2018 James Moore Memorial Prize: Entry Deadline 25th. August 2017!

The deadline for the 2018 James Moore Memorial Prize is rushing up (25th. August 2017).

For eligibility criteria and full entry details visit: http://flinderspalaeosoc.org/james-moore-memorial-fund

The James Moore Memorial Fund in Palaeontology provides two annual scholarships that are awarded to one rural high school student and one metropolitan high school student. The scholarships offer students the opportunity to join the Flinders crew on a field trip and get some hands on experience. Teagan Cross, the 2017 recipient, writes about her experiences at the Wellington Caves.

 

2017 James Moore Memorial Prize:

Wellington Caves Palaeontology Trip

By Teagan Cross

When I found out I won this trip, I was so excited. On the 23rd of January I met up with Gavin and his crew, as well as two runner-ups for this competition, Lachie and Stephen, to start an adventure at Wellington Caves in NSW.

The first day was spent driving and getting to know everybody, and learning about the music they liked. On the first night we swagged it at a caravan park in West Wyalong. We got rained on during the middle of the night, but didn’t get eaten alive by bugs. The next morning we packed up and set off for Wellington.
We stayed at the UNSW Research Station, which was a few minutes out of Wellington, and about 10 kms from the Wellington Caves. We had the river flowing by us, and cattle to greet us every morning. The first day we went to the caves we had an early morning rise and got the outdoor station set up and the Pit inside of Cathedral Caves organised and ready to go.

Every day we would split up into two groups. One group would go into the caves and dig in the Pit, and the others would stay to sift and clean clay and fossils that had been found. The days’ temperatures reached 40 degrees, but we stopped at lunch-times to have breaks and even get in a swim at the caravan park pool to cool down. The Pit was one of the most exciting parts of this trip. Many people would eventually go a bit crazy being down in the Pit, 3 metres underground in a hole in the cave, surrounded by metal slats holding it up, but that was what made it interesting. Whilst using tools to dig for bones, there would be many jokes and laughter rising up from the Pit. It was a place of discovery and fun. I will never forget the moment when that spade first hit bone. Within minutes I was holding two tail bones from an extinct giant kangaroo. That feeling was incredible, and almost indescribable. It suddenly occurs to you that in your hand are the remains of an amazing creature that lived hundreds or thousands of years ago, and that you are the first person to see it and experience it. 

Up on land, on the edge of the hill and in front of The Phosphate Mine, was where the other station was located. We had a trailer and shade set up, and what Diana described as little ‘possums,’ (more accurately little calico bags filled with fossils and clay) hanging from a shelter. There were two final rinsing tanks set up, and many black plastic cleaning containers set up. We had to empty a bag of clay into a metal box-like object which would sit in the water-filled containers and be shaken to sift and separate mud from rocks and bones. This would be done a couple of times before the final rinsing stage, and after all of that we would scrape the fossils into a little calico bag and hang it up to dry. 

Above: Rinsing tanks at the Phosphate mine with ‘little possums’ hanging above. Photo: D. Fusco (2017)

In-between work we got to go on tours of the caves that were there; the stalactite and stalagmite filled Gaden Caves, the fossil filled Phosphate Mine Cave, and the Cathedral Cave. All were beautiful caves that were exciting to be in and probably held many secrets. If nothing was needed to be done for those who had finished sifting, we would go back to the research centre and sort through some dirt and fossils that had been cleaned and bagged from the last trip that was taken down there. Using paintbrushes and tweezers we discovered many molars, pre-molars, incisors and other bones of small mammals, and the more we found, the more exciting it became. Us rookies were tested on skulls to see if we knew which skull belonged to what organism, and we quizzed the pros to see if they could guess what organism belonged to the skull we had described. Really soon we could recognise different kinds of teeth, femurs, fibulas and tibias, among a few other bone types (however it was still sometimes confusing, but that was part of the learning experience). 

