Jana loves compiling and sharing lists about the natural world, science, and history.
1. Rare Behavior Trapped By An Avalanche
Trilobites once flourished throughout the oceans. Their prolific nature gave them the name, “cockroaches of the sea” but ironically, the creatures failed to survive into modern times. Almost nothing is known about the way they behaved. But in 2019, a magnificent fossil revealed that the blind animals migrated in single-file.
About 480 million years ago, the group scuttled over the seafloor (this area would later become modern-day Morocco). Then disaster struck. An avalanche of sand overcame the trilobites. It happened so fast that the animals never struggled. While the event certainly ruined their day, the speedy kill made history. It left a snapshot of rare trilobite behaviour in action.
Amazingly, the single-file pattern resembled the behaviour of a modern species. When Caribbean spiny lobsters migrate, they stay in contact with each other by touching the one in front of them with their antennae. The trilobites also used spiny projections to touch the one they followed.
2. How Polarsaurs Coped With Winter
How did polar dinosaurs deal with winter? In 2019, a study discovered how the animals survived the long, dark months at the South Pole. The scientists were lucky enough to have several fossils of polar species and a lot of them had one thing in common—they had some of the earliest feathers in the animal kingdom.
The 118-million-year-old plumes were highly advanced. They interlocked in a way that can be seen in modern birds. This proved that feather jackets protected polarsaurs against the cold. The dinosaur fluff was also curiously beautiful. But while the pigments suggested a variety of colours, most of the coats appeared to be dark—probably to absorb heat and to provide camouflage during the darker months.
3. Sailing Stones Are Not New
Decades ago, a mystery delighted the public. In California’s Death Valley, stones appeared to move by themselves across a dry lake. The large rocks never moved when people were watching. But they left trails, sometimes over great distances, moving in straight lines, curves and even loops.
The puzzle of the “Sailing Stones” was eventually solved. Thanks to morning ice and winds pushing them along, the rocks slid forward with ease.
A chance discovery showed that the phenomenon was not new. On the contrary, sailing stones have existed for millions of years. In 2019, scientists examined a rock slab with dinosaur footprints when somebody noticed the fossilized track of a sailing stone skidding through the paw prints. The amazing part was that the slab—and everything on it—was 200 million years old.
4. The Forest That Changed The Atmosphere
It’s been said that you can find anything in the state of New York. But Earth’s first trees? Sure enough, they were discovered there in 2009 in an old quarry. The roots were enormous. Some measured 11 meters (36 feet) wide and webbed across an area of 3,000 square meters (over 32,000 square feet).
This was a special forest. It dramatically altered the Earth’s atmosphere with more oxygen. More importantly, it also brought the amount of carbon dioxide down to modern levels. In other words, without this forest life as we know it might not exist. The quarry was also packed with fish fossils. This suggested that a flood destroyed the forest but not before the trees changed the environment forever.
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5. A Fossil Of The Big Bang
There is a fossil cloud in outer space. The main reason why the ball of gas is called a “fossil” is its age. Discovered in 2018 by Hawaii’s M. Keck Observatory, astronomers did the math and realized that the cloud had been created at the time of the Big Bang. Inherently, it was a fossil of the Big Bang.
This fluffy relic of the ancient universe is rare but not unique. Thanks to the existence of two other fossil clouds the observatory was able to calculate where they might find this one. This third cloud became the first to be found on purpose. The others were accidentally discovered in 2011. The successful discovery of the 2018 cloud gave researchers the means to track down more of these floating fossils, which are packed with information about the early universe.
6. Lola’s Chewing Gum
Imagine this. You find an old piece of chewing gum. The thing is 5,700 years old. A few tests later and you know the gender of the person who chomped on it, what she looked like and a ton of details about her life. Not possible? Scientists just did it.
Nearly 6,000 years ago, “Lola” lived with her Neolithic community on an island near Denmark. One day, she enjoyed a piece of birch pitch and discarded the gum once she was done. The fossil gum was found in 2019 and it contained her entire genetic code (genome). This allowed scientists to determine her gender, that she was young and they also gathered the DNA of her mouth microbes and pathogens.
It was the first time that a complete human genome was pulled from something other than bones. The information revealed that Lola had dark hair and skin. Her eyes were blue. She was also more closely related to the European mainlanders than those living in the area. DNA traces of food showed that she ate duck and hazelnuts but probably not dairy since she was lactose intolerant.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Jana Louise Smit
Jana Louise Smit (author) from South Africa on December 28, 2020:
Thanks, SP. I still feel sorry for those poor trilobites but hey, at least we learnt something valuable about them. Have a great day!
Sp Greaney from Ireland on December 28, 2020:
Thanks for sharing some really interesting facts here about amazing discoveries and finds that I never heard about. It's so interesting to read about things from the past that we are still discovering centuries later.
Jana Louise Smit (author) from South Africa on December 27, 2020:
Hi Peggy. It's great that we can meet someone like Lola again centuries after she lived. Pretty amazing that we can thank her chewing gum for it. :)
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 27, 2020:
Those are some amazing discoveries. I was familiar with those "sailing stones," but was particularly fascinated by that last story about the chewing gum and what scientists learned by studying it.