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Uploaded:2023-01-10
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Fossils aren't just something you find at dig sites.


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Sources

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Special thanks to Dr. Xida Ling
This SciShow video is supported by Linode.

You can go to linode.com/scishow to learn more and get a $100 60-day credit on a new Linode account. [ intro ] In many fields of science, discoveries can be made in really oddball, unexpected locations and circumstances. We’ve covered a few of those lucky discoveries in a previous video.

But that’s probably not as common in a field like paleontology, right? It seems like making discoveries, or at least finding new fossils, would be pretty straightforward: You go into the desert, ideally dressed like Laura Dern in Jurassic Park. You wail on rocks with your chisels, hammers, and brushes until you find some ancient plants and animals stuck into the stone.

And if you find anything good, you take it home, you identify it, and put it in a museum. That's it! Paleontology!

But fossil-finding can be as full of oopsie-daisy discoveries as any other science. Fossils have been found in a lot of weird places— and in some surprising ways. Here are just a few stories of ancient life turning up in odd places.

It’s a simple fact of life, everyone poops. But did you know that not only did ancient animals poop also but that their poop is in the fossil record? They’re called coprolites, and they can tell us a lot about what ancient animals were eating, which makes them useful for finding out more about how the poop-maker of the past lived.

But they can also contain /other/ fossils, there’s fossils in the fossil’s poops. For instance, there is a small fossil insect similar to modern water bugs called Triamyxa coprolithica that is the only known species of its family. These particular beetles lived during the Triassic period, between 252 and 201 million years ago. ~ And we only found these little guys because they were part of some /bigger/ guy’s lunch.

The fossil bugs were discovered perfectly preserved in the coprolite of an early relative of the dinosaurs, probably Silesaurus opolensis. . ~ Not only did these beetles get found in poop, but we /named them/ after that fact. So they got eaten and then they got roasted – talk about adding insult to injury.~ But what’s really interesting about the fossil poops is that the dinosaur that made them is a mystery itself. And the real kicker is that it's not beyond the realm of possibility that this mysterious pooper could already be cooling its heels in some fossil collection somewhere Which brings us to our next fossil discovery!

Have you ever been cleaning your room and stumbled across something you like, completely forgot you had? Maybe it’s a book your friend lent you that you haven’t read, or a new notebook that you were like going to write the next great novel in that’s still covered in shrink wrap, but whatever it is ends up reminding you about something that you meant to get done, but completely forgot about? Yeah, it turns out that happens to paleontologists too.

Sometimes a team will bring something really cool back from the field with every intention of studying it closely, but then something more urgent comes up, and that fossil gets bumped further and further down the to-do list until….. It gets forgotten. ~ For 90 years. That's roughly what happened with the fossil of Centuriavis lioae – it’s a bird that lived 11 million years ago, it was found in Nebraska in 1933 and had been sitting in the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut ever since. ~ Although humanity had its hot little hands on it for almost a century, it was discovered -- or, rather, rediscovered – in the museum by a couple of paleontologists who realized this lovely specimen was a species that had never been described. ~ While studying it, they realized the fossil was a brand new species and likely an ancestor of modern day turkeys and grouses, making it a really useful find.

On the plus side, this wasn’t as disastrous as forgetting about some beef stroganoff in the back of the fridge. This little birdy was perfectly safe, tucked away in a block of matrix, waiting for a paleontologist to look at it and give this fossil its day in the sun. The same might not go for your friend’s patience about that book loan.

You might wanna just give that back now. Often in fossil hunting, it just takes the right pair of eyes to pick out something that passes unnoticed by hundreds of people every day. For example, a patron in a restaurant in Sichuan, China, looked down at the floor of the courtyard where he was enjoying a nice meal and noticed what looked like dinosaur footprints in the stone that had gone unnoticed.

The patron reached out to Dr. Xing Lida, a professor at China University of Geosciences, and told him what he’d seen. And it was promising enough for Dr.

Xing to travel from Beijing to Sichuan to take a look for himself. He and his research team then headed out to study and 3D scan the footprints to gather more information. The tracks showed that two sauropods took a stroll through some ancient mud that eventually turned into rock.

And 100 million years later, that flat plane of rock just happened to be the perfect place for patio seating. The team is still working to study the footprints, so we don’t know much yet, and there aren’t any peer-reviewed papers about the site just yet. But the restaurant owners are supportive of the ongoing investigations, even if it means they have to lose a couple outdoor tables.

