Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Future Military March #1: of Lasers, Pain Rays and Railguns

I had started out writing about military lasers and how they were virtually here and some of the history and implications.  Its only about a third done.  However, the blogosphere exploded with tons of news on lasers and their status and whatnot.  So I am going to scrap that post in favor of a quick run down on on the news and links much like the Robopocalypse Reports.

First off the Russians are doing their classic pull out the old Soviet equipment (or claim to) to try to compete with the American new tech.  In this case, they are claiming they are pulling back from museums (or threatening to) old blinding laser tanks.  Yup, the USSR built lasers in turrets on T-80 chassis to blind optics and whatnot.  Its a larger version of what the US Army developed with the AN/VLQ-7 Stringray laser for the Bradley IFV.

Secondly, the Iranians decided to fire a laser on a US Navy ship and helicopter in the Gulf of Aden.  It was low powered and obnoxious rather than damaging.  However, it prompted Secretary of the Navy Mabus to tell the US Navy to get its act together and move faster with deploying those lasers they have been developing.

 Breaking Defense walks through the status of various laser programs and the battle they face.

The US Air Force has retained some retired C-130U gunships for laser weapon demonstrations.  These demos would be for both offensive (attack ground target, etc) and defensive (shoot down incoming antiaircraft missile) weapons.  Even for Active Denial System (aka pain ray) tests.  Actually the US Special Forces want the ADS specifically for nonlethal options.  The USAF has stated they believe lasers will allow more flexibility and capability.

It should be noted the HELLADS laser which is, at report, 150 kw is being tested at WSMR. DARPA has offered the laser to the navy to test on a Burke class destroyer in 2018 and to the US Air Force as well.  The goal, which seems to have been met, is to have no more than 5 kg per kilowatt of beam power.  A 150 kw HELLADS would weigh 750 kg.  A single module, each producing a 75 kw beam, is said to be 130 cm by 30 cm by 50 cm (51.2 inches by 11.8 inches by 19.7 inches).  The modules can be aggregated to at least 300 kw or possibly more (as I've said before).

The USNI discusses the Navy's plans for laser - to send a 150 kw laser to sea in 2018 - and its plans for railguns.  A manually loaded railgun will be put to sea on a Joint High Speed Vessel next year.  The follow-on railgun with the ability to fire 10 rounds per minute will go to sea in 2018.  The Navy finished the study on placing a railgun on the last Zumwalt class destroyer.  As I have stated before, in the tour de force USS MC Perry class (and here), they really ought to place one on the Independence derived class Small Surface Combatant frigate.  The space and the layout just makes sense.

The US Army is beginning to get into the railgun mood (but Jane's hides it well).  Their interest is in ballistic missile defense and presumably general air defense since there will be times when the Army's lasers will be degraded by weather.

Robopocalypse Report #7

Welcome to the latest Robopocalypse Report.  This is where I highlight some of the changes coming due to the new robotics revolution we are going through.  There is a strong emphasis on the technology of what is happening, but links will be present for the implications when they are present too.

The explosive ordnance disposal community in the US is now really worried about flying IEDs.  Their concern comes from the idea someone could strap a bomb on a quadcopter or other commercial drone and...yikes!  

The US Navy nuclear attack submarine successfully deployed an unmanned underwater vehicle, drone sub, and recovered it while on deployment.

The Russians took their Platform-M (gotta love Russian project names) to Crimea and showed off at one of their 'military festivals.'  It seems the controller is from video game console.  There are other bits to criticize as well.  Their timing was pretty bad.

The reason being Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and others have called on United Nations to ban autonomous weapons.  So long as one member of the Security Council wants those sort of weapons, the UN is going to do bupkiss. 

Back to more peaceful uses of drones, Amazon proposed the altitude of 200 ft to 400 ft be set aside for drone flights as a way of regulating with a buffer of another 100 feet so manned helicopters and aircraft would be required to fly at 500 feet and higher.

Back down to earth Matt Burgess posits how autonomous commercial vehicles will have a far greater impact on our lives than self driving cars.

General Electric, in an interview by John Lizzi, discusses its vision of 'service robotics' and how bots will act like our apprentices.

MIT - those organic traitors! - have also greatly improved object recognition for machine vision.

Evidence Late Triassic Traversodontid Exaeretodons Were Scavenged

Biogenic control on the origin of a vertebrate monotypic accumulation from the Late Triassic of southern Brazil


Müller et al


This study is a taphonomic investigation of a new Late Triassic monotypic association from the Hyperodapedon Assemblage Zone (Santa Maria Formation, southern Brazil). All skeletal elements belong to the traversodontid cynodont Exaeretodon, representing a minimum of four individuals from different ontogenetic stages. Biogenic traces are identifiable on some elements, such as invertebrate scavenging traces, vertebrate bite marks, and evidence of trampling which was probably responsible for accelerating the disarticulation of upper postcanine teeth and for fracturing a skull and a lower jaw. We classify this accumulation as generated by extrinsic biogenic action (predation/necrophagy and possibly trampling) due to the following reasons: (i) random spatial orientation of the elements enclosed into the matrix; (ii) absence of hydraulic equivalence among the specimens and presence of mudstone lenses in close association with the fossils; (iii) presence of nearly all Voorhies’ groups; (iv) association of a large number of cranial elements presenting different stages of disarticulation; and (v) presence of biogenic traces. Both disarticulation patterns and invertebrate scavenging traces indicate that the bones remained exposed for some time before burial. During this time of exposure, carnivore vertebrates also scavenged on some nutritive and transportable postcranial elements. We suggest an ecteniniid cynodont as a potential modifier agent (predation/necrophagy) of this particular monotypic accumulation of synapsids.

Ichibengops munyamadziensis: a new Eutherocephalian From Wuchiapingian Permian Zambia

A new eutherocephalian (Therapsida, Therocephalia) from the upper Permian Madumabisa Mudstone Formation (Luangwa Basin) of Zambia


Huttenlocker et al


A new therocephalian therapsid, Ichibengops munyamadziensis, gen. et sp. nov., is described on the basis of two partial skulls from the upper Permian (Wuchiapingian) upper Madumabisa Mudstone Formation of the Luangwa Basin, Zambia. The specimens offer insights into the diversity of therocephalians in a poorly sampled region, preserving unique maxillary structures, dental morphology that is intermediate between basal therocephalians and eutherocephalians, and a maxillovomerine bridge forming an incipient secondary palate. A phylogenetic analysis of 135 craniodental and postcranial characters from 56 therapsid taxa (including 49 therocephalians) recovered I. munyamadziensis as the sister taxon of the Russian Chthonosaurus, with both taxa resolving near the hofmeyriid + whaitsiid + baurioid clade (either as the sister group to this clade or nested near whaitsiids). Ichibengops shares with Chthonosaurus several features, including a ventral maxillary flange in which the upper postcanines are situated (also in Lycosuchus), anteroposteriorly short suborbital vacuities with strongly scalloped anterior borders, a furrowed or ridged surface texture on the palatal surface of the palatine, and a possible maxillovomerine bridge (although this latter structure is incompletely preserved in Chthonosaurus). The new taxon, along with its proposed relationship to Chthonosaurus, adds to a list of sister-group pairs of Wuchiapingian tetrapods in southern Gondwana and Laurasia, indicating that effective, though largely unknown, dispersal routes persisted in Pangea at least through early late Permian times.