Above: Pit entrance in Cathedral Cave, Wellington Caves, NSW. Photo: D. Fusco (2017)

A few days before the trip was over, four more members came down to help out. Pretty soon we had a full house of 12 people, all working to help discover the megafauna that walked along this land many years ago. One of the moments that stood out a lot was our shopping trips. It was hilarious to watch the expressions of other customers when they saw us walk in covered with orange clay, and I always knew which aisle one of us had been in from the dirt we trailed on the floor! The mornings were fun too. It started off with waking up, getting brekky, and then doing the best you can to wake everybody else up. For me this involved running down the hall, banging on the doors and yelling “time to get up!” Diana’s approach was much nicer, knocking on the doors and asking them to please get up. Many nights we went to sleep after playing Grant’s board games (which were awesome) or watching Jake’s TV shows, and were lulled into our slumber by Sam’s serenading.

Above: Teagan (foreground) & Diana digging for ‘treasure’ at the
bottom of the pit.Photo: D. Fusco (2017)

Leaving was really hard. I had a blast down at the caves, and the team welcomed me in with open arms. To me, they felt like a family, and I’ll never forget the memories I made with them. Everybody was friendly and caring, and despite the heat and repetitive work, there was never a dull moment. This trip really was an exciting adventure, and I would go again and again if I could. I made many great friends and awesome discoveries, and I came home with many stories to share. To everyone who went, thank you all for the great opportunity! I had so much fun down there with you all, and can’t wait to join you on more trips. No pun intended, you guys rock!

Teagan Cross

Teagan is now in her first year of her science degree at Flinders taking the major in Vertebrate Palaeontology. This major is brand new and only became available this year. For more information click on link:

http://www.flinders.edu.au/courses/undergrad/majors/vertebrate-palaeontology.cfm

If you would like to donate to the James Moore Memorial Fund click on link:

http://www.flinders.edu.au/giving/ways-to-give/pay-tribute/james-moore-memorial-fund

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Eye of the Beholder

In our lab we become immersed in the study of our fossils. We clean and repair them, sort them from sediment, extract them from rocks, count them, measure them, scan them, draw them, classify them, ponder on their evolutionary history and taxonomy, work out how they fit into the ecological framework of their time and place, write papers, give lectures, and discuss them at length with colleagues.

But in among all this science something perhaps get lost along the way. Something that either we don’t notice at all, or for which we forget to look. Their simple beauty.

So it’s time to step out of the scientists’ shoes and value the fossils as simply beautiful objects in their own right, and perhaps to ponder on the living animals that fleshed out the bones, some of which we shall never see again.

Here are just a few photographs of some particularly beautiful specimens (not all from our lab).

Enjoy!

Metamorphosis: Thylacine into……..butterfly?

Small Passerine bird mummy (unidentified) (modern)

Ngapakaldia sp. skull (~ 24 million years)

(Extinct herbivore in the Phascolarctidae family, related to wombats & koalas)

Beautiful symmetry – Shingleback lizard (Tiliqua rugosa) scales (modern)

 

A nose by any other name………. Diprotodon sp.

An exquisite male Microbrachius dicki 

(A tiny Placoderm species from the Middle Devonian ~387-382 million years)

Hand of Thylacoleo carnifex (late Pleistocene)

Last, but not least. Simply stunning – the ‘Ammolite Ammonite’

from the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

If you enjoyed these then also check out our blog item ‘This Fish will Blow you Out of the Water!’ And, if you haven’t seen it already, the opalised fossil Plesiosaur in the S.A. Museum is equally stunning.

 

 

Research Group Profile: Assoc. Prof. Trevor Worthy

A palaeontologist is what many a kid dreams of becoming and I have been lucky enough to achieve that handle. Today I am a specialist in fossil birds and a bit of a meddler in various other groups such as bats, lizards and frogs. I joined the palaeo group at Flinders University in 2013 and am privileged to work alongside others who have a focus on mammals or fish, and get to do exciting expeditions into the deserts to the north of Adelaide, and study my precious, that is bird, fossil bones. 

            One might ask, how did this situation come about? The road has been somewhat long and bumpy you might say, but ever since I was a kid on a farm in a poor rural part of New Zealand I knew I wanted to do science, and biology in particular. My Grandma was a shell collector (actually quite a famous one I later learned), and from her I learned to sort stuff – leaf litter for land snails, and dredgings for marine molluscs – starting from about 10 years old I’d say. I was never any good at remembering what I was meant to do, but got to know shells, and digested books.

            I was lucky enough to have parents who packed me off to boarding school. There I found an escape in the weekends teaming up with the Ornithological Society’s Beach Patrol schemes: basically one got to walk on beaches and pick up dead birds. And so I was introduced to bird bones. Then I moved farther from home to Hamilton and Waikato University where I joined the caving club. In my caving trips – every weekend, and sometimes mid-week as well, for the next several years – I saw heaps of moa and other fossil bones. In my naivety, I figured no scientist would ever go down to these places, and so I resolved to somehow study these resources. I moved to the caving centre of NZ at Waitomo Caves and joined the local museum on some scheme for unemployed/able folk. There I got a specific ‘job’ to go out and collect fossil bones and build a collection for the museum. How cool was that! So for months I roamed caves all about, looking for fossil deposits. This led to a publication 1984 on a spectacular deposit that had lots of fossil insects among a rich haul of bones.

            After that I went back to University and did another MSc on fossil frogs, and from there went into what is now Te Papa in Wellington, and made sufficient nuisance of myself that they gave me something to do. This led to a contract to survey Honeycomb Hill Cave system, a spectacular cave with 70 entrances and 20 or so kilometres of passage – and heaps of fossil bones. We then started worked on those bones in 1987, and one contract led to another. In 2005, the latest in a succession of contracts came to an end in NZ. I had by then never had a job, just worked contract to contract, with myself the boss – so it was time for a change.

            A young fellow I had tutored at one stage, was now Director of ACAD and said, ‘Come over here and we will support you for a PhD’, and so next thing I knew, after 15+ years doing research, I took up a PhD. Really it was just another fossil bird project, and when that was done, an interval at University of New South Wales, back to Adelaide University and thence Flinders. All the time chasing bird bones about the world.  So little has changed, I still don’t have a job, I still study fossils, still get to do the things I love, but I now do know a little bit about bird bones.  This week I again visited some of the bones I collected in 1987 for a current project… no end is in sight.

Above: Trevor at the Manuherikia River Site, St Bathans, Otago, NZ in January 2005. This bed is the source of near 70 vertebrate species (12 fish, 40 birds, a croc, a turtle, 2 frogs, a tuatara, 4 lizards, 5 bats, and 2 other mammals) plus molluscs.

A great example of where a childhood interest can take you. Trevor has accumulated an impressive list of academic achievements and awards along the way, including publication of more than 200 peer-reviewed papers, 4 books and numerous other technical publications, and has been involved as a consultant in several television documentaries.

            In addition to his position within the Flinders Palaeontology research group he was Elected President of the Society of Avian Palaeontology and Evolution (2012 – 2016), is a continuing member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology and of Zootaxa, and is Honorary Research Associate in the Vertebrate Fossil Department, Museum of New Zealand.

Trevor’s full academic profile can be viewed at these sites:

http://www.flinders.edu.au/people/trevor.worthy

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Trevor_Worthy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A great example of where a childhood interest can take you. Trevor has accumulated an impressive list of academic achievements and awards along the way, including publication of more than 200 peer-reviewed papers, 4 books and numerous other technical publications, and has been involved as a consultant in several television documentaries.

            In addition to his position within the Flinders Palaeontology research group he was Elected President of the Society of Avian Palaeontology and Evolution (2012 – 2016), is a continuing member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology and of Zootaxa, and is Honorary Research Associate in the Vertebrate Fossil Department, Museum of New Zealand.

 

Trevor’s full academic profile can be viewed at these sites: http://www.flinders.edu.au/people/trevor.worthy https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Trevor_Worthy

This fish will blow you out of the water!

THIS FISH WILL BLOW YOU OUT OF THE WATER…

Content: Dr. Brian Choo

Edited by: Susan Double

The art of the fossil preparator is an unseen, and perhaps underrated discipline. The fossils we see in museum and lab collections rarely come in from the field in a fit condition to display or study. Someone has to separate them from the sediment or rock they may be encased in, clean them, sometimes fix them if broken and finally harden the bone so that they may be preserved and protected into the future. This can take many weeks or months depending upon the process used.

            A fossil fish was recently brought into the prep lab by researcher Dr. Brian Choo (http://www.flinders.edu.au/people/brian.choo). Encased within a calcareous nodule, which had been cleaved neatly into part and counterpart in the field, it was barely recognisable, except by a fish expert, that is. The nodule was passed to our chief preparator, Carey Burke, to see if he could extract the fossil seen vaguely within. Thus began the long preparation process.

