Scientists trace the origin of tusks to Triassic creatures

Dental exams conducted on fossils from more than 200 million years ago suggest that the earliest true tusks were sported by breeds of weird-looking creatures known as dicynodonts.

The evidence, laid out today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, could shed light on how species ranging from elephants and walruses to warthogs and rabbit-like hyraxes came to have tusks.

“Tusks have evolved a number of times, which makes you wonder how — and why?” study co-author Christian Sidor, a biology professor at the University of Washington and a curator at UW’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, said in a news release. “We now have good data on the anatomical changes that needed to happen for dicynodonts to evolve tusks. For other groups, like warthogs or walruses, the jury is still out.”


Burke Museum makes four dinosaur finds in Montana

Theropods and Triceratops and hadrosaurs, oh my! Seattle’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture is making significant additions to its dinosaur holdings, thanks to a summer expedition to Montana’s Hell Creek Formation.

Four distinct dinosaurs were dug up, and all of the fossils will be brought back to the Burke Museum on the University of Washington’s campus, where the public can watch paleontologists remove the surrounding rock in the museum’s fossil prep lab.

This year’s finds follow up on the museum’s earlier Hell Creek discoveries, including a magnificent Tyrannosaurus rex skull that’s been one of the centerpieces of the collection since the New Burke’s opening in 2019.

Like that T. rex skull, the newly discovered fossils date back more than 66 million years, to the age just before the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs (except, of course, for the line that led to modern birds).

“Each fossil that we collect helps us sharpen our views of the last dinosaur-dominated ecosystems and the first mammal-dominated ecosystems,” Gregory Wilson Mantilla, the Burke Museum’s curator of vertebrate paleontology and a biology professor at UW, said today in a news release. “With these, we can better understand the processes involved in the loss and origination of biodiversity and the fragility, collapse and assembly of ecosystems.”


Fossils flesh out the tale of the first primates

The shapes of fossilized teeth from 65.9 million-year-old, squirrel-like creatures suggest that the branch of the tree of life that gave rise to us humans and other primates flowered while dinosaurs still walked the earth. That’s the claim coming from a team of 10 researchers across the U.S., including biologists at Seattle’s Burke Museum and the University of Washington.

In a study published by Royal Society Open Science, the team lays out evidence that an ancient group of primates known as plesiadapiforms must have emerged before the mass-extinction event that killed off the dinosaurs. (Technically, modern-day birds are considered the descendants of dinosaurs, but that’s another story.)

The evidence comes from an analysis of tooth fossils that were unearthed in the Hell Creek area of northeastern Montana.


VIPs and kids open New Burke Museum with a snip

Jay Inslee at Burke Museum
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee checks out a mammoth skeleton at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. (Jay Inslee via Twitter)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and other dignitaries got a helping hand from a troop of third-graders today when they cut a hand-woven cedar ribbon to mark this weekend’s opening of a spacious new home for the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.

The students from University Temple Children’s School, just across the street from the museum site on a corner of the University of Washington’s Seattle campus, represented the next generation at the ribbon-cutting ceremony — just as they did at the New Burke’s groundbreaking ceremony three years ago.

“One, two, three,” Inslee counted, and then he cut the ribbon with a giant scissors that was also held by UW President Ana Marie Cauce. The kids snipped their classroom scissors at the same time.

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Museum readies new home for age-old treasures

Burke Museum
The New Burke Museum is at the corner of Northeast 43rd Street and 15th Avenue Northeast, on the western edge of the University of Washington’s main campus in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

After a three-year, $99 million construction effort, the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture is putting the finishing touches on a new home that shows off old favorites and a brand-new centerpiece for the ages: a 66 million-year-old T. rex skull that museum volunteers discovered in Montana in 2015.

“That skull is completely prepared and mounted — and the scariest thing I’ve ever seen,” the museum’s executive director, Julie Stein, told GeekWire.

But that’s not all: There’ll be other treasures on display, both scary and soulful.

The skeletons of a mastodon and a beaked whale, plus a gleaming glass monument done up in Coast Salish style, will greet visitors when they enter through the lower-level lobby.

Museumgoers will be able to nosh on frybread tacos at the Off the Rez Cafe. They can feast their eyes on totem poles and other artifacts from Northwest tribes. And they’ll have the chance to reacquaint themselves with their favorite items from the old Burke Museum building, which has now been replaced by a parking lot.

Stein, whose new office isn’t far from the T. rex, doesn’t miss the old place at all.

“The old building was very difficult to live in. It was the lack of air conditioning and the lack of humidity control. The facility was falling apart. The restrooms were inadequate,” she recalled.

“Inviting the public into a place that was shabby was disheartening,” she said.

In contrast, Stein is excited about the opening of the New Burke, which was built right next to the old museum site, on the western edge of the University of Washington’s campus.

