A remarkably large number of finds were made in this dig. This is because the Roman troops dismantled the fort and filled the ditches on their departure. In the process they disposed of a lot of waste, especially in the inner ditch. “A bonanza for us,” according to Prof. Dr. Hans-Markus von Kaenel from the Goethe University Institute of Archaeology. “We filled box after box with shards of fine, coarse and transport ceramics; dating them will allow us to determine when the fort was abandoned with greater accuracy than was possible before”.
Until now, little was known about Roman Gernsheim, even though discoveries from the Roman era have been appearing at the site since the 19th century. “Previously, the only thing that seemed certain based on the finds was that an important village-like settlement, or “vicus”, must have been located here from the 1st to the 3rd century, comparable with similar villages which have already been shown to have existed in Groß-Gerau, Dieburg or Ladenburg”, explained dig leader Dr. Thomas Maurer. He has been travelling from Frankfurt to South Hessia for many years and has published his findings in a large publication about the North Hessian Ried during Roman imperial times.
“It was assumed”, continued Maurer, “that this settlement had to have been based on a fort, since it was customary for the families of the soldiers to live outside the fort in a village-like settlement.” “We really hit the jackpot with this excavation campaign”, said a delighted Prof. Dr. Hans-Markus von Kaenel. “The results are a milestone in reconstructing the history of the Hessian Ried during Roman times.” For almost 20 years, von Kaenel has been studying this area with the support of his colleagues and students usingsurveys, digs, material processing and analyses. The results have been published in over 50 articles.
The Romans built the fort in Gernsheim in order to take control of large areas to the east of the Rhine in the seventh decade of the 1st century AD and to expand the traffic infrastructure from and to the centre of Mainz-Mogontiac. The fact that Gernsheim and Rhein were very important during Roman times is supported by its complimentary location for travel: A road branches off from the Mainz- Ladenburg- Augsburg highway in the direction of the Main Limes. It can be assumed that a Rhine harbour existed as well, but this could not be proved during the course of the dig. “That was always unlikely on account of the chosen location”, according to Maurer. Gernsheim proceeded to expand during the 20th century, and this expansion threatened to wipe out a large amount of the archaeological traces. While the Roman remains were mostly hidden under fields and gardens in the year 1900, they were gradually built over and thus lost to methodical archaeological research. The last plot of any measurable size where is might still be possible to make findings from the Roman era was in the south west of the city between B44 and the River Winkelbach. But in 1971 the excavations moved in here as well. Maurer added: “At the time, a few volunteers from the Heritage Conservation Society were barely able to save a few Roman finds.”
On August 4th of this year, the annual educational dig run by the Goethe University Institute of Archaeology began on one of the few remaining properties which had not be built on; a double lot at Nibelungenstraße 10-12. “According to my maps of those Gernsheim sites which could be located, we are at the far western edge of the area in which the finds are concentrated, right at the edge of the lower terrace, since the nearby River Winkelbach flows into the Rhine basin from here”, explained dig leader Maurer. Isolated Roman discoveries were made on almost all neighbouring properties during the 1970s and 1980s. “Thus the site seemed to be a worthwhile location for a dig, which turned out to be very much the case.”
Over the last five weeks, 15 students of the “Archaeology and History of the Roman Provinces” course carefully stripped away the soil, mapped and documented the finds, and recovered and packaged them by type. The work was supported by Frankfurt archaeologists from the Hessain State Office for the Preservation of Historical Monuments (Hessen ARCHÄOLOGIE, Darmstadt branch) and by the Art and History Society of Schöfferstadt Gernsheim. Some members of this society, which also operates the local museum, helped the dig team on a daily basis. The documentation and the findings from this excavation campaign form the basis for a thesis at the University, work on which will start in the winter semester.
