On August 24th, 2017 we learned about

Tanzanian titanosaur appears to have been trapped by Africa’s slow split from South America

Shingopana songwensis was a bit of a misfit. The newly described titanosaur, a subset of long-necked sauropod dinosaurs like Apatosaurus, didn’t check all of the boxes some of it’s more famous relatives did. S. songwensis was not mind-bogglingly large like Patagotitan mayorum, weighing in at only five tons instead of 69. It didn’t have the cool armored scales found on titanosaurs like Rapetosaurus krauseiIn fact, analysis of S. songwensis‘ anatomy suggests that the lumbering creature didn’t even live near it’s own relatives, having been trapped on the wrong side of the growing Atlantic ocean over 70 million years ago.

Titanosaurs were found all over the world, having once had the opportunity to walk everywhere. When the world’s land masses were joined in one large supercontinent called Pangea, the southern mass of land called Gondwana included what is now South America, Africa, Australia and Antarctica. This allowed animals like dinosaurs to roam and proliferate near and far, at least until the land masses started to break up in the Jurassic period, around 184 million years ago. At that point, animals like the titanosaurs were split by geography into smaller groups, eventually leading to new, separate species and traits specific to particular lineages.

Regional resemblances

Most of the titanosaur fossils we’ve found have come from South America, but there have been discoveries of these long-necked herbivores in South America, Australia, Africa and Antarctica as well. Each region has it’s own identifying traits thanks to their geographic separation, except S. songwensis stands out because it has the wrong traits for its region. Instead of looking like other African titanosaurs, it looks more like a visitor from South America, with researchers going as far as saying it looked like a sibling to South American titanosaurs, but only a cousin to it’s closer African neighbors.

The best explanation is that S. songwensis was somehow isolated in South Africa, away from the titanosaurs living in North Africa at the same time. While some creatures did partake in rafting to move between South America and AfricaS. songwensis seems to have simply been trapped in it’s own geographic, and thus genetic, pocket, somehow holding on to traits it’s ancestors brought out of South America. This would fit with the fact that South Africa separated from South America before North Africa did, with the Atlantic Ocean expanding from the south toward the north. The isolation was probably reinforced by other climate or geographic features, keeping these orca-sized titanosaurs away from more closely related family members.

Source: Paleontologists discover new species of sauropod dinosaur in Tanzania, National Science Foundation

On December 24th, 2015 we learned about

Land and landmarks as grandest of gifts

While gifts should be appreciated for the thought and consideration behind them, it’s hard to ignore the allure of those really big ticket items with your name on them. Not TVs, not cars, but the really big gifts. Gifts so big that they can’t be delivered to you, you have to go to them, because they’re land. Gifting a few acres isn’t unheard of, and often people will donate turf to schools, hospitals or wildlife preserves. While 6,000 acres is obviously quite the stocking stuffer, the following landmarks may take the cake as eye-popping presents.

Presents and politics

During the American Civil War, General William T. Sherman surprised President Lincoln with an early Christmas present. Having been out of communication since September of 1864, the general turned up on December 22nd, announcing that he was gifting the Union the city of Savannah, Georgia, along with some weapons, ammunition and cotton. Lincoln politely replied with an appreciative thank you note, although the residents of Savannah didn’t quite feel the Christmas spirit in all this though, as Sherman’s March was an incredibly bloody and destructive campaign, designed to intimidate southern forces into surrender.

Gifts to royalty obviously need a bit more wow-factor to stand out. As part of the dowry for the marriage of England’s Charles II to Portugal’s Catherine of Braganza, Portugal gave the king the cities of Tangier and Bombay (now Mumbai). Cities, of course, are hard to call “the perfect gift” for that special someone, and this dowry was arranged as part of Charles and Catherine’s political marriage. The same exchange included other sundries like sugar, plates, jewels and free trade agreements.

Awarding new altitudes

Few cities are swapped these days, but some citizens in Norway are currently working on something even bigger for the people of Finland: a mountain. Halti mountain is mostly located in Finland, but its peak is actually across the border in Norway. To “take Finland to new heights,” a campaign started by Bjørn Geirr Harsson would like to move the border, granting Finland domain over the Hálditšohkka summit. If successful, this gift would be the highest point in Finland, at 4,367 feet tall. As generous as this present is, Norway would be holding on to some Scandinavian bragging rights, with around 200 other mountains over 6,560 feet tall staying within their borders.

Then again, it is the thought that counts, right?

Source: Why Some Norwegians Want to Give Finland One of Their Mountains by Marina Koren, The Atlantic