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But how deep did they have to dig before uncovering their first find?
30 years ago a very small discovery turned out to be hugely significant, as it proved beyond doubt that the Antarctic played a pivotal role in the population of animal life across the globe. Scientists had looked for such evidence as this for years – with deep indexing from ProQuest, you can delve deeper in this research in minutes!
The scientists who made this superb breakthrough, (a field party of ten led by Woodburne & Zinsmeister), didn’t actually have to ‘dig deep’ at all. The discovery of the 15mm fossilised marsupial jaw bone was found on Seymour Island, selected as a location because this area is not under constant ice.
The remains were recovered from a unit of thinly bedded arkosic sandstone 510 meters above the base of the la Meseta Formation in northwestern Seymour I. The fossils are referable to the extinct marsupial family Polydolopidae, known previously from strata of late Paleocene to early Oligocene age in Patagonia, Bolivia, and Brazil.
Woodburne, M. (1982) Newly discovered land mammal from Antarctica, Antarctic Journal of the United States 17. 5 : 64-66).
It is only as you begin to dig a little deeper yourself within some of the periodicals available within the ProQuest Natural Science Collection that you discover the significance this minute fossil holds. It is strong evidence that the marsupials that inhabit Australia actually started in South America and traversed over to Australia millions of years ago when the Southern hemisphere continents were still joined following the break-up of the land mass was known as ‘Gondwanaland’.
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Writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 1987, Miklos D.F. Udvardy of California State University in Sacramento, an authority on the historical relationships among species in different southern lands, said recent discoveries confirm that the Antarctic “played a central role in the evolution of all biota in the Southern Hemisphere, and indeed, in parts of the Northern Hemisphere as well."
It is certainly true that deep below the ice cap of Antarctica lies a veritable untapped treasure trove of scientific discovery. The area not only used to be warm, it also used to house a great many plants and animals. In 1902 Swedish geologists found fossil fig trees, laurel, beech, sequoia and evergreens that towered to 150 feet.
And while the jaw bone of the marsupial that was discovered measured only 15mm, evidence from the same expedition revealed fossils of monsters 15m long.
The following article published in Antarctic Journal of the United States reported on, ‘the first antarctic plesiosaur […] The new material represents at least two individuals, one perhaps 7.5 meters long and the other up to 15 meters’.
Chatterjee, S. and Zinsmeister, W. (1982) ‘Late Cretaceous marine vertebrates from Seymour Island, Antarctic Peninsula’, Antarctic Journal of the United States 17. 5 (1982): 66;
ProQuest Natural Science Collection
But it was not just in the seas that huge beasts dwelled … the fossilised beak of a huge carnivorous “terror bird” was also found on Seymour Island: 12 feet tall and faster than a horse this is thought to have been one of the most ferocious killers ever to have lived.
Sullivan, W. (1989) ‘The tale of the `terror bird'/Fossilized beak found in Antarctic may solve evolutionary riddles’: [2 STAR Edition] Houston Chronicle (pre-1997 Fulltext) [Houston, Tex] 06 Feb 1989: 9.
Drawing: A carnivorous bird; Credit: New York Times
How the world has changed
Clearly the discovery of marsupial fossils in Antarctica suggests that at some time it was linked to South America. Continental shift is something scientists have long known about; as this extract taken from an 1975 Journal article shows, ‘The presence of Lystrosaurus in Antarctica and South Africa lends important weight to evidence that during Triassic times the land masses were closely connected.’
Colbert, E. (1975) ‘Further determinations of Antarctic Triassic tetrapods’, Antarctic Journal of the United States 10. 5 (Oct 1975): 250-252.
ProQuest Natural Science Collection not only supplies the researcher with a broad range of subject and topic coverage through the combination of nine related natural science databases, it also employs ProQuest’s patented “deep indexing” to help making new discoveries an easier task. Tables, maps, charts, photographs and figures now carry their own tags that make them easier to find, so next time you’re hunting for a buried academic treasure, whether it relates to aquatics, biology, the environment, agriculture or atmospheric science, how far will you have to dig? Not too far at all!
About the Natural Science Collection from ProQuest
This database allows searching of data hidden in tables, figures, graphs, charts and other illustrations from the scholarly research and technical literature by employing “deep indexing”. Search results can be viewed in either thumbnail or for some records in full size, along with the caption, author and source information and additional index terms that can be used for further searching. A link back to the parent record provides a summary view of all the objects associated with that paper.
Databases included within the Natural Science Collection:
Subject coverage includes: