian, without stratigraphic overlapping. 

The similarity of their shell surface ornamentations and the stratigraphic relationships possibly suggest that H.orientale was derived from H. transitorium. The presumed lineage is likely indigenous to the northwestern Pacific realm in the Santonian–earliest Campanian. Hyphantoceras venustum and H. heteromorphum might stand outside a H. transitorium–H. orientale lineage, judging from differences of their shell surface ornamentation.

Aiba, Daisuke. (2019). A Possible Phylogenetic Relationship of Two Species of Hyphantoceras (Ammonoidea, Nostoceratidae) in the Cretaceous Yezo Group, Northern Japan. Paleontological Research. 23. 65-80. 10.2517/2018PR010.

Monday, 30 November 2020


A very beautiful Lower Campanian block from Haroto, Hokkaido, Japan. This specimen contains an ancient undersea world at a glance.

The beautiful block you see here was prepared, photographed and is in the collections of José Juárez Ruiz. In it, you can see a lovely Pseudoxybeloceras (Parasolenoceras) soyaense (143 mm), Polyptychoceras jimboi (134 mm), Polyptychoceras sp. (114 mm), Gaudryceras mite (48 and 45 mm), Gaudryceras tenuiliratum (Hirano, 1978) at (48 and 20 mm), and a wee fragment of wood (69 mm).

Matsumoto published on the ammonites from the Campanian (Upper Cretaceous) of northern Hokkaido back in 1984, in the Palaeontological Society of Japan Special Series Papers, Number #27.

This was my first look at the glorious fauna from northern Japan. The species and preservation are truly outstanding. Since then, many of the Japanese palaeontologists have made their way over to Vancouver Island, to look at ammonites, inoceramids and coleoid jaws from the Nanaimo Group and compare them to the Japanese species.

Rick Ross and Pat Trask, both of Courtenay on Vancouver Island, collaborated with Dr. Kazushige Tanabe and Yoshinori Hikida of Japan, to produce a wonderful paper in the Journal of Paleontology, 82 (2), 2008, pp 398-408, on Late Cretaceous Octobrachiate Coleoid Lower Jaws from the North Pacific Regions. They compared eight well-preserved cephalopod jaws from Upper Cretaceous (Santonian and Campanian) deposits of Vancouver Island, Canada, and Hokkaido, Japan. Seven of these were from Santonian to lower Campanian strata of the Nanaimo Group in the northeastern region of Vancouver Island. The eighth specimen was from Santonian strata of the Yezo Group in the Nakagawa area, northern Hokkaido, Japan. 

While they were collaborating on identifying coleoid jaws from the Comox Valley, Rick was visited twice by Dr. Kazushige Tanabe who was joined by his colleague Akinori Takahashi. Takahashi is an expert on temporal species-diversity changes in Japanese Cretaceous inoceramid bivalves.

They had the very great pleasure of visiting many fossil sites and seeing personal and museum collections. If you'd like to read Matsumoto's paper, here is the link:  I have a pdf copy of the Coleoid paper from Rick. It has very nice photos and illustrations, including a drawing of the holotypes of Paleocirroteuthis haggerti n. gen. and Paleocirroteuithis pacifica.

Here's a link to one of Takahashi's papers:

Sunday, 29 November 2020


Phylloceras consanguineum (Gemmellaro 1876) a fast-moving carnivorous ammonite from Late Jurassic (Middle Oxfordian) deposits near Sokoja, Madagascar, off the southeast coast of Africa.

This classical Tethyan Mediterranean specimen is very well preserved, showing much of his delicate suturing in intricate detail. Phylloceras were primitive ammonites with involute, laterally flattened shells.

They were smooth, with very little ornamentation, which led researchers to think of them resembling plant leaves and gave rise to their name, which means leaf-horn. They can be found in three regions that I know of.  In the Jurassic of Italy near western Sicily's Rosso Ammonitico Formation, Lower Kimmeridgian fossiliferous beds of Monte Inici East and Castello Inici (38.0° N, 12.9° E: 26.7° N, 15.4° E) and in the Arimine area, southeastern Toyama Prefecture, northern central Japan, roughly, 36.5° N, 137.5° E: 43.6° N, 140.6° E. And in Madagascar, in the example seen here found near Sokoja, Madagascar, off the southeast coast of Africa at 22.8° S, 44.4° E: 28.5° S, 18.2° E.