Monday, July 27, 2015

People Conquered the World Because We're Delusional?!

His statement of 70,000 years is a few holes in it.  There's been evidence Homo erectus was significantly modifying the environment through the use of fire.  If so, I have to wonder...

There's a bit about the Robopocalypse at the end.

Extraordindary Claim? Possible Russian Submarine Wreck Found in Swedish Waters

The Swedish military is studying a video taken by shipwreck hunters who say it shows a wrecked submarine just off the eastern coast of Sweden which appears to be Russian, a spokesman said on Monday.

The discovery comes less than a year after Swedish troops and ships unsuccessfully hunted for a Russian submarine reportedly cited near Stockholm, in the country's biggest military mobilization since the Cold War.

Swedish Armed Forces spokesman Anders Kallin did not say whether the military also believed it was a Russian submarine.

"We choose not to comment on it before we have seen more material. We will continue the analysis together with the company in the coming days," Kallin said.

Ocean X Team, the company behind the discovery, said on its website: "It is unclear how old the submarine is and for how long it has been at the bottom of the sea, but the Cyrillic letters on the hull indicate that it is Russian."

One of the men who discovered the submarine, Dennis Asberg, told the Expressen newspaper it looked modern. But one expert quoted by the paper said he believed it was a Russian submarine that sank in 1916.

I tagged with the 'extraordinary claim' because Dennis Asberg, one of the finders, is noted for the heavily criticized 'Baltic Sea Anomaly' back in the day.  

A Better Understanding Gomphodont Cynodont Middle Ear Structure

The Stapes of Gomphodont Cynodonts: Insights into the Middle Ear Structure of Non-Mammaliaform Cynodonts


Gaetano et al


The stapes is known in several non-mammaliaform cynodonts, although it has only been cursorily studied. Here we thoroughly analyze the stapedial anatomy of several basal cynodonts in a phylogenetic framework. Our study shows that the stapedial anatomy is more variable than previously thought. The morphological variation of the stapes led to the recognition of 11 phylogenetic characters that were included in a total evidence data matrix centered in the analysis of gomphodont cynodonts. Stapes morphology does not provide evidence to suggest a direct connection between the stapes and a postquadrate tympanic membrane (if present) and the hypothesis of a dorsal process as the site of attachment of a small ligament or the stapedial muscle is supported. The re-evaluation of the theories concerning the position of the tympanic membrane in non-mammaliaform cynodonts allowed us to conclude that the hypothetical postquadrate tympanic membrane associated with the squamosal sulcus is at best relictual and most likely non-functional (not connected with the stapes). The sound waves were most likely transmitted to the stapes from a postdentary tympanic membrane through the quadrate. Our analysis results in a better understanding of the auditory system in basal cynodonts and its evolution, highlighting the variability of the stapedial anatomy.

Russian Navy Missile Launch Failure

We all have heard about the USS Sullivans missile launch failure by now.  While scary and embarrassing, little damage was actually done.  The Russophonic internet has been snarking about it.  They should not:

If that was an intentional test, the commanding officers should be shot.  Kids swimming, sailboats all all round.  Such safety!

Then you have the failure, which it obviously was.  So, the snark can stop.  :)

If this was an accident or unintentional launch in any way, Russia better be damned afraid.  And the officers ought to be proverbially shot.

Intraspecies Combat Probably Practiced by Roadian Permian Anomodonts Tiarajudens & Anomocephalus

Tiarajudens eccentricus and Anomocephalus africanus, two bizarre anomodonts (Synapsida, Therapsida) with dental occlusion from the Permian of Gondwana


Cisneros et al


Anomodontia was a highly successful tetrapod clade during the Permian and the Triassic. New morphological information regarding two bizarre basal anomodonts is provided and their palaeoecological significance is explored. The osteology of the recently discovered Tiarajudens eccentricus Cisneros et al. 2011, from the Brazilian Permian, is described in detail. The taxon exhibits unusual postcranial features, including the presence of gastralia. Additional preparation and computed tomography scans of the holotype of Anomocephalus africanus Modesto et al. 1999 discovered in the Karoo Basin of South Africa allow a reappraisal of this genus. Anomocephalus is similar to Tiarajudens with regard to several traits, including a battery of large, transversally expanded, palatal teeth. Molariform teeth are present in the mandible of the African taxon, providing additional insight into the function of the earliest tooth-occlusion mechanism known in therapsids. At least two waves of tooth replacement can be recognized in the palate of Anomocephalus. The outsized, blade-like caniniforms of the herbivorous Tiarajudens allow several non-exclusive ecological interpretations, among which we favour intraspecific display or combat. This behaviour was an alternative to the head-butting practised by the contemporary dinocephalians. Combat specializations that are considered typical of Cenozoic herbivores likely evolved during the Middle Permian, at the time the first communities with diverse, abundant tetrapod herbivores were being assembled.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Salmond Says Second Scottish Independence Referendum Inevitable

Former Scottish nationalist leader Alex Salmond said Sunday that another referendum on independence from the United Kingdom was "inevitable" because of policies pursued by Prime Minister David Cameron's government in London.

"I think a second independence referendum is inevitable," Salmond told the BBC, although he would not say when.

Salmond resigned as leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and first minister of the devolved government in Edinburgh after Scots voted "no" to independence by 55 to 45 percent in September.

But nationalist feeling has soared in Scotland since then, and in May's general election the SNP won 56 out of 59 Scottish seats in the House of Commons, making them the third largest party after the main opposition Labour party.

Alternate History: Irene Doesn't Cancel Rotrude and Constanstine's Engagement

One of the things I really enjoy is history.  Its something a story, a story of us all, with path ways none of us have explored, or if we have, there's always another point of view to take.  One of the tools for examining history which has appealed to my world building imagination is that of alternate history.  Through the pretty much defunct usenet group soc.history.what-if, I picked up some online friends which have opened my techie eyes to many, many more facets to history and the world around.

Recently, I've been extremely caught up in the techie world and events half a world away, but I thought I'd take a breather here and revisit the allohistorical.  So, for a moment, let's delve into a what-if that had the potential to change a lot, but probably would not have changed as much as some would think.

Let's tun back the clocks and take a look at the year 787.  It was an unfortunate year.  The Empress Regent of the Rump Roman, ahem, Byzantine Empire would end the engagement of her son, the future Constantine VI, to Rotrude, the daughter of Charlemagne.  Subsequently, the next year the Franks, or rather Charlemagne's army in the Adriatic, would turn on the Byzantines.  They would take Istria (in modern Croatia) and Benevento (Italy) from the Byzantines.

The consequences of breaking off the engagement seem to have been bad and were probably related to the fact Charlemagne was something of a sexist pig and didn't respect a woman on the throne.  Despite the fact Irene was a capable a ruler.  Part, too, may have been tied into Irene's attempt to negotiate a marriage between her and Charlemagne.  That ended in complete failure.  The combination or intertwining of the two was probably the cause and the end of the potential alliance between the man who Pope Leo would crown Roman Emperor and Rump of the Roman Empire itself. 

Let's say, for the moment, Irene does not attempt to negotiate the marriage between herself and Charlemagne.  She realizes even under the best of circumstances it'd be a disaster if it worked and would be a sore point, at best, if it did not.  She does want the alliance between the Franks and the Byzantines, so she does engage her son to Rotrude and she does not break off the engagement between her son and Charlemagne's daughter: after all, Constantine was against breaking off the engagement.  

