Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween Special: The Horrors of Hatzeg Island

I’m back! I’ve been gone from this blog for a while, but rest assured I’m alive and still fascinated by prehistory. Today we’re coming back to a Halloween theme, however tenuous it may be.  One of the most notorious places in the world of fiction, the most infamous places in Europe, the home of the vampires and witches and werewolves, is Transylvania.  Transylvania is now part of Romania, north of Wallachia, west of Moldavia, and southeast of Hungary. It was a battle zone in the past, as Austrians, Russians, Hungarians, Turks, Wallachians, Moldavians, Poles, and Germans have struggled over the region.  Rich in minerals, it is a mountainous region,  consisting of mostly forest-covered hills and mountains topped with castles.  It was here that the notorious Prince Vlad Dracula imposed his rule with an iron fist and defied the might of the Ottoman empire. 

It is also a place rich for paleontology. This began with Baron Nopsca in a period from 1899 to the First World War. Baron Franz Nopcsa von Felső-Szilvás, born of a Romanian line of Hungarized aristocrats in the Austrian empire, left the University of Vienna with two goals: The throne of an independent Albania, and the discovery of Romanian fossils. This colorful, Romantic figure tragically lost his fortune on his pursuits and ended his life in a suicide pact with his Albian secretary and lover Bayazid Doda in 1933.  However, in his lifetime, he found a treasure trove of Romanian dinosaurs from the end of the Mesozoic.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Canada Day Special

With Canada Day today, I've decided to showcase a Canadian fauna of dinosaurs. This one is the richest, most distinctive and one of the oldest. 

The Red Deer River flows south from the Canadian Rockies, the Sawback range of Alberta. The river passes through plains, forests, and badlands of southern Alberta before merging in the South Saskatchewan River in Saskatchewan province. Along the shores are exposed stones, cliffs, and hills of rock 75 million years old. For over a century, its secrets have been revealed, producing one of the richest fossil sites in the world. These dinosaurs are part of North American culture, and have become pillars of dinosaur research around the world and for years to come.

Welcome my friends, to Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Species That Don't Get Enough Publicity #11: Mymoorapelta and Gargoyleosaurus

Most dinosaur groups are stereotyped by the first found or the largest. Stegosaurus is the only stegosaur in the mass media, Tyrannosaurus the only tyrannosaur, Brontosaurus the only sauropod, etc. I’m sure Ankylosaurus is the only armored dinosaur known to most people-it’s the last, it’s the largest, it’s the first to be found, and it was a neighbor to Tyrannosaurus rex. However, ankylosaurs had existed for almost 100 million years before Tyrannosaurus. In fact, we’re going to look at two genera dating back to the time of Brontosaurus in the late Jurassic period, and lived alongside the giant sauropods and Stegosaurs.  They are the first ankylosaurs-the smallest and most primitive known, but already well-armored and distinctively ankylosaurs.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Paleofest 2015 report

For the first time in my life, I was able to attend Paleofest on the weekend of March 14. Paleofest is an annual celebration and gathering of paleontology fans and experts at the Burpee Museum in Rockford, Illinois. Paleontologists gather from all over the world to give talks, while children engage in interactive, educational play with museum docents and visiting scientists. I had been aware of this event for three years and especially wanted to go to last year’s event on the Cenozoic. This year it was all about the Triassic, a period of reptile diversity and evolution, and the emergence of the first mammals and dinosaurs as the ecosystems of the world revived from the Permian extinction.

The talks took place downstairs, in the main classroom of the museum below all the other exhibits. There was a substantial crowd, and I wasn’t the only representative from the Field Museum’s volunteers to attend. Only visitors wearing the event badges were allowed in, and I paid $85 for the full weekend.  The talks were attended by people of all ages, and both genders were well-represented. It was genuinely inspiring to see how diverse the appeal of paleontology is.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Exciting news about Jurassic World and its newfound paleontological accuracy

Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve been privileged with no less than four fossil finds that came out just in time!  To see the significance, we’ll have to go back 20 years.  You see, in 1993, the film Jurassic Park came out. Michael Crichton’s book featured Velociraptor, and he based his depiction on Deinonychus. Spielberg, wanting something even more intimidating, increased the size of his raptors. The scientific community scoffed at this obvious error, but found themselves dumbfounded when, as the film came out, Utah Paleontologist James Kirkland found a dromaeosaur of that impressive size! Utahraptor brought Hollywood’s Raptor come to life! 