Above: The calcareous nodule containing the Moythomasia durgaringa as it arrived in the prep lab from the field (Photo: Carey Burke, 2016).

The fish is a marine Moythomasia  durgaringa  from the Upper Devonian Gogo Formation of Western Australia. This particular specimen was discovered by Diego Garcia-Bellido Capdevila (University of Adelaide) in 2015. While not a particularly rare specimen its state of preservation is remarkable given its age (~390 million years) – but we weren’t to know that until Carey had released it from its rocky prison.

            Carey used a process called the ‘Transfer Method’ which uses a clear plastic resin to preserve the specimen. Each half-nodule was set face down within transparent acrylic, then given repeated baths in a weak acid solution to remove the matrix. The end result is each half of the fish mounted on a clear slab.

Above: The two halves of the nodule encased in their clay moulds with plastic resin poured on top (Photo: Carey Burke, 2016)

MOYTHOMASIA

Actinopterygians, or ray-finned fishes, today comprise over 30,000 species, or the vast majority of animals we recognise as “fish”. Back in the Devonian, the ray-fins were not particularly diverse, with fewer than 30 species described worldwide.

            Moythomasia is one of the earliest and most primitive actinopterygian in the fossil record. It was also the first genus to attain an effectively global distribution, with different species known from Late Devonian marine deposits in Australia, Latvia, Germany and the USA. 

            The Australian species, Moythomasia durgaringa, thanks to the splendid preservation of the Gogo Formation, is the best known species in the genus, and one of the most completely known of all Palaeozoic ray-finned fishes. The earliest actinopterygians had delicate bodies, and are usually recovered as flattened whole fishes or isolated 3-dimension fragments. The Gogo ray-fins are unique in being complete and uncrushed.

 THE GOGO FORMATION

380 million years ago, during the Frasnian stage of the Late Devonian, a vast tropical reef system, over 1400 km in length, stretched along the coast of eastern Gondwana. While corals were present, the main reef builders were algae and massive calcareous sponges called stromatoporoids.

            Away from the vibrant shallows, the seabed dropped off into deep, dark anoxic basins.  The bodies of reef-dwellers which sank into these oxygen-poor areas were untouched by scavengers and became sealed within calcareous concretions. These deepwater sediments, with numerous limestone nodules, are today what we call the Gogo Formation. Over 50 Gogo fish species have been described, including four actinopterygians.

The end result of the painstaking preparation is breathtaking. Almost every anatomical detail of the fish is present, including tiny teeth and scales (see close-up photos below). It is a stunning example of the preparator’s art and Carey has to be congratulated on the result.

Above: The finished specimen                 (Photo: Brian Choo, 2016)

Above: Close-up of head – note teeth!        (Photo: Brian Choo, 2016)

Above: Close-up of scales.              (Photo: Brian Choo, 2016)

Welcome to the FUPS blog!

Welcome! ….to the Flinders Palaeontology Society’s (FUPS) blog. Here you’ll find all the latest happenings in and around the lab, together with advance notice of palaeo-related events. The members of our research group study a wide range of fields including the evolution of Australia’s unique fauna, the ecological and biodiversity changes of the region through time, the early evolution of vertebrates, molecular palaeobiology, systematics and macroevolution, especially of fossil and living reptiles, and the taxonomy, phylogeny and evolution of fossil birds, all of which encompasses timescales from the Cambrian to the Holocene.

      So let’s get the ball rolling and introduce you to the team starting with our leader:-

(Photo and edited extract from Prof. Prideaux’s biography featured on Flinders University website).

PROFESSOR GAVIN PRIDEAUX:

  I study links between patterns in Australian mammal evolution, ecology and extinction, and climate, and human, driven environmental changes. My students and I spend weeks in the field every year digging up old bones, often from caves, and exploring the contents of museum drawers. We work with experts in many different fields, including archaeologists, geologists and molecular biologists.

During second and third year of a BSc I was introduced to evolution, palaeontology and the Australian biota. I studied kangaroo evolution for a PhD, then completed postdocs (junior research internships) at the University of California, Naracoorte Caves and Western Australian Museum, before returning in 2007 to reanimate palaeontology at Flinders following the retirement of Prof Rod Wells.

