The 2017 Survey of Paleoartists

We have been living in a golden age of paleontological research for long enough that many in the paleontology community don't remember anything but the golden age. A vibrant community of researchers, journalists, artists, and enthusiasts has come of age in a time when exciting new discoveries are announced on a regular basis: challenging our preconceptions, fueling our wonder, stoking our creativity. This has all occurred with the rise of the internet, allowing us to share in the bounty on listservs, forums, art communities, and social media. It's led to a blossoming of new paleoart; surely, there is more high quality artistry dedicated to prehistoric life being produced now than at any other time.

And yet, as Witton, Naish, and Conway wrote in their essential 2014 commentary, "State of the Palaeoart," "many standard practises associated with palaeoart production are ethically and legally problematic, stifle its scientific and cultural growth, and have a negative impact on the financial viability of its creators." That viability has been a big question, especially since March of 2011, when paleoart legend Gregory S. Paul sparked a period of intense debate on the Dinosaur Mailing List. I won't rehash it here, but my big takeaway from this was a concern for paleoartists: is it even possible to make a living in the field? If so, how many people can the industry sustain?

To know this, we need to know what we're talking about, and there are many question marks. Who is creating paleoart? What are they creating? For what purpose? Who are they working for? How do they charge? How much do they make? Well, let's find out, shall we?

The 2017 Survey of Paleoartists

The 2017 Survey of Paleoartists is now open and taking responses. Matt Celeskey and Mark Witton were critical to the early development of the survey. I then brought in another round of reviewers, Bob Nicholls, Brian Engh, and Emily Willoughby. I'm grateful to all for their excellent feedback.

If you create paleoart, please take the survey. No matter your level of prestige, seniority in the field, your status as a professional or hobbyist, or how many works you've produced, I want your input. If you're unsure if you qualify, shove down that imposter syndrome and dive in. It's completely anonymous, and the information collected will help you and your peers navigate the field more confidently.

If you know a paleoartist, I ask you to shoot the link to them: bit.ly/paleoartsurvey. If you know a paleoartist who is not very active online or on social media, I beg of you to email the link to them. We need their input.

If you're a blogger, Youtuber, tweeter, or Tumblr-er, I would greatly appreciate your help in blasting the word out. Feel free to share the promotional graphic below, featuring a beautiful illustration from LITC's own Natee, in posts and on social media.

Promotional graphic for the 2017 Survey of Paleoartists

I'll keep the survey active for at least a month, so I'll occasionally post updates here, and I'll keep making noise elsewhere on the web, too. After that? I'll be reporting the results here at LITC, pursuing journal publication, and possibly completing a poster.

That link again is bit.ly/paleoartsurvey. We need data! Help get the data.

This Mesozoic Month: February 2017

Though I typically post these on the first, I'm running February's roundup a day early to make room for the launch of the 2017 Survey of Paleoartists tomorrow. Come back tomorrow to read about, and take, the survey!

In the News

Early in February, The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology spoke out against the Trump regime's hotly-debated immigration ban from nine majority-Muslim countries. Check out the full statement here.

Isaberrysaurus mollensis is a newly described primitive neornithischian from the Early Jurassic Los Molles Formation. Discovered with a belly full of cycad seeds, it was initially thought to occupy a more basal spot in ornithischia on account of its rather stegosaurian noggin. Read more from Franz Anthony at Earth Archives.

It barely missed the cut last month, so I'll include it this time. Saccorhytus coronarius is the newly discovered, 540 million year old contender for earliest deuterostome. As NPR's All Things Considered put it, S. coronarius was "basically a giant gaping mouth with spikes and some extra holes — probably for oozing waste." Sounds like I've got my Halloween costume figured out. Read more from Smithsonian, Phys Org, and CNN.

At Laelaps, Brian Switek introduces us to Keilhauia nui, a Jurassic ichthyosaur discovered in Svalbard, Norway and notable among its kin for the fact that its hips were preserved with it. Now we just need to enlist Weird Al to parody Shakira to make this story blow up.

