Archive for November, 2012

In the Days When Eye-of-Sauron-asaurus Rex Roamed the Earth…

By: The Scribe on November, 2012

Well, some geek had a fantastic day at work. A new species of dinosaur, discovered in southeastern Morocco back in 2007, has been named after the flaming Eye of Sauron from J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved Lord of the Rings novels and subsequent film adaptations by filmmaker Peter Jackson.

The dinosaur, which lived in North Africa around 95 million years ago, was identified only by a single fossil that included part of the upper skull, including—of course—the eye socket. Study leader Andrea Cau, from the Museo Geologico Giovanni Calpellini (Bologna, Italy) said that “the idea of a predator that is physically known only as its fierce eye reminded me of Sauron, in particular as depicted in Peter Jackson’s movies.”

Now named the Sauroniops pachytholus—literally “eye of Sauron” in Greek—the creature is considered a carcharodontosaur, a type of theropod dinosaur. And if you didn’t catch that, it means it’s a two-legged, flesh-tearing meat eater. Cau explained that the Sauroniops probably had “a long and deep skull bearing dozens of bladeline teeth.” When compared with other related species, the skull fossil suggests that the dinosaur was about 12 meters long (40 feet) during its lifetime.


This means the Eye-of-Sauron-asaurus may have been bigger than the more commonly known Tyrannosaurus Rex, but without additional fossils, it’s hard for palaeontologists to say for sure. This guy also had a distinctive bump on its forehead, which is thought to have been used for head-butting during things like mating displays or territory disputes.

Finally, it seems that the Sauroniops didn’t prefer living alone in a large tower, but along the banks of a wide delta in a hot climate, full of food like crocodiles and fish. Sounds somewhat preferable to a volcanic wasteland, all things considered.

Fe-Fi-Fo-Fome, This Giant Skeleton Comes from Rome!

By: The Scribe on November, 2012

In 3rd-century Rome, giants roamed the earth… okay, maybe not, but at least one of them did! An archaeological excavation back in 1991 at an ancient Roman necropolis revealed the skeleton of a giant man, but it’s only recently that the bones were studied in any depth.

Found inside an abnormally long tomb, the man’s height measured 6 feet, 8 inches (202cm)—which would have been gigantic in ancient Rome, where the typical man averaged about 5.5 feet (167cm). For comparison, it’s worth noting that the modern-day “tallest man” is 8 feet, 3 inches high (251 cm).

But at 6 feet, 8 inches, this man would have been a giant to the people of ancient Rome, and researchers suspect that the individual had a While there have been two other ancient skeletons found in the past that have been suspected of the condition (in Poland and Egypt), the Roman skeleton is the first clearly identifiable case from ancient times, making its contribution to the historical record quite significant.

In order to learn whether this citizen of ancient Rome actually had gigantism, the study team looked at the bones and skull of the specimen. They found skull damage that’s known to be consistent with pituitary tumors (which disrupt the pituitary gland) that in turn cause the overproduction of HGH (human growth hormone). That, along with limb length and evidence of bone growth into adulthood, confirmed the gigantism diagnosis.

It’s also thought that this individual lived a short life, dying between 16-20 years old—not an uncommon occurrence for human “giants”, who struggle with respiratory issues and cardiovascular stresses. However, the exact cause of death is unknown, so researchers and archaeologists can only speculate.

Notably, the giant wasn’t buried with any funerary items, though the burial itself was typical of the period—so whoever he was, he seems to have been accepted as a member of society, though whether this came out of simple curiosity for his condition or as a normal human being, is another question entirely.

(IMG credit: Photograph by Simona Minozzi, Endocrine Society)

Neanderthal Naturopaths Self-Medicated

By: The Scribe on November, 2012

Okay, so maybe they weren’t technically naturopaths (in any sense of the word, really)… but a cave in northern Spain that some time ago yielded evidence that historians interpreted as suggesting some Neanderthals were brain-eating cannibals now shows evidence that, well, these early people used herbal remedies and ate all their greens.

A picture of a Neanderthal manA new study done on the skeletal remains from the cave site of El Sidron in Asturias showed chemical and food traces left on the teeth of five individuals. Microscopic plant starch granules were found in tartar samples from the 50,000 year old teeth, and the cracks in the granules apparently indicated that the plants were roasted before consumption (and possibly that the Neanderthals really needed to floss after eating).

According to the dental investigation, starch and carbohydrates in the tooth tartar reveal that Neanderthals ate a considerable amount and wide variety of plants. The researchers were also surprised to find very few traces of meat-associated proteins.

And if it wasn’t enough to learn that our ancient ancestors would probably shop at Whole Foods instead of heading to a butcher shop, a team led by archaeologist Karen Hardy of Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies in Barcelona found that these folks were also giving themselves doses of medicinal plants.

Things like yarrow and camomile were a part of their regular diet (the Neanderthals, not the research team), both plants with little nutritional value but well known for their natural medicinal properties.

“We know that Neanderthals would find these plants bitter, so it is likely these plants must have been selected for reasons other than taste. It fits in well with the behavioural pattern of self-medication by today’s primates, and indeed many other animals,” Hardy said. “Camomile is very well known as a herbal treatment for nerves and stress, and for digestive disorders, while yarrow is used to treat colds and fevers and works as an antiseptic.”

The findings add to a growing picture of Neanderthals as plant-loving hippies—er, people—and it’s unlikely that the Spanish population studied was an anomaly, according to researchers. Even more interesting, is that these findings question the established thought of Neanderthals as inflexible in their dietary preferences, a reason often cited for modern humans’ ability to dominate the competitive landscape for food resources.