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Dr. Brandon Peecook thought he had made a major paleontological discovery that was going to alter decades of prior research in the field. Then, right before he was about to present his findings, he got a phone call that changed everything.

This episode is funded in part by the National Science Foundation! Check out the other episodes in this series:

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Executive Producer, Creator, Host:
Emily Graslie

Producer, Director, Editor:
Sheheryar Ahsan

Production Assistant, Content Developer, Writer:
Raven Forrest

Interview With:
Dr. Brandon Peecook

'Junk yard' animation by:
Mark Olsen
This episode is filmed on location at the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois.

Additional support for the episode is provided by:
The National Science Foundation:
Grants NSF EAR-1524938 and EAR-1524523

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E: What can scientists learn from a single bone?  In 2014, a Field Museum paleontologist found this single small backbone during field work in Zambia.  He thought the discovery would end up changing decades of prior research, and then, he got a phone call.

B: I'm Brandon Peecook, I'm a post-doc of the Field Museum, and I'm a paleontologist.

E: A couple of years ago, you made a pretty significant discovery that, what I was gonna say, sent ripples throughout the paleontology..

B: That's way too strong.

E: I know. *laughs* That's why I backtracked.

B: "You had a public flip flop" *laughs* In the paleontoglogy circle.

E: How would you say it, like?

B: It has surprising implications. Yeah, so it was a great story of how science kinda just happens.  Like you're doing your work as best you can and you think you have one thing on your hands, and it turns out you're wrong but for not, not awful reasons, and then it kinda changes the whole story of what you were trying to talk about.  So I'm part of a research group that has been going to Zambia and Tanzania for over a decade now, we're collecting fossils from before and after the biggest mass extinction in Earth's history, and so there's lots of cool stuff we find, lots of new species, lots of just awesome straight up specimens.  Some of the things in the Triassic, for instance, are like the first relatives of dinosaurs-choice.  Very good.  And this one thing we found was in the oldest rocks we have there, which are in the Permian period.  And it was this single vertebra, so like the bone from the neck.  Right away, we're so stocked because we thought it belonged to a reptile, like an early relative of things like dinosaurs and crocodiles way back in the Permian, which, if you don't know, is not when we know them from.  They're from much later in time.

E: So finding this and thinking it's a reptile, what does that mean?

B: The global record, all the rocks from this period all over the world that are preserving like, land living ecosystems, we don't find them.  It's a huge problem.  Like, everybody knows these animals have to exist, but we don't have a record of them.  So we have this idea that they would have existed in this period but we've never found them.  And sometimes those periods of time are really really long for certain groups of animals, and that can be due to a bunch of different things.  And that whole idea is encapsulated by this term called a "ghost lineage."

E(voiceover): Alright, hold up.  What is a ghost lineage?

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