Bulbasaurus phylloxyron illustration by Matt Celeskey, distributed with press materials for the PeerJ publication.

Bulbasaurus phylloxyron is a new, gnarly-looking dicynodont from the Karoo basin of South Africa, described by Christian Kammerer in PeerJ. And there's a Pokémon connection, so it actually made the news! Read more from Everything Dinosaur, Shaena Montanari for Forbes, Jon Tennant for PloS Paleo Community, and Sarah Sloat for Inverse. Matt Celeskey's restoration, above, is a beauty.

Around the Dinoblogosphere

LITC's Asher Elbein has been a busy guy. First: his terrific piece for Audubon on how modern paleontology is harnessing the power of lasers to study fossils: in this case, research published in December on the early Cretaceous bird Confuciusornis, indicating it was capable of flight and adapted for arboreality. After that appetizer, dive into his new piece for the Bitter Southerner, in which he writes about the largely obscured history of the continent of Appalachia. Though many of the Mesozoic fossils of the eastern US are scrappy, Asher writes, "...put enough scraps together, and you can catch a glimpse of something more: the shape of a body, the shape of a forest, the shape of a land lost beneath fathomless time."

Popular Mechanics ran a brief article on the Paleobiology Database Navigator, a tool that allows users to explore fossil localities by geological timeframe, taxa, or location. It's pretty great, check it out if you haven't already.

Thea Boodhoo tells the story of her involvement with the Institute for the Study of Mongolian Dinosaurs and lays out the background of the institute's mission to raise up a new generation of Mongolian paleontologists.

Learn about the fossils of Big Bend National Park from the Mary Anning's Revenge crew. It's like... maybe public lands are super-important and worth preserving? Is that a crazy, fringe idea these days?

Continuing the public lands theme, Robert Gay visits the PLoS Paleo Community blog to tell the story of Bears Ears National Monument's fossil treasures. I previously linked to a post on BENM in January, but it's too good a story to miss.

At Archosaur Musings, Dave Hone has launched a new series in which paleontologists discuss favorite or unsung scientific papers. He kicks it off with Mike Taylor, who writes about the process of publishing his paper with Matt Wedel on sauropod neck length.

"Scientist-led palaeoart should be the best there is," says Mark Witton, "carefully-executed, evidence-led syntheses of research conclusions in compelling artworks." So it's incredibly frustrating when paleoart commissioned by a scientist and created under their guidance fails in fundamental ways. Read Mark's full commentary at his blog.

There's a new paleontology-infused podcast in town: Common Descent.

Darren Naish shares a write-up of his talk at last autumn's Popularising Palaeontology event at King's College London. Head to Tet Zoo to read about his talk on paleoart memes. You can check out more about the workshop, including videos of the talks, at the Popularising Palaeontology website.

Jillian Noyes celebrates the enduring power of Disney's "Rite of Spring" segment of Fantasia at Extinct.

Did you know about Peru's Talara tar pits? Brian Switek waxes rhapsodic about their beautiful, jet-black bounty, as well as discussing some other tar pit sites that don't get the attention La Brea receives. In another post championing an unsung fossil, he gives some overdue love to Torvosaurus' smaller cousin Marshosaurus, a mid-sized Morrison predator only known from some bits of jaw and hip.

At Musings of a Clumsy Palaeontologist, Liz Martin-Silverstone is celebrating 150 years of Canadian paleontology, a rich history that kicked off with the discovery of a Dimetrodon on Prince Edward Island in 1845. Read her first post in the series here.

The Empty Wallets Club

Some juicy new books and art to pick up this month! I figure they're deserving of their very own section here. We'll see if there's enough every month to keep it around.

Anthony Martin's new book was released on February 7. Pick up The Evolution Underground to learn about the natural history of burrowing animals. Also check out Tony's post on the book at his Life Traces of the Georgia Coast blog.