So, the marriage goes ahead and in 790, Constantine (19) and Rotrude (15, nicknamed Erythro (red) by the Byzantines) are married in Constantinople.   Two of her brothers accompany her, Pepin (19, King of Italy) and Louis (12, King of Aquitaine).  Charlemagne would keep Charles back in the empire just in case something went wrong since Charles was to be his probable heir.

Constantine was far from what a middle class American would call a good man, but he could when he wanted to roll out the charm.  In this case, he would take pains to impress his new brothers in law and work to bond with them as strongly as he could.  Pepin he impressed as a buddy and friend, but with Louis he'd get a little bit of the idol worship going.

Constantine had tried to convince Pepin to join him for the campaign against the Bulgars he was planning.  Unfortunately, Pepin was already planning a campaign against the Avars and could not participate.  He would, in time, work with Constantine, but not on the first joint campaign.  Rather, it would fatefully be Louis who offered.

The Byzantine campaign against the Bulgars would be delayed and in 792 the army would march out much as in our time line.  However, this time a contingent of Franks under Louis would be present: 500 cavalry and 1000 foot.  The force would meet the Bulgars at Marcellae.  The battle would start to unfold much as it did our own; however, Constantine was wary of risking his now 14 year old brother in law and also was almost as concerned about sharing the victory: he wanted the victory to be decisively his own.  He placed Louis' cavalry as a rear guard and Louis' infantry he left protecting the train and fortress.  The Bulgars came boiling out of the flank and attacked.  Louis was right in the way.  He and his cavalry fought valiantly, but were forced to retreat when threatened with encirclement.  They ran back to the infantry and made a stand at the fortress.  Here they frustrated the Bulgars until the Byzantines could return.  And that they did catching the Bulgars between the anvil of the fortress and the hammer of Constantine's forces.  Kardam and Telerig, the khans of the Bulgars, was captured.  Sensing the opportunity, Constantine would march to Pliska and sack the city while the Bulgarian Empire was in disarray.  While on the return march, Constantine would take Varna and make the city into a Byzantine stronghold.  A tenth of the spoils, Constantine would send off with Louis and most of that would go to Aachen. Kardem would be released and would pay tribute for the next six years.  Telerig was executed.  As a consequence, Kardem moved the Bulgarian capital north of the Danube, close to modern Bucharest.  That is not to say the Bulgarian ceded everything south of the Danube, but it would give the Byzantines some momentum in reclaiming territory long lost.

Constantine would make sure the world knew he was the victor and while Louis played a role, he was very much a minor player.  He did enough to sooth the young Louis, but would make sure to have Louis leave as soon as possible.  He actually went as far as to escort Louis to Pepin's lands in Italy where Constantine and Pepin would meet, booze and conduct diplomacy while Louis made his way back to Aquitaine.  Constantine had a problem: his mother.  She was still his co-emperor and a major thorn in his side.  He could not kill her, but needed to be rid of her.  A deal was struck: Irene would be virtually exiled, but not called as such.  She would be sent to Rome itself to govern to help protect the Pope, who was friendly with both the Carolginians and the Byzantines with two small forces of Franks and Byzantines.

Louis would call on Constantine's help in turn.  In 797, the city of Barcelona rebelled against the Muslims and swore to the Franks.  Louis was mustering the Frankish soldiery against the Muslims for a campaign, but was concerned the Muslims would retake the city before he was ready.  Constantine would attack from the sea in a surprise Tarragona and Tortosa after reestablishing a naval base in Palma.  He could not hold those cities and would not even try.  He'd put up a resistance to the Muslims for two or three months, then bargain his exit for payment, fattening his treasuries and buying Louis time.  Just as he surrendered Tarragona, rather than sail back to Palma, he turned south and repeated his obnoxiousness at Denia and he would raid, but not take, Valencia.  This would force the Muslims south again and, again, he'd evacuate under the banner of bribery.  His campaign would last a little over a year, but by then, Louis would pass through the Pyrenees to defend Barcelona (successfully) and even taking Tarragona and Zaragoza.  Alphonso II also led an invasion from the north and took Lisbon and Toledo from the overextended Corbodans.

Constantine would neither hold Majorica (it and Minorca would revolt after he left) nor would he keep any territory from his supportive raids.  He did return with gold, a fair amount of it, and turned a profit from the venture, a significant one.  He would turn and squander it, unfortunately.  He erected a monument in Constantinople and then would go off to take Cyprus, expelling the Arabs in 802.

He and Pepin would launch a joint campaign into the Balkans.  Pepin would secure the Croats and Constantine, the Serbs in 809.

Ironically, Rotrude and Irene had grown close.  Rotrude had successfully bore Constantine a large number of children.  Except except when he was on campaign, they had a very active reproductive life.  Before the Spanish Campaign, she would bare him three children: two sons and a daughter.  Two who made it to adulthood, including the next emperor, Leo V (791) and daughter, Irene (795).  When he returned, she would bare another two children, one who would live to adulthood (another daughter, Maria (801)).  When Constantine returned from conquering Cyprus, she would have another three children, two sons (Constantine (804) and Karolos (806)) living to adulthood.  And when he returned from the Balkans, she would have two more children, a son and daughter, both living to adulthood (Loudovíkos (813) and Erythro (811)).  Unfortunately, her last son and his birth, would kill her.  She would pass away at age 38 in 813.
However, she was an intelligent woman in her own right and felt stymied as the empress.  Irene understood.  She helped Rotrude fit into Byzantine society and Rotrude would in turn become a patroness of learning and monasteries.  Interestingly, it was actually Rotrude's sponsorship of copyists of various manuscripts which would make the biggest impact.  She would have monks copying books of all kinds and even gifted her father numerous books circa 810 - three years before her death - and the Pope.  The former had far more impact than the latter, inserting several greek books into the Carolingian Renaissance and effectively doubly the size of the libraries in the West. 

When Irene was sent off to govern Rome proper, Rotrude stepped in to support her husband.  She was considered an outsider and not much of a threat, but she used that to her advantage and thwarted several attempts to usurp her husband while he was out campaigning.

Rotrude and Constantine, surprisingly in some ways, had been a good match.  She had tempered his nasty nature and given him an outlet.  However, when she passed, Constantine's darker side grew stronger. 
Without her tempering and in his grief, he became cruel and petty.  He blinded and mutilated those who challenged him.  An official he caught stealing from the imperial treasury, he tortured and then poured molten gold down his throat.  He would severely beat his daughter, Maria, until Leo intervened to stop him.  Leo would step in to be the guardian of his younger siblings.  Something which would end up being a positive turn for the empire, but that would be in the future when Leo V would appoint Constantine Strategos Autokrator of the Danube and Karolos the same for the Palestine, non reality, but useful ruse.

However, their father, Constantine VI would be turned from inflicting himself on the capital to attempting to take back territories in the east and to end the Arab raids into Anatolia.  He would retake Antioch and it would remain held.  He would march east to take Aleppo and Edessa as well.  He would be marching back from the campaign escorting the Image of Edessa to Constantinople when his army was surprised by a Muslim army. 
In the ensuing wild melee, Constantine was killed.  Leo would emerge a hero, publicly, and ascend the throne.  Some would whisper he'd had his father killed.  All the better, in some ways, for those who plot to fear him.  And for those who don' to love him.

