Tag Archives: skeleton

Study finds earliest evidence of artificial cranial deformation in Croatia

In order to indicate cultural affiliations, people in Croatia during the 5th or 6th century could have used cranial modifications, according to a study led by Ron Pinhasi of the University of Vienna and Mario Novak of the Institute for Anthropological Research in Zagreb, Croatia.

Credit: Flickr

The Hermanov vinograd archaeological site in Osijek Croatia has been known since the 1800s. A new pit excavated in 2013 contained three human skeletons dated from 415-560 CE, during the Great Migration Period, a time of significant movement and interaction of various European cultures.

Two of the skeletons showed dramatically modified head shapes, one whose skull had been lengthened obliquely and another whose skull had been compressed and lengthened vertically. This is the oldest known incidence of Artificial Cranial Deformation (ACD) in Croatia.

Artificial cranial deformation is the practice of modifying the skull from infancy to create a permanently altered shape, often to signify social status. In this study, genetic, isotopic and skeletal analysis of the bodies revealed that all were males between 12 and 16 years of age at death and that they all suffered from malnutrition.

They are not obviously of different social status, but genetic analysis found that the two with cranial modifications exhibited very distinct ancestries, one from the Near East and the other from East Asia. The latter is the first individual from the Migration Period with a majority of East Asian ancestry to be found in Europe.

The ACD observed here may have functioned to distinguish members of different cultural groups as these groups interacted closely during the Migration Period, the authors suggested. From the evidence available, it is unclear if these individuals were associated with Huns, Ostrogoths, or another population.

“The most striking observation, based on nuclear ancient DNA, is that these individuals vary greatly in their genetic ancestries: the individual without artificial cranial deformation shows broadly West Eurasian associated-ancestry, the individual with the so-called circular-erect type cranial deformation has Near Eastern associated-ancestry, while the individual with the elongated skull has East Asian ancestry,” Dr. Novak said.

Tyrannosaurus rex.

Largest T. rex skeleton ever found lived in Canada up to its early 30s

Researchers at the University of Alberta (UAlberta) have reported finding the world’s largest Tyrannosaurus rex and the largest dinosaur ever discovered in Canada — they named it “Scotty”.

Tyrannosaurus rex.

A T. rex skull (not Scotty’s).
Image credits Jill White.

The impressive skeleton spans 13 meters in length and, in true paleontologist fashion, was nicknamed for a celebratory bottle of scotch the night it was discovered. Scotty used to live in prehistoric Saskatchewan 66 million years ago. Judging from its leg bones, its discoverers estimate that it weighed some 8,800 kg while alive, making it bigger than any other carnivorous dinosaur whose fossil we’ve recovered.

King of kings

“This is the rex of rexes,” said Scott Persons, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biological Sciences at the UAlberta.

“There is considerable size variability among Tyrannosaurus. Some individuals were lankier than others and some were more robust. Scotty exemplifies the robust. Take careful measurements of its legs, hips, and even shoulder, and Scotty comes out a bit heftier than other T. rex specimens.”

The skeleton was first uncovered in 1991, when several paleontologists — including T. rex expert, UAlberta professor, and one of this study’s co-authors Phil Currie — were called in on the project. The bones were encased in hard sandstone, and it took the team over a decade to remove the bones from the stone without damaging them. Now, however, the researchers have been able to assemble and look at Scotty in its original shape.

Scotty’s size immediately made an impression on the team. It is the largest T. rex specimen, by both size and weight, that we have ever recovered. It is also, according to the team, the most senior dinosaur of the species that we have ever seen.

“Scotty is the oldest T. rex known,” Persons explains. “By which I mean, it would have had the most candles on its last birthday cake. You can get an idea of how old a dinosaur is by cutting into its bones and studying its growth patterns. Scotty is all old growth.”

“By Tyrannosaurus standards, it had an unusually long life. And it was a violent one. Riddled across the skeleton are pathologies — spots where scarred bone records large injuries.”

T. rexes tended to live very violent — and thus not very long — lives. Scotty, estimated to have been in its early 30s when it died, stands out as being quite old. It’s even more surprising that the dino reached this advanced age as its skeleton shows signs of broken ribs, an infected jaw, and a lot of battle scars — including, possibly, a bite from another T. rex on its tail.