If you haven't been to Chris DiPiazza's on-line store, do yourself a favor and check it out. I am particularly enamored of his successful effort to counter the "tiny arms" slander T. rex is prone to receive.

Some great stuff has been coming out from the 252MYA crew. Just a few recent pieces: Greer Strother's Hatzegopteryx poster. Franz Anthony's Ediacaran Biota tee. Julio Lacerda's Age of Fishes poster. I'll also note that 252MYA's licensing arm is now live, so there's literally no reason any media needs to resort to atrocious CG abominations instead of good paleoart.

Brian Engh is selling his paleoart book to Patreon supporters who pledge at the $20 per month level or higher, and if you commit to keeping that pledge level for at least two months, he'll draw a custom illustration of your choosing on the inside cover! And while you're here, dim the lights and check out Brian's second video dedicated to the dinosaur trackmakers of Copper Ridge. He also touches on gnarly injuries, the vital role of predators, the importance of public lands. Details on his book promotion at the end of the video.

It's not in the 252mya shop at the moment, but Gabriel Ugueto has added to his growing selection of Mesozoic fauna posters. Now available at Redbubble: Wessex dinosaurs and pterosaurs and one dedicated to the fauna of the Las Hoyas Formation of Spain. Dude's got a selfie next to the word "prolific" in the Merriam-Webster's.

Sharon Wegner-Larson released another great fossil-based design this month: Triceratops Rocks. Minerals, ginkgo leaves, and one of the coolest skulls of all time, what's not to love?

Emily Willoughby, Jonathan Kane, and Mike Keesey's new book God's Word or Human Reason?: An Inside Perspective on Creationism is now available. A limited number of signed hardcover copies are available from Emily for $40 through Paypal, too. The book, as you may guess from the subtitle, lays out evidence for evolution from a group of authors who were at one time creationists. Also, I had the distinct honor of designing the cover!

Crowdfunding Spotlight

A panel from page 11 of Paleocene © Mike Keesey. Shared here with the artist's permission.

More from Mike Keesey, why not? I love his comic Paleocene. Set in the devastated post K-T world, the opening chapter of the comic (he completed page 20 recently) has set the stage for a story about a clan of stem-primates as they struggle for survival. It even involves issues of class. I love the writing, the color, the atmosphere... it's just great. To support him in this and other endeavors, sign on to be a patron at his Patreon page.

A Moment of Paleoart Zen

I felt like going non-dinosaurian this time around, and this terrific new illustration by Vladimir Nikolov fit the bill perfectly. At Facebook, he offers this description:

An unfortunate individual of the aetosaurian species Stagonolepis robertsoni is falling to its death, while a nearby passing Ornithosuchus woodwardi is suddenly offered a free lunch. In nature, in great many occasions, someone's loss and pain is someone else's gain. The scene takes place during the Late Triassic in what is now Scotland.
The Last Fall © Vladimir Nikolov. Shared here with the artist's permission.

You can check it out at DeviantArt and leave him a constructive comment, too.

That's a wrap for February. As ever, your comments and shares on social media are greatly appreciated. And seriously, come back tomorrow for the launch of the 2017 Survey of Paleoartists!

Vanolimicola, Rail or Jacana?

Animals that live in or near water usually have an edge when it comes to preserving as fossils. After all, the very habitats they live in are depositional environments. As a result, one might think that we would have an excellent fossil record of the charadriiforms. In addition to living in environments favorable to fossil preservation, charadriiforms are tremendously diverse. True to their common name of "shorebirds", many charadriiforms do forage by walking around on shores (e..g: most plovers), but there are also those that wade into the water (e.g.: avocets), swim on the water surface (e.g.: phalaropes), dive underwater (e.g.: auks), hunt from the air (e.g.: skuas), and even a few that feed on dry land, sometimes far from water (e.g.: buttonquails).

Yet, the early fossil record of charadriiforms is surprisingly sparse. Some bird fossils from near the end of the Cretaceous have been considered charadriiforms, but these specimens are so fragmentary that it is difficult to be certain of their classification. Even if they were charadriiforms, they would have little to tell us about the ancestral morphology of the group. One clade of charadriiforms that has a decent early record, however, are the jacanas.