But, Leo's reign would be a different one.  And a different tale for another time.

Habitat Preferences of Polar Dinosaurs in Maastrichtian Cretaceous Alaska

A Multi-disciplinary Perspective on Habitat Preferences among Dinosaurs in a Cretaceous Arctic Greenhouse World, North Slope, Alaska (Prince Creek Formation: Upper Maastrichtian)


Fiorillo et al


The Prince Creek Formation of northern Alaska is the most abundant source of polar dinosaur remains in the world and now corroborating data from this well-studied rock unit allow for making inferences about the paleoecological preferences for these extinct polar animals. The rock unit records high-latitude, alluvial sedimentation and soil formation on a low gradient, muddy coastal plain. Compound and cumulative andic Entisols and Inceptisols formed on levees, point bars, crevasse splays, and along the margins of floodplain lakes, ponds and swamps. Abundant organic matter, carbonaceous root traces, Fe-oxide depletion coatings and zoned peds indicate periodic waterlogging, anoxia and gleying, consistent with a high water table. In contrast, Fe-oxide mottles, ferruginous and manganiferous segregations, bioturbation, and less common illuvial clay coatings indicate recurring oxidation and periodic drying-out of some soils. An integrated reconstruction of pedogenic processes and biota suggests that this ancient Arctic coastal plain was influenced by seasonally fluctuating water table levels and floods, and in distal areas, marine waters. Four of the five bonebeds in this study are from more distal areas, represented by lower delta plain facies, while the fifth bonebed is from a more proximal part of the basin, represented by a somewhat better drained coastal plain facies.

Bonebeds in the distal areas are dominated by Edmontosaurus sp. while the more proximal bonebed is dominated by the remains of the ceratopsian Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum. The distribution of these bonebeds, sedimentological facies, paleosols and biota, suggest that Pachyrhinosaurus may have preferred more upland environments while Edmontosaurus preferred lowland, deltaic environments. This distribution may be the result of physiological adaptation to the pronounced seasonality provided by polar terrestrial ecosystems. In contrast to a preferred habitat distribution of these large herbivores, the large predatory dinosaur, Nanuqsaurus hoglundi seems to have had a more ubiquitous distribution across the landscape.

The Role of Continental Drift & Glaciations on Carbonifierous PaleoClimates

Impact of continental motion and dynamic glaciations on low-latitude climate during the Carboniferous: The record of the Wyoming Shelf (Western United States)


Blanchard et al


The dynamic character of the Late Paleozoic Ice Age is evident from glacial deposits, but its impact on tropical climate is not well constrained. Global changes in climate are overprinted on longer-term paleogeographic variations, resulting in a complex time–space distribution of climate-sensitive lithologies. The significance of such lithologies in Carboniferous successions of the western United States has not been fully explored. In this study, we provide new interpretations for the paleoclimatic context of the Amsden and Tensleep Formations (Pennsylvanian, Northern Wyoming, USA). The Amsden Formation consists of a basal sandstone member overlain by red siltstones containing pisolites. Very large-scale (~ 10 m) cross-bedding within the basal sandstone indicates deposition in an erg environment. Iron pisoid-rich layers in the overlying member suggest an evolution toward more humid conditions. Persistent arid conditions during the middle Pennsylvanian are suggested by eolian sandstones and calcretes in the overlying Tensleep Formation. These formations were deposited on the karst topography that developed on top of the lower to middle Mississippian Madison Group. Although the development of karstic features implies that humid conditions prevailed during the late Mississippian, evaporites and evidence for early dolomitization within the formation suggest that it was deposited under arid conditions. These relationships argue for a long-term climate evolution from arid to humid during the Mississippian, and a return to arid conditions during the Pennsylvanian. This trend can be explained by the northward drift from ~ 15°S to ~ 12°N. A comparison with contemporaneous records reveals a diachronous evolution across western Pangaea, with the climatic conditions documented on the Wyoming Shelf being reached later in eastern North America. These relationships indicate that plate motion considerably overprints long-term climatic records. Departures from this trend, suggested by the presence of erg deposits in the basal Amsden Formation, record the overprinting of shorter periods of climate change.

New Ediacaran NeoProterozoic "Shelly"/Biomineralizer Fossils Found in Spain

Late Ediacaran skeletal body fossil assemblage from the Navalpino anticline, central Spain


Cortijo et al


Mineralized fossils have been described from late Ediacaran rocks all over the world, and have been interpreted as the first metazoans capable of secreting a mineralized skeleton. Among these early biomineralizers, the tubular Cloudina has a cosmopolitan distribution. It often occurs in association with other mineralizing organisms, such as Sinotubulites and Namacalathus, which show a more restricted, and seemingly non-overlapping, distribution. Many aspects of the biology of these organisms remain poorly known, in particular the structure and composition of the ecosystems they formed part of. Here we report a diverse fossil assemblage from the Ibor Group of Villarta de los Montes of the Central Iberian Zone, Spain. The assemblage includes the first material of Sinotubulites baimatuoensis from Spain, which is found in association with Cloudina hartmanae and Cloudina carinata. Also found are small tubular fossils and a flask-shaped form comparable to Protolagena. Among previously described assemblages of late Ediacaran skeletal fossils, the Villarta assemblage, unique in Europe, most closely compares to that from the Dengying Formation of South China.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Extinct Cambrian Comb Jellies Had Skeletons

A vanished history of skeletonization in Cambrian comb jellies


Ou et al


Ctenophores are traditionally regarded as “lower” metazoans, sharing with cnidarians a diploblastic grade of organization. Unlike cnidarians, where skeletonization (biomineralization and sclerotization) evolved repeatedly among ecologically important taxa (for example, scleractinians and octocorals), living ctenophores are characteristically soft-bodied animals. We report six sclerotized and armored ctenophores from the early Cambrian period. They have diagnostic ctenophore features (for example, an octamerous symmetry, oral-aboral axis, aboral sense organ, and octaradially arranged ctene rows). Unlike most modern counterparts, however, they lack tentacles, have a sclerotized framework, and have eight pairs of ctene rows. They are resolved as a monophyletic group (Scleroctenophora new class) within the ctenophores. This clade reveals a cryptic history and sheds new light on the early evolution of this basal animal phylum. Skeletonization also occurs in some other Cambrian animal groups whose extant members are exclusively soft-bodied, suggesting the ecological importance of skeletonization in the Cambrian explosion.

