Category Archives: THAILAND

490-Million-Year-Old Trilobites Could Solve Ancient Geography Puzzle

490-Million-Year-Old Trilobites Could Solve Ancient Geography Puzzle

490-Million-Year-Old Trilobites Could Solve Ancient Geography Puzzle

The humble trilobites may be extinct, but even as fossils, they can teach us much about our planet’s history. Indeed, ancient arthropods from nearly half a billion years ago, including ten newly discovered species,  may be key to understanding Thailand’s place on the former supercontinent Gondwana.

Trilobites are extinct sea creatures with half-moon-shaped heads that breathed through their legs.

A 100-page monograph in the British journal offers great detail about the new species, including one named in honor of Thai Royal Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn.

The trilobite fossils were trapped between layers of petrified ash in sandstone, the product of old volcanic eruptions that settled on the sea floor and formed a green layer called a tuff.

Unlike some other kinds of rocks or sediment, tuffs contain crystals of zircon — a mineral that formed during an eruption and are, as the name of the rock layer containing them suggests, tough.

Zircon is chemically stable as well as heat and weather resistant. It is hard as steel and persists when minerals in other kinds of rocks erode. Inside these resilient zircon crystals, individual atoms of uranium gradually decay and transform into atoms of lead.

“We can use radio isotope techniques to date when the zircon formed and thus find the age of the eruption, as well as the fossil,” said Nigel Hughes, monograph co-author and UC Riverside geology professor.

It is rare to find tuffs from this particular period of time, the late Cambrian period, between 497 and 485 million years ago. “Not many places around the world have this. It is one of the worst dated intervals of time in Earth’s history,” Hughes said.

Artist’s rendering of a trilobite based on preserved soft body parts.

“The tuffs will allow us to not only determine the age of the fossils we found in Thailand, but to better understand parts of the world like China, Australia, and even North America where similar fossils have been found in rocks that cannot be dated,” said Shelly Wernette, former Hughes lab geologist now at Texas State University, and first author of the monograph.

The fossils were uncovered on the coast of an island called Ko Tarutao. It is about 40 minutes southwest from the mainland via high-speed boat and is part of a UNESCO geopark site that has encouraged international teams of scientists to work in this area.

For Wernette, the most interesting discovery was 12 types of trilobites that have been seen in other parts of the world, but never in Thailand before. “We can now connect Thailand to parts of Australia, a really exciting discovery.”

During the trilobites’ lifetime, this region was on the outer margins of Gondwanaland, an ancient supercontinent that included Africa, India, Australia, South America, and Antarctica.

“Because continents shift over time, part of our job has been to work out where this region of Thailand was in relation to the rest of Gondwanaland,” Hughes said. “It’s a moving, shape shifting, 3D jigsaw puzzle we’re trying to put together. This discovery will help us do that.”

Location of the fossil discoveries.

For example, take the species named for Royal Princess Sirindhorn. The species was named in tribute to the princess for her steadfast dedication to developing the sciences in Thailand. “I also thought this species had a regal quality. It has a broad headdress and clean sweeping lines,” Wernette said.

If researchers can get a date from the tuffs containing her namesake species, Tsinania sirindhornae, and determine when they lived, they will be able to say that closely related species of Tsinania found in northern and southern China are roughly the same age.

Ultimately, the researchers feel that the pictures of the ancient world hidden in the fossils they found contain invaluable information for the present day.

“What we have here is a chronicle of evolutionary change accompanied by extinctions. The Earth has written this record for us, and we’re fortunate to have it,” Hughes said. “The more we learn from it the better prepared we are for the challenges we’re engineering on the planet for ourselves today.”

When Did Hominins Begin to Produce Tools?

When Did Hominins Begin to Produce Tools?

In Thailand, long-tailed macaque monkeys (shown pounding open oil palm nuts with rocks) inadvertently bash off pieces of stone, raising questions about whether some of the earliest known hominid tools were made on purpose.

Monkeys in southern Thailand use rocks to pound open oil palm nuts, inadvertently shattering stone pieces off their makeshift nutcrackers. These flakes resemble some sharp-edged stone tools presumed to have been created on purpose by ancient hominids, researchers say.

Thailand’s long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) produce shards that could easily be mistaken for stone flakes previously found at 17 East African hominid sites dating from about 3.3 million to 1.56 million years ago, say archaeologist Tomos Proffitt and colleagues.

The finding suggests that ancient hominids may sometimes have created the stone flakes by accident while using rocks to smash nuts, bones or other objects, the scientists report March 10 in Science Advances.

Previous research has already shown that rock-wielding capuchin monkeys in Brazil unwittingly produce hominid-like stone flakes (SN: 10/19/16).

Observations of rock bashing by these two monkey species undermine a long-standing assumption that hominids must have intentionally made certain ancient stone flakes, including some of the earliest known examples of tools, Proffitt says (SN: 6/3/19). It’s time to reevaluate how such determinations are made, he contends.