“I think there will always be bigger discoveries to be made,” said Persons “But as of right now, this particular Tyrannosaurus is the largest terrestrial predator known to science.”

A new exhibit featuring the skeleton of Scotty is set to open at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in May 2019.

The paper “An Older and Exceptionally Large Adult Specimen of Tyrannosaurus rex” has been published in the journal The Anatomical Record.

10 of the Weirdest Prehistoric Creatures

Eons ago, many millennia before written history, bizarre animals roamed the Earth. The most renowned of these prehistoric creatures were the dinosaurs. Countless films have been made featuring these great reptiles. But during the various epochs of our world’s prehistory there existed many other weird and wonderful beasts. And many of them had names that were even weirder.

You will find some of these to be even more fascinating than dinosaurs. It was in this era before the dominance of mankind that life on Earth underwent a great deal of evolution. And, in fact, the Earth itself, its land masses and oceans, also evolved drastically.


Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Living in the late Devonian period, Ichthyostega was one of the earliest amphibian-like animals. It had the head and tail of a fish, and it needed to return to the water in order to breed. The feature which differentiated Ichthyostega from lobe-finned fish was the limbs. In Ichthyostega, the fins were jointed, with leg and toe bones. Ichthyostega‘s foot was odd by modern standards. It had eight toes.


Sharovipteryx. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Scientists believe Sharovipteryx to be an ancestral link to the winged reptiles the pterosaurs. Not classified as a true pterosaur itself, it lived in the early Triassic period over 240 million years ago. It’s in a class of its own. The creature’s remains have been unearthed at the Madygen Formation in Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia. It was a mere one foot in length. It had four appendages which seem to have possessed thin flaps of skin like wings. The two forelimbs were quite short, and the rear limbs were much longer. Some theorize this design enabled Sharovipteryx to jump with ease. Paleontologists believe its mode of transportation was more like gliding than true flying.


Longisquama. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Longisquama. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

This creature was what has been called a diapsid. The diapsids were a reptilian subclass which eventually would evolve into the most important reptile subclass. But it began as a small group of climbing and gliding reptiles. The diapsids lived in forests located on the supercontinent Pangea during the Triassic period. Thus, Pangea was the place Longisquama would have called home.

The skeleton’s most stunning feature is a double row of long scale-like structures running along its back, forming six to eight pairs. It had one pair of scales for each of its pairs of ribs. The scales had a central hollow vein, like bird feathers. But unlike feathers, Longisquama‘s scales seem to have been formed of flat sheets and not genuine plumes. This is the creature featured in this article’s header image.


Illustration of an Aetosaur. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.


Stagonolepis was an aetosaur, sometimes also synonymically referred to as a stagonolepid. The Triassic world was filled with a vast variety of crocodilian species. The aetosaurs were unique among the early crocodiles since they were herbivorous. Unlike modern crocs, they were vegetarians. And Stagonolepis was one of the most prevalent of the stagonolepids at the close of the Triassic. Its long, narrow body was armor-coated, and it was capable of reaching a length of nine feet. Some artist renderings depict a creature which rather resembles a modern armadillo.


Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The caseids were another group of early reptiles. No reptile living today looked as odd as the Casea. The massive pig-like body, tiny head, overhanging upper jaw with peg-like teeth, and lower jaw with no teeth gave Casea a goofy look. These prehistoric creatures had large ribcages and were capable of reaching four feet long. Their prime occurred in the late Permian period. The term “casea” means “cheesy.”


Nothosaurus. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Nothosaurus. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Nothosaurs were related to the plesiosaurs but did not always have the best physical capabilities for coping with marine life. These reptiles did not have gills. So they had to come up to the surface for fresh air. Their long necks which would have easily been able to sneak into a school of fish were a big asset when it came to catching their prey.

