Friday, September 4, 2015

Dr. Samuel Adamson's Fossil Discovery Report for 2015

Dr. Samuel's life-long dream of discovering the fossils of Sarcosuchus, one of the biggest crocodiles ever to exist, finally came true this past summer.
As with several years in the past, Dr. Samuel Adamson (head of Animal Adventures Institute, aka AAI paleontology department) and his dig team spent the summer months exploring different regions (rock formations to be more specific) of the world to look for fossils of dinosaurs and other extinct animals. Every time they go out, they've returned with many great fossil discoveries. For example, in 2012 they brought back the rare fossils of the saber-toothed gorgonopsid Inostrancevia and the even rarer fossils of the dragon-headed Dracorex; in 2013, he and his wife accidentally discovered what appear to be a pair of baby Spinosaurus turned into mummies by ancient Egyptians, dug up some of the first fossils of the at-the-time new dinosaur from Alberta, Albertadromeus, and found soft tissue-yielding remains of an Acrocanthosaurus; and 2014 brought on the discovery of a Cretaceous dinosaur runway, evidence that the hadrosaur Edmontosaurus had a head crest, uncovered fossils of Suchomimus, Pachyrhinosaurus, and Amaragasaurus. Where did Dr. Adamson go this year and what discoveries did he and his team make?

To find out, my trusty, junior photographer, Daniel P. Smithwater and I took it upon ourselves to visit the paleontologist at the AAI as his men loaded the crates holding the fossils into the building. “We've been all over the world,” says Dr. Adamson. “During the summer, I was overseeing fossil excavations in five fossil-bearing rock formations. We excavated in Yixian Formation in the Liaoning Province of China, the Elrhaz Formation in Niger, Africa and the Cleveland Shales in Ohio. At each site, we found new and exciting fossils.”

As usual, even though soft tissue – and with it, DNA – is often discovered in the fossil remains they find, Dr. Adamson confirms that this is not the primary reason for excavating the bones. Dr. Adamson is quoted for saying, “We aren't digging to find ancient DNA we can use to clone these beasts. We want to learn more about the ancient world. The DNA is a nice side-effect.”In this year's dig, he is especially proud of his fossil finds in the Yixian Formation. He told me that the rocks making up the Yixian Formation were laid down during the global Flood of Noah's time, about 4,350 years ago, as is the case with all rock formations in Cretaceous rock layers and further down in the geologic column. Before the Flood, the Yixian was one of the many unique ecosystems that existed in the pre-Flood world. “The Yixian,” Dr. Adamson said, “us a wide variety of creatures. Fossils of shrimp, insects, birds, small mammals (one called Repanomamus even ate some dinosaurs for lunch!) and dinosaurs have been found here in abundance. But one apex predator ruled them all, and Dr. Adamson's team actually found one. It's called Yutyrannus huali, a 30-foot long relative of Tyrannosaurus rex. “We found one partial specimen of Yutyrannus on this trip,” Dr. Adamsons says. “It's relatively complete and pretty well-preserved. I'm particularly proud of this discovery because Yutyrannus is still relatively new to science; it was only scientifically described in 2012! Unlike its cousin, T. rex, Yutyrannus would have been considerably more lightweight, meaning it could run far faster, probably up to 30 mph. (T. rex could only run about 18-25mph) I wouldn't want to run into this monster in a dark alley, or out in the open in broad daylight! Yutyrannus was the largest predator in its habitat, the only other animal it feared was another Yutyrannus.”

Yutyrannus wasn't the only extinct animal Dr. Adamson discovered this year – they also made some accidental discoveries when they were switching planes in Ohio. Indiana Adamson, Samuel's wife, explained the whole incident to me. “We had just got off the plane that took us from Utah to Ohio,” she said, “and we had to wait a whole day until the next flight out to South Carolina was scheduled (from there, they were going straight to China). So...[while we were] in the airport looking for a place for the dig team and ourselves to sleep for the night, my husband bumped into one of his paleontologist friends from college. Ha, ha. Wouldn't you know it? It turned out he had a team of his own at a dig site nearby, so, naturally, we all went to check it out. The dig site was located in the Cleveland Shales of Ohio and contained fossils from a pre-Flood Devonian habitat.” The Devonian was another pre-Flood ecosystem. It was filled with many different forms of marine life, including many we're familiar with today (sea stars, jellyfish and even sharks). Many of the fish in the Devonian were covered in armor to protect them from predators or enemies. Dr. Indiana continued, “He was showing us some fossil ammonites when I spotted some peculiar fossils in the ground near my feet. It turned out to be part of the skeleton of a colossal fish called Dunkleosteus. Dunkleosteus was a 20-30-foot carnivorous armored fish with huge jaws.” According to Dr. Samuel, this fish had no teeth in its jaws; instead it had a “shearing plates in its mouth, meaning that while a shark could use its teeth to slice into the flesh of prey like a knife through butter, Dunkleosteus could crunch its prey in half!” The Dunkleosteus was very incomplete, but enough remains were found to tell the scientists the exact species and size of the animal. After discovering there was a Dunkleosteus buried at the dig site, the Adamson's decided to postpone their trip to China so they could assign a portion of the team to help Dr. Samuel's friend's team dig up the specimen. “It was an initial inconvenience,” Dr. Samuel said, “but it all worked out in the end.”

Having been to Ohio and China, you might think that all the amazing fossil discoveries was over. Not by a long shot! Next, after getting a portion of the entire dig team started on excavating the Yutyrannus, Dr. Samuel, his wife and the rest of the team flew to the Elrhaz Formation in Niger. They'd been to this place before just last year when they found the fossils of Suchomimus. Upon their return to this place, they found several fish fossils. Even though this site is a desert today, the environment represented here  in the rock is reminiscent of an ancient, pre-Flood swamp. “That's why,” Dr. Samuel said, “we find many water-dwelling and semi-aquatic creatures here. Last year, we found the fossils of a Suchomimus, a large dinosaur that spent a lot of time in the water, catching fish and other aquatic prey.” Suchomimus wasn't without its competition for stocks of fish it wanted, there was an even larger predator lurking in the waters. “Perhaps the most impressive animal we discovered this year,” Dr. Indiana said, “is Sarcosuchus imperator, a large crocodile that grew over 40 feet long. It was so big, that it could hunt dinosaurs!” She also told me that this impressive beast would have acted much like modern crocodiles, lying near the water's edge until prey came by for a drink. Then it would leap out, snag its prey and pull it underwater to drown it. The skeleton of the Sarcosuchus is relatively complete, especially the gorgeous skull. “At the end of the animal's snout,” Dr. Indiana further explained, “there's a strange, hollow, bulbous structure. It's driven scientists crazy ever since the first Sarcosuchus was discovered because we've been unable to find out what it was used for. Perhaps, if there's enough soft tissue preserved in the fossils, we can bring this creature back to life and find out for sure.”

In addition to these amazing discoveries, Dr. Samuel also reported finding isolated Nasutoceratops fossils right outside of Riverville, Utah, a lot closer to home! Now that the fossils have been safely shipped back to Animal Adventures Institute, they can be thoroughly studied by the chief geneticist, Dr. Steve Stevenson and his assistants. We won't know how much soft tissue the fossilized remains contain, nor what other mysteries might lay in store, but things are going to be pretty busy in the upcoming months at the institute!

“The fossil excavating season maybe over,” Dr. Steve says, “but the real fun and joy of scientific discovery begins right now!”

Written by: Mr. Smiley
Photographer: Daniel P. Smithwater
Edited by: Christian Ryan

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