425 Million Year Old Mystery

Can you solve this mystery, which, according to NewAtlas.com has been baffling scientists?

a narrow head on a long neck, both generally green in color and reptilian in appearance, protrude from the upper right of the photo. The body of the creature is not seen.

New Atlas invites some deep thinking …

I imagine both of my readers will get this instantly, but if you’re curious about what NewAtlas thought was the mystery, you should click here for a mildly diverting, if highly abbreviated, article about Tanystropheus.



  1. says


    Thank you.

    One of my principle goals in life is to always fall asleep less ignorant than when I awakened that day.

    Mission accomplished for the day.

    Now, I seriously doubt that any of the scientists at the museum made this mistake, so where did the error come from?


  2. Rob Grigjanis says

    hyphenman @3: Who knows how these things happen? When I was at the Theoretical Physics Institute at U of Alberta, I saw a letter addressed to the Theatrical Physics Institute. I thought that’s what the name should be, since we had more than our fair share of drama, and hams.

  3. says


    The mistake wasn’t even repeated in the article itself. It was clearly a mistake of the headline writer.

    If you’re interested, the mistake was transposing the 4 and the 2. The actual fossil was dated to a range that includes 245 million years of age (though the article, as is typical for many publications, lists the age as 242 million years old, since that’s the youngest end of the range, so we can only know for a fact that it is at least that old.

    But yeah, someone got the idea (correctly) that the fossil was ~245mya, and then between that accurate message and the headline switched 2 digits.

  4. says

    @Crip Dyke…

    Now that makes sense.

    I am just barely old enough to have used a typewriter at the beginning of my journalism career and, more importantly, to have known Mergenthaler operators who produced hot type for printers.

    As a young editor, I was part of a flow that sent each story through three sub/copy editors and then on to at least one, often two, senior editors, before going to the print shop for publication. The typesetter was the last bulwark against error before distribution and most of them worked with a small reference library next to their machine. They were that good.

    In total, five or six pairs of eyes read each story with the function of catching all the typos and other errors.

    My favorite instructor in undergraduate school was Dr. Dru Evarts whom we called Conan the Grammarian. Dr. Evarts had worked on the copy desk at the Christian Science Monitor before entering academia. The Monitor was famous among journalists for the staff’s extremely close factual and copy editing. Heads rolled if a comma was misplaced. In Dr. Evarts’ classes we would lose a half a letter grade for every grammatical or copy error and if you misspelled a person’s you recieved an F. Most hated her but I took every class I could from her.

    Today, journalists are lucky if two people, other than themselves, see their copy before someone hits send.

    In that environment, the transposed numbers make perfect, though sad, sense.


    Jeff Hess
    Have Coffee Will Write

  5. lumipuna says

    I’m geeky enough to know a Tanystropheus dated at 425 MYA would be a mystery indeed. I guessed that wasn’t really the issue, if only because the wording of the headline doesn’t quite make it sound so. However, I couldn’t have guessed what exactly was going on.

    As it happens, the teaser headline speaks of “mystery”, because that’s how you always hype up fairly mundane research findings.

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