Saturday, 28 November 2020


Kwakiutl First Nations assert, when interrogated, that the practice of cannibalism only became general about a hundred years ago. 

Europeans who travelled in their territory were able to witness many of their ceremonial dances, Moffat, guided by First Nation informant, George Hunt, brought back first-hand information about the customs. 

They say that sometimes slaves were killed for the benefit of Hamatsas — the cannibal members of the Kwakiutl — and that at other times the Hamatsas contented themselves with snatching mouthfuls of flesh from their own tribesmen – usually from the chest and upper arms of well-fleshed individuals.

They vouch for an example of ritual cannibalism which took place near Fort Rupert. A Kwakiutl shot and wounded a slave, who ran away and collapsed on the beach at the water’s edge. He was pursued by the tribesmen, including a group of the ‘Bear Dancers’ and Hamatsas. 

The slave’s body was cut to pieces with knives while the Hamatsas squatted in a circle around them crying out their terrible cry: ‘Hap! Hap! Hap! Hap!

Helpless to intervene, Moffat and Hunt watched the Bear Dancers snatch up the flesh, warm and quivering, and growling like the Grizzly they represented, offer it to the Hamatsas in order of seniority.

The wife of the dead slave was at the time in Fort Rupert, and, like Hunt and Moffat, witnessed the slaughter of her husband, helpless to avert it. But she had a weapon that the white men did not possess: she could throw a curse over the Hamatsas.

I will give you five years to live,’ she shrieked at them from the walls of Fort Rupert. ‘The Spirit of your Dancing is strong, but my spirit is stronger still. You have killed my husband with knives; I shall kill you with the point of my tongue.’

Within five years of this episode, the white men report, every member of the tribe who had taken part in the killing of this slave was dead. In memory of the grim episode, a rock on the beach where the ritual feast took place was carved into the likeness of the Baxbakualanuxsiwae mask.

The tradition died hard. A Hamatsa demanded that another slave – this time a female – should dance for him. She stood a moment looking at him in terror, and said: ‘I will dance. But do not get hungry. Do not eat me!’ She had hardly finished speaking when her master, a fellow member of the tribe, split her skull open with an axe, and the Hamatsa thereupon began to eat her flesh. 

This actual Hamatsa was still alive towards the end of the nineteenth century, and on interrogation remarked, among other things, that it is very much harder to consume fresh human flesh than the dried flesh of corpses that have been left to mummify in the trees and then brought down to appease the Hamatsa’s hunger. 

He also said that it was common practice to swallow hot water after a mouthful of flesh taken from a living body, as it was believed that this would cause the inflammation of the wound made by the teeth. All cannibal tribes, of course, file their teeth to sharp points in order to deal more effectively with their food.

There was a variant of the practice whereby the returning Hamatsa ran riot among the members of his tribe, biting flesh from them. Sometimes he brought a corpse with him – that of a slave or some victim captured and killed for the purpose. He ate part of this corpse after his ceremonial dance was completed, but because this was the first corpse to be devoured by him since his initiation, it was prepared with extra elaborate care. 

One of the most important details was the removal of the skin at the wrists and ankles, for the Kwakiutls believed that to eat of either hand or foot would result in almost immediate death — so definitely taboo. 

Most recently, that is to say at the very end of the nineteenth century, it seems that the barbarous practices among the Kwakiutls had become modified to a very great extent: the ceremonial was retained, but symbolism played a larger and larger part in the ceremonial, replacing the physical act. For example, the late-nineteenth-century Hamatsa did not necessarily bite a mouthful of flesh from the chest or the arm. 

