The Qaidam hyena cranium prepared

Continued from Part IIb: the Qaidam hyena cranium discovered

With the help of Senior Preparator Mr. Howell Thomas at the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology (LACM), I opened up the jacket and began preparing the specimen in February 2008. After several weeks of careful preparation, we realized that the cranium was as complete as I had imagined, even though other crew members had some doubts about the completeness of the material by its state of deterioration in the field.

In addition, I was also able to confirm the identity of the specimen. It is the cranium of a hyena in the genus Adcrocuta. This genus is known so far by a single species, Adcrocuta eximia. However, without extensive comparison to other Chinese specimens of that species, I was not going to assign a species name to it just yet. The genus itself is significant because it is an index fossil. This means that the occurrences of this genus is restricted to a specific time period, in this case the later part of the late Miocene epoch. Even though the specimen itself probably does not reveal a great deal of new anatomical information, its occurrence in the Shengou locality area gives us another line of evidence of the geological age by its fossil animal remains (termed biochronology). In the absence of volcanic deposits to give us absolute dates, we have to rely on biochronological interpretations of geological ages of the fossil fauna.

[Jack prepares the Qaidam hyena cranium while Gabriella, the stuffed hyena, looks on]

[The cranium of Adcrocuta compared to a modern striped hyena (top left) and a spotted hyena (top right)]

In June 2008, the prepared Adcrocuta cranium was hand-carried back to the IVPP (Chinese Academy of Sciences), where I will be photographing and describing the skull in a scientific study of the important specimen later this year.

Carnivore fossils are generally rare occurrences; it was truly an honor for a student of carnivore paleontology to find a specimen of his research focus.

Check back soon for next in this series: fossil horns and antlers!

1 comment:

Spencer said...

So, seriously, what does "crocuta" mean? I've heard three "crocuta"s from you since I met you, and it seems to be commonly used. Ha!


P.S. Biochronology! Finally! I realize, it has a name! :-O