Contributing Source: Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
Header Image Source: Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
Around 12,800 years ago, a sudden, catastrophic event plunged much of the Earth into a period of cold climatic conditions and drought. This drastic climate change‒ the Younger Dryas‒ coincided with the extinction of Pleistocene megafauna, such as the saber-tooth cats and the mastodon, and resulted in major declines in prehistoric human populations, including the dissolution of the Clovis culture.
Several rival theories have been proposed about the event that sparked this period, but with little evidence to prove their accuracy. These include a collapse of the North American ice sheets, a major volcanic eruption, and a solar flare.
However, in a study published in The Journal of Geology, an international group of scientists analysing existing and new evidence have determined a cosmic impact event, such a comet or a meteorite, to be the only plausible hypothesis to explain the cohort of unusual occurrences at the onset of the Younger Dryas period.
Researchers from 21 universities in 6 countries believe the key to the mystery of the Big Freeze resides in nanodiamonds scattered across Europe, North American, and portions of South America, in a 50-million-square-kilometer area known as the Younger Dryas Boundary (YDB) field.
Microscopic nanodiamonds, melt-glass, carbon spherules, and other high-temperature materials are found in copious amounts throughout the YDB field, in a thin layer located only meters from the Earth’s surface. As these materials formed at temperatures in excess of 2200 degrees Celsius, the fact that they are presented together so close to the Earth’s surface implies they were probably formed by a major extra-terrestrial impact event.
In addition to providing support for the cosmic impact event hypothesis, the study also offers evidence to reject alternate hypotheses for the formation of the YDB nanodiamonds, such as wildfires, volcanism, or meteroric flux.
The team’s findings serve to settle the debate about the presence of nanodiamonds in the YDB field and challenge existing paradigms across multiple disciplines, including impact dynamics, archaeology, palaeontology, limnology, and palynology.
Contributing Source: The University of Chicago Press
Header Image Source: Wikimedia
On Thursday scientists unveiled what appears to be the first truly semiaquatic dinosaur, Spinosaurus aegyptiacus. New fossils of the massive Cretaceous-era predator expose that it adapted to life in the water some 95 million years ago, providing the most compelling evidence to date of a dinosaur able to live and hunt in an aquatic environment. The fossils also indicate that Spinosaurus was the largest known predatory dinosaur to walk the Earth, measuring up to an impressive 9 feet longer than the world’s largest Tyrannosaurus rex specimen. These findings, published yesterday in the journal Science, are also featured in the October issue of National Geographic magazine as the cover story, which will be available online from September 11th. In addition, Spinosaurus will be the subject of a new exhibition at the National Geographic Museum, opening September 12th, as well as National Geographic/NOVA special airing on PBS November 5th at 9 p.m.
An international research team‒ including palaeontologists Nizar Ibrahim and Paul Sereno from the University of Chicago; Cristiano Dal Sasso and Simone Maganuco from the National History Museum in Milan, Italy; and Samir Zouhri from the Université Hassan II Casablanca in Morocco‒ discovered that Spinosaurus developed a variety of previously unknown aquatic adaptations. The researchers made conclusions after analysing new fossils uncovered in the Moroccan Sahara and a partial Spinosaurus skull and other remains housed in museum collections around the world as well as historical records and images from the first reported Spinosaurus discovery in Egypt over a century ago. According to lead author Ibrahim, a 2014 National Geographic Emerging Explorer, “Working on this animal was like studying an alien from outer space; it’s unlike any other dinosaur I have ever seen.”
The aquatic adaptations of Spinosaurus vary considerably from earlier members of the spinosaurid family that resided on land but were known to consume fish. These adaptations include:
- Small nostrils located in the middle of the skull. The small size and placement of the nostrils farther back in the skull enabled Spinosaurus to breathe when part of its head was submerged in water.
- Neurovascular openings at the end of the snout. Similar openings on the crocodile and alligator snouts contain pressure receptors that allow them to sense movement in water. It’s likely that these openings served a comparable function in Spinosaurus.
