Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Paleontologist Profile: Louis R Purnell


We live in a discouraging world. How many kids dream of goals like paleontology and never can because of socioeconomic factors? It’s especially hard with the racial segregation based on socioeconomic barriers that still exists in the United States.  It’s hard enough to get a paleontology career as it is thanks to the money and time and lack of positions and pay. Our society doesn’t reward science that doesn’t provide more money for other people. It’s especially hard for racial minorities-job barriers and discrimination have always been a major barrier to life goals.

So it’s nice to find some hope somewhere, and to find heroes. An unsung hero in all senses of the word was Louis Rayfield Purnell. He was the son of a railcar painter in Maryland, but managed to make it to the Smithsonian. How? A little bit a luck, but with a lot of perseverance, talent, ingenuity, and a wide skill set. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Paleofest Report 2019

Welcome back! It’s this time of year again where I go down the annual Paleofest Symposium, held every March at the Burpee Museum in Rockford Illinois. There’s always new discoveries, new experiences, and a lot of great talks about paleontology research. For further details, I once again recommend our MC Scott Williams, for tweets check out Dr. Thomas Holtz’s twitter, and for images ask Todd Johnson. Once again there’s no particular theme, but once again younger researchers and women researchers take the foreground on a wide variety of topics.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

New Year Special: Year of the Pig

Happy New Year! In China, it’s the Year of the Pig. Pigs have long been a mainstay of Eurasian societies since they were domesticated, proving critical protein for relatively low cost, and allowed for the Polynesians to conquer the Pacific and the Europeans to thrive in the New World.   The Egyptians considered them evil and diseased, and the Jewish and Muslim examples followed their example.   But it says something the Romans loved them so much they refused to adopt that dietary law. 

Pigs have been a success story in history.  It’s time to talk about their evolutionary story.
Pigs are basal artiodactyls-their closest relatives are the similarly Suine Peccaries, more basal camels, and more derived ungulates such as hippos, whales and extinct entelodonts, followed by camels, then by ruminants. 
So where do Suines come from? 

Monday, October 29, 2018

Happy Birthday, OC Marsh.

With apologies to Lin-Manuel Miranda:

I see what's happening here
You're face-to-face with genius and it's strange
You don't even know how I looked.
It's adorable!
Well, it's nice to see undergraduates never change

Open your eyes, let's begin
Yes, it's really me,
It's O.C.! Breathe it in
I know it's a lot:
The brain, the beard!
Being me can be kinda weird

What can I say except "You're welcome"
For all the dinosaurs you know?
Hey, it's OK, it's OK. You're welcome
I'm just an ordinary kind of Joe!

Hey, what has two thumbs and found Pteranodon
When you still learning about Iguanodon?
Me, son!
When some horns got turned up, who found the Trike?
You're looking at him, spike!

Oh, also I found the first horse
—you're welcome—
And mapped its evolution of course
Also, Apatosaurus is mine
—You're welcome—
Brontosaurus too if you’re kind

So what can I say except "You're welcome"
For the quarries you’ll use a century from now?
This isn’t a play, it's OK,
You're welcome
I just was the first one to learn how

You're welcome, you're welcome
Well, come to think of it

Kid, honestly the honor is mine
I’ve dug in strata in every layer of time
Mammal, reptile and birds
I’ve even invented some new scientific words
I found out Kansas was a sea
Found all its fish with my lunch tea
What's the lesson? What is the take-away?
I leave Cope in the dust when I’m on the break-away

And the Zallinger murals here in my U
Are filled with the genera I have found too
Look where I've been. I found fossils galore
They’ll have to come back to my quarries if they want more
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, hey!
Well, anyway, let me say you're welcome!
For giving you a dinosaur bash

Hey, it's OK, it's OK. You're welcome!
Well, come to think of it, I could use the cash
Hey, it's your day to say you're welcome!
'Cause I'm gonna need some funds
I'm specimen myself. You're welcome!
Cope and I have long been moribund!

You're welcome, you're welcome
And thank you!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Dragon Day 2018: Top Ten Prehistoric Animals named after Dragons

Happy Dragon day, the fourth Sunday in October!  

Wait a minute, you ask yourself, why are you talking about mythical animals? Isn’t this blog about real animals? Why haven’t you posted more often? 

First of all, yes, I do need to post more often. Second, I will talk about real animals. And finally, in reverse order, dragons are still awesome and I still feel compelled to talk about mythical animals. Dinosaurs have basically become the dragons to the 20th century. Watch a dinosaur movie, look at a piece of art-these real animals get their most bizarre and fearsome qualities played up. Dinosaurs fulfill the same narrative device. Authors like Adrienne Mayor, Don Glut, and Allen Debus have all made the parallel. Dinosaur bones were indeitifed with dragons, and dinosaurs have been given dragonish qualities in art and literature from the very beginning. A big scary reptile is going to look like a dragon, period.

So, in honor of dragon day, inspired by Christopher dePiazza’s amazing blog and art, , I am going to give you my top ten prehistoric animals named after Dragons! 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Species That Don't Get Enough Publicity #14: Achillobator giganteus

Dromeosaurs are one of the last dinosaur groups to really become superstars. In the 80s, Deinonychus was the most popular dinosaur: a unique sprinter, jumper, kicker, gangster. A well-armed social hunter, Deinonychus mobbing and dismembering their prey became a defining image of the new “hot blood” look of dinosaurs as science finally came to terms with dinosaur endothermy.  When Michael Crichton gave them the name of Velociraptor and Steven Spielberg put them on screen in the most terrifying depiction of any dinosaur, they became superstars.

Immediately after the release of the film, a new giant dromaeosaur was discovered: Utahraptor. Utahraptor showed that Deinonychus was no longer the earliest or largest dromaeosaur. Earlier dromaeosaurs have since been found, but not larger ones. At over 1,000 lbs, Utahraptor remains the largest (and most famous) of the dromaeosaurs. In the 2010s, a new giant raptor has made headlines. Extremely rare, Dakotaraptor finally allows for the fantasy “Utahraptor meets Tyrannosaurus” scenarios dinosaur fans have dreamed of for 20 years.  

But there are two other giant raptors, two big dromaeosaurs that have been found and ignored by popular culture. One I will deal with later along with its family, but today I will talk about Velociraptor’s giant predecessor in Mongolia: Achillobator.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Movie Review: Dinosaurus! (1960)

Today’s movie review is about an odd little 1960 film. At first glance, it’s a typical kid’s adventure film mixed with some horror elements. On the other hand, it’s a pile of tired clich├ęs with many depressing and dark moments. It’s an odd little movie, and it’s worth a look.  It’s not part of my childhood, but it certainly was for a lot of people.  This is the Jack Harris-Irvin Yeaworth collaboration Dinosaurus! (the exclamation point is theirs). Thankfully there is a rifftrax for this film, so I’ve added their best jokes when appropriate.