Random Samples

Science  01 Feb 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5863, pp. 551
  1. MASTODON ON THE BLOCK

    CREDIT: HENRY JOHNSON

    A creationist museum in Texas has sold a giant four-tusked skull of a mastodon to help pay its bills.

    The skull was found in a gravel pit in 2004. Joe Taylor, founder of the Mt. Blanco Fossil Museum near Lubbock, spent 9 months chipping it out of a block of sandstone. Mastodons went extinct about 10,000 years ago, but Taylor, who doesn't trust radiocarbon dating, believes the fossil is 3000 to 4000 years old.

    Dubbing it “Lone Star,” he put the skull on display in 2005. But his museum has fallen on hard times, and he put the beast up for sale. At a 20 January auction in Dallas, it went to an anonymous bidder for $191,200, a record sum for a mastodon. All male mastodons had four tusks, but, unlike Lone Star, they often lost their lower ones in fights.

    The unusual sale has researchers fuming at another instance of the commercialization of fossils but relieved that the specimen won't be on display anymore. “If you wanted to take the two things that piss off paleontologists the most—the sale of fossils and creationist museums—here we have the both of them,” says Thomas Holtz of the University of Maryland, College Park.

  2. RESENTMENT KILLS

    Bottling up anger can shorten your life, an unusual long-term study of married couples in Michigan concludes.

    The study covers 192 couples in the Tecumseh Community Health Study who were between the ages of 30 and 69 in 1971. To classify the men and women as anger “suppressors” or “expressers,” researchers asked each of them to imagine getting chewed out by a police officer or spouse for something he or she hadn't done. Anger suppressors were those who failed to protest unfair attacks or felt guilty later if they had gotten mad.

    The researchers, led by psychologist Ernest Harburg, now a professor emeritus at the University of Michigan School of Public Health in Ann Arbor, tracked mortality in the couples over 17 years, controlling for age, smoking, weight, blood pressure, education, and heart and lung problems. Among couples in which both members were anger suppressors, the mortality rate was twice that of the other groups combined, the researchers report in the January issue of the Journal of Family Communication. Twenty-six of the couples (14% of the sample) were in this category; there were 13 deaths, compared with 41 in the remaining 166 pairs.

    Research on the “dyadic relationship” as a unit is rare, says Harburg, who adds that two anger suppressors seem to have a synergistically morbid effect on each other. Psychologist Janice Kiecolt-Glaser of Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus says the data “add weight to the growing evidence that poor emotional housecleaning has health consequences in marriages.”

  3. IF IT AIN'T BROKE ...

    The old and the new.CREDIT: COURTESY OF G. A. YOUNG AND D. M. RUDKIN

    Scientists have discovered what they say is the oldest fossil of a horseshoe crab. It dates back 445 million years, and it looks very like the ones that ply the North Atlantic today.

    Called Lunataspis, the fossil was found during recent excavations in late Ordovician deposits on the coast of Manitoba by scientists from the Manitoba Museum in Winnipeg and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada.

    Reporting in the latest issue of the British Palaeontological Association journal Palaeontology, David Rudkin of the Royal Ontario Museum and colleagues say the horseshoe crab is a remarkable example of evolutionary stasis. Like cockroaches, they are “the quintessential ‘living fossils’ of biology text-books.”

    The new fossil's fused body segments, long tail spine, and large crescent-shaped head shield with compound eyes closely resemble those of today's horseshoe crab, thus pushing back the record of this animal's body plan by more than 100 million years. Until now, the oldest one on record has been from the 320- million-year-old Bear Gulch deposits of Montana.

    “This is a unique flag pin in the history and evolution of the horseshoe crabs,” says Lyall Anderson, an expert on fossil arthropods at the University of Cambridge's Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences. Now, he says, it's up to someone to find the common ancestor of the xiphosurids (as these crabs are called) and the other group of extinct horseshoe crabs called the synziphosurines. That should be somewhere in Cambrian times, more than 500 million years ago.

  4. COLD COMFORT

    CREDIT: CNRS PHOTOTHEQUE/SYSTEME RENNE

    Layovers in Paris just got more interesting. Until 15 March, the city's two main airports are home to a photo exhibit about polar research at the National Centre for Scientific Research—including this shot of a Dolgan hunter and reindeer breeder in Siberia.

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