Comb-crested jacana, photographed by "Djambalawa", licensed.

Extant jacanas live in freshwater lakes, where they use their astonishingly long toes to walk on floating vegetation. (For this reason, they are also known as lily trotters.) In most jacanas, the females are larger than the males, and the latter are in large part responsible for rearing their young. Unlike other living charadriiform groups, jacanas are known from identifiable fossils going back to the Eocene. A recently-described fossil appears to continue this trend... maybe.

The holotype of Vanolimicola, from Mayr (in press).

Vanolimicola longihallucis comes from Messel in Germany, known for being a treasure trove of well-preserved Eocene fossils. The holotype of Vanolimicola is far from the cream of the crop by Messel standards, but it's complete enough to show that it's a small, long-legged bird. (It's rather striking how frequently the description refers to it as being "fragmentary". Had it been discovered almost anywhere else, it likely would have been considered a decent find.) Its sandpiper-like beak and the proportions of its pedal phalanges suggest charadriiform affinities. However, it also has a very long hallux, which would be unusual for most charadriiforms... but is typical in jacanas! Though the feet of Vanolimicola aren't quite as disproportionately large as in modern jacanas, might it represent an early stem-jacana that lacked such specializations?

Perhaps, but the case is far from watertight. Rails are another group of birds that often live and feed on the margins of water bodies. As such, they are superficially similar to shorebirds in many ways, despite being more closely related to cranes. As is well known (at least among paleornithologists), a large diversity of rail-like birds was present in the Eocene, some (such as Songzia from China) being anatomically very similar to Vanolimicola. Proportions of the forelimb bones are a reliable way to distinguish between the skeletons of rails and shorebirds, but unfortunately, the wings of Vanolimicola are poorly-preserved.

Even given these ambiguities, it would have been nice had the description included a phylogenetic analysis to directly test these different possibilities. As of now, the affinities of Vanolimicola remain tantalizing but uncertain. Nonetheless, the fact that it is one of the few semi-aquatic birds known from the Messel makes it a somewhat notable find.

Reference: Mayr, G. In press. A small, "wader-like" bird from the Early Eocene of Messel (Germany). Annales de Paléontologie in press. doi: 10.1016/j.annpal.2017.01.001

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Return to Evolving Planet

A line of people snakes through the north entryway, populated mostly by locals taking advantage of a promotion offering free entry for state residents. From the middle of a group of twentysomethings, I hear a man's voice express mild disappointment as he peers past the ticket counters at the famous tyrant dinosaur beyond.

"I thought she'd be bigger."

"Just wait 'til you're below her," I respond.

Queen Sue. Photo by David Orr.

After attending the Wild Things conference this weekend, conversing with all sorts of people about conservation and urban ecology in the Midwest US, I grabbed the chance to visit the Field Museum.

The Field is one of my favorite places to spend a day indoors. In a previous post, I did a walkthrough of the Field's dinosaur hall (with more photos here). I thought that this time, I might aim a more critical eye at the exhibit, especially concerning the role of paleoart. Due to the heavy weekend crowd, I didn't even try for exhaustive documentation, but I think I got enough to be worth sharing here, and I'll supplement with some of my older photos. I'd also recommend Ben Miller's thoughtful walkthrough and review of the entire Evolving Planet exhibit at Extinct Monsters.

A Pteranodon model with the John Gurche "Sue" mural in the background.

The most visible pieces of 2-D paleoart in the Field are the Charles R. Knight murals, mounted high around the perimeter of the dinosaur hall as well as select positions along the exhibit's length. They surely deserve prominent display (the first paleoart visitors encounter would be Gurche's Sue mural overlooking the queen herself). I would love to see more contemporary artists given more prominence. Perhaps a revisit of classic Knight scenarios and compositions, with information given about the evolution of ideas in the last century of paleontological study.

