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Australian scientists discover ancient ‘echidnapus’

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Scientists have discovered a bizarre creature dubbed the “echidnapus” which they believe roamed Australia in prehistoric times.

Fossilised pieces of the animal’s jaw bone were found in opal fields in northern New South Wales, alongside evidence of several other ancient and now extinct monotreme species.

Officially named Opalios splendens, the new species has been nicknamed for its resemblance to the platypus and echidna – which are the only egg-laying mammals in the world today.

The team behind the research say it indicates that Australia once had an “age of monotremes” – in which the incredibly rare order of animals were abundant and dominant.

“It’s like discovering a whole new civilisation,” lead author Professor Tim Flannery said.

The array of fossils were found about 25 years ago by palaeontologist Elizabeth Smith and her daughter Clytie while they were going through the discards of an opal mine.

They donated the specimens – estimated to be about 100 million years old – to the Australian Museum, where they sat forgotten in a drawer until about two years ago.

Prof Flannery, a mammalogist, says he stumbled across them and immediately knew they were from ancient monotremes.

Some of the bones belonged to the already-discovered Steropodon galmani, a shorter, stumpier and toothier ancestor of the platypus.

But the other fragments were unfamiliar. From them, Dr Flannery and his team discovered evidence of three species previously unknown to science, findings which were published in Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology on Monday.

The critters had combinations of features never seen before – in living or fossil monotremes, said Director of the Australian Museum Research Institute Professor Kris Helgen, who also worked on the paper.

“[The Opalios splendens’s] overall anatomy is probably quite like the platypus, but with features of the jaw and snout a bit more like an echidna,” Prof Helgen said.

All opal fossils are rare – monotreme ones even more so – but these specimens are “a revelation”, says Ms Smith.

They take the total number of monotreme species known to have once lived at Lightning Ridge – which was in ancient times a cold, wet forest bordering a vast inland sea – to six.

“They show the world that long before Australia became the land of pouched mammals, marsupials, this was a land of furry egg-layers – monotremes,” Ms Smith says.

“It seems that 100 million years ago, there were more monotremes at Lightning Ridge than anywhere else on earth, past or present.”

Other experts say it is too early to say whether Australia once hosted a multitude of monotremes and that further exploration is needed.

“It may have been at least as diverse as the later Australian marsupial fauna… but I would need more evidence,” Flinders University palaeontologist Rod Wells told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The study’s authors hope their paper will encourage more funding for more targeted digs in the region, to support their findings.

(BBC News)

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Wikileaks founder leaves UK after being freed in US plea deal

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Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has left the UK after agreeing a US plea deal that will see him plead guilty to criminal charges and go free.
Assange was charged with conspiracy to obtain and disclose national defence information.

He spent the last five years in a British prison, from where he was fighting extradition to the US.

Assange will spend no time in US custody and will receive credit for the time spent incarcerated in the UK.

The plea deal is expected to be finalised in a court in the Northern Mariana Islands on Wednesday.

He is expected to return to Australia according to the US justice department.

(BBC News)

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Stonehenge orange powder paint removed

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The orange powder paint sprayed onto Britain’s most famous prehistoric structure, Stonehenge, by environmental protesters on Wednesday has been removed, leaving “no visible damage,” according to the organization that manages the site.“Thankfully, there appears to be no visible damage but that’s in no way saying there hasn’t been harm, from the very act of having to clean the stones to the distress caused to those for whom Stonehenge holds a spiritual significance,” said English Heritage chief executive Nick Merriman in a statement to CNN Thursday.

He confirmed that the site is open to the public and that summer solstice celebrations, which are expected to attract huge crowds, will go ahead as normal.

A video posted on X by Just Stop Oil on Wednesday showed two of the group’s activists spraying the landmark using fire extinguishers.

“The Just Stop Oil protestors demanded the incoming government sign up to a legally binding treaty to phase out fossil fuels by 2030,” the group posted on X.

The action took place around 12 p.m. local time (7 a.m. ET) at the ancient site near Salisbury in the southwest of England, Wiltshire Police said in a statement.

The two activists “were arrested on suspicion of criminal damage, damaging an ancient monument and deterring a person from engaging in a lawful activity,” police said in a statement Thursday.

The pair have been released on bail pending further enquiries, police said.

The official Stonehenge X account described the incident as “extremely upsetting.”

“Orange powdered paint has been thrown at a number of the stones at Stonehenge. Obviously, this is extremely upsetting and our curators are investigating the extent of the damage,” the post said.

The protesters were a 21-year-old student from Oxford and a 73-year-old man from Birmingham, Just Stop Oil said in a press release.

In anticipation of people meeting at Stonehenge on Thursday to mark the Northern Hemisphere’s longest day of sunlight, English Heritage published “conditions of entry.”

“Stonehenge is a World Heritage Site, a Scheduled Ancient Monument and is seen by many as a sacred place. We ask that all those attending respect it and those celebrating around it,” the website said.

Responding to the incident on X, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wrote: “Just Stop Oil are a disgrace.”

On Thursday, two more activists from the group caused a scene at London’s Stansted Airport after they sprayed orange paint on two private jets on the runway where Taylor Swift’s private jet is suspected to have landed.

The pop star is in London on her Eras world tour and is set to play three shows in London this weekend.

Just Stop Oil posted videos on their social media channels showing two activists breaking into the airfield, cutting into the fence and spraying orange paint on the aircraft.

The same group made headlines last month when two protesters smashed the glass protecting the Magna Carta, a famous British manuscript from the 13th century, at the British Museum in London.

Climate activists have been staging increasingly high-profile protests, many of which have involved attacking high-value artworks including the Mona Lisa and Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers.”

(CNN)

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Putin arrives in North Korea

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Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in North Korea to a red carpet welcome on Tuesday night.

The two-day visit marks the first for a Russian leader in the last 24 years. Putin’s only previous visit to Pyongyang was in July 2000, two months after his presidential inauguration.

Mr Putin was met off his plane by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and – flanked by a military guard of honour – the pair talked animatedly for several minutes.

In Pyongyang, the streets had been decorated with Putin’s portraits and the flags of Russia and North Korea.

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