Success in finding bones boils down to a lot of luck, says Robert Anemone of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, who once blundered into "the best locality we ever found" - a cache of early primate bones from between 40 and 50 million years ago - after making a wrong turn during a trip in the Great Divide basin of south-western Wyoming. So the team began by feeding the software a list of known locations in the 10,000-square-kilometre Great Divide basin, labelling them either as being fossil-rich or belonging to one of four other categories - barren, forest, scrub or wetland. Using only the satellite data, the computer had learned that the area's fossil sites were in sandstone - but not all sandstone has fossils at the surface. It correctly identified 79 per cent of the known fossil sites as likely to contain fossils, and correctly classified 84 per cent of all the other locations, Emerson says.
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