Oil bubbles preserve ancient algae, Anna Salleh, ABC. The remains of billion-year-old bacteria and algae have been found sealed in a time capsule of oil trapped inside quartz crystals in northern Australia, researchers report. Herbert Volk at CSIRO Petroleum in Sydney showcased his team's research at the annual Fresh Science forum during Australia's National Science Week. "The fact that we found evidence of algal organic matter is remarkable because algae have no hard body parts and they are hardly ever preserved in the fossil record," said Dr Volk, an organic geochemist. "I think the exciting thing about our new approach is that we can be sure that it is this age," he said, pointing to a debate over previous reports of such ancient bacteria and algae. Scientists want to understand the microscopic algae and bacteria that inhabited the early earth because they are an important stage in the evolution of more complex life forms. But fossils from the time are rare and poorly preserved so some scientists have turned to studying remnants of ancient micro-organisms found in oil deposits .... The remnants are hydrocarbon skeletons of fatty acids or other fatty compounds from the organisms' cell walls. Scientists know the hydrocarbons come from ancient organisms because of the age of the rocks around them and because the chemicals are similar in structure to those found in living organisms today. But getting an exact date on the remnants of ancient bacteria and algae is hard and previous has been criticised for not ruling out contamination, Dr Volk says. Hydrocarbons may come from higher up in the earth's surface, representing younger organisms, he says .... But now Dr Volk and a team of researchers have found 'time capsules' filled with hydrocarbons that can be guaranteed to be as ancient as the rocks they are in. … The researchers found tiny bubbles of oil trapped in 1.2 billion year-old grains of quartz sandstone and volcanic rock in the Roper Basin of Australia's Northern Territory. They found Precambrian hydrocarbons such as hopanes in the oil bubbles indicating the presence of the single-celled photosynthetic cyanobacteria, believed to be responsible for increasing oxygen levels in the atmosphere. They also found steranes that indicate the presence of algae. …. Because the bubbles were trapped inside the rock crystals itself, this guarantees the hydrocarbons came from organisms that are at least a billion years old, Dr Volk says. ... [Presumably the oil can get into the quartz crystals (e.g. as the crystal grows), but cannot get out again? If so, this would be important confirmation that photosynthetic cyanobacteria, and even algae, existed at least 1.2 bya (and probably a lot older, given that this was oil).]
Georgians Claim to Unearth Ancient Skull, Misha Dzhindzhikhashvili ABC/AP, August 23, 2005 - Archaeologists in the former Soviet republic of Georgia have unearthed a skull they say is 1.8 million years old -- part of a find that holds the oldest traces of humankind's closest ancestors ever found in Europe. The skull from an early member of the genus Homo was found Aug. 6 and unearthed Sunday in Dmanisi, an area about 60 miles southeast of the capital, Tbilisi, said David Lortkipanidze, director of the Georgian National Museum, who took part in the dig. In total, five bones or fragments believed to be about the same age have been found in the area, including a jawbone discovered in 1991 …. "Practically all the remains have been found in one place. This indicates that we have found a place of settlement of primitive people," he said of the spot, where archaeologists have been working since 1939. Researchers said the findings in Georgia were about 1 million years older than any widely accepted pre-human remains in Western Europe and were the oldest found outside Africa. The discoveries have provided additional evidence that human ancestors left Africa a half-million years or more earlier than scientists had previously thought. A well-preserved skull from the Dmanisi site would be "very important" in helping to track the development and migration of human ancestors, said Brian Richmond ... Study of the skull could help scientists understand "what it is about these individuals that allowed them to move outside of Africa" how their bodies and tool-use advanced to enable them to move more freely, Richmond said. It could also help determine the species of the remains at the site, Homo erectus or Homo habilis, he said. Million-year-old fossils of hominids … have been found in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, but not in Western Europe. ... Previously, Lortkipanidze's discoveries of bone fragments contradicted a theory among anthropologists that the primitive humans who left Africa were big, well-armed and smart. The human-like specimens that Lortkipanidze found were smaller and slender with a smaller brain, but still capable of making stone tools. .... Researchers also have found a wealth of animal remains from the same period, including elephants, gazelles, rhinos, sabre-toothed