A recent paper in PNAS uses ancient DNA research to determine when bison first "invaded" North and South America. The iconic symbols of the N. American west haven't actually been here that long. It turns out that the first migration of bison from Asia occurred between 195 and 135 thousand years ago. Here is a shorter report on the research from The New York Times.
Understanding the causes of the end-Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions in the western hemisphere is really complicated. Recently we shared news of research that appeared to count against the Younger Dryas impact hypothesis. But a new paper offers fresh evidence in favor of that hypothesis: Traces of platinum found at archaeological sites of the right age.
Scientists keep pushing back the age of the earliest known fossils, which also suggests earlier and earlier dates for the first appearance of life on Earth. A new paper in Nature reports on microfossils from Canada alleged to be almost 3.8 billion years old. (Here is an accessible discussion in The Washington Post.)
Getting from a little theropod-thing to a fully-powered flying bird-thing is often presented as a pretty direct trajectory, as "as a long evolutionary march in which natural selection progressively refined one subgroup of dinosaurs into ever-better aerialists". In a new paper in science, Stephen Brusatte argues that recent fossil finds suggest that things were way crazier than that...
Paleontologists are now taking a closer look at Lisa Randall's suggestion that the periodicity of mass extinctions can be explained by the solar system's bobbing up and down through the galactic plane, where a disc of dark matter dislodges objects from the Oort cloud. Here is an earlier discussion of Randall's idea.
Here is a fun piece of prehistory writing by Asher Elbein. In North America, much attention has focused on the Cretaceous ecosystems of Larimidia. But what about the territory east of the seaway that divided what is now North America? What about the prehistory of Appalachia?
Scientists writing in the latest issue of Geology report on a newly identified Lagerstaette in Alberta, Canada, not far from Banff. The Ya Ha Tinda site records a marine ecosystem from the early Jurassic, around 183 million years ago. Here is a short description of the findings. But check out the original paper (the first link above) for nice images of the fossils.
Scientists have found that it's possible to stick a rock in a CT scanner, scan & digitize a fossil that's inside the rock, and then 3D print the fossil. This is enabling them to make some headway toward figuring out what was going on during "Romer's gap," a gap in the fossil record (or at least, everyone thought it was a gap) coinciding with the early evolution of tetrapods.