Following the excavation the land will be restored to a mix of fenland habitats and managed as part of the Great Fen nature reserve by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire. The Heritage Lottery (HLF) is funding the excavation as part of the Great Fen Education and Community programme and is also supporting the post-dig land restoration. A Battle of Britain Memorial overflight is scheduled for 3pm on Thursday 8 October
Spitfire X4593, of 266 Rhodesian Squadron Royal Air Force was based at RAF Wittering; on a routine training flight with two other Spitfires. Pilot Officer Harold Edwin Penketh was seen to break formation entering a dive from which he failed to fully recover. Witnesses stated that his aircraft partially recovered at around 2,000ft but then re-entered a dive and struck the ground vertically.
Plt Off Penketh did not attempt to use his parachute and was killed in the crash, his body was recovered and returned to his home town of Brighton. Investigations concluded that either a failure of the oxygen system or other physical failure had occurred.
A geophysical survey of the site was conducted this August by Peter Masters, from Cranfield University Forensic Institute, and the remains of the plane have been located. The excavation will be carried out by Oxford Archaeology East, project managed by Stephen Macaulay. They will be joined by personnel of the Defence Archaeology Group who oversee OPERATION NIGHTINGALE, a ground-breaking military initiative using aspects of field archaeology and Heritage skills to aid recovery and skill development of service personal and veterans who are suffering injuries due to military service, plus aviation archaeology experts from Historic England will also be on site. Great Fen staff and volunteers from the Great Fen Archaeology Group will also join the excavation.
Material from the excavation site will be taken removed for sorting and cleaning; it is likely that the major airframe components will need mechanical removal. All artefacts remain the property of the Ministry of Defence; RAF Wyton Pathfinder Museum will receive the excavated items into storage in the first instance. A full archive report will be produced within 12 months of the completion of fieldwork and deposited in the Cambridgeshire County Council Historic Environment Record.
Now is the ideal opportunity to excavate the Spitfire as it coincides with the 75th anniversary of Battle of Britain and of the crash itself but more importantly it allows us to record this important piece of our fenland heritage before the rising water table – as we restore the area to wetlands – makes this impossible.
The Great Fen Discovery Day at Holmewood Hall on Saturday 17 October will tell the story of the excavation and some finds from the excavation will be on display.
A big, hippo-sized animal with a long snout and tusks — the new species, 23 million years old, has a unique tooth and jaw structure that indicates it was not only a vegetarian, but literally sucked vegetation from shorelines like a vacuum cleaner, said vertebrate paleontologist and study co-author Louis L. Jacobs, Southern Methodist University, Dallas.
But unlike other marine mammals alive today — such as whales, seals and sea cows — desmostylians went totally extinct. Desmostylians, every single species combined, lived in an interval between 33 million and 10 million years ago.
Their strange columnar teeth and odd style of eating don’t occur in any other mammal, The new specimens — from at least four individuals — were recovered from Unalaska, an Aleutian island in the North Pacific.
While alive, the creatures lived in what is now Unalaska’s Dutch Harbor, where fishing boats depart on Discovery channel’s “Deadliest Catch” reality TV show.
“The new animal — when compared to one of a different species from Japan — made us realize that desmos do not chew like any other animal,” said Jacobs, a professor of earth sciences. “They clench their teeth, root up plants and suck them in.”
To eat, the animals buttressed their lower jaw with their teeth against the upper jaw, and used the powerful muscles that attached there, along with the shape of the roof of their mouth, to suction-feed vegetation from coastal bottoms. Big muscles in the neck would help to power their tusks, and big muscles in the throat would help with suction.
“No other mammal eats like that,” Jacobs said. “The enamel rings on the teeth show wear and polish, but they don’t reveal consistent patterns related to habitual chewing motions.”
The new specimens also represent a new genus — meaning desmostylians in the same family diverged from one another in key physical characteristics, particularly the tooth and jaw structure, said Jacobs, who is one of 10 scientists collaborating on the research.
Discovery of a new genus and species indicates the desmostylian group was larger and more diverse than previously known, said paleontologist and co-author Anthony Fiorillo, vice president of research and collections and chief curator at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, Dallas, and an adjunct research professor at SMU.
“Our new study shows that though this group of strange and extinct mammals was short-lived, it was a successful group with greater biodiversity than had been previously realized,” said Fiorillo.
Unique from other marine mammals in their diet, eating, lifespan
A large, stocky-limbed mammal, desmos’ modern relatives remain a mystery. They’ve been linked previously to manatees, horses and elephants.
Compared to other mammals, desmos were latecomers and didn’t appear on earth until fairly recently — 33 million years ago. Also unusual for mammals, they survived a mere 23 million years, dying out 10 million years ago.
Unlike whales and seals, but like manatees, desmos were vegetarians. They rooted around coastlines, ripping up vegetation, such as marine algae, sea grass and other near-shore plants.