Daspletosaurus mount with classic Knight Tyrannosaurus v. Triceratops in the background.
A mount of Parasaurolophus with retro Knight hadrosaurs in the background.
Pteranodon skeletal model with retro Tylosaurus and Archelon in the background.

Is that sacrilege? Maybe it is, but for the collection's importance to the history of paleoart, these pieces arguably work at cross-purposes to the content of the exhibit. In Evolving Planet, aside from "how do we know this?" passages on informational panels intended to counter creationist prejudices visitors may bring with them, the story of the science isn't foregrounded.* So it's a bit counterproductive to have so much antiquated scientific illustration present, without equally prominent discussion of how the science has progressed. In a museum where space is at a premium, it may be a pipe dream, but it's a pipe dream I like.

This is not to say that the art's vintage is entirely unremarked upon: for instance, Knight's place in the history of the science is called out in one of the informational panels, opposite the Stegosaurus mount.

Charles R. Knight's Stegosaurus

The exhibit isn't entirely devoid of newer art. The didactic panels accompanying fossil mounts include serviceable, if sometimes shrink-wrappy, occasionally GSP-posed, illustrations of the animals.

Illustration of Edmontonia, in a familiar pose.
Illustration of a skinny-necked Rapetosaurus juvenile.

There's no information on the artist. The style is sometimes too airbrushy, which doesn't do much for me personally.

Illustration of Stegoceras
Majungatholus, er, Majungasaurus illustration.

Some of the panels also include cladistic diagrams, which are helpful to ground the animals in their evolutionary context. There's even an explanation of what a cladogram is, and tough words like "Marginocephalians." Contrast this with a panel earlier in the exhibit, in which the Ediacaran biota is referred to simply as the "earliest animals." Such concision is understandable. But the amount of fine-grain information provided in the dinosaur hall implicitly confirms a visitor's idea that these animals are of the utmost importance.

Sauropod cladogram, with a scrawny-necked Apatosaurus in the middle.
Marginocephalian cladogram, featuring Triceratops. Protoceratops, and Anchiceratops illustrations. No pachycephalosaurs for you!.

In the small pocket of the hall dedicated to the evolution of birds, casts of Archaeopteryx and Sinornis fossils are accompanied by fully feathered models, as well as illustrations of Deinonychus and Sinornithosaurus in the old-school, grudgingly feathered mode.

A lightly feathered Sinornithosaurus illustration.
A similarly lightly feathered Deinonychus illustration.
The Archaeopteryx model.
The grumpy Sinornis model.

The theropods aren't the only 3-D work on display. The Parasaurolophus vocalization model is pretty great, and after visitors meet the iconic Herrerasaurus model upon entry to the dinosaur hall, they even get the chance to breeze by a big model of a plant.

Hey, look! A bennettitales model!

"Evolving Planet" is a great exhibit, and one I recommend to anyone visiting Chicago. Attentive visitors will definitely walk out of it with new knowledge of and appreciation for evolutionary history. Though this post may seem a bit nit-picky, it was valuable for me to visit with the intention of doing more than ogling the mounts one more time. After all, the exhibit turns 11 this year. It's reached the age of the exhibit it replaced, "Life Through Time." So it's only natural that it is starting to show its age. I think it's a good time to imagine the next form a paleontological exhibit may take at the Field. My wishlist? More on bird evolution in the dinosaur hall. And throughout, more contemporary paleoart integrated with displayed fossil specimens, more on the stories of how discoveries have been made and how they've enriched our understanding of life's history.

But hey, you can't complain too much when Tiktaalik is at the party.

Model of Tiktaalik roseae at the Field Museum.

* To see an exhibit at the Field that explicitly brings the scientific process into its narrative (see their compact-but-wonderful Lichens exhibit).

