Author Archives: Laura K Säilä

Major transitions in human evolution – Advanced Seminar in Palaeobiology

We are pleased to announce:

Major transitions in human evolution – Advanced Seminar in Palaeobiology (54261)
Dates: 4.11.–16.12.
Time: Fridays 12.15-13.45 p.m.
Building/room: Physicum, D112,  Kumpula Campus Number of places: max. 30
Credits: 2-4

This seminar series will focus on the issues concerning human evolution addressed in recently published special paper compilation ( and other relevant papers (including:

Middle Pliocene hominin diversity – An earlier origin for stone tool making: implications for cognitive evolution and the transition to Homo – Morphological variation in Homo erectus and the origins of developmental plasticity – The evolution of body size and shape in the human career – The place of Homo floresiensis in human evolution – Filling the gap: Human cranial remains from Gombore II and the origin of Homo heidelbergensis – The origin and evolution of Homo sapiens – The transition to foraging for dense and predictable resources and its impact on the evolution of modern humans

You can get credit points for each of the following: Seminar presentation (compulsory, 2 credit points); Active participation in 75% of the classes verified by a personal seminar diary (1 credit point); writing an essay (1 credit point). The seminar thus yields a total of 2-4 credit points.

Please sign up for the course at weboodi (course code: 54261).

Laura Säilä & Mikael Fortelius

A Middle Triassic stem-turtle and the evolution of the turtle body plan

A new stem-turtle, Pappochelys rosinae, is structurally and chronologically intermediate between the stem-turtles Eunotosaurus and Odontochelys and is from the late Middle Triassic of Germany (Ladinian; ∼240 million years ago). The three taxa share anteroposteriorly broad trunk ribs that are T-shaped in cross-section and bear sculpturing, elongate dorsal vertebrae, and modified limb girdles. Pappochelys closely resembles Odontochelys in various features of the limb girdles. Unlike Odontochelys, it has a cuirass of robust paired gastralia in place of a plastron. Pappochelys provides new evidence that the plastron partly formed through serial fusion of gastralia. The skull of Pappochelys has small upper and ventrally open lower temporal fenestrae, supporting the hypothesis of diapsid affinities of turtles.

Life reconstruction:

3.3-million-year-old stone tools from Turkana, Kenya

As you might all remember, Meave Leakey talked quite a bit about these tools in her talk here in Helsinki, and now they’ve been published!

Nice write-up in the BBC website:

Oldest stone tools pre-date earliest humans:

The actual paper:

3.3-million-year-old stone tools from Lomekwi 3, West Turkana, Kenya

Abstract: Human evolutionary scholars have long supposed that the earliest stone tools were made by the genus Homo and that this technological development was directly linked to climate change and the spread of savannah grasslands. New fieldwork in West Turkana, Kenya, has identified evidence of much earlier hominin technological behaviour. We report the discovery of Lomekwi 3, a 3.3-million-year-old archaeological site where in situ stone artefacts occur in spatiotemporal association with Pliocene hominin fossils in a wooded palaeoenvironment. The Lomekwi 3 knappers, with a developing understanding of stone’s fracture properties, combined core reduction with battering activities. Given the implications of the Lomekwi 3 assemblage for models aiming to converge environmental change, hominin evolution and technological origins, we propose for it the name ‘Lomekwian’, which predates the Oldowan by 700,000 years and marks a new beginning to the known archaeological record.

Brontosaurus is back!

“In this case, a number of specimens all previously identified as Brontosaurus in the past do actually come out together as close relatives of one another, and, although still close to Apatosaurus, are separate from this genus and show several distinct features that suggest they are different. Since the name Brontosaurus already exists for these animals, a new name doesn’t need to be created and instead the ‘thunder lizard’ (surely this wonderfully evocative translation is a large part of its popularity) is resurrected for them and thus returns to the ranks of the dinosaurs.”

Actual scientific paper (which does mention the resurrection of Brontosaurus in the abstract but focuses on other aspects of Diplodocidae systematics and taxonomy):

And a little bit more from the authors:

Europe’s Languages Were Carried From the East, DNA Shows

New DNA evidence suggests that herders from the grasslands of today’s Russia and Ukraine carried the roots of modern European languages across the continent some 4,500 years ago.

Original study:

Advanced topics in paleoecology and paleoclimatology

Dear All,

The following course for period 4 of spring semester 2015 can now be found in WedOodi, where students can also register for the course:

54129 – Advanced topics in paleoecology and paleoclimatology

Credits: 4 (2 credits for Paleoclimate section; 2 credits for the Paleoecology section; lectures and practical assignments)

Time: 12.03.2015-21.05.2014, Thursday 14:15-16:00 (NOTE: no class on week 18 and 20)

Locations: C108, Physicum, Kumpula Campus

Paleoecology (8 teaching hours)

Laura Säilä (week 11-12)
Title: Systematic methods in palaeontology and palaeoecology

Indrė Žliobaitė (week 13-14)
Title: Data science in palaeoecology

Paleoclimate (8 teaching hours)

Niina Kuosmanen (week 15-16)
Title: Using microfossils for reconstructing past vegetation and forest fires

Sakari Salonen (week 17 & 19)
Title: Climate reconstructions from fossil proxy data

Paleoclimate and paleoecology (2 teaching hours)

Ferhat Kaya (week 21)

Title: The Influence of Climate Change on Human Evolution.

If you have any queries, please contact Laura Säilä

Björn Kröger talk Thu 16th Oct

Meeting of the Geological Society of Finland will be held at Thursday 16th of October starting at 18:15.

Location: The House of Sciences, hall 404, Kirkkokatu 6, Helsinki

Invited talk: Intendent Björn Kröger (Finnish Museum of Natural History):

“The oldest reefs on the Baltic Continent”


Our Skulls Didn’t Evolve to be Punched

A rather ‘interesting’ new paper in Biological Reviews claims that:

‘Hands evolved to punch faces. Faces evolved to take punches. That’s the hypothesis being bandied about by University of Utah researchers Michael Morgan and David Carrier, the pair proposing that the apparent “protective buttressing” of our skulls and hands is a sign of violent prehistoric fights where fists of fury dictated who would mate and who would exit the gene pool.’

Nice critique of the paper can be found here:

And the original paper here:


Ten Simple Rules for the Care and Feeding of Scientific Data

‘Today, most research projects are considered complete when a journal article based on the analysis has been written and published. The trouble is, the amount of real data and data description in modern publications is almost never sufficient to repeat or even statistically verify a study being presented. Worse, researchers wishing to build upon and extend work presented in the literature often have trouble recovering data associated with an article after it has been published. More often than scientists would like to admit, they cannot even recover the data associated with their own published works.

So how do we go about caring for and feeding data? This article offers a short guide to the steps scientists can take to ensure that their data and associated analyses continue to be of value and to be recognized.’