- Giant, slanted teeth that interlocked at the front of the snout. The conical shape and location of the teeth were well-suited for catching fish.
- A long neck and trunk that shifted the dinosaur’s centre of mass forward. This meant walking on two legs on land was nearly impossible, but facilitated movement in water.
- Powerful forelimbs with curved, blade-like claws. These claws were perfect for hooking or slicing slippery prey.
- A small pelvis and short hind legs with muscular thighs. Similar to the earliest whales, these adaptations were for paddling in water and differ markedly from other predatory dinosaurs that used two legs to move on land.
- Particularly dense bones lacking the marrow cavities typical to predatory dinosaurs. Similar adaptations, which enable buoyancy control, are seen in modern aquatic animals like king penguins.
- Strong, long-boned feet and long, flat claws. Unlike other predators, Spinosaurus had feet resembling some shore birds that stand on or move across on soft surfaces rather than perch. In fact, Spinosaurus possibly had webbed feet for walking on soft mud or paddling.
- Loosely connected bones in the dinosaur’s tail. These bones allowed its tail to bend in a wave-like fashion, similar to tails that helped propel some bony fish.
- Enormous dorsal spines covered the skin that created a huge “sail” of the dinosaur’s back. The tall, thin, blade-shaped spines were anchored by muscles and composed of dense bone with few blood vessels. This suggests the sail was meant for display and not to trap heat or store fat. The sail would have been visible even when the animal entered water.
More than 100 years ago, German palaeontologist Ernest Freiherr Stromer von Reichenbach first discovered evidence of Spinosaurus in the Egyptian Sahara. Unfortunately, all of Stromer’s fossils were destroyed during the April 1944 allied bombing in Munich, Germany. Ibrahim, however, was able to track down Stromer’s surviving notes, sketches and photos in archives and at the Stromer family castle in Bavaria to supplement Stromer’s surviving publications.
The new Spinosaurus fossils were discovered in the Moroccan Sahara along desert cliffs known as the Kem Kem beds. This area was once a large river system, stretching from present-day Morocco to Egypt. At the time, a variety of aquatic life populated the system, including large sharks, coelacanths, lungfish and crocodile-like creatures, along with giant flying reptiles and predatory dinosaurs.
The most important of the new fossils, a partial skeleton unveiled by a local fossil hunter, was spirited out of the country. As a result, critical information about the context of the disovery was seemingly lost, and locating the local fossil hunter in Morocco was almost impossible. Ibrahim remarked, “It was like searching for a needle in a desert.” After an exhaustive search, Ibrahim finally found the man and confirmed the site of the original discovery.
To uncover some of the mysteries of Spinosaurus, the team created a digital model of the skeleton with funding provided by the National Geographic Society. The researchers Conducted CT scans on all of the new fossils, which will be repatriated to Morocco, complementing them with digital recreations of Stromer’s specimens. Missing bones were modelled based on known elements of related dinosaurs. According to Maganuco, “We relied upon cutting-edge technology to examine, analyse and piece together a variety of fossils. For a project of this complexity, traditional methods wouldn’t have been nearly as accurate.”
The researchers then used the digital model to create an anatomically precise, life-size 3-D replica of the Spinosaurusskeleton. After it was mounted, the researchers measured Spinosaurus from head to tail, confirming their calculation that the new skeleton was longer than the largest documented Tyrannosaurus by more than 9 feet. According to Sereno, head of the University of Chicago’s Fossil Lab, “What surprised us even more than the dinosaur’s size were its unusual proportions. We see limb proportions like this in early whales, not predatory dinosaurs.”
Dal Sasso added, “In the last two decades, several finds demonstrated that certain dinosaurs gave origins to birds. Spinosaurus represents an equally bizarre evolutionary process, revealing that predatory dinosaurs adapted to a semiaquatic life and invaded river systems in Cretaceous North Africa.”
Contributing Source: National Geographic Society
Header Image Source: WikiPedia
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