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*Post originally written by Olivia J on The Unknown Beauty Blog. If you see this elsewhere, it has been stolen.*


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Young People, The Records of Your Early Life May Significantly Affect Your Future©

Over a lifetime of working with and serving the youth of the Church, I have observed many youngsters who have severely marred their lives at a very young age, or who were at the time in the process of so doing, or on a path that would lead to serious difficulties in the future. It is always important to help the young avoid doing, saying, and thinking things that can lead to disaster, and in the moment one does the best one can. On the other side of these life-altering events, especially those that turn out negative, one looks back to see what one could have done better.  

I have had my share of these times, and looking back I have been amazed at how easy it is for a young person who is energetic, carefree, curious, relatively ignorant although highly intelligent, and sometimes resistant to the restraints life imposes on us, how easy it is for them to do something at a very young age that is tragic or will eventually lead to tragedy.

At an early hour this morning I read something that caused me to reflect on these things once again. It contains some advice which, if the youth will take it seriously, could help many avoid marring their lives at a young age.(1) It is a very brief (2 ½ minute) essay by Richard L. Evans about the records of our lives. At the outset he talks of the tendency in many youth to be a bit careless or indifferent about the course of their lives, assuming that when it is “convenient or necessary” they will settle down. In truth, it is a tricky business and significant dilemma for guides of youth to know how much to tolerate and when to intervene.

Elder Evans teaches the young the importance of the many records that are kept of our lives. He mentions school records of our accomplishments in every subject we take, “which affects our future as we become candidates for further opportunities.” A high percentage of today’s youth probably understand this idea pretty well. He also mentioned a soldier’s military record that goes with him wherever he goes–“explaining his past and qualifying his future.” A record is also preserved of our violations of the law. They can similarly influence our future. Less familiar to youth, but a powerful example has to do with individual credit ratings kept by the banking institutions of America. They track the “certainty and promptness with which we pay off our obligations; and any future credit or financial backing we may expect or hope for is qualified by the record.” Our interactions with others–our daily conduct and considerations” in many of the small matters of life are housed in the “indelible” memory of our family, friends, and associates. In each of these instances, the “record” of the past can significantly influence the future.  

The problem is that many youth are unaware of or ignore the importance their past record will have on their future. “Sometimes youth permit the record to become clouded,” Elder Evans observes, “thinking that it won’t matter later. Unfortunately, however, it does matter later. And often there follows the heartbreak of wishing the record were different.”

How many colleges, universities, and graduate programs have not been attended because of a poor school record? How many promotions and additional training were not received or future employment gained because of a poor military record? How many opportunities of every kind have been lost because of the record of one’s legal rap-sheet? How much money has not been loaned to couples wanting to buy a home or partners wanting to start a business because of poor credit scores? How many relationships have been disrupted in families and among friends and associates because of the accumulated memory of how one has been treated in life? In the case of the Church, how many missions have not been served, marriages not solemnized in the temple, and callings to leadership positions not extended because of the past conduct of individual members? One of the great opportunity-destroying elements in life is the “record” of our past, many times of our youth.

So, Elder Evans addresses the youth with great wisdom. “And so it would seem that this should be said to young people, everywhere , at home or away:”
Live so that you can look at anyone without an accusing conscience, without the memory of things you wish weren’t there. Be straight and open and honest. Don’t permit anything to get into your record that will not stand scrutiny under the search light of day. If you do, it will rise to plague you in times to come....
I regret that this principle was not as clear in my mind as a teacher and church worker when I needed it the most, as it is this morning. “Regret,” said William George Jordan, “is but the light of fuller wisdom from our past, illuminating our future. It means that we are wiser today than we were yesterday. This new wisdom means new responsibility, new privileges; it is a new chance for a better life.”(2) This being true, I sense new responsibility.The Internet and Blogspot give me a new chance to fulfill it. I pray the young will have the good sense to listen and that those who are a little older will pass this lesson on to their children at an early age and continue to teach it throughout their lives.

Let’s think together again, soon.

Notes:

1. Richard L. Evans, “The Record,” in At This Same Hour (New York: Harper & Brothers, n.d., probably 1949 or soon thereafter), pp. 36-37.

