Episode 127: Coprolite Inclusions

One of the factors that makes palaeontology such a popular science is its constant ability to surprise us. It seems almost every week that a new study is released that significantly adds to our understanding of ancient life. This could be in relation to a new species, a new analysis or new fossil locality. In this episode, we discuss a new discovery that not only yields a new species, but also provides direct dietary evidence…

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Episode 126: Beats Before Us

In this episode, we talk to our very own Dr Elsa Panciroli about her new book Beasts Before Us. In it, she tells the untold story of mammalian evolution, tracing the origin of synapsids back to the Carboniferous. You’ll be taken to fossil sites around the world to meet some of these pioneering animals and some of the palaeontologists that discovered them. For this interview, we’ll give you an overview of the early evolution of…

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Episode 124: Crocodylomorph Disparity

Crocodiles are often referred to as “living fossils”, but if we compare modern and ancient species, does that label hold up? What different kinds of morphologies (shapes) did past crocs have and how did they live? How quickly did this past diversity arise and why are we left with so few species today? What’s to stop them from diversifying again? In this episode, we speak to Dr Tom Stubbs, University of Bristol, about his recent…

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Episode 123: Soil

Terrestrial life as we know it couldn’t exist without soil. Soil is a layer of minerals, organic matter, liquids, gasses and organisms that not only provides a medium for plant growth, but also modifies the atmosphere, provides a habitat for animals and retains and purifies water. However, this kind of soil hasn’t always existed, so in order to understand early conditions on land, we first need to understand what can be constituted as a soil…

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Episode 121: Dietary ecology of Smilodon fatalis

Smilodon is probably one of the most iconic mammalian apex predators with its extended upper canines and robustly-built forearms. In fact, when we compare Smilodon to modern cats (felids), we don’t see these same characteristics. So what were they used for? Was Smilodon specialised for any particular behaviour? Owing to the unique preservation of the tar seeps at Rancho La Brea, Los Angeles, USA, we can find an overabundance of predators, including Smilodon fatalis, Canis…

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Episode 120: Naked Ammonite

It wouldn’t be outlandish to state that many a fossil collection has started with the acquisition of an ammonite. Their planispiral shells (termed a conch) are instantly recognisable and since that conch was originally composed of the relatively hard mineral aragonite, they better lend themselves to the fossilisation process. But how much do we actually know about the animal that produces the conch? We might be able to make superficial inferences based on comparisons with…

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Episode 119: The Soom Shale

The Soom Shale is an Ordovician lagerstätte in the Western Cape of South Africa. Whilst it lacks the diversity of organisms seen in other lagerstätten, such as the Burgess Shale or Chengjiang, it more than makes up for it in the fidelity of preservation. The taphonomic pathway to the fantastic preservation in the Soom Shale is long and complex, reliant not only on local conditions, but also ties into global climatic events. It’s vitally important…

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Episode 118: South African Sauropodomorphs

Piecing together the early lives of dinosaurs is difficult due to a lack of fossils from juvenile and embryonic stages. In this episode, Elsa Panciroli talks to Dr Kimi Chappelle, a postdoctoral fellow at the Evolutionary Studies Institute, part of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. Chappelle specialises in sauropodomorphs – the precursors of the giant sauropod dinosaurs like Diplodocus. Her recent work is helping build a picture of their growth and development.…

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Episode 117: Decolonising Palaeontology

Lack of diversity is one of the major issues in the sciences in recent times. We’ve discussed diversity in palaeontology in previous podcasts, but in this episode Elsa Panciroli takes a look at the legacy of racism and colonialism in palaeontology and museum collections, and what efforts are being made to address these issues. Colonial attitudes towards people of non-European descent have meant that their natural heritage was often plundered and sent back to Europe…

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Episode 116: Ice Age Palaeoecology

When we think about the Ice Age or the Pleistocene, we generally think of large animals: woolly mammoths trudging through snow, sabre-tooth tigers taking down their next meal, and big bison out on the steppes. These are really interesting things to think about, but what else can we learn from the Pleistocene other than about big animals and their extinction? We can also use the Pleistocene (which is relatively similar to the modern world in…

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