Archive for June 30th, 2013

Wooster Geologists return to the Negev

June 30th, 2013

LizzieOscarSteph063013MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–These are the shining faces of Team Israel 2013 of the Wooster Geology program. From the left is wind-challenged Lizzie Reinthal (’14) from Ohio, Oscar Mmari (’14) from Tanzania, and Steph Bosch (’14) from Pennsylvania (and soon to be an Arizonan). We arrived this afternoon in our destination town of Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev Highlands of southern Israel. This is our first geological stop: a short walk from the hotel to the northern rim of the magnificent Makhtesh Ramon, a deep erosional feature often called the “Grand Canyon of Israel”. If you look back in our Israel blog entries (such as this one) you’ll see this is a traditional setting for our first images! (And the students get their first geological examination on an Israeli outcrop.)

We are in Israel for two weeks pursuing research as part of Wooster’s Senior Independent Study program. Lizzie will be looking at the taphonomy of crinoids in the Jurassic Matmor Formation, Oscar will be studying the origin and economic value of an extensive set of Cretaceous phosphorites, and Steph will be studying rare but important bryozoan fossils from the Matmor Formation, which was deposited near the equator during the Jurassic.

Getting to this spot in the middle of the desert took lots of planning. (Thanks, Suzanne Easterling and Patrice Reeder!) Oscar flew to Tel Aviv from Tanzania via Ethiopia a few hours before us. I was worried about his connections and getting through immigration, but it worked out splendidly — Oscar was there to greet us as we emerged from the arrivals gate. We then packed into a rental car and drove south about three hours to Mitzpe Ramon. The weather is excellent — far cooler than the deserts today in the southwestern USA!

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Mosasaurid teeth from the Cretaceous of Morocco

June 30th, 2013

PrognathodonTeethKhouribgaCretaceousThese impressive teeth are from the mosasaurid Prognathodon and were found in the Upper Cretaceous phosphorites near Khouribga, Morocco. They are not actually a matching set — I just arranged them to look fearsome.

Prognathodon_lutigini_Dmitry_Bogdanov(Prognathodon lutigi from the Upper Cretaceous of Russia. Reconstruction by Dmitry Gogdanov via Wikipedia.)

Prognathodon (the name means “front-jaw tooth”) was a very large mosasaurid, with some specimens up to 12 meters in length. They were cosmopolitan in extent, being found throughout the world in Campanian to Maastrichtian deposits. They lived in deep waters as shown by some specimens with strengthening bony rings around their eye sockets. They were essentially sea-going lizards, and big ones at that.

Note that the teeth are stout and blunt. They were not adapted for tearing flesh but rather crushing hard-shelled prey they found on the seafloor. One skeleton was found with some stomach contents intact, including a sea turtle, a variety of fishes, and an ammonite. This is not the usual diet of other mosasaurid genera which were nektic (swimming) predators.
Louis_DolloPrognathodon was named in 1889 by the famous Belgian paleontologist Louis Antoine Marie Joseph Dollo (1857-1931). Paleontology and History of Life students will immediately recognize that name because of Dollo’s Law: “evolution is not reversible”. (Or its corollary: extinction is forever!) He started his career as an engineer, graduating at the top of his class in 1877 from the École Centrale de Lille. He worked as a mining engineer and, as luck would have it, quickly discovered an extraordinary mass burial of the dinosaur Iguanodon. Studying this genus and other fossil reptiles became his passion. In 1882 he became an assistant naturalist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels. One of his many remarkable contributions was to begin to think of fossils as once living organisms in ecological networks. In this sense he essentially founded paleobiology. In 1912 he received the Murchison Medal from the Geological Society of London. Not too shabby for an engineer.

References:

Buffetaut, E. and Bardet, N. 2012. The mosasaurid (Squamata) Prognathodon in the Maastrichtian (Late Cretaceous) of the Cotentin Peninsula (Normandy, northwestern France). Bulletin de la Societe Geologique de France 183: 111-115.

Schulp, A.S., Polcyn, M.J., Mateus, O.,  Jacobs, L.L., Morais, M.L. and Silva Tavares, T. 2006. New mosasaur material from the Maastrichtian of Angola, with notes on the phylogeny, distribution and palaeoecology of the genus Prognathodon. On Maastricht Mosasaurs 45: 57-67.