Allow me a short digression into something nerdy. It’s niche and weird but I slipped in some science along the way. Whilst doing a bit of reading for another project the other day I stumbled across a curious link between two very different worlds; the science of Palaeontology, and the fictional antagonist of Middle-Earth. I subsequently went on to discover that link again, and then again. All of which led me to ask; why does Sauron keep popping up in palaeo?
65: Still Alive?
As this article is being first posted, the world lies on the precipice of the next big palaeo-media drama debacle. One week from today, the movie “65” will be released in cinemas, an action film that, judging from all trailers and pre-release information, can be best summed up as ‘Adam Driver from the future shoots dinosaurs.’
Are Your Teeth Inside-Out or Outside-In?
Guest Author – Sophie Pollard
Current Palaeobiology MSc Student
Teeth, or at least tooth-like structures, can be found in every jawed vertebrate group living today, and it’s rare to find any lineage which has lost them completely. There is no doubt that teeth have been a key development in vertebrate evolutionary history, but where did they come from in the first place?
The answer is much more complicated than you might expect!
What Even Is A Dodo?
When it comes to iconic animals of extinction, there are none better known (or as frequently name-dropped) than the Dodo. An animal so synonymous with the idea of being extinct that it even became a saying, “As dead as a Dodo.” But if you speak to most people and ask what they know about the Dodo, that’s pretty much where the knowledge starts and ends. However, there is a real species behind the legend and it holds more than a few surprises.
Sacred Ammonites – The Shaligram Stones of Nepal
Guest Author: James Ormiston
Palaeontology MSci Graduate / Palaeoartist
Ammonites are wonderful things. Staring into their ribbed spirals can be a hypnotic experience. A shape that is vaguely familiar…yet also alien and ancient. Geometrically satisfying, chronologically dizzying. Although being very common, it’s this slight “otherness” which all but guarantees that if you collect fossils, even only a little, you probably have an ammonite in your collection. They have become a poster child for fossils worldwide.
The Fat Bears Of Katmai – And How They Got There
Guest Author: Sophie Pollard
Palaeobiology MSc Student
While citizens of the city of Bristol and the rest of the UK will remember the summer of 2022 for its record-breaking heatwave, records of a different kind have been set in the Bristol Bay area of Alaska, with sockeye salmon returning in higher numbers than any recorded before. This is great news for the fauna of Katmai National Park, and by extension, for fans of Katmai National Park’s Fat Bear Week, an annual event in which the bears of Katmai compete to see who best drags the competition, by how much their bellies drag along the ground.
The brain of the Bristol dinosaur
Dinosaurs were famously stupid, but what about Theco, the Bristol dinosaur? In a new study, just published (October 2021), Bristol PhD students Antonio Ballel and Logan King, certainly don’t revise that view; there is no evidence (i’m afraid to say) that Thecodontosaurus was any more brainy (or any more stupid) than any other dinosaur of its size. However, their study does show two things: Theco held its head steady while moving, maintaining a steady gaze, and it had pretty good hearing.
The new study is based on CT scans and detailed digital reconstruction from the amazing Thecodontosaurus braincase in the collections at Yale University. In the image, you can see the braincase (top left), the reconstructed key bones (top right) and images showing the semi-circular canals, highlighted in pink (bottom left and right).
The steady gaze evidence comes from bumps on the side of the Theco brain called flocculi: in modern animals these assist the animals in keeping their head steady as they run and duck and dive, using two responses – one to keep the eyes fixed on any object in their field of view, and the other to keep the head steady. This new finding confirms that Thecodontosaurus was adept at moving bipedally, on its hind legs, and the fixed gaze adaptations would have helped it if it occasionally hunted prey. We’ve always said Theco was a herbivore, and it primarily was, but many early dinosaurs seem to have mixed and matched, and would have grabbed a juicy beetle or small lizard if they had a chance.
It might also seem amazing to be able to estimate the hearing ability of a dinosaur. This can be done using standard formulas based on measuring parts of the braincase and cochlear duct buried in the bone of the skull. It was specialized to hear low and middle frequencies of sounds, similar to other dinosaurs and early birds. These sounds could have included chirping and grunting from other Thecos, and so provides some evidence for group living and some social behaviour where they chattered to each other.
How Big Were My Dinosaurs? – Part One
One thing we palaeontology communicators repeatedly tell people is that not all dinosaurs were the giants most picture when they hear the name. Many dinosaurs were small, taking up the niches of the nippy little insectivores and seed eaters we see in their modern bird counterparts. However, there’s no denying that when it comes down to it, everyone loves a big dinosaur for the simple reason that they were big. No need to look for any deeper meaning. Big animals are cool. (more…)
How To Evolve Your Dragon: Dragons Under Natural Selection
Guest Author: Emily Green
Bristol Palaeontology MSci Graduate / PhD Student – University of Lincoln
Dragons seem a universal staple of global mythology. Large and fearsome beasts which are so often, in part, based on unexplainable fossil discoveries. Many mythical creatures began life this way, such as the cyclops of Ancient Greece from the skulls of extinct island elephants, or mythical giants found by Carthaginians during excavations which are more likely the limb bones of Mammoths. In creating these myths, these civilisations were trying to explain their amazing discoveries. Now, as palaeontologists, we have a plethora of tools to explain the history of these fantastical beasts, which are sadly far more mundane than the flying fire breathing fiends of popular fantasy.
Does Jurassic World HAVE to be accurate? – Part Two
Guest Author: James Ormiston
Palaeontology MSci Graduate / Palaeoartist
This is Part Two of a double-post; to read part one click here.
Bridging the Gap
So far what I’ve done is over a thousand words of moaning, and excessive moaning adds fuel to the weird factionalism that’s appeared in the wake of this debate. So, what can actually be done about it? It was good to see Colin Trevorrow finally take on board peoples’ concerns over the lack of feathers, and getting the well-known dinosaur palaeontologist Prof Steve Brusatte (of the University of Edinburgh) on board for ‘JW: Dominion’ as an advisor is encouraging. For the most part however, the Jurassic franchise is something of a lost cause when it comes to accuracy as it’s already out there. It has its own extended universe, with spin-offs and video games, now cemented in modern culture – pronated hands and all. (more…)