They probably swam like polar bears, using their strong front limbs to power along, Jacobs said. They walked on land a bit, lumbering like a sloth.
Adult desmostylians were large enough to be relatively safe from predators.
The authors report their discoveries in a special volume of the international paleobiology journal, Historical Biology. The article published online Oct. 1 at http://bit.ly/1PQAHZJ.
The research was funded by the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, U.S. National Park Service – Alaska Region Office, and SMU’s Institute for the Study of Earth and Man.
Home was the North Pacific, on wave-battered “Deadliest Catch” island
The newest desmo made its home on Unalaska Island, the farthest north of any occurrence of the group, which only lived along the shores of the North Pacific.
“That’s the only place they’re known in the world — from Baja, California, up along the west coast of North America, around the Alaska Peninsula, the storm-battered Aleutian Islands, to Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula and Sakhalin Island, to the Japanese islands,” Jacobs said.
The Unalaska fossils represent at least four individuals, and one is a baby.
“The baby tells us they had a breeding population up there,” Jacobs said. “They must have stayed in sheltered areas to protect the young from surf and currents.”
In addition, “the baby also tells us that this area along the Alaska coast was biologically productive enough to make it a good place for raising a family,” said Fiorillo.
Just as cattle assemble in a herd, and a group of fish is a school, multiple desmostylians constitute a “troll” — a designation selected by Jacobs to honor Alaskan Ray Troll, the artist who has depicted desmos most.
To make the Unalaska and Japanese specimens readily available to scientists anywhere in the world, each fossil was modeled as a 3-D image to reconstruct the skull and provide interactive animations of the fossils, said Michael J. Polcyn, research associate and director of SMU’s Digital Earth Sciences Laboratory.
Also, 3-D renders of the digital models are available to download without restriction athttp://bit.ly/1JWbLLy. The renderings are in QuickTime Virtual Reality format, QTVR, and are large files that take time to download. Once downloaded, each fossil can be virtually examined and manipulated.
Journey from the land to the ocean to a quarry
The first Unalaska fossils were discovered in the 1950s in a rock quarry during U.S. Geological Survey mapping.
Others found more recently were on display at the Ounalashka Corporation headquarters. Those specimens were offered to Fiorillo and Jacobs for study after Fiorillo gave a public presentation to the community on his work in Alaska.
“The fruits of that lecture were that it started the networking with the community, which in turn led us to a small, but very important collection of fossils that had been unearthed in the town when they built a school a few years earlier,” Fiorillo said. “The fossils were shipped to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science for preparation in our lab and those fossils are the basis for our work now.”
From there, the researchers discovered that the fossils were a new genus and species.
The researchers named the new mammal Ounalashkastylus tomidai. “Ounalashka,” means “near the peninsula” in the Aleut language of the indigenous people of the Aleutian Islands.
“Stylus” is from the Latin for “column” and refers to the shape of cusps in the teeth.
“Tomida” honors distinguished Japanese vertebrate paleontologist Yukimitsu Tomida.
The article appears in a special volume of Historical Biology to honor the career accomplishments of Tomida upon his retirement from the Department of Geology and Paleontology in Tokyo’s National Museum of Nature and Science.
However, whether these early birds were capable of flying — and if so, how well — has remained shrouded in scientific controversy. A new discovery published in the journal Scientific Reports documents the intricate arrangement of the muscles and ligaments that controlled the main feathers of the wing of an ancient bird, supporting the notion that at least some of the most ancient birds performed aerodynamic feats in a fashion similar to those of many living birds.
An international team of Spanish paleontologists and NHM’s Director of the Dinosaur Institute, Dr. Luis M. Chiappe, studied the exceptionally preserved wing of a 125-million-year-old bird from central Spain. Beyond the bones preserved in the fossil, the tiny wing of this ancient bird reveals details of a complex network of muscles that in modern birds controls the fine adjustments of the wing’s main feathers, allowing birds to master the sky.
“The anatomical match between the muscle network preserved in the fossil and those that characterize the wings of living birds strongly indicates that some of the earliest birds were capable of aerodynamic prowess like many present-day birds,” said Chiappe, the investigation’s senior scientist.
“It is very surprising that despite being skeletally quite different from their modern counterparts, these primitive birds show striking similarities in their soft anatomy,” said Guillermo Navalón, a doctorate candidate at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom and lead author of the report.
Ancient birds may have flown over the heads of dinosaurs but some aspects of the precise flight modes of these early fliers still remain unclear. “The new fossil provides us with a unique glimpse into the anatomy of the wing of the birds that lived amongst some of the largest dinosaurs,” said Chiappe. “Fossils such as this are allowing scientists to dissect the most intricate aspects of the early evolution of the flight of birds.” Other members of the research team included Dr. Jesús Marugán-Lobón, Dr. José Luis Sanz, and Dr. Ángela D. Buscalioni from Madrid’s Universidad Autónoma in Spain.