      Today, Flinders Palaeontology occupies a suite of purpose-built, centrally-located labs and offices opened in 2014. We have five academic staff, including a Strategic Professor, a Matthew Flinders Fellow, a Vice-chancellor’s Research Fellow and an ARC Future Fellow, as well as an ARC DECRA Fellow, eight research and technical staff, and 18 PhD and Honours students. Our dynamic, diverse, highly interactive group continues to lead research into deep-time evolutionary patterns and processes, and the past and potential future effects of environmental changes on biotas. We regularly make ground-breaking discoveries  that attract international attention.

      Gavin captains a happy ship, which is apparent in the good turnout at the fortnightly lab meetings, and the willingness of everyone (Professors included) to ‘pitch-in’ when a job needs doing, such as emptying  a trailer full of bags of sediment recently returned from a dig. The lab, although staffed by a diverse range of individuals, runs as a team. Success for one is pride for all.

       I’ll introduce you to another member of our team soon. Also coming up is the story of how our preparator, Carey Burke, extracted an exquisitely preserved Devonian fish from a limestone nodule. It’s a breathtaking example of the preparator’s art. Watch this space.

Sue Double

FUPS CAVEPS2017 Student Award

Provides financial assistance covering the Archaeopteryx deal (Super-early bird) registration. Open to any FUPS member that is currently a student and is presenting at CAVEPS2017. The recipient(s) will be chosen by the FUPS committee at random during March 2017, and finances will be refunded during this period. Please ensure initial payment is received when registering for CAVEPS2017.

To be eligible for this award you must meet the following criteria:

  • Currently a member of Flinders University Palaeontology Society (or join with application, membership fee is paid up to date, including duration of conference).
  • Currently an enrolled student (any tertiary institution in Australasia).
  • Required to acknowledge the receipt of the award in your student presentation. We will provide a high-res logo for your powerpoint.
  • Required to write up a summary article of your CAVEPS2017 experience for the following Beer’N’Bones issue (roughly 500-1000 words, 2-3 pages and a few ‘happy snaps’.

If you are interested in applying, please drop us an email to flinderspalaeo@gmail.com

You will need to include your name, current project details (Honours/PhD), institution, submitted presentation abstract, and the receipt as proof of Archaeopteryx registration. If after receiving the award, for some reason you are no longer able to attend, notify us and the conference registrars immediately.

Names we be drawn out of a hat in March and the winner notified by email, good luck!

*Applications have now closed*

Masterclass: Dating in the Quaternary

3:00 – 4:00 pm Fri Nov 4th
Flinders University
Lecture theatre South 1.

Henri Garon, geochronology PhD candidate from Adelaide University, will be giving a masterclass focusing on different dating methods available for the study of the Quaternary (2.58 million years to present).

After a brief reminder on the chronology of the Quaternary, Henri will cover the general principles underlying a number of dating methods, with emphasis on what is actually datable with each method and how it relates to the events we are interested in dating.  Following this overview of the methods, their chronological range, and the supports on which they can be applied, Henri will look a little deeper at the inner workings and principles underlying the optically stimulated dating of sediments.

This talk will be of interest to palaeontologists, archaeologists and anyone interested in Quaternary science. All are welcome.

 

We will sojourn at the Flinders University Tavern after the talk.

 

Free Movie Night!

Everyone is invited! Bring your friends down to Flinders University campus South 1 Lecture Theatre at 6pm, Thursday 6th of October. We will make sure we have pizzas to cater for vegos/vegans and enough soft drinks to share around.

Parking on campus is free from 5pm, the closest parking spots are 7, 8 and 9 all off Biology Road.

See you there!

valley-of-gwangi-movie-night

#PalaeointhePub

The first #PalaeointhePub event kicks off this afternoon at the Flinders Tavern with a Bone Box presentation from Carey Burke, Flinders’ Palaeo Preparator. All members of the society and the general public are invited to come on down and see Flinders Palaeo’s primary outreach program strut it’s stuff.

Nibbles will be provided while aspiring palaeontologists have the chance to chat with fellow students, lecturers and academics. The event starts at 5 pm and is free of charge (although feel free to buy me a beer).

See you all there,

Kailah (President)