cats, giraffes, bears, ostriches, wolves and rodents. … [See also: Pre-human skull found in Georgian republic, MSNBC, August 22, 2005 & Scientists Find 1.8-million-year-old Homo Erectus Skull, Livescience, 22 August 2005. More evidence that the earliest modern humans originated where the Bible indicates they did, near the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in the Near East, not in Africa. This site is only about ~300 kilometres (~200 miles) from there. My position is that Genesis is not scientific enough to be a science textbook, but not unscientific enough to just be the work of unaided ancient man. I agree with Pearce, "The Bible may not have been written with the object of teaching science, nevertheless, the Bible is not unscientific, for hidden within its story is a Creator's knowledge":"To say that a work is not a textbook on science is different from declaring that a book is scientifically inaccurate, yet that is often implied by similar statements. A person could write a book on a nonscientific subject and yet give evidence of a background knowledge of science. For instance, there are on sale two children's books of animals; both are attractively produced. One appears to present the animals at random without scheme or order. The other indicated a knowledge of zoological taxonomy and the order of appearance of life on earth. The order in which the animals are presented in the latter would not convey this to the child enjoying her animals, but if she grew up to read zoology and happened to come across her childhood book she would recognize that the author had a greater depth of knowledge than was overtly apparent. He had been able to meet the simple pleasure of childhood and yet satisfy the sophistication of maturity. Likewise, the Bible story of creation is presented for man's childhood in picturesque portrayal of the goodness of God in His Creation and purpose in man. But now that mankind has reached maturity in knowledge and science, an informed person can detect that in the story of Creation, the Creator's knowledge is endemic; the order of geophysics and biology is correct, though expressed in general and picturesque terms. ... The Bible may not have been written with the object of teaching science, nevertheless, the Bible is not unscientific, for hidden within its story is a Creator's knowledge." (Pearce E.K.V., "Who Was Adam?," Paternoster: Exeter UK, 1969, pp.17-18).]
Smallest, oldest, fastest, dumbest dinosaur stories, Stephen Strauss, CBC, August 8, 2005. There they were – little would-be dinosaurs. Fat heads, chubby forearms, all encased in a goose-size egg, seemingly waiting 190 million years until they could qualify for some unique place in humans' world. We're talking about the world's "oldest" dinosaur embryos, whose supposed toothless mouths might, according to a University of Toronto scientist Robert Reisz, also qualify them as the world's "oldest" example of parental care. A couple of weeks ago the embryos were everywhere you looked after an article about the unborn animals was published in the journal Science. While I am deeply skeptical of trying to infer too much about behaviour from fossilized skeletal remains - oh, look, we can tell from the paunch and small brains that we're looking at the overeatssnackfoodswhilewatchingtelevisionosaurus - I was impressed with how much the story validated the "est" theory of science reporting. The est theory states that for something scientific to matter to the general public, it has to be the biggest, smallest, fastest, heaviest, lightest etc., etc. ever. … The truth is that science almost never values a single data point. You can't tell what things mean unless you have masses of them to compare with each other. What you want with dinosaurs is not some weird outliers, not some oldest, youngest, biggest, fastest freaks, but numerous representatives of the same group. If you have a collective you can actually begin to make some sensible arguments that may change the way that everyone - even supposedly est-obsessed readers - view of the long-dead thunder lizards. But what you get with dinosaurs are scattered, completely illogically preserved, often incomplete, hard to interpret piles of calcified bones. What you get are remains that seem designed by nature to provide the least possible scientific view of the dinosaur past. And when you're able to make sense of it, the field is so murky nobody seems to be able to agree on what you found. ... [A salutary reminder that science these days is highly competitive, with scientists' career depending on their being published and that in turn depending on whether it is an important, new addition to scientific knowledge. Hence it must be distinguished as a something-est!]My wife and I will be away on our annual Spring wildflower self-drive tour in Western Australia's Midwest region (one of the world's plant biodiversity `hotspots') from this Friday 26 to Sunday 28 August.
Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol)
"Problems of Evolution"