Detailed analysis of 107 foot bones indicates that H. naledi was well adapted for standing and walking on two feet, but that it also was likely comfortable climbing trees. The work, published in Nature Communications today with a concurrent study on H. naledi‘s hands, provides insight into the skeletal form and function that may have characterized early members of our genus.
“Homo naledi’s foot is far more advanced than other parts of its body, for instance, its shoulders, skull, or pelvis,” said William Harcourt-Smith, lead author of the new paper, resident research associate in the American Museum of Natural History’s Division of Paleontology, and assistant professor at CUNY’s Lehman College. “Quite obviously, having a very human-like foot was advantageous to this creature because it was the foot that lost its primitive, or ape-like, features first. That can tell us a great deal in terms of the selective pressures this species was facing.”
Modern humans (Homo sapiens) and extinct species including Homo neanderthalensis, Homo erectus, Homo habilis, and Homo naledi are part of the Homo genus. The Homo genus and theAustralopithecus genus (extinct, close relatives of Homo) are referred to as hominins.
Walking upright is one of the defining features of the human lineage, and as feet are the only structure that make contact with the ground in bipeds, they can tell us a lot about our ancient relatives’ way of moving. In the Dinaledi Chamber of the Rising Star cave system in South Africa, the H. naledi excavation team recovered at least one specimen from almost every single bone in the new species’ foot. These bones represent at least five individuals–two juveniles and three adults–including one nearly complete foot.
Analysis of these bones has shown that the foot bones look much more like human bones than chimpanzee bones, except for two major areas: the toes of H. naledi‘s foot were more curved and their feet were generally flatter than seen in the average modern human. Despite the close similarity in the foot structure, H. naledi likely did not walk exactly like us, the researchers say. Clues from other parts of its body–long and curved fingers, and a more ape-like shoulder joint–paint a picture of a creature that was undoubtedly bipedal but also a tree climber.
“This species has a unique combination of traits below the neck, and that adds another type of bipedalism to our record of human evolution,” Harcourt-Smith said. “There were lots of different experiments happening within hominins–it wasn’t just a linear route to how we walk today. We are a messy lineage, and not just in our skulls and our teeth. We’re messy in the way we moved around.”
Because the H. naledi fossils have not yet been dated, researchers don’t know how this form of bipedalism fits into our family tree.
“Regardless of age, this species is going to cause a paradigm shift in the way we think about human evolution, not only in the behavioral implications–which are fascinating–but in morphological and anatomical terms,” Harcourt-Smith said.
Nature Communications paper: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ncomms9432
The two papers, titled: The foot of Homo naledi and The hand of Homo naledi, describe the structure and function of the H. naledi hand and foot. Taken together, the findings indicate H. naledi may have been uniquely adapted for both tree climbing and walking as dominant forms of movement, while also being capable of precise manual manipulation.
The research were conducted by a team of international scientists associated with the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, home of the Rising Star Expedition team that have since the 2013-discovery of the largest hominin find yet made on the African continent, recovered some 1 550 numbered fossil elements from a cave in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, some 50 kilometres northwest of Johannesburg.
According to the researchers, when considered together, these papers indicate a decoupling of upper and lower limb function in H. naledi, and provide an important insight into the skeletal form and function that may have characterised early members of the Homo genus.
The foot of Homo naledi
Lead author William Harcourt-Smith and colleagues describe the H. naledi foot based on 107 foot elements from the Denaldi Chamber, including a well preserved adult right foot. They show the H. naledi foot shares many features with a modern human foot, indicating it is well-adapted for standing and walking on two feet. However, the authors note it differs in having more curved toe bones (proximal phalanges).
The hand of Homo naledi
Lead author Tracey Kivell and colleagues describe the H. naledi hand based on nearly 150 hand bones from the Denaldi Chamber, including a nearly complete adult right hand (missing only one wrist bone) of a single individual, which is a rare find in the human fossil record.
The H. naledi hand reveals a unique combination of anatomy that has not been found in any other fossil human before. The wrist bones and thumb show anatomical features that are shared with Neandertals and humans and suggest powerful grasping and the ability to use stone tools.
However, the finger bones are more curved than most early fossil human species, such as Lucy’s species Australopithecus afarensis, suggesting that H. naledi still used their hands for climbing in the trees. This mix of human-like features in combination with more primitive features demonstrates that the H. naledi hand was both specialised for complex tool-use activities, but still used for climbing locomotion.
“The tool-using features of the H. naledi hand in combination with its small brain size has interesting implications for what cognitive requirements might be needed to make and use tools, and, depending on the age of these fossils, who might have made the stone tools that we find in South Africa,” says Kivell.
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