“I just can’t wait for the visitors to come,” Stein said.

Get the full story and photos on GeekWire.


‘Antarctic King’ reigned before the dinosaurs

Triassic creatures
Along the banks of a river, three archosaur inhabitants of an Early Triassic forest in Antarctica cross paths: Antarctanax shackletoni sneaks up on an early titanopteran insect, Prolacerta lazes on a log, and an enigmatic large archosaur stalks two unsuspecting dicynodonts known as Lystrosaurus maccaigi. (© Adrienne Stroup, Field Museum)

Tyrannosaurus rex may have reigned as “king of the tyrant lizards” 65 million years ago, but 185 million years before that, a reptile about the size of an iguana was the king of Antarctica.

At least that’s the message contained in the name of a fossil that’s described in a newly published research paper — and is now part of the permanent collection at Seattle’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.

The fossil was collected during an expedition to the frozen continent led by Christian Sidor, who is the museum’s curator of vertebrate paleontology as well as a biology professor at the University of Washington. Sidor and two colleagues, the University of the Witwatersrand’s Roger Smith and Brandon Peecook of Chicago’s Field Museum, laid out the story behind the fossil in a paper published today by the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Antarctanax shackletoni takes its scientific name from the ancient Greek words for “Antarctic king” and from early-20th-century polar explorer Ernest Shackleton.

Get the full story on GeekWire.


Get an inside look at the New Burke Museum

New Burke Museum
The New Burke Museum rises from its construction site on the University of Washington campus. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Stealing a sneak peek at the University of Washington’s new Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture is like looking at the mastodon skeleton in the old Burke Museum: It’s not fleshed out, but it gives you an idea how impressive the real thing can be.

In the mastodon’s case, we’re talking about a creature that lived 10,000 years ago. But when it comes to the New Burke, we’re talking about a modernistic, airy museum that’s 66 percent larger than the Old Burke next door.

The exterior construction part of the $99 million project is essentially complete, and the next phase — creating the exhibits and workspaces, and transferring an estimated 16 million objects from the Old Burke to the New Burke — will begin within just a few weeks.

To mark the transition (and kick off a fundraising campaign), the Burke’s staff gave journalists as well as museum members and donors a first look at the new building, plus a behind-the-scenes look at the collections in the 56-year-old building that currently serves as the museum’s home.

Get the full story on GeekWire.


Burke Museum lifts curtain on T. rex skull

T. rex skull
Burke Museum fossil preparator Bruce Crowley and volunteers Jean Primozich and Ben LeFebvre work on the museum’s T. rex skull. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

The only Tyrannosaurus rex skull to go on public display in Washington state is getting its unveiling at Seattle’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture – and the best part is that you can watch as more and more of the skull is revealed.

“You can see those teeth coming out,” University of Washington biologist Greg Wilson, the museum’s curator of vertebrate paleontology, told GeekWire today at the big reveal. “And those teeth are gorgeous.”

As he spoke, a team of paleontologists and trained volunteers worked methodically in a glassed-in room, chipping at and brushing away the rock and sand that surrounded the fossil skull.

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T. rex delivered to Seattle, with more to come

Image: T. rex skull in plaster
Workers unload a plaster-wrapped T. rex skull at the Burke Museum. (GeekWire photo by Alan Boyle)

Seattle’s Burke Museum took delivery of what’s recognized as one of the finest Tyrannosaur rex skulls in the world today, but there are still more bones out in Montana to add to the treasure.

“We’ll go back again,” Greg Wilson, a University of Washington biologist who led the excavation team at Montana’s Hell Creek Formation, told GeekWire at the arrival ceremony. “There’s more in the hill.”

It’ll take more than a year to do the preparatory work on the skull and more than 50 other T. rex bone specimens that have been recovered over the past couple of months, including vertebrae, ribs, hips and lower jaw bones.

The haul so far appears to account for about 20 percent of the complete skeleton. That puts the Burke Museum’s set of fossils among the world’s top 25 T. rex finds, Wilson said. He told reporters that the museum’s T. rex skull will be the only one to go on public display in Washington state.

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Seattle’s Burke Museum is getting a T. rex

Image: Lifting T. rex skull
Among the treasures found in Montana’s Hell Creek Formation was a reasonably complete T. rex skull, which was encased in plaster for shipment. (Credit: Burke Museum)

Paleontologists from Seattle’s Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture have discovered the fossil remains of a Tyrannosaurus rex, including a 4-foot-long skull, and they’re bringing the goods home with them.

The plaster-encased dinosaur skull, which weighs 2,500 pounds, will be unloaded from a flatbed truck at the museum on Aug. 18.

The Burke Museum says the research team excavated the reasonably complete skull, as well as pieces of the T. rex’s lower jawbone, vertebrae, ribs and teeth, during this year’s field season at the Hell Creek Formation in northern Montana.

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