Nothosaurus is one example of a nothosaur. Others such as Ceresiosaurus, Pachypleurosaurus, and Lariosaurus are also classified as nothosaurs. A good deal of our basic understanding of these marine reptiles comes from Dr. Oliver Rieppel of the Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois. Nothosaurus itself lived in the mid-Triassic, and its name’s meaning is translated as “false lizard.” Scientists have considered two possibilities as to how the animals gave birth to their offspring. The eggs were laid on the sandy shores like modern sea turtles. Or a Nothosaurus would give live birth to its young at sea just as some sharks do today.


3D Model of Stegosaurus

You know, it would be kind of unfair not to include at least one dinosaur in this list. (Although, cinema and literature have almost made them overrated.) What is so special or weird about Stegosaurus apart from the fact that it was a dinosaur? Well, it isn’t really. It is primarily included on this top ten list in order to clear up some misconceptions and mysteries surrounding its public consideration. Dwelling in the prehistoric Americas in the late Jurassic period, Stegosaurus had bony plates along its back and small ossicles covering its throat.

In relation to the creature’s mass, it has the smallest brain of all dinosaurs. Speaking of brains, here is another fun fact which some people still may have never heard. For a time, scientists were throwing out the hypothesis that a certain organ located in the tail of a Stegosaurus was responsible for performing some actions in the dinosaur’s posterior end.

However, the mass of nerves or whatever organ it may have been is no longer considered to have been a true brain. As for its renowned plates, scientists have made several speculations as to their function. They could have been for simple body defense when sparring with its peers or evading predators. They might have been for storing up heat during the day to then “burn up” after the sun went down. Or the plates even could have a means to attract mates.




Artist Rendering of Thylacosmilus


Thylacosmilus obviously has the body style of a saber-toothed tiger. Interestingly enough, the animal also happened to be a marsupial. A marsupial is simply an animal which has a pouch of skin in which to carry its newborn young for a period. Modern marsupials include kangaroos and opossums. Living in the late Tertiary period, Thylacosmilus had strong, long-lived family relationships. Any restoration is far from perfect since a full skeleton has never been found.


Credit: Frontiers of Zoology.

Credit: Frontiers of Zoology.

Considered a pronghorn, Tsaidamotherium lived in the late Tertiary and bears some resemblance to the musk ox of present-day. Its body shape seems related to that of bovines. Tsaidamotherium was a grazing creature like many of its Miocene peers and lived on the Mongolian plains. It possessed one great cylindrical horn ontop its forehead and directly in the center. Another much smaller horn was located directly adjacent to it.

The likely function that its larger horn is supposed to have carried out was perhaps for display to attract a counterpart of the opposite gender. At first glance then, this creature could resemble the description of the mythical beast the unicorn. Dougal Dixon states this same relation in The World Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Creatures.


Artist Depiction of Megatherium. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.


As the name implies, this brute was a pretty large mammal. It was actually a giant ground sloth related to modern sloths. An inhabitant of South America during the Quaternary period, an adult standing on its hind legs could reach a height of 20 feet. Megatherium was previously regarded as a slow tree ripper. But recent studies show that its great claws might have been used for stabbing and killing. If this was the purpose of its claws, it would make the giant sloth the largest predator of the South American plains.

Ancient Chinese skeletons found in London could hint at unknown ancient community and trade

Two ancient skeletons discovered in a Southwark cemetery cast a new light on the Roman Empire’s and London’s history, and could indicate a Chinese trading community once called the island home.

Part of the remains found in Southwark.
Image credits Museum of London.

Dr Rebecca Redfern, curator of human osteology at the Museum of London, has revealed two sets of remains found in a London cemetery which she believes are likely of Chinese origin. The bones were found at a site in Lant Street, Southwark, in a group of over 20 sets of human skeletons dated from between the 2nd and 4th centuries AD. Dental enamel samples from the remains were examined using cutting-edge techniques, revealing the surprising origin of the two skeletons.

“This is absolutely phenomenal. This is the first time in Roman Britain we’ve identified people with Asian ancestry and only the 3rd or 4th in the empire as a whole”, Redfern told BBC Radio 4.

Previous archaeological discoveries have shown that the city of Londinium, as it was known in Roman times, had a multicultural population and was an important trading hub. However, it was always believed that its people included only residents of the Roman Empire. The skeletons fly in the face of this traditional belief that Roman Britain was a pretty homogeneous society.