So in the meantime why not make yourself useful and go find us some dino prints at /your/ local bistro? Leave a comment when you do. Now If you’re looking for wines that pair well with a lunch served over some sauropod footprints, consider ordering a bottle from the Jura region of France.

Jura is famous for two things: Its delicious, smoky wines and for being a hotbed of ancient fossils. They’re so commonly found there that the Jurassic period is /named/ for the Jura Mountains on the border of France and Switzerland. The region is known for its dinosaur footprints -- over 1,500 footprints have been found at one quarry site alone.

There are lots of marine fossils too – During the Jurassic period, the area was flat and submerged by a warm, shallow, tropical sea. Which means today the place is absolutely lousy with fossilized marine animals: ancient oysters, ammonites, belemnites and more. ~ Vintners say the fossils contain iodine and salt that give their wines an acidity and smoky flavor that can't be produced without them. In total, growers can produce five varieties of grapes that are used to make several wine varieties that are world renowned.

And, many of the winemakers keep their own personal collections of fossils they find while working in their vineyards.~ All that wine probably makes Jura a great place for researchers to do fieldwork, especially if they give the researchers free samples. Which you gotta do right? Human paleontologists are pretty good at finding fossils, but sometimes they need a little help.

And in at least one case, a helping hand came from like, a million tiny insects. Harvester ants build giant, reinforced burrows that are kinda like military strongholds. The ants make the tops of their nests difficult to crack by piling them over with small rocks, which are gathered over the course of several years by generations of ants. ~ The ants are known to dig six feet below ground and explore up to 100 feet from their burrows looking for bits of hard material to protect their homes.

They can carry off pieces of rock up to 50 times their body weight. Other than rocks, you know what else can be found several feet below ground? Fossils.

Because they are rocks, they’re just very special rocks. Because a harvester ant doesn’t much care about the kinds of rocks they use, they sometimes grab up those fossils, because they are small, hard objects. In 2022, a group of scientists published their analysis of thousands of fossilized teeth belonging to 10 previously-unknown species of ancient rodents that lived around 33 to 35 million years ago.

While poking around harvester ant burrows might help paleontologists fast-track finding some fossils, the tradeoff is usually they get a ton of ant bites in the process. So yeah. I’m going to leave that one to the professionals.

Now again, we all lose track of stuff from time to time – it shouldn't be taken as a referendum on your character. But it’s especially frustrating to lose something before you were even finished with it. And when the thing you lost is an entire fossil dig site, realizing what went missing has to have some extra sting in the tail.

In the 1950s, paleontologists located a wonderland of plant fossils at a site on the border of Brazil and Uruguay called Cerro Chato. The ancient conditions there had been absolutely perfect for fossil-making, and multiple layers of rock from Cerro Chato were completely covered in the imprints of organisms from the Permian period, about 260 million years ago. but there were some fish and mollusk fossils, too. Unfortunately, when the researchers tried to return to Cerro Chato several years after the initial dig … they could not find it.

Due to the lack of memorable landmarks in the area or technology to record its exact location, the researchers were not able to relocate the exact place where those fossils were buried to continue excavating. So, Cerro Chato was lost. Until now!

Thanks to researchers from multiple universities all sharing their notes, the site was rediscovered in 2019. And it's just as exciting as the 70-year-old reports led modern paleobotanists to believe: the area to be studied is enormous, covered with treasures like the ancestors of modern day ferns and conifers. And this time around, they’ve got GPS technology to make sure the site won’t go missing again.

All these fossil finds prove that paleontology research is a lot less predictable than you’d think. Fossil hunting usually takes tools, planning, and well-trained eyeballs. But sometimes, all you need is a little luck.

Or, maybe ants. But you don’t want to rely on luck when it comes to maintaining your students’ grades or your business’ website. And with Linode, you don’t have to.

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You can use it pretty much anywhere, because Linode has data centers strategically placed all over the world with at least a dozen more coming by the end of 2023. As a SciShow viewer, they’re giving you a $100 60-day credit on a new Linode account when you click the link in the description down below or go to linode.com/scishow. So thanks for being a SciShow viewer and thanks to Linode for supporting this SciShow video! [ outro ]