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Learning from the Present

Fresh bones could provide insight into Earth's patchy fossil record

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11:07am, July 15, 2003

Several meters away, through the wavering heat of a desert afternoon, a paleontologist spies what looks like a thumb-size chip of bone. As he approaches the relic, he wonders what it will be: A piece of leg bone? A fragment of skull? A chunk of a vertebra? What sort of creature does this remnant represent? The paleontologist reaches the find, kneels, and whips out a whisk broom. Delicately, he brushes away loose grains of sand to reveal the fragile skull of a nine-banded armadillo. "Jackpot!" the scientist thinks. From the bits of flesh still on a few bones, he knows that this animal roamed the Earth, oh, maybe a couple of months ago.

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