No Real Increase in Oxygen Levels at the end of the NeoProterozoic

Statistical analysis of iron geochemical data suggests limited late Proterozoic oxygenation


Sperling et al


Sedimentary rocks deposited across the Proterozoic–Phanerozoic transition record extreme climate fluctuations, a potential rise in atmospheric oxygen or re-organization of the seafloor redox landscape, and the initial diversification of animals. It is widely assumed that the inferred redox change facilitated the observed trends in biodiversity. Establishing this palaeoenvironmental context, however, requires that changes in marine redox structure be tracked by means of geochemical proxies and translated into estimates of atmospheric oxygen. Iron-based proxies are among the most effective tools for tracking the redox chemistry of ancient oceans. These proxies are inherently local, but have global implications when analysed collectively and statistically. Here we analyse about 4,700 iron-speciation measurements from shales 2,300 to 360 million years old. Our statistical analyses suggest that subsurface water masses in mid-Proterozoic oceans were predominantly anoxic and ferruginous (depleted in dissolved oxygen and iron-bearing), but with a tendency towards euxinia (sulfide-bearing) that is not observed in the Neoproterozoic era. Analyses further indicate that early animals did not experience appreciable benthic sulfide stress. Finally, unlike proxies based on redox-sensitive trace-metal abundances, iron geochemical data do not show a statistically significant change in oxygen content through the Ediacaran and Cambrian periods, sharply constraining the magnitude of the end-Proterozoic oxygen increase. Indeed, this re-analysis of trace-metal data is consistent with oxygenation continuing well into the Palaeozoic era. Therefore, if changing redox conditions facilitated animal diversification, it did so through a limited rise in oxygen past critical functional and ecological thresholds, as is seen in modern oxygen minimum zone benthic animal communities.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Robopocalypse Report #6

Let us return to the signs of the impending Robopocalypse, when the bots will take a jobs and change our world.

That gun toting drone which stirred up so much controversy has provoked the ire of the FAA.  The local cops where it was done have stated no laws have been broken, but the FAA has stated regulations may have been broken and started an investigation.  Let's see what they do.

One of the things I said about gun-drone was at some time someone was going to be murdered by such a weaponized drone.  While there's been no 'death-by-drone' as yet, the bizarro Gone-Girl kidnapping on Mare Island here in the SF Bay Area actually had planned to pick up randsom using a drone.  

To be sure, the Gone Girl kidnapping was far from the first use of drones in illegal operations.  Drones have been muling over the border for drug cartels.

Drugs are not the only thing being delivered by drone: Uber started delivering ice cream to its customers in Singapore!  

New Zealand has passed some very restrictive laws regarding drones, so don't  bother bring your drone to NZ unless you want to take the time to get a license and that costs $600 (NZ, I think).  In Thailand, mere civvies are banned from flying drones at all.

In California, due to the problems drones have caused to fire fighters, etc. a bill was introduced to allow first responders to disable, even strike down drones.

And a man rescued his drone stranded atop a roof...with another drone.

Shifting away from drones, to the second most visible sign of the Robopocalypse, the self driving car, the University of Michigan has opened 'MCity' a driving course which simulates a city for self driving cars and connected car technologies.

Then there is Faraday Future's electric car, which is supposed to be a new electric car company.  Its being billed as the most connected car yet and given the trends in the automotive industry, it better be working the self driving option.  

However, being connected is not necessarily a good idea and why I think the Internet of Things is scary as frack.  Hackers ate 'connected' jeeps, even turning off the engine while on the freeway and demoed this to Wired.  Fiat Chrysler has recalled 1.4 *MILLION* vehicles to get a bug fix in.

On a more positive note, Brad Templeton wonders when self driving cars will become cheaper than traditional cars.  Right now, they are more expensive.

While the Robopocalypse's face is normally the self driving car, drone or one of DARPA funded ATLAS, it has other aspects as well.  One of the sure signs of the Robopocalpse (other than Merrill Lynch noticing and giving robot related investment advice) is crowd funding efforts are turning out to be rather successful for bot startups.

For your amusement, the Indiana Robotics Invitational the 18th Annual Robosub Competition is also underway.  Then there is the Robocup, where robots compete in soccer (football for all you barbarians outside the empire), which just finished.

Is it REALLY a Good Idea for Korea to Build the KF-X Stealth Fighter?

Are programs for manufacturing fighter planes “a blessing” or “a curse” for countries eager to join the elite circle of five advanced nations capable of producing them for profit?

That’s the question as South Korea weighs the odds on plunging into a program for manufacturing the Korean Fighter Experimental — the KFX — with stealth capabilities and the ability to retaliate against North Korean missile and nuclear facilities.

Marc DeVore, a lecturer from the University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland, notes the extremes in meetings with experts and defense officials in Seoul while South Korean engineers begin the arduous process of designing the plane at a projected R&D cost of $8 billion. That’s far below the tens of billions of dollars that Lockheed-Martin has spent developing the F35 — about 60 of which South Korea is considering buying for a cool $100 million apiece.

The fact is that manufacturers in only five countries, the United States, the Soviet Union/Russia, France, Sweden and Britain, have had the background, skills and expertise to develop, make and market a fighter that can operate effectively and sell enough on global markets to justify the enormous costs at every stage of the process.

DeVore offers a disturbing picture of the perils and pitfalls that have forced others to abandon dreams of producing their own fighter planes over the past 40 or so years.

“There have been 20 distinct attempts at market entry,” he says. While countries ranging from Argentina to Israel to Yugoslavia to India and Canada and even Japan have jettisoned multi-billion-dollar programs, only China “seems to have been a success.” China can produce an imitation of the Russian Sukhoi, more or less the equivalent of the American F15, he believes, but he’s still not sure about its quality and durability.

Flying Over the Icy Sputnik Planum and Hillary Mountains

Pluto's Cthulhu Regio: Do Not Contemplate That Dark Regio Beyond


Pluto's Active Nitrogen Ice Flows


Pluto's Atmosphere


‘Chasmatosaurus ultimus,’ is NOT an Anisian Triassic Proterosuchid Archosauriform

‘Chasmatosaurus ultimus,’ a putative proterosuchid archosauriform from the Middle Triassic, is an indeterminate crown archosaur


Liu et al


Proterosuchids represent the earliest known radiation of the highly diverse and important clade Archosauriformes (Gauthier et al., 1988; Nesbitt, 2011; Ezcurra et al., 2013). Huene (1908) erected Proterosuchidae as a monotypic Linnean family containing only Proterosuchus fergusi from the lowermost Triassic of South Africa, and several other species have been referred to this group in the subsequent century. However, phylogenetic analyses have provided only partial support for the existence of a diverse proterosuchid clade, and it is possible that some or even most putative proterosuchids form a series of outgroups to more derived archosauriforms rather than a monophyletic group (Ezcurra et al., 2010, 2013). Proterosuchids were historically classified alongside erythrosuchids in the Proterosuchia (e.g., Charig and Reig, 1970), but cladistic analyses (e.g., Benton, 1985; Gauthier et al., 1988; Gower and Sennikov, 1997; Ezcurra et al., 2010; Nesbitt, 2011) have uniformly found erythrosuchids to be phylogenetically closer to Archosauria (using a crown-group definition for the clade) than are any putative proterosuchids. Many of the species that have been assigned to Proterosuchidae require anatomical and taxonomic reevaluation (e.g., Ezcurra et al., 2010, 2013, 2014; Ezcurra, 2014), a research effort that is essential in order to clarify the phylogenetic relationships of the earliest archosauriforms and patterns of character evolution in taxa of this grade.

