Lucy, Out of Africa. Not!

Lucy is the most famous of the Australopithecine Clan – that’s about a half dozen species all together, maybe more. The Clan was long-lived and successful…at least in Africa. They spread from the edge of the Sahara Desert in the north all the way to Cape Province near the southern tip of the continent.

Dig anywhere in this huge area and find bones between 5.8 and 2.5 million years old – and you’ll find australopithecines.

But….Lucy’s entire clan never, EVER got out of Africa.  That’s weird. Lucy was surrounded by mammals that went globe-trotting. Big predators and even bigger herbivores traveled in and out of Africa, and then over Europe, Asia, North America – even South America.

World MapLucyCheck out our World Map for Lucy.  It shows the land and sea when ocean levels went down some 500 feet lower than today. That happened several times during the epoch of australopithecine evolution. With sea-levels down, there were dry land bridges many places – especially where Siberia connected to Alaska at the Bering Strait.

The map helps us analyze animal travelers….

Example of Globe-Trotter I: Rhinos Shaped like Hippos.

Here’s an unlikely world-traveler – the short-legged hippo-rhinos. If you saw them alive, you might be fooled into thinking they were bona fide hippos. The body form was hippo-esque: rotund belly, wide hips, low-slung chest and rump. But they were genuine members of the rhino family, close kin of the Indian Rhino of today.

s-rhino-hippo copy

Hippo-rhinos ate grass just as Indian Rhinos do in the modern Indian ecosystem. But hippo-rhinos (also known as Teleocerines) weren’t content to graze the meadows of the Brahmaputra. They went north and east and north and west. They invaded Europe and turned down into Africa. Hippo-rhinos must have chased Lucy when they were in bad moods.

Hippo-rhinos dared to cross the Bering land Bridge connecting Siberia to North America, and so they are the commonest rhino fossils in Nebraska, Wyoming and Texas.

Example of Globe-Trotter II: Hippos Shaped like Hippos.

Hippopotamuses today frolic in the rivers of Africa. Back in Lucy’s day, hippos went much farther. They waddled north and west over Europe and made it to the Thames River in England. Going the other way, hippos trotted through Eurasia and invaded India.

World MapHipRhinoHippos failed to cross the Bering Land Bridge though – they never could follow hippo-rhinos to Texas. (Think about that – why?)

Meanwhile, as hippo-shaped rhinos and real hippos went thousands of miles across four or five continents, Lucy’s relations stayed put in Africa.

Example of Globe-Trotter III: Saber-tooth Cats.

sHomothereBig plant-eaters should have been followed by big meat-eaters. And they were.

Chasing Lucy in Africa were many kinds of saber-tooth cats. Semi-saber-tooths (Dinofelines,)  Sword-tooths (Smilodonts,) And dagger-tooths (homotheres).  All three kinds of saber-cats had evolutionary wanderlust. They spread over Europe and Asia, from Siberia to Indonesia.

Bering Land Bridge? No problem. All three saber-cats invaded North America. And one group – the sword-tooth smilodonts – just kept on going, down through Brazil and all the way to Argentina.

Wow.

What was wrong with our Lucy?

What sort of anti-australopithecine barrier was put up to keep all the Lucy-oids in Africa??

On the first day of HMNS…a new exhibit debuts

Ring-oil lamp, 1st century B.C.E
On display in The Birth of Christianity:
A Jewish
Story
starting today.

The Birth of Christianity: A Jewish Story, a new special exhibition, makes its world premiere today, on the first day of HMNS. And that’s just the beginning – we’ve got 11 more days coming up, with great ideas for family fun this holiday season. You can check them all out now, at our spiffy new 12 Days of HMNS web site – or watch them roll out here until Christmas Eve.

For the first day of HMNS, we’re featuring our brand new exhibition, The Birth of Christianity: A Jewish Story - opening today. In the exhibit, you’ll embark on an adventure that spans the three centuries leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ, and the first decades after that – as the new religion of Christianity began to take shape.

Through a diverse array of artifacts, experience Jewish life during the reigns of Alexander the Great and the infamous King Herod. Return to the days of the Jewish War against the Romans and the stirring story of Masada, and learn the significance of Jewish burial customs. Finally, observe the dawn of the Christian Era. Along the way, marvel at ancient scrolls, objects and artifacts – such as one of the original Dead Sea Scrolls; original New Testament manuscripts, including an excerpt from the Gospel of Luke that contains the Christmas story; a large-scale, stone model of Jerusalem during the Second Temple period; and much more.

We’ve also developed an optional audio guide to go along with the exhibit, that allows you to explore what you see in greater depth. The voice of Flavius Josephus, a 1st century Jewish historian who survived the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem and lived during the development of early Christianity, is your guide through the exhibit. You can hear a preview of the audio guide here.

And, in case you missed it in our earlier post – in the video below, you can see guest curator Matthias Henze discuss how the artifacts gathered in this premiere exhibition are “the closest we can get to the historical Jesus,” how important it is to understand the “Jewish roots of early Christianity;” and the many commonalities these two religious traditions share to this day.

Learn more about The Birth of Christianity: A Jewish Story:
Ancient artifacts are delicate – but they’re sometimes very heavy. See how the exhibit came together.
Take a preview Walk Through the Exhibition online.
Get a sneak-listen of the new audio guide, developed specially for this exhibition, and based on the latest archaeological evidence.

VIDEO: The mummified dinosaur Leonardo – too good to be true?

“Unbelieveable!”

“Too good to be true…”

“A dinosaur with its last meal meal still preserved inside its stomach…..no one could hope for that….”
Those were some of the skeptical comments heard by Dr. Robert Bakker, Curator at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, from distinguished colleagues in the dino-science word.

“I was unconvinced too….until I came up to Malta, Montana myself,” says Bakker.

“One glance showed that all us PhD’s were wrong. Leonardo the Dinosaur MummyDOES have his gut contents superbly – beautifully – fossilized. At last, we know what the single most important family of dino-species ate.”

Over the past four years, a talented crew of hi-tech, x-ray specialists have scanned and probed and computer-manipulated Leonardo, inventing new techniques. “Northing’s the same anymore…” Bakker mused, “from now on…all us dino-hunters will search for bones on the outside AND the secrets on the inside.”

Now, Leonardo has made his way down to Houston, for a very special exhibit, Dinosaur Mummy CSI: Cretaceous Science Investigation. In this second video in our ongoing series (check out the first video in the series here), Dr. Bakker explains the inner workings of Leonardo’s species from The Great Plains Dinosaur Museum in Malta, Montana.

You heard it here first…

…And now the Houston Chronicle has done a lovely feature story on our very own Steven’s discovery of a new dinosaur dig site in Malta, Montana. (Or, rather, the Chronicle has re-printed a feature that was written by Eric Newhouse of the Great Falls Tribune, who visited us on-site.) From the article:

“It was exciting,” said Cowan, 22. “Mark (Australian paleontologist Mark Thompson, now working with the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum) said they appeared to be ribs. He came back and found a scapula (shoulder bone) and a few other tendons showing in the rock.

“About 10 feet away, we found another bone jutting out of the rock. Based on the position, the head may have fallen off and rolled down the hill, but we’re hoping that the legs and torso are still in the stone.”

Read more about Steven’s discovery of the new dig site, Marco, in his recent blog post, and about the exciting events of the Museum’s week in Malta here.

The Chronicle also featured news of the Leonardo exhibit and the transfer of fossils from the Dinosaur Field Station to the new Great Plains Dinosaur Museum. Fascinating stuff; be sure to check back soon – more photos and video from the week are coming.