So, it is with great joy that I reveal that similar things have happened this year, coinciding with this summer’s release of Jurassic World!  Yes, once again, life has imitated art! Turns out that the writers of this film were prescient, thanks to their rigorous dedication to scientific accuracy. The papers are not published yet, so I can’t say the discoverers, but I can describe the names and bones found!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Pictures At An Exhibition Part 1

In 1873, Russian painter Viktor Hartmann died. His friends, the critic Vladimir Stasov and composter Modest Mussorgsky were shocked and mourned his death. As a memorial, Stasov arranged an exhibition of Hartmann’s works at St. Petersburg’s Academy of Fine Arts, and Mussorgsky composed a suite of tone poems based on the works, a section for each painting. Mussorgsky’s musical tribute is called Pictures at an Exhibition, and along with his infamous Night on Bald Mountain and opera Boris Gudnov are the composer’s most significant works.  This isn’t really relevant, but this is the explanation for the title of this series of short blogs.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Book Review: The Beasts of Eden

Well, this will be my first review of a book I loathe. I remember the crushing disappointment I had when I read it 5 years ago. Re-reading it brings out the author’s ridiculous opinionated assertions and poor structuring. Its identity is misleading, and while it’s not worthless or false in its actual facts, it’s a example of terrible book design.  I’m going to talk about David Rains Wallace’s Beasts of Eden.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Prehistoric Warfare Episode 4: Apatosaurus vs Saurophaganax

Now for something different. In 2004, Animal Planet showed as new series called Animal Face Off, a series reconstructing conflicts between coexisting animals. While the execution was clumsy and lacking, the concept is strong and I think easily applied to prehistoric fauna.  Ideally, there would be professionals discussing the situations, but unfortunately, you have only me. First I will compare the animals, and then depict their behavior, before concluding with the final battle.  The outcome will be my personal opinion; and there would be many times when the outcome would be decidedly different. This is not a scientific consensus, but one researcher’s opinion.

We all love dinosaur battles. They’re always a high point in a film. It’s childish, but it’s just plain fun. So, I’m hoping to use this opportunity to use this almost-universal appeal to get people thinking and talking about ecology, biomechanics, and behavior. Only one or two of these stories will be based on actual fossils-the rest are likely possibilities that must have happened sometime or another. In real life, animals usually don’t fight on even terms, but it does happen. Sometimes prey turn the tables, sometimes predators quarrel between themselves, but it can happen. I hope you enjoy this. Again, first I will have two scenes, one for each animal showing them in their habitat and showcasing their particular skills, then finally concluding with a battle between the two.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Species That Don't Get Enough Publicity #10: Tusoteuthis

Giant squids are iconic animals. Squids by themselves are intelligent, powerful, and alien-looking. Giant squids give grandeur, epic scale, and mystery, having not been seen in their natural habitat until 2004. Although not as long as a bootlace worm or as heavy as a colossal squid, they have become legendary. Their corpses and fleeting sightings of their dying have created legends in places from Norway to Greece to Japan.  The Norse sailors and Vikings prayed for safety from the Kraken, a beast so powerful it is still part of modern popular culture.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Top 10 Dinosaur fights in fiction

Everyone loves dinosaur fights. All the best dinosaur films have them. What’s better than big, bizarre prehistoric creatures? When they duke it out! They can be violent, they can be bloody, but they’re always exciting.  The very first would be the Ghost of Slumber mountain, where two Triceratops duel and one of them is then killed by a Tyrannosaurus in a fight. The last would be the Pachyrhinosaurus-Gorgosaurus brawl at the climax of Walking With Dinosaurs.  Hopefully this year’s Jurassic World will have the decency of giving us one.  Most of these fights are wildly anachronistic between supersized versions, and some of them involve animals that are not dinosaurs or even real animals, but it gives that element of fantasy that dinosaurs invoke by their very prescence. This list is entirely subjective, so I’ll leave a long list of runners up first-