Proffitt’s group identified 219 complete and fragmented stone flakes at 40 macaque nut-cracking sites on the island where the monkeys live.

The team also found rocks showing damage consistent with having been used either as pounding implements or pounding platforms.

When Did Hominins Begin to Produce Tools?
While cracking nuts, a long-tailed macaque unintentionally produced this stone shard. It resembles other flakes that researchers have thought ancient hominids created on purpose as tools.

Some differences do exist between macaque and hominid stone flakes, says Proffitt, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. For instance, many macaque flakes display battering damage on only one side, versus frequent two-sided damage on hominid artifacts.

Such clues may help archaeologists develop guidelines for estimating whether ancient hominids made stone flakes on purpose or by accident, Proffitt suspects.

5,000-year-old Bryde’s whale skeleton unearthed in Thailand

5,000-year-old Bryde’s whale skeleton unearthed in Thailand

An unusual, partly fossilized skeleton belonging to a Bryde whale, estimated to be about 5,000 years old, has been discovered by researchers in Thailand at an inland site west of Bangkok.

At the beginning of November, a skeleton weighing 12.5 meters (41ft), about the length of a truck, was discovered by a cyclist who saw some of the vertebrae coming out of the ground.

Since then, a team of scientists has been excavating the site.

Scientists say the bones need to be carbon-dated to determine the exact age of the skeleton

“This whale skeleton is thought to be the only one in  Asia,” said Pannipa Saetian, a geologist in the Fossil Protection division of the Department of Mineral Resources.

“It’s very rare to find such a discovery in near-perfect condition,” said Pannipa, estimating that about 90 percent of the whale’s skeleton had been recovered.

“Yesterday, we found the right shoulder and fin,” she said, noting that about 36 backbone pieces had been unearthed. The bones needed to be carbon-dated to determine the exact age of the skeleton, she said.

An archaeologist works at the excavation site at Samut Sakhon on Friday.

Once the painstaking process of cleaning and preserving the fragile skeleton is complete, it will be exhibited.

Scientists hope the skeleton will provide more information to aid research into Bryde’s whale populations existing today as well as the geological conditions at the time.

Bryde’s whales, sometimes known as tropical whales for their preference for warmer waters, are found in coastal waters in parts of the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans, including in the Gulf of Thailand.

Highly endangered, there are some 200 remaining of the whales in the South Pacific nation’s waters, and about 100,000 worldwide.

In 2016, New Zealand researchers gained insight into a pair of Bryde’s whales feeding off an  Auckland coast in one of the first uses of drone technology to study the animals.

The footage revealed an adult and calf frolicking in the water and using a “lunge” feeding technique to feast on plankton and shoals of small fish.

In 2014, a 10.8-meter-long whale thought to be a Bryde’s whale, washed up at a remote beach in Hong Kong’s New Territories.

Conservationists said it could have died at sea before drifting to an 
the inner bay off Hung Shek Mun, in Plover Cove Country Park.

Thailand: Rare 5,000 Years old whale skeleton discovered

Thailand: Rare 5,000 Years old whale skeleton discovered

In Samut Sakhon, researchers say, an almost fully preserved whale skeleton believed to be between 3,000 and 5,000 years old has been uncovered.

Thailand: Rare 5,000 Years old whale skeleton discovered
The rare whale skeleton discovered in Thailand. It is thought to be up to 5,000 years old.

The bones were discovered about 12 kilometres from the coast in the province just west of Bangkok in early November, the BBC announced on Friday.

The 12-metre-long skeleton is thought to be that of a Bryde’s whale, it said.

Experts hope the find might provide “a window into the past”, especially for research on sea levels and biodiversity.

The partially fossilised bones are “a rare find”, mammal researcher Marcus Chua of the National University of Singapore told the BBC.

“There are few whale subfossils in Asia,” he said, and even fewer ones are “in such good condition”.

Pictures shared by Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-Archa show the bones apparently almost entirely intact.

According to Mr Varawut, more than 80% of the skeleton has so far been recovered, including vertebrae, ribs, fins and one shoulder blade.

The skeleton’s head alone is estimated to be about 3 metres in length.

Mr Chua said the discovery would allow researchers to find out more about the particular species in the past, whether there were any differences compared to today’s Bryde’s whales.

The skeleton will also provide information about the “paleobiological and geological conditions at that time, including sea level estimation, types of sediments, and the contemporary biological communities at that time”.

“So this find provides a window into the past once the skeleton has been dated,” Mr Chua said.

The bones are yet to be carbon-dated to determine their exact age, with the results expected in December.

The Gulf of Thailand has an interesting history in the last 10,000 years, Mr Chua pointed out, with sea levels possibly up to four metres higher than today and active tectonic activity.

Bryde’s whales, which live worldwide in warm temperate and tropical waters, are still found in the waters around Thailand today.