Instead, he caught a piece of skin between his teeth and sucked at it hard, to extract the taste of blood. Then, with a sharp knife, he would snip off a piece of skin and pretend to swallow it. However, instead of swallowing it in fact, he put it into his hair behind his ear, to lie there until the ceremonial dancing was over. Then it was returned to the owner, who was thus assured that a piece of his own skin would not eventually be used to his harm in some piece of witchcraft.

It was, as it were, the beginning of the end. From the horrors of that house on the mountainside in which Baxbakualanuxsiwae and his hideous attendants practised their fiendish rites, the customs of the Kwakiutls have been refined to a ritual dance with gestures hardly more dangerous than mime.

Reference: Garry Hogg, Cannibalism and Human Sacrifice, pp. 70-72.

Photo:; Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, photographer. Qagyuhl [Kwakiutl] village at [Tsaxis] Fort Rupert, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. c1914 November 13. LOT 12328-A

Friday, 27 November 2020


In the Pacific Northwest, slavery and slave trading was common practice recorded for hundreds of years and likely practised for thousands.

The British Empire abolished slavery in 1833. While it was illegal, its practice continued in various ways around the world.

In December 1946, the magazine The Beaver, now published as Canada's History Archive, interviewed Elizabeth Hunt Wilson, who grew up amongst slaves, slave traders, settlers and First Nations on the west coast of British Columbia, when slavery was still common practice. 

She recounted a tale of the murder of the last slave in her village — a man still held as a slave more than fifty years after its official abolishment — in the village of Tsax̱is, Fort Rupert on northern Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

The story holds special importance for me as she is the sister of my great-great-grandfather, William Hunt who married Annie Wilson (Kwagu’ł / Kwakiutl) — and my great-great-aunts and uncles — Sarah Edna Hunt Lyon, Emily Hunt, George Hunt (Ethnographer who worked with Franz Boas), Eli Fredrick Hunt, Mary (who died young), Robert James Jr. Hunt (died as a young man),  Jane Charity Hunt Cadwallader, Mary Hunt (named for the one who died), and Annie Hunt Spencer. 

Elizabeth was also the last surviving daughter of Robert Hunt and Mary Ebbetts — whom you may know as Anislaga or Anisalaga — the All-Mother. 

Robert Hunt had come to British Columbia in 1850 as an ambitious man. He worked first as a labourer, then postman and later worked his way up to run the Hudson's Bay Company's fort at Fort Rupert. 

Elizabeth's mother, Mary Ebbetts was born Asnaq of the Raven/Yéil phratry of the Gigalgam Kyinanuk Tlingit of Tongas and Larhtorh/Larhsail of Cape Fox. She was the daughter of Chief Keishíshk' Shakes IV and his wife, S’eitlin — a Deisheetaan (Gaanax.ádi) from Aan goon (Angoon), and granddaughter to the Head-Chief of Wrangell. She was a high-ranking daughter which made her the perfect bride. 

Anislaga married Robert Hunt of the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Simpson at Lax-Kw'alaams on the Nass River while staying with the Tsimshian. 

They lived in the north then relocated to Fort Rupert where they had eleven children — seven daughters and four sons, including sweet Elizabeth.

Elizabeth was born into a time when Sir Anthony Musgrave was the governor of the united Colony of British Columbia and Sir. John A. Macdonald was Prime Minister of Canada.   

Macdonald, once been tepid on the question of the westward expansion of the Canadian provinces, became a zealot once in power. 

As Prime Minister, he became a strong supporter of a bi-coastal Canada and the commerce that would bring. Immediately upon Confederation, he sent commissioners to London who eventually negotiated the transfer of Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory to Canada. 

It was expansion into the west that led to Elizabeth's parents meeting and marrying — a binding of two cultures.  

Macdonald wished to secure the colony of British Columbia and ensure his new nation had a Pacific outlet. Both Fort Victoria (est. 1843) and Fort Rupert (est. 1849-51) — were central to these plans. Once the fort was established, 600-700 First Nations from more than twenty lineages lived near the site. Once smallpox washed through the community, that number was closer to 300-350. 

Robert Hunt, now factor, and Anislaga left Fort Rupert in 1868 to run the Fort Simpson site for the HBC. They returned to Tsax̱is, Fort Rupert in 1872 in time to give birth to their daughter, Jane Charity in 1873.

Anislaga's Chilkat Naaxein woven for William Hunt
A few years earlier, in 1870, while Anislaga, Elizabeth's mother was giving birth to Elizabeth in Fort Simpson and during the first months of her young life, negotiations were being conducted to bring British Columbia into the Confederation. 

This was at a time when cannibalism, as part of slave or child sacrifices, was still common practice.

The politics of the rest of Canada were unknown to her as she worked and played as a young girl. Elizabeth grew up in the remote, windswept village of Tsax̱is, Fort Rupert, a community built above the clam filled tidal flats in Beaver Cove eleven kilometres south of Port Hardy. It was my home as a girl and I think back on my childhood there with great fondness and try to imagine it when Elizabeth was a girl. 

Growing up, the only thing that remained of the old Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) fort was the old chimney and the graveyard a wee bit further south of the main fort site. I grew up beside the graveyard and spent many happy days playing amongst their long lost souls.

The fort site is just up the hill past the main reserve as you head south. Most of the fort was destroyed in the early 1940s. When Elizabeth was a girl, she knew the fort during its heyday — a trading shop, offices,  kitchens, living quarters, blacksmith, hardens and livestock pens filled its high walls. 

The area was established as much for the fur trade as it was for the local coal mining deposits. The fort was built in a military fashion with an eighteen-foot wooden palisade, both inner and outer gates — naively built from green wood — and metal cannons. The fort was the centre of trade and many tales of local conflict — both settler and First Nation.

Local Kwakiutl warriors took shelter within its walls to guard against marauding braves. Robert and Anislaga had run a thriving business, but that slowly declined. A fire took four of the houses and one life in 1868 — foreshadowing its demise as an HBC fort. 

Her father, Robert Hunt, my great-great-great-grandfather, purchased it from the Hudson's Bay Company in 1873. 

Elizabeth also spent time in Alert Bay and twenty years up in Rivers Inlet with her husband Daniel Wilson, a hale Scot who loved the west coast and First Nation traditions. She witnessed and heard stories of Haida raids on the Tsimshian First Nation near Prince Rupert and Alaska's Annette Islands and Coast Salish along the coast of Vancouver Island and British Columbia — capturing slaves and seizing valuable goods to bring home to Haida Gwaii in the hold of their large and skillfully built red cedar war canoes imbued with spirits — each act fomenting retaliation by the First Nation clans targeted. 

Haida canoes were the perfect fishing and raiding crafts. They were hewn from a single carefully chosen red cedar, felled in the fall. The wood would be prepared by burning and carved over the winter into a dugout that paddled true and could hold as many as 40 warriors.

When Elizabeth was eight or nine, a year or two after the Indian Act of 1876 was enacted, some warriors of the Cowichan First Nations captured and killed the sister of a Kwagu’ł Chief at Tsax̱is, Fort Rupert. 

The Chief's wife had brothers who were incensed by the slaughter and planned their own. They paddled down to the Cowichan village, killed four Cowichan First Nation warriors. Vanquished, the brothers returned home, their canoe held the body of their murdered sister and four dismembered heads of the Cowichan First Nation mounted on spears — the only witnesses to their vengeance. A funeral was prepared to honour their lost sibling. A Cowichan woman who had been captured as a slave was dressed in finery and brought to the mortuary tree where the sister's remains were to be interned. Gifts were bestowed upon her for her journey to the burial site and once there, she was shot and killed.  

The banning of the potlatch by Canadian law came into effect in 1884. A few years after the ban, when she was twenty, one of her sisters told her of a potlatch held by a Chief of the Kwagu’ł that her sister had attended. Potlatches take time to prepare for as the lineage Chief would consult with the oldest members of the household group and everyone would be involved. Though the ban had come into effect, preparations would have been well underway and the date already set.

