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Palaeontologists Are Trying to Understand Why the Fossil Record Is Mostly Males

Humanosity says….On first reading, it seems that patriarchy even extends back into the fossil record. Palaeontologists across the world have discovered this bias towards males in the fossil record and this article examines the reasons why this is the case…

If you were to take a tour of the vaults of natural history museums around the world and examined the fossils of all the animals they held, you would think that only the males that died.

This puzzling trend was first noted by researchers from the University of Adelaide who analysed the ancient DNA of their own specimens. Although obtaining DNA from fossils is still extremely difficult, they managed to extract it from about 5% of the 20,000 samples they took. After checking twice they found that 75% of the samples were male.

This finding has been confirmed by scientists in Sweden who were conducting genetic studies of woolly mammoths. They found that 69% of their samples were male and this result has left scientists around the world slightly baffled as to why there’s such a bias in the fossil record.

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors have speculated as to why this bias exists. Part of the answer may lie in the fact that the males of most species, especially young males tend to wander off and do stupid things that result in their death. They speculate that males tend to have larger ranges and as a result their remains are likely to be spread farther, making their later discovery more likely.

However, there’s another possible explanation. It might be that fossil hunters are biased towards collecting the most impressive remains that they find. Since males are usually larger then perhaps they have been selectively chosen over smaller less impressive fossils.

Collections of bird specimens show this tendency as collectors often choose the brightly coloured and majestically feathered males as opposed to the more drab females.

There’s also another modern factor in that many of the specimens come from the 19th and early 20th century and were the result of hunting. In this scenario, most hunters were on the lookout for trophy specimens and often that meant shooting the males.

Sources: www.atlasobscura.com, The Guardian

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