Posts Tagged ‘sauropods’

Faces of Death

28 April 2009

Chris Norris recently deployed the term “asteroid porn” for a certain gratuitous style employed by those writing about meteoric catastrophe:

Here is a brief summary of a typical piece of asteroid porn. Dinosaurs are peacefully grazing (or browsing, or doing whatever) on a warm sunny day (or at sunset, or some other time of peacefullness) when they see a big fireball fall out of the sky. It hits the Earth so hard that larva comes out, like a big bursting geological zit. The larva shoots up hundreds of miles into the air and comes down, setting fire to, like, the whole planet. All the forests are on fire, and all the dinosaurs are on fire as well. Then there’s this big blast wave, and it’s so big it goes round the world, like, 5 times at the speed of Concorde, and when it hits the burning dinosaurs they all get blown into burning pieces…

You’ll want to read the entire post.

Not all porn is so literate though.  Books, television, film and, most especially the internet abound with visual artworks that operate in the same vein.  One well-worn style adopts a “dinosaur-eye view,” typically peppering the foreground with a tyrannosaur, hadrosaur or ceratopsian or some combination thereof.  A few enterprising artists even manage a nod to Charles Knight.

picture-4The players in these epic finales span a comical range of emotive reaction to the impact, from “wha?” to “HOLY EFF!” to “screw extinction–I’M GOING TO EAT YOU!!!” A few contemplative dinosaurs, cast in silhouette, even appear rather philosophical about their impending demise.

And of course, it’s a nearly irresistible vehicle for a one-liner:

picture-5Large pterosaurs offer a convenient excuse to adopt an aerial perspective that permits a more graphic celebration of “the junk” (the bolide that is).  Plus there must be a sense of clever satisfaction tat comes when you work Quetzalcoatlus into a painting of Mesoamerican Armageddon.

picture-6Another popular technique takes yet another step back to show what the hypothetical Troodon cosmonauts would have seen.

This view shifts the victim role from the dinosaurs to the planet itself. It also lends a certain historical anonymity to the event–this could be a catastrophe in the distant past, or the not-so-remote future.  In fact, some even depict an anachronistic geography that necessarily implies the latter to the careful observer.

picture-8It’s tempting to speculate that this orbital perspective might not have occurred to an artist working prior to the advent of satellite photography.  A similar argument has been made regarding the link between the Victorian “aquarium craze” and the subsequent proliferation of artworks adopting an underwater perspective (Clary and Wandersee 2005).

With their melodramatic flair, stereotyped compositions and limited pool of motifs, these images might easily be regarded as derivative at best and sure, pornographic at worst.  Much like metal album art.  However, these depictions will also afford ample fodder for a future, likely poor, overeducated and underemployed, generation of science/art historians interested in the cultural impact of late 20th Century neo-catastrophism.  Unless we are all wiped out by an asteroid first.

Coming up: Stravinsky, climate change and the Bataan march

postscripto: Huh, look at that.  300 microecos posts in just over 3 years.  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

A note on the images:  All are thumbnails gleaned from Google Image searches of “asteroid impact”, “dinosaur extinction” etc.  They are reproduced here for the purposes of discussion only.  This is a cultural studies blog.  Deal.

Pod People

16 November 2007

Mmm…ice cream cake…

Dinosaurs are totally absurd. Sauropods in particular. And it just gets worse.

Yesterday was a 1-2 punch of overwrought sauropodian redonkulusness:

First, the unveiling of Xenoposeidon, which co-describer Darren Naish modestly dubs, “the world’s most amazing sauropod.” The little white blip in the figure below is the type material: one lone, scrappy chunk-o-vertebrae that had been collecting dust on a shelf for over a century. Despite the fact that the skeleton is rather, ahem, incomplete this fossil has the potential to be extraordinarily important based on its location, age and apparent taxonomic independence. The new dino has become something of an internet event so if your curious to know more check out the Naish link above, Matt’s hilarious writeup (I’ll bet you didn’t know “poseidon” means “based on very few vertebrae”), lead author Mike Taylor’s entire website devoted to the critter (which has a .pdf copy of the original paper), and of course Sauropod Vertebrae Picture of the Week which will soon be changing it’s name to Xenoposeidon clearing house.

As if all that wasn’t enough to get your head spinning faster than Linda Blair at an Aleister Crowley book-signing, yesterdy ALSO saw the formal description of the more prosaically named, but not less nonsensicalNigersaurus. The paper, authored by my good buddy Paul Sereno and co, appeared on the supremely kickass open access journal PLOSOne.

Figure 1 from Sereno et al. 2007

Aside from the general wackiness in the jaws, the are some other strange things about this critter. The skull is exceptionally lightly built, the paper describes it as “semi-translucent”, it must have been a bitch to prepare. The skull holds more than 500 teeth, when you include the replacement teeth buried in the skull, and the authors estimate a tooth replacement interval of approximately one month (i.e. teeth lasted about a month before they were shed and replaced)! The skull structure suggests a downward orientation of the skull (as shown in the bottom of figure 1), which is consistent with apparent ‘grazing’ form of the jaw. The wear patterns on the teeth also make some interesting indications about how the jaw processed food.

Someone likened the mouth to a vacuum cleaner, and now the popular press is accusing Nigersaurus of being a suction feeder which is certainly not the case. I think a better functional analogy would be a pooper-scooper:

But then I suppose we’d be learning that Nigersaurus was a coprophage…

Like Xenoposeidon, Nigersaurus is stomping all over the interwebs: Brian penned a nice piece yesterday about how the new beastie fits into our changing views of sauropods in general, Anne-Marie has her take over at Pondering Pikaia, and Project Exploration has a whole pageful of amazing photos of Nigersaurus.

And if all this doesn’t make you want to go bang your head against a wall, thenI don’t know what will.


15 October 2007

But, how many London bus lengths is it?” – J.O.

Here’s the BBC on Futalognkosaurus dukei a recently described, absurdly large Titanosaur from Argentina:

Calvo, JO et al. 2007 “A new Cretaceous terrestrial ecosystem from Gondwana with the description of a new sauropod dinosaur” Anais Academia Brasileira Ciencia, 79(3): 529-41.

The name means something like “giant chief lizard…brought to you by Duke Energy.” The genus name comes from Mapudungun, the indigenous South American language that also gave us Mapusaurus, yet another example of the trend to defer to local linguistic traditions when christening (linnaeusing?) a new fossil taxon.

The species name is an example of somewhat older tradition of naming fossils for financial patrons. There’s at least one other dinosaur with a corporate name Atlascopcosaurus and there may well be others. In the 19th century it was quite common to name fossils after wealthy benafactors, as seen in Futalognkosaurus‘ distant cousin Diplodocus carnegiei.

Sauropodophile Matt Wedel recently blogged about the auctioning off scientific names to the highest bidder. Perhaps he’ll weigh in on the titanosaur, if we’re lucky.

Masikasaurus knopfleri is the only dinosaur I know of that’s named after a rock star. Each of the Sex Pistols have an Articalymene trilobite named after them, and just to keep things balanced each Ramone has a Mackenziurus trilobite (I don’t know if this is the work of the same equi-continental punk rock paleontologist or not). Frank’s got a fossil snail: Amaurotoma zappa as well as an extant jellyfish, spider and an entire genus of fish.

Trust me, Markesmithosaurus is just a few years away. Wait, make that Markesmithoraptor!

Oh yeah, and Futalognkosaurus was almost certainly arboreal.