Part of those preparations was the amassing of food and gifts for those invited as guests. Ceremonial pieces would be carved, Coppers polished and plans for what to give — or what to destroy — as the outright destruction of property is the ultimate mark of rank. One of the most valuable items you could destroy as part of your property was slaves.   

The Kwakiutl had Hamastas, members chosen to embody the ancient cannibals of their ancestors and act out ritualized cannibalism, most often at potlatch celebrations. These ritualistic dances are passed down through the lineage and are still practised today.

Although it was long past the time when slavery had been formally outlawed, slavery was still practised along the coast and the last slave held by the Kwakiutl First Nations was serving at the celebrations. His master, the son of a Chief, stabbed him to death in a frenzy at the close of a potlatch. He would later serve jail time for the murder but come home fluent in English and well-thought-of by his peers for the adventures he had been on and for the great wealth he had dispatched, both in blankets and gifts and by the ultimate offering — the killing of a slave.

Elizabeth Hunt Wilson's husband was the accountant at one of the canneries in Rivers Inlet — possibly the Beaver Cannery. Alec Spencer would meet her when she came to Port Hardy on the Union Steamship. She would descend the vessel in her Hudson's Bay Company coat looking grand. Elizabeth Hunt Wilson fondly remembered as Aunt Lizzie died in 1954. The Vancouver Province ran a front line headline, "Fourth Coffin Ready, Aunt Lizzie Dies," to mark her departure. 

Elizabeth Hunt Wilson passed away as a widow with no children. She was an independent spirit. She kept a casket she was buried in was kept in her basement. Before she passed, Aunt Lizzie gave her casket to family members that had passed. This happened three times. Folk like Sally McMahon and Dusty would play funeral, taking turns being the departed while others sang hymns. When Aunt Lizzie passed Dusty inherited her house. 

References: The Beaver Magazine, Issue: December 1946. 

Note: The Beaver magazine was founded and published, during eras shaped by colonialism. Concepts such as racial, cultural, or gender equality were rarely, if ever, considered by the magazine or its contributors. In earlier issues, you find comments and terms now considered to be derogatory. It was originally published by the Hudson's Bay Company and is not partially funded by them and published by Canada’s History Society as Canadas History. /

Photo One: The Beaver, 1946. Elizabeth Hunt Wilson (1870-1854). Her First Nation name at Fort Rupert was Whale-swimming-by or Tlahlemdalaokwaw; at 'Ya̱lis, Alert Bay, Cormorant Island amongst the 'Na̱mg̱is First Nation her name was Thunderbird or Kunkwunkulegye.

Elizabeth is wearing a Chilkat blanket woven for her by her mother, a Master Tlingit Weaver. Anislaga made a blanket for each of her children. The spruce root hat she is holding is of Kwakiutl design. Elizabeth called her mother Anain — and that she was born with the name Ansnaq — though is often called Anislaga or Anisalaga.

Photo Two: Chimney at the Hudson's Bay Fort, Tsax̱is, Fort Rupert, British Columbia. City of Vancouver Archives.

Note: Robert Hunt (1828-1893) and Mary Ebbetts (1823-1919). They had eleven children, seven daughters and four sons: Elizabeth Hunt (1870-1954; married Wilson), Emily (1852-1922), George (1864-1932), William (1866-1952), Eli Fredrick (1867-1936), Sarah Edna (1871-1948), Mary (1854-; who died young), Robert James Jr. (1874-1896; died a young man), Jane Charity (1873-1940; married Cadwalader), Mary (named for the one who died), and Annie (1856-1924; married Spencer — and had several children: Ann, Roy, Calvin, Allan, Stevens, Norman).

Note: Those living in Tsax̱is, Fort Rupert, British Columbia refer to themselves as Kwagu’ł, Kwakiutl or Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw, speakers of Kwak'wala. The term Kwakwa̱ka̱’wakw is relatively recent in the lexicon and useful as a catchword for all the various Kwakwala speaking groups who were amalgamated from roughly twenty-five-plus local clans, each aligned to a singular familial Chief. Edward Curtis often labelled his photos Qagyuhl for his interpretation of Kwagu’ł.


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