2. William George Jordan, The Kingship of Self-Control (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, n.d.), pp. 46-47.

Guest Post: The Music of Walking with Dinosaurs

Once again, we welcome Rohan Long to the blog for a guest post. Rohan is a zoology teaching guy at University of Melbourne. You can find him on Twitter @zoologyrohan and listen to his new musical project, Bronzewing, at bronzewing.bandcamp.com. You may recall his post last year almost a year ago, reviewing Crichton's The Lost World. This time, Rohan came to us with the idea of discussing the music of 1999's seminal CG documentary Walking with Dinosaurs, and we happily accepted the offer.


When you start to unpack it, Walking With Dinosaurs is a strange beast; a fictional animated series earnestly presenting itself as a nature documentary. The series’ aesthetic cues are drawn foremost from the BBC school of classic documentaries – and with good reason; if the creators strayed too far from the genre as it’s traditionally presented, the spell would be broken, and the audience may well ask itself why Kenneth Branagh is playing Attenborough over a bunch of puppets and primitive CGI. Unsurprisingly, the first incarnation of the show, released in 1999, was also aesthetically and musically influenced by cultural juggernaut Jurassic Park which was released six years earlier.

Ornitholestes from 1999's Walking With Dinosaurs. Somehow, Benjamin Bartlett avoided the obvious choice of producing a punk theme for this critter.

When it comes to establishing the feel of a real nature documentary, the soundtrack must surely be one of the most crucial elements. The score by Benjamin Bartlett draws from similar stylistic touchstones to the show’s visual aesthetic – a little John Williams here, a touch of Edward William’s 1979 score to Life On Earth there. It must have been an interesting brief for a composer as most importantly, the soundtrack was required to sound like a nature documentary soundtrack. As with the overall look of the show, if the soundtrack didn’t fit the established expectations of what a nature documentary should sound like, the illusion of authenticity would be shattered. So in a sense, this soundtrack can be thought of as a work of pastiche.

I bought the soundtrack CD in the early 2000s but didn’t actually listen to it until much later. Let me set the scene: I was working on a dinosaur dig with which I have a long association and was relaxing at the end of a very hard day. For the second time in as many days I had been working “in the hole” – manually extracting big chunks of rock from the fossil layer with sledge hammers and chisels so the rest of the crew could break them down, looking for fossils. That night, a combination of very strenuous work and a couple of quality Australian lagers had brought about an almost zen-like state of calm stillness in me. The crew was watching the WWD episode that features the dinosaurs from our site (because of course that’s what you’d do after looking for dinosaur fossils all day). I’d seen this episode quite a few times by this point, but this time something clicked. The music cut through to my receptive mind and I appreciated it for the first time.

The music that first captivated me that evening was from the episode Spirits of the Ice Forest about the polar dinosaurs of south-eastern Australia with which I have a warm familiarity. The main motif comprises a sweeping middle-eastern section which then gives way to some icy, atmospheric textures. The follow-on track Antarctic Spring develops this theme and the incorporation of some delay-affected tuned percussion makes it sound a bit modern and cool.

I think Bartlett is using a stereotypically middle-eastern sounding scale on these pieces as musical shorthand to symbolise a generic “other” – you know, because Australia is weird because it’s different to the northern hemisphere! Perhaps it would have made more sense for these themes to have incorporated elements of our actual indigenous music. It’s kind of lazy and very Eurocentric, but I enjoy the music on its own merits so I mostly forgive Bartlett for this.

One thing Bartlett does very well is huge, affecting pieces that make full use of the orchestra. Islands of Green for example, uses slow-building swells of strings interspersed with steady, rhythmic bass notes and a shimmering celesta to illustrate the hardships of marine reptiles in the late Jurassic. Cruel Sea from the same episode is more stripped back but has a similar feel, this time with strings, orchestral harp and brass forming a slow, melancholy waltz. These pieces work very well as standalone songs, as opposed to tracks like say, Torosaurus Locks Horns or Canyon Of Terror which are purely dramatic tension delivery devices.

I think Bartlett does a great job on this unique project, but there are weak spots. On the Time Of The Titans episode he seems to be trying to emulate the feel of William’s themes for Jurassic Park and like Williams, lapses into obvious grandiosity and unnecessary whimsy when scoring the sauropod scenes. Minor complaints aside, the soundtrack works as a very listenable album of music in addition to scoring the series very effectively.

You might notice that the first track mentions in parentheses that it is narrated by Kenneth Branagh. Happily (or disappointingly, depending on your view), Branagh only appears on that first track, the rest is unspoiled by narration. Mind you, although I think that track clashes somewhat with the rest of the album, I’ve got to admit that it does make a great opener for mix CDs – *orchestra swell* Imagine you can travel back in time, to a time long before man...

Postscript: If you’re interested in this music or soundtrack composition in general, have a read of this in-depth interview from 2000 with Bartlett on the process of composing and recording the music for WWD.

Can We Live Life Without Regrets?©

Regret gets a bad rap in our modern and excessively “feel good”  “do your own thing” age. It is an age of personal rights without corresponding personal responsibility and accountability. It is an age in which “no child is to be left behind” which has been morphed by do-gooder social engineers into a society of praise and self-esteem junkies who require gold stars on the forehead for every attempt and a good word about every assignment completed. 

A manifestation that is particularly troubling is the attitude many hold about regret. Two sayings–and sayings are especially popular in this sound-bite society that does not want to examine today’s superficial  philosophies too closely–are prevalent. Coaches, teachers, and life coaches shout the mantra “No regrets.” Today this is shorthand for “Give it all you’ve got,” or “leave it all out on the field.” Give every effort, expend every ounce of energy, use all your skills and determination to reach the goal, thus, leaving no reason for regret. You gave it your very best.(1)  In other contexts, parents, teachers, friends, life coaches and arm-chair philosophers may use the phrase to encourage “living life to the fullest.”“Try anything once.”  “Live large.”  “You only go around once,” so don’t die with regrets that you let fear, lack of ambition or self-confidence, or anything else hold you back from anything you desire to do. I suppose this is the positive side of “no regrets,” although, as an aside, I suggest not only the impossibility of trying everything, but also its sheer folly as well.
A second popular phrase today, from my perspective is the negative side, but it is not seen that way by those who invoke it. We often hear it in interviews with celebrities. The reporter asks something like, “At this stage of life do you have any regrets–things you would do differently?” The celeb, often with great self-assurance, parrots the commonly held view, “I have no regrets. If I had my life to live over again I wouldn’t change a thing.” When this comes from those who have hit it big, it is perhaps understandable. With such good fortune, why change their trajectory?  

Sometimes, however, we hear it spoken with an air of arrogance by the rebel, the bad-boy or bad-girl–those who glory in individualism and relish running against the grain, resisting restraints and conventional mores. In the ignorance of arrogance, or should it be the arrogance of ignorance, they think they have, like Frank Sinatra, done it their way and they claim they have no regrets for doing so–notwithstanding substance abuse, rap sheets, sexual license, family conflict, and multiple divorces which are often in their background.

Whenever I hear “I have no regrets, I wouldn’t change a thing,” I find myself saying “Really?”  Really, no regrets? Pardon me for saying so, but I just plain don’t believe it. It is either  an expression of a total lack of introspection and inspection of one’s life, or a monumental insensitivity to the victims of the inevitable mistakes, blunders, failures, and ignorances which accompany everyone’s life. No regrets, really?  

Have they never injured anyone so seriously that it cannot be adequately compensated, redressed, or repaired? Have they never said a harsh, cruel, cutting, mean, sarcastic or abusive thing which cannot be called back, but which they wish with all their heart they could? Have they never made a bad decision in their family, business, among friends, in their neighborhood or community which carried in its wake a disastrous impact which could not be totally repaired? Did they never hold back a helping hand which they later lamented because they realized  they didn’t engage because