Following Proterosuchus, the next proterosuchid genera to be erected were Chasmatosaurus, established by Haughton (1924) for the new species C. vanhoepeni, and Elaphrosuchus, established by Broom (1946) for the new species E. rubidgei. A second species of Chasmatosaurus, C. alexanderi, was subsequently added (Hoffman, 1965). Chasmatosaurus vanhoepeni, C. alexanderi, and E. rubidgei were all based, like P. fergusi, on specimens from the Lower Triassic of South Africa, and more recently all of them have been suggested to represent subjective junior synonyms of P. fergusi (Welman, 1998). Occurrences of Chasmatosaurus have also been reported outside South Africa, including C. yuani (Young, 1936, 1963, 1978) from the Lower Triassic of China, Chasmatosaurus sp. from the Lower Triassic of India (Satsangi, 1964), and C. ultimus from the Middle Triassic of China (Young, 1958, 1964). The last of these species has the distinction of being one of only two putative proterosuchids from above the Lower–Middle Triassic boundary, the other being Sarmatosuchus otschevi from the Anisian of Russia (Gower and Sennikov, 1997, 2000; Ezcurra et al., 2013). However, the proterosuchid affinities of S. otschevi are questionable (Ezcurra et al., 2010, 2013), with S. otschevi having been recovered closer to erythrosuchids and archosaurs than to proterosuchids by Ezcurra et al. (2010). Thus, C. ultimus is the only generally accepted proterosuchid record younger than Early Triassic.

The holotype of C. ultimus is a partial skull including parts of the preorbital region preserved together with the anterior ends of the lower jaws, collected from the upper member of the Ermaying Formation of Shanxi Province in northern China, which is Anisian in age (Liu et al., 2013). This fragmentary specimen was originally assigned by Young (1958) to C. yuani, but later used by Young (1964) to erect C. ultimus based on differences in size and tooth curvature from the former species. Here we redescribe the specimen and show that ‘C. ultimus’ is not a proterosuchid but rather an indeterminate crown archosaur. An important implication of this revision is the absence of any confirmed record of proterosuchid archosauriforms from rocks of Middle Triassic age or younger.

Stunning Pluto in False Color


Implications of Quartez Embedded Biogenic Iron-Rich Filaments From Ediacaran NeoProterozoic China

Biogenic Iron-Rich Filaments in the Quartz Veins in the Uppermost Ediacaran Qigebulake Formation, Aksu Area, Northwestern Tarim Basin, China: Implications for Iron Oxidizers in Subseafloor Hydrothermal Systems


Zhou et al


Fe-(oxyhydr)oxide-encrusted filamentous microstructures produced by microorganisms have been widely reported in various modern and ancient extreme environments; however, the iron-dependent microorganisms preserved in hydrothermal quartz veins have not been explored in detail because of limited materials available. In this study, abundant well-preserved filamentous microstructures were observed in the hydrothermal quartz veins of the uppermost dolostones of the terminal-Ediacaran Qigebulake Formation in the Aksu area, northwestern Tarim Basin, China. These filamentous microstructures were permineralized by goethite and hematite as revealed by Raman spectroscopy and completely entombed in chalcedony and quartz cements. Microscopically, they are characterized by biogenic filamentous morphologies (commonly 20–200 μm in length and 1–5 μm in diameter) and structures (curved, tubular sheath-like, segmented, and mat-like filaments), similar to the Fe-oxidizing bacteria (FeOB) living in modern and ancient hydrothermal vent fields. A previous study revealed that quartz-barite vein swarms were subseafloor channels of low-temperature, silica-rich, diffusive hydrothermal vents in the earliest Cambrian, which contributed silica to the deposition of the overlying bedded chert of the Yurtus Formation. In this context, this study suggests that the putative filamentous FeOB preserved in the quartz veins might have thrived in the low-temperature, silica- and Fe(II)-rich hydrothermal vent channels in subseafloor mixing zones and were rapidly fossilized by subsequent higher-temperature, silica-rich hydrothermal fluids in response to waning and waxing fluctuations of diffuse hydrothermal venting. In view of the occurrence in a relatively stable passive continental margin shelf environment in Tarim Block, the silica-rich submarine hydrothermal vent system may represent a new and important geological niche favorable for FeOB colonization, which is different from their traditional habitats reported in hydrothermal vent systems at oceanic spreading centers or volcanic seamounts. Thus, these newly recognized microfossils offer a new clue to explore the biological signatures and habitat diversity of microorganisms on Earth and beyond.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

What is the Real Cost of the Nakhimov BBN for the Russian Navy? And is it Worth it?

Blogger Aleksandr Shishkin recently offered his rationale (and that of other navy advocates) for repairing and modernizing Admiral Nakhimov.

As a shipbuilder, Shishkin says the “enemies of these monster-ships” think that the extraordinary expenditures required to renovate Nakhimov could be redirected to better use for the Russian military. But he contends that Russia’s nuclear-powered guided missile cruisers have a disproportionate military-political effect when compared to other ways of spending this part of the MOD budget.


It’d be interesting to read an argument for Admiral Nakhimov addressing how the ship will figure in future Russian fleet operations and larger military strategy. How will it operate in defense of Moscow’s naval strategic nuclear forces, or in more likely contingencies short of this?

This Looks Familiar: Socialism, American Style

THE great 20th-century conservative economist Joseph Schumpeter thought the left had overlooked a major selling point in pressing the case for public — i.e., government — control over productive capital. “One of the most significant titles to superiority,” he suggested, was that public ownership produced profits, which means not having to depend on taxes to raise money.

The bulk of the left never took up Schumpeter’s argument. But in an oddly fitting twist, these days the mantra of public control in exchange for lower taxes has been embraced by a surprising quarter of the American political leadership: conservatives.

The most well-known case is Alaska. The Alaska Permanent Fund, established by a Republican governor in 1976, combines not one, but two socialist principles: public ownership and the provision of a basic income for all residents. The fund collects and invests proceeds from the extraction of oil and minerals in the state. Dividends are paid out annually to all state residents.

Texas is another example of conservative socialism in practice. Almost 150 years ago the Texas Permanent School Fund took control of roughly half of all the land and associated mineral rights still in the public domain. In 1953, coastal “submerged lands” were added after being relinquished by the federal government. Each year distributions from the fund go to support education; in 2014 alone it gave $838.7 million to state schools. Another fund, the $17.5 billion Permanent University Fund, owns more than two million acres of land, the proceeds of which help underwrite the state’s public university system.

Similar socialized funds — sometimes called sovereign wealth funds — are common in other conservative states. The Permanent Wyoming Mineral Trust Fund, with a market value of more than $7 billion accumulated from mineral extraction, is almost a direct expression of Schumpeter’s doctrine: Socialized ownership has helped to eliminate income taxes in the state.

Such “socialism, American style,” can produce odd reversals of conservative-liberal political alignments. One of the largest “socialist” enterprises in the nation is the Tennessee Valley Authority, a publicly owned company with $11 billion in sales revenue, nine million customers and 11,260 employees that produces electricity and helps manage the Tennessee River system. In 2013 President Obama proposed privatizing the T.V.A., but local Republican politicians, concerned with the prospect of higher prices for consumers and less money for their states, successfully opposed the idea.

United States of North America: a Comic for the Jade Helmers of Canada

I live in Texas and hear a lot of conspiracy theories. The one about a North American Union is popular. Radio demagogues such as Alex Jones and the recent Jade Helm military exercises keep it alive and the public afraid.

The entire continent of North America — so the tale goes — will soon be one giant country. Washington will force Mexico and Canada, at the point of a double-bladed economic spear, to join their land masses with the United States and create a super country.

This merging will make it easier for the powers that be — the Illuminati, the Bilderberg group, take your pick — to control humanity and impose authoritarian rule. The NAU leaders will put checkpoints on highways, require GPS trackers in all newborns, eliminate personal firearms and outlaw dissent.

