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Section of a Stone Age megastructure in the Bay of Mecklenburg, Germany.

Boulders form part of a submerged Stone Age megastructure off the German coast.Credit: Philipp Hoy

A string of boulders almost a kilometre long, now covered by the Baltic Sea, could be Europe’s oldest human-made megastructure. Researchers say the “pristine” discovery was probably used for hunting the Eurasian reindeer more than 10,000 years ago. Before it was submerged by rising sea levels about 8,500 years ago, hunters might have used the wall to force prey into a bottleneck or a nearby lake.

The Guardian | 6 min read

Reference: PNAS paper

Introducing: Dinosaurs

1862 Megalosaurus wallchart after Waterhouse Hawkins with Pterosaurs in background.

An 1862 illustration of Megalosaurus, the first dinosaur to be named.Credit: Paul D. Stewart/SPL

On 20 February 1824, William Buckland reported his findings on the ‘Megalosaurus or great Fossil Lizard of Stonesfield’ to the Geological Society of London. Hypothesized to have “a length exceeding 40 feet and a bulk equal to that of an elephant seven feet high”, Megalosaurus was the first dinosaur whose description was formally published. It was not long before ‘dinosaur mania’ took hold, notes a Nature Ecology & Evolution editorial — and the fascination continues.

Soon afterwards, a dinosaur star was born: Tyrannosaurus rex. As part of the bicentennial celebration, palaeontologist Stephen Brusatte admits — slightly sheepishly — that T. rex is his favourite too, and examines the enduring appeal of the lizard king.

Controversies dog the dinos, too. The Brazilian Society of Palaeontology has recently taken steps to become more involved in the repatriation of fossil specimens — a central issue in the global palaeontological community as interest in combating scientific colonialism grows. Members of the society discuss their experiences, including the challenges they have faced and how they have overcome them, in the hope of inspiring other scientific societies to play their part.

Enjoy the full 200th-anniversary collection of news, opinion and research here

Two centuries on from Buckland announcing Megalosaurus, some palaeontologists are calling for more robust guidelines around naming dino species to help avoid names that have racist, sexist or other problematic connotations. Unlike scientific disciplines such as chemistry, in which strict rules govern a molecule’s name, in zoology researchers have a relatively free rein over the naming of new species. “We need to critically revise what we have done, see what we have done well and what we have not done well, and try to correct it in the future,” says palaeontologist Evangelos Vlachos.

Nature | 4 min read

Features & opinion

Fed up with a lack of political progress in solving the climate problem, some researchers are turning to activism and civil disobedience. Despite facing legal and professional consequences, there is a growing consensus among researchers that an urgent response is warranted. A survey conducted last year of 9,220 researchers around the world, from a range of scientific and academic disciplines, found that more than 90% agree that “fundamental changes to social, political, and economic systems” are needed. “I think it’s worth it,” says atmospheric scientist Noah Liguori-Bills. “The whole world’s at stake.”

Nature | 11 min read

Within years, artificial intelligence (AI) systems could need as much energy as entire countries. A first-of-its-kind US bill would create a framework for reporting the technology’s environmental costs on a voluntary basis — but given the urgency of the situation that’s not enough, says AI scholar Kate Crawford. Incentives for creating energy-efficient systems and using renewable energy are needed, she says, supported by regular environmental audits.

Nature | 5 min read

Researchers are working towards bionic prostheses that emulate the function of natural limbs. Bionics researcher Hugh Herr (himself a double amputee) and his colleagues discuss how to create a ‘digital nervous system’ that allows people who wear prostheses to feel with their synthetic limbs and control them by thought alone. Restoring subconscious body representation, and a sense of well-being and identity, is as important as returning a lost limb’s physical functionality, the group argues.

Nature Reviews Bioengineering | 60 min read

In 2022, nearly 200 countries agreed to halt the decline in global biodiversity. But pledges haven’t been translated into cash — the US$219 million promised to a major new funding pot, the Global Biodiversity Framework Fund (GBFF), is just a drop in the ocean, argues a Nature editorial. One of the reasons might be that biodiversity projects (unlike some climate projects) often don’t provide cash returns. Besides governments, philanthropic foundations should consider adding to the GBFF even if it means giving up some of their autonomy in deciding which projects will receive money, the editorial suggests.

Nature | 5 min read

Quote of the day

Geochemist Ed Marshall has advice for sampling freshly scooped lava. He is among the scientists studying troubling fissures opening up in Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula. (Quanta | 10 min read)

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