New paleontology research from Natural History Museum of L.A. at international conference

October 18, 1999

New Species of Camel, Dinosaur Nesting Ground, New Theories on La Brea Tar Pits and Origins of White Shark and Dolphin Presented

LOS ANGELES -- October 19, 1999 -- A team of paleontologists from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County will announce new scientific discoveries this week at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology conference in Denver, October 20 - 23. This forum brings scientists from around the world to present theories and research for discussion and debate. Selected topics include:

A Camel in Goat's Disguise: Dr. Dave Whistler, curator of vertebrate paleontology, has uncovered a mass of fossil bones of an entirely new kind of camel in the Southern California desert. This extinct species has mountain goat-like features and dates back two million years. Camel fossils in North America have been collected for more than 180 years and are considered one of the best-known fossil groups, so there has been little expectation of new discoveries. Based upon his research, Whistler believes this new species lived undetected for more than 15 million years in mountainous terrain of western North America. (Illustration available).

Bones of La Brea: The world-famous La Brea Tar Pits are known for their immense quantity and quality of Ice Age fossils. In conjunction with research associates from UCLA and Duke University, Dr. John Harris, chief curator of the Page Museum, has recently examined more than 19,000 large mammal specimens from the current Pit 91 excavation looking for indications of how the deposit was formed. The fossil deposit consists mainly of adult carnivores and juvenile herbivores that were buried rapidly after death. In contrast to traditional interpretation, his research has found that there is surprisingly little evidence that the carnivores had actually been feeding on the trapped herbivores.

Dinosaur Nests Abound: The largest dinosaur nesting ground was discovered in 1997 in Patagonia, Argentina, by Dr. Luis Chiappe, associate curator of vertebrate paleontology. The nesting site is remarkable not only in size -- dinosaur eggshell fragments litter the ground for several miles -- but it is the first time embryonic remains of sauropod dinosaur skin have been discovered. Chiappe has uncovered additional egg layers and has mapped a 30 square meter area more than 200 eggs, many of them containing embryonic remains. He has found that the dinosaur eggs were laid in clutches that were close together and randomly distributed. His research also shows that the sauropods returned to the same nesting site over a long period of time. This site continues to provide scientists important information on the reproductive biology and behavior of sauropods. (Photo available).

The Origin of Jaws: Scientists have long debated the origins of the Great White Shark. Is it a relative of the extinct 'great-toothed' sharks that swam 55 to 3 million years ago, or did they evolve from the extinct nine-million-year-old Isurus hastalis, a shark that had no teeth serrations? Assistant Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology Dr. J.D. Stewart devised a research technique using the Museum's vast collection of shark teeth. The collection came from 18 localities in the Capistrano Formation in Orange County, Calif., the largest deposit of fossil shark teeth of that time period on the West Coast. Stewart measured the teeth, mapped where they were found and predicted the age of each locality based on the serration size. Orange County paleontologist Rod Raschke independently mapped the formation's geological layers. After comparison of both studies, there was found to be a direct correlation between the age of the teeth and the size of the serrations. Stewart believes this confirms the theory that the Great White Shark did not evolve from the mega-toothed sharks, but evolved over time from the Isurus hastalis.

Earliest Dolphin: Fossil remains of an early, long-snouted dolphin dating back approximately 23 million years have been collected on the coast of Oregon by Museum Associate, James L. Goedert. In analyzing this find and other similar-age dolphins from California, Oregon and Washington, Dr. Lawrence Barnes, curator of vertebrate paleontology, along with Goedert and Bruce Crowley of the University of Washington, have noted the absence of fossil beaked and sperm whales. Barnes poses the question, "Why are there no fossil beaked and sperm whales living during this time on the West Coast, when they are found around the South Pacific and Atlantic?"
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The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County holds the world's largest collection of Pleistocene terrestrial fossils (the Rancho La Brea collection) and has one of the largest vertebrate fossil collections in the United States. Founded in 1913, it is a national leader in research, education and exhibits. The Museum is the largest natural and cultural history museum on the West Coast, safeguarding more than 33 million specimens and artifacts in its collections. For further information about the Museum, visit the Museum's website at www.nhm.org or call 213-763-DINO.

The Natural History Museum Family consists of four museums: the Natural History Museum-Exposition Park, the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits, the Petersen Automotive Museum and the William S. Hart Museum in Newhall.

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

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