It’s a fanciful tale, easily traded over drinks at a bar and rife for exploitation as an adventure comic or action-oriented T.V. series. That’s just what the authors of the comic book The United States of North America aimed to do.

Studying Marrow Cavity Filings to Understand Triassic Taphonomy in Poland

Analysis of marrow cavity fillings as a tool to recognise diverse taphonomic histories of fossil reptile bones: Implications for the genesis of the Lower Muschelkalk marine bone-bearing bed (Middle Triassic, Żyglin, S Poland)




The bone-bearing bed from Żyglin (S Poland), which likely represents the oldest Lower Muschelkalk accumulation of reptile remains in the SE part of the Germanic Basin, has been investigated in order to determine its genesis. The basic methods were supported by petrographic analysis of the marrow cavity and large inter-trabecular pore space fillings of fossil bones, which was used to check its usefulness to identify the environments where the bones were initially deposited and to decipher taphonomic histories of the remains. The bone-bearing bed is a composite deposit, which consists of three distinct layers (from bottom to top): micritic limestone (mudstone, bioturbated autochthonous mud), crinoidal limestone (grainstone to packstone, calcirudite), and shell-rich limestone (packstone to wackstone, calcirudite). The crinoidal limestone layer, the main bone-bearing bed, is recognised as the proximal tempestite deposited in the mid-ramp zone. The petrographic analysis of the fillings reveals the prevalence of minute ostracod carapaces, accompanied by other grains, embedded together with micrite to microspar. Such compositions suggest that these sediments may have been inserted into the bone pore spaces in lagoons and tidal-flat ponds. Features of some bones record their early diagenetic burial and lithification before the final redeposition. The isopachous spar, blocky spar and weathered pyrite document changes in the chemical composition of fluids that flowed into the bone interiors. The burrow found in the marrow cavity of specimen IGUAM-ZOV-7 provides evidence that some remains were inhabited by minute or juvenile invertebrates. All recognised features indicate that both invertebrate and vertebrate bioclasts, included in the tempestite, were initially deposited in various settings of the carbonate ramp and in the end redeposited as a result of a heavy storm or a hurricane. The examined bone-bearing bed represents time-averaged assemblage, which originated due to hydraulic concentration of the vertebrate bioclasts. The petrographic analysis of the fillings is a valuable tool to identify complex taphonomic pathways of vertebrate bioclasts.

Are the new Ediacaran Doushantuo Megasphaera-like Acritarchs Really Animals? Or Something Else?

Are the new Ediacaran Doushantuo Megasphaera-like acritarchs early metazoans?




A recent report by Chen et al. (Chen, L., Xiao, S., Pang, K., Zhou, C.M., Yuan, X.L., 2014. Cell differentiation and germ-soma separation in Ediacaran animal embryo-like fossils. Nature 516, 238-241) describes the new Ediacaran Doushantuo acritarchs with fascinating features. Nested within Megaclonophycus-like fossils that exhibit palintomic cell division are multicellular spheroid structures termed matryoshkas, which are interpreted to be germ cells. Such distinctive features of cellular differentiation and germ-soma separation suggest affinities of these with early stem group metazoans. In this commentary, I suggest some alternative interpretations to those elaborated by Chen et al. (2014).

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

US AIr Force to Award Long Range Strike Bomber Contract in September

The Air Force plans to announce a contract award for their new stealthy long-range bomber aircraft in September of this year, service officials told Military​.com.

The contract award for the aircraft was initially expected to arrive earlier this summer. In fact, this new timeline comes on the heels of a series of delays for the award.

The new Long Range Strike Bomber, or LRS-B, is slated to fly alongside and ultimately replace the existing B-2 bomber.

Senior Air Force officials told Military​.com that taking extra time at the front end of the process to make sure the selection is the right one will ultimately save much more time and money throughout the longer-term acquisition process. The service plans to field the new bomber by the mid-2020s.


Origins of Agricultural Pushed Back to Pleistocene?

The Origin of Cultivation and Proto-Weeds, Long Before Neolithic Farming


Snir et al


Weeds are currently present in a wide range of ecosystems worldwide. Although the beginning of their evolution is largely unknown, researchers assumed that they developed in tandem with cultivation since the appearance of agricultural habitats some 12,000 years ago. These rapidly-evolving plants invaded the human disturbed areas and thrived in the new habitat. Here we present unprecedented new findings of the presence of “proto-weeds” and small-scale trial cultivation in Ohalo II, a 23,000-year-old hunter-gatherers' sedentary camp on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, Israel. We examined the plant remains retrieved from the site (ca. 150,000 specimens), placing particular emphasis on the search for evidence of plant cultivation by Ohalo II people and the presence of weed species. The archaeobotanically-rich plant assemblage demonstrates extensive human gathering of over 140 plant species and food preparation by grinding wild wheat and barley. Among these, we identified 13 well-known current weeds mixed with numerous seeds of wild emmer, barley, and oat. This collection provides the earliest evidence of a human-disturbed environment—at least 11 millennia before the onset of agriculture—that provided the conditions for the development of "proto-weeds", a prerequisite for weed evolution. Finally, we suggest that their presence indicates the earliest, small-scale attempt to cultivate wild cereals seen in the archaeological record.

Second Mountain Range Found in Sputnik Planum in Tombaugh Regio on Pluto


Amazon Rainforest NOT Pristine, BUT Heavily Cultivated & Populated in PreColumbian Times

The domestication of Amazonia before European conquest


Clement et al


During the twentieth century, Amazonia was widely regarded as relatively pristine nature, little impacted by human history. This view remains popular despite mounting evidence of substantial human influence over millennial scales across the region. Here, we review the evidence of an anthropogenic Amazonia in response to claims of sparse populations across broad portions of the region. Amazonia was a major centre of crop domestication, with at least 83 native species containing populations domesticated to some degree. Plant domestication occurs in domesticated landscapes, including highly modified Amazonian dark earths (ADEs) associated with large settled populations and that may cover greater than 0.1% of the region. Populations and food production expanded rapidly within land management systems in the mid-Holocene, and complex societies expanded in resource-rich areas creating domesticated landscapes with profound impacts on local and regional ecology. ADE food production projections support estimates of at least eight million people in 1492. By this time, highly diverse regional systems had developed across Amazonia where subsistence resources were created with plant and landscape domestication, including earthworks. This review argues that the Amazonian anthrome was no less socio-culturally diverse or populous than other tropical forested areas of the world prior to European conquest.

At Most 130k People Lived in Europe During the Last Glacial Maximum

Human population dynamics in Europe over the Last Glacial Maximum


Tallavaara et al


The severe cooling and the expansion of the ice sheets during the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), 27,000–19,000 y ago (27–19 ky ago) had a major impact on plant and animal populations, including humans. Changes in human population size and range have affected our genetic evolution, and recent modeling efforts have reaffirmed the importance of population dynamics in cultural and linguistic evolution, as well. However, in the absence of historical records, estimating past population levels has remained difficult. Here we show that it is possible to model spatially explicit human population dynamics from the pre-LGM at 30 ky ago through the LGM to the Late Glacial in Europe by using climate envelope modeling tools and modern ethnographic datasets to construct a population calibration model. The simulated range and size of the human population correspond significantly with spatiotemporal patterns in the archaeological data, suggesting that climate was a major driver of population dynamics 30–13 ky ago. The simulated population size declined from about 330,000 people at 30 ky ago to a minimum of 130,000 people at 23 ky ago. The Late Glacial population growth was fastest during Greenland interstadial 1, and by 13 ky ago, there were almost 410,000 people in Europe. Even during the coldest part of the LGM, the climatically suitable area for human habitation remained unfragmented and covered 36% of Europe.

