With just two inhabited buildings and a population of five, Fossil, Wyo., is all but a ghost town today. But as far as ghosts go, the ones at Fossil are pretty remarkable — 50-million-year-old monitor lizards, stingrays and freakishly long-tailed turtles among them.
Fossil showed promise of becoming a train-stop city during America’s westward expansion. The town’s real golden age, however, may have been the early Eocene, when it was covered in a subtropical lake with an incredible diversity of aquatic life, surrounded by lush mountains and active volcanoes.
Image 1: This is the most complete skeleton of a so-called dawn horse ever discovered. This specimen of Protorohippus venticolus was much more diminutive than today’s horses, standing less than two feet high at the shoulder, but its long back legs suggest it was a good jumper. Perhaps it was less skilled as a swimmer; researchers aren’t sure how the horse ended up at the bottom of the middle of Fossil Lake but they suspect it drowned, possibly trying to escape a predator. Credit: Photo by Lance Grande from The Lost World of Fossil Lake: Snapshots from Deep Time, © 2013, published by the University of Chicago Press.
Image 2: This fossil immortalizes stingray sex of the Eocene. The male and female fat-tailed stingrays (Asterotrygon maloneyi) shown here were likely mating or just about to mate when they were killed, researchers believe. Credit: Photo by Lance Grande from The Lost World of Fossil Lake: Snapshots from Deep Time, © 2013, published by the University of Chicago Press.
Paleoanthropology (English: Palaeoanthropology; from Greek: παλαιός (palaeos) “old, ancient”), anthrōpos (ἄνθρωπος), “man”, understood to mean humanity, and -logia (-λογία), “discourse” or “study”), which combines the disciplines of paleontology and physical anthropology, is the study of ancient humans as found in fossil hominid evidence such as petrifacted bones and footprints.
Dinosaur bone fossil at 10x magnification. 15th place in the 1991 Nikon Small World Competition.
Archaeology: Date with history
By revamping radiocarbon dating, Tom Higham is painting a new picture of humans’ arrival in Europe.
Beside a slab of trilobites, in a quiet corner of Britain’s Oxford University Museum of Natural History, lies a collection of ochre-tinted human bones known as the Red Lady of Paviland. In 1823, palaeontologist William Buckland painstakingly removed the fossils from a cave in Wales, and discovered ivory rods, shell beads and other ornaments in the vicinity. He concluded that they belonged to a Roman-era witch or prostitute.
“He did a good job of excavating, but he interpreted it totally wrong,” says Tom Higham, a 46-year-old archaeological scientist at the University of Oxford’s Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit. Buckland’s immediate successors did a little better. They determined that the Red Lady was in fact a man, and that the ornaments resembled those found at much older sites in continental Europe. Then, in the twentieth century, carbon dating found the bones to be about 22,000 years old1 and, later, 30,000 years old2— even though much of Britain was encased in ice and seemingly uninhabitable for part of that time. When Higham eventually got the bones, his team came up with a more likely scenario: they were closer to 33,000 years old and one of the earliest examples of ceremonial burial in Western Europe