It also suggests that the Roman and Chinese empires had much more interaction than previously believed. They also raise the possibility of trade taking place between the two nations outside of the famous Silk Road — London is a good distance away from the route. The findings raise the possibility that Chinese traders settled in the area, and may have even set up their own trading communities.

One of the skeletons the team identified as Chinese.
Image credits Museum of London.

This is only the second time an individual of possibly Chinese origin has been found at a Roman site, the first being the discovery of a man with Asian ancestry man in Vagnari, Italy.

“The expansion of the Roman Empire across most of western Europe and the Mediterranean, led to the assimilation and movement of many ethnically and geographically diverse communities,” wrote Dr Redfern in The Journal of Archaeological Science.

The archeological community is still divided on what to make of the finding. Two skeletons is still a meager testimony of a whole community living in Roman Britain.

“Its power and wealth meant that it also had trade connections for raw materials and products, such as silk throughout Europe, Africa and also to the east, including India and China. Many people travelled, often vast distances, for trade or because of their occupation, for example in the military, or their social status, for example if they were enslaved,” Dr Redfern added in her paper.

“It may well be that these individuals were themselves or were descended from enslaved people originating from Asia, as there were slave-trade connections between India and China, and India and Rome.”

The full paper “Identifying migrants in Roman London using lead and strontium stable isotopes” has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The first skull excavated from the site, with a mortal wound caused by a spear or an arrow. Photo: Curator Ejvind Hertz, Skanderborg Museum

Whole 2000 year-old army of skeletons uncovered in Denmark. They tell of a macabre end

The first skull excavated from the site, with a mortal wound caused by a spear or an arrow. Photo: Curator Ejvind Hertz, Skanderborg Museum

The first skull excavated from the site, with a mortal wound caused by a spear or an arrow. Photo: Curator Ejvind Hertz, Skanderborg Museum

In an archeological dig in the Danish bog Alken Enge wetlands lies the remains of an army long dead. There scientists recently uncovered hundreds of skeletons, some presenting clear evidence of a violent death, along with a slew of shields, armors, spears or axes. Researchers are still trying to determine the soldiers’ identities, places of origin, and the reason for which they were met with such a dramatic finale.

A lot of blogs and news outlets that have reported the findings seem to all blindly title the whole event as an “army sent for sacrifice”. With all due respect, this sounds preposterous. Now, the bodies were identified as being 2,000 years old, coincidentally or not around the time of Christ. Needless to say, these were dark times, especially in the wild north of Europe, where pagan rituals were abundant. The main hypothesis is that the skeletons belonged to a tribe which lost a battle, and the winning side gathered the prisoners, sacrificed them and then threw them in what used to be lake – today’s bog and wetlands.

“It’s clear that this must have been a quite far-reaching and dramatic event that must have had profound effect on the society of the time,” explains Project Manager Mads Kähler Holst, professor of archaeology at Aarhus University, in a statement.

A fractured skull lies among the remains of hundreds of warriors in a Danish bog. Credit: Ejvind Hertz, Skanderborg Museum;

A fractured skull lies among the remains of hundreds of warriors in a Danish bog. Credit: Ejvind Hertz, Skanderborg Museum;

In the death pit, Holst and his team have found fractured skulls, hacked-off thigh bones and a colorful assortment of ancient weapons. Remember, although they call it the Iron Age, iron and especially crafted iron, was an extremely valuable commodity. If, indeed, they were sacrificed, why leave the bodies with the weapons and armor attached? Was this a sign of respect for a well fought, brave battle? These are the viking forefathers we’re talking about, so this possibility doesn’t seem that far-fetched.  Personally, not buying it.

 A very well-preserved iron axe with shaft. Photo: Rikke Larsson Photo/Media Depatment Moesgaard Museum;

A very well-preserved iron axe with shaft. Photo: Rikke Larsson Photo/Media Depatment Moesgaard Museum;

Still, much more needs to be discovered.  The mass grave is so immense that the researchers gave up on trying to excavate it all, focusing instead on smaller digs that will allow them to recreate a picture of the larger landscape and the horrific events that transpired some 2,000 years ago.