How Many Out-migrations From Africa for the Modern Human Species?

Testing modern human out-of-Africa dispersal models and implications for modern human origins


Reyes-Centeno et al


The modern human expansion process out of Africa has important implications for understanding the genetic and phenotypic structure of extant populations. While intensely debated, the primary hypotheses focus on either a single dispersal or multiple dispersals out of the continent. Here, we use the human fossil record from Africa and the Levant, as well as an exceptionally large dataset of Holocene human crania sampled from Asia, to model ancestor–descendant relationships along hypothetical dispersal routes. We test the spatial and temporal predictions of competing out-of-Africa models by assessing the correlation of geographical distances between populations and measures of population differentiation derived from quantitative cranial phenotype data. Our results support a model in which extant Australo-Melanesians are descendants of an initial dispersal out of Africa by early anatomically modern humans, while all other populations are descendants of a later migration wave. Our results have implications for understanding the complexity of modern human origins and diversity.

No Homo erectus Fossils in African Older Than 1.63 Million Years ago

Chronostratigraphy of KNM-ER 3733 and other Area 104 hominins from Koobi Fora


Lepre et al


A magnetostratigraphy for ∼60 m of Koobi Fora Formation sediment in Area 104 was derived from 46 oriented samples that produced well-resolved characteristic magnetizations from progressive thermal demagnetization. Approximately 59 m below the Morte Tuff, previously dated to ∼1.51 Ma (millions of years ago), the Olduvai-Matuyama boundary (∼1.78 Ma) was found to be at the level of marker bed A2—inconsistent with the Area 102 type section and thus contrary to fossil dating schemes that utilize temporal equivalence between A2 [104] and A2 [102]. The magnetostratigraphic data, coupled with the Morte Tuff, provide a means to interpolate new ages for marker beds A2 [104] and the White Tuff, as well as multiple Area 104 hominin fossils. Noteworthy is the new date of ∼1.63 Ma for KNM-ER 3733, which now implicates KNM-ER 2598 as the sole early African Homo erectus fossil demonstrably older than Dmanisi and Java Homo specimens. Re-dating KNM-ER 3733 creates a ∼300-kyr gap at 1.9 to 1.6 Ma in the African fossil record of H. erectus, which might be partially spanned by hand axes recently dated at ∼1.76 Ma, if the Acheulian is indeed proprietary to this species.

Hobbits Come up VERY Different Species in new bayesian Phylogenic Analysis

Bayesian analysis of a morphological supermatrix sheds light on controversial fossil hominin relationships


Dembo et al


The phylogenetic relationships of several hominin species remain controversial. Two methodological issues contribute to the uncertainty—use of partial, inconsistent datasets and reliance on phylogenetic methods that are ill-suited to testing competing hypotheses. Here, we report a study designed to overcome these issues. We first compiled a supermatrix of craniodental characters for all widely accepted hominin species. We then took advantage of recently developed Bayesian methods for building trees of serially sampled tips to test among hypotheses that have been put forward in three of the most important current debates in hominin phylogenetics—the relationship between Australopithecus sediba and Homo, the taxonomic status of the Dmanisi hominins, and the place of the so-called hobbit fossils from Flores, Indonesia, in the hominin tree. Based on our results, several published hypotheses can be statistically rejected. For example, the data do not support the claim that Dmanisi hominins and all other early Homo specimens represent a single species, nor that the hobbit fossils are the remains of small-bodied modern humans, one of whom had Down syndrome. More broadly, our study provides a new baseline dataset for future work on hominin phylogeny and illustrates the promise of Bayesian approaches for understanding hominin phylogenetic relationships.

Many Early Hominins Generally Smaller-bodied Than Previously Thought

Body mass estimates of hominin fossils and the evolution of human body size


Grabowski et al


Body size directly influences an animal's place in the natural world, including its energy requirements, home range size, relative brain size, locomotion, diet, life history, and behavior. Thus, an understanding of the biology of extinct organisms, including species in our own lineage, requires accurate estimates of body size. Since the last major review of hominin body size based on postcranial morphology over 20 years ago, new fossils have been discovered, species attributions have been clarified, and methods improved.

Here, we present the most comprehensive and thoroughly vetted set of individual fossil hominin body mass predictions to date, and estimation equations based on a large (n = 220) sample of modern humans of known body masses. We also present species averages based exclusively on fossils with reliable taxonomic attributions, estimates of species averages by sex, and a metric for levels of sexual dimorphism. Finally, we identify individual traits that appear to be the most reliable for mass estimation for each fossil species, for use when only one measurement is available for a fossil.

Our results show that many early hominins were generally smaller-bodied than previously thought, an outcome likely due to larger estimates in previous studies resulting from the use of large-bodied modern human reference samples. Current evidence indicates that modern human-like large size first appeared by at least 3–3.5 Ma in some Australopithecus afarensis individuals. Our results challenge an evolutionary model arguing that body size increased from Australopithecus to early Homo. Instead, we show that there is no reliable evidence that the body size of non-erectus early Homo differed from that of australopiths, and confirm that Homo erectus evolved larger average body size than earlier hominins.

Is Australopithecus bahrelghazali a Relict Population?

Pliocene hominin biogeography and ecology




Australopithecus bahrelghazali, its origin and palaeobiology are not well understood. Reported from only one location some several thousand kilometres away from East African Pliocene hominin sites, it appears to have predominantly fed on C4 sources. Yet, it lacks the morphological adaptations of other primate C4 consumers like Paranthropus boisei and Theropithecus oswaldi. Furthermore, although considered to belong to Australopithecus afarensis by most researchers, A. bahrelghazali appears to differ from the former in a key aspect of its morphology: enamel thickness. To assess the phylogeny and palaeobiology of A. bahrelghazali, I first evaluate the dietary adaptations and energetics of A. bahrelghazali using empirical data of the feeding ecology of extant baboons, Papio cynocephalus. Information published on A. bahrelghazali morphology and habitat preference is used to select C4 foods with the appropriate mechanical properties and availability within the environment to create the models. By altering the feeding time on various food categories, I then test whether A. bahrelghazali could have subsisted on a C4 diet, thus accounting for the δ13C composition of its dental tissue. The effects of body mass on the volume of food consumed are taken into account. The outcomes of these simulations indicate that A. bahrelghazali could have subsisted on a diet of predominantly sedges, albeit with limitations. At higher energy requirements, i.e., above 3.5 times the BMR, it would be difficult for a medium-sized primate to obtain sufficient energy from a sedge-based diet. This is apparently due to constraints on foraging/feeding time, not because of the nutritional value of sedges per se. These results are discussed against the backdrop of A. bahrelghazali biogeography, palaeoenvironment, and phylogeny. The combined evidence makes it plausible to suggest that Northern Chad may have been a refugium for migrating mammals, including hominins, and throws new light on the deep history of A. bahrelghazali.