“We’ve done small test digs at different places in a 40-hectare (100-acre) wetlands area, and new finds keep emerging,” Ejvind Hertz of Skanderborg Museum, who is directing the dig, said.

If by chance or not, you’re in Denmark at the moment, know that the site is open for visitors.  Tours run on Thursdays.


Brain dead: 2500 year old perfectly preserved British brain found

A 2500 year old British skull is not a major surprise for archaeologists, but a brain inside it, now that’s not your average Kinder surprise. The fact that shrunken fragile organ still exists raises some serious questions about organ preservation and how often researchers can expect to find this kind of things.

What’s interesting is that aside from the brain, all of the skull’s soft tissue was gone when the muddy body part was extracted from a site where the University of York was planning to expand its Heslington East campus.

“It was just amazing to think that a brain of someone who had died so many thousands of years ago could persist just in wet ground,” said Sonia O’Connor, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Bradford.

“It’s particularly surprising, because if you talk to pathologists who deal with fresh dead bodies they say the first organ to really deteriorate and to basically go to liquid is the brain because of its high fat content,” O’Connor said.

The skull didn’t ‘come’ alone; scientists also found a jaw and two neck vertebrae, which bear the sad marks of hanging and then decapitation. He was somewhere between 26 and 45 years old, but his origin, or the reason why he was hung and then decapitated remain a mystery. For some reason however, well preserved brains tend to be ignored by mainstream archaeological publications.

“I think part of the problem is archaeologists are very happy to deal with humans’ skeletal remains but as soon as there is any hint of soft tissue it is psychologically very, very different. You are no longer dealing with a skeleton, you are dealing with the remains of a corpse and, of course, a corpse is a dead individual,” she said.

What’s even more interesting is that this seems to be an isolated corpse, with no other remains found in the area.

An interesting fact: Male fertility is in the bones

The researchers of the Columbia University Medical Center discovered a nice revealed a nice little nugget of information that will probably astonish most of our male (and probably female) readers. The male fertility is determined partially by the bones.

How exactly does this work and how does this effect us? Well, they’ve discovered that the skeleton in male mice acts as a regulator through a hormone released by bone, known as osteocalcin.

Until recently, the only interactions that we were aware of between the bone and the reproductive system was focused in a huge part on the influence of gonads on the build-up of bone mass.

What’s stunning however, is that although this exchange between the bone and the rate of fertility was mainly based on estrogen, researchers did not find any effect on females. When asked why, they did not elaborate on this.

“We do not know why the skeleton regulates male fertility, and not female. However, if you want to propagate the species, it’s probably easier to do this by facilitating the reproductive ability of males,”

“This is the only rationale I can think of to explain why osteocalcin regulates reproduction in male and not in female mice.” said Dr. Karsenty.

In simpler words, the researchers at the Columbia University Medical Center have no idea why this doesn’t effect females, but I suddenly feel the urge to keep my bones healthy. After all, the DNA in rats is surprisingly similar to ours.

So-called vampire found in mass grave

Whether it’s due to novels and movies or some morbid fascination, more and more people seem to be fascinated about vampires. Still, when people first started to believe in them, things were quite different from now.

For example, instead of drinking blood, it was believed that they chewed on their shrouds of people that died, and at that time, it seemed that was how the plague was spreading (or at least it was an idea). To prevent them from doing this, grave diggers put a brick in their mouth. This was probably caused by the fact that sometimes blood is expelled from the mouths of the dead, which causes shroud to sink inwards and tear.

Now Matteo Borrini of the University of Florence in Italy found such a skeleton with a brick in its mouth while excavating some graves of plague victims from the Middle Ages near Venice. According to his claims, this the first vampire that was examined forensically.

Still, there are those who oppose this idea, such as Peer Moore-Jansen of Wichita State University in Kansas. He claims he has found similar skeletons in Poland, and he says that while this finding is in fact very exciting, “claiming it as the first vampire is a little ridiculous”. The response was short but firm: it’s the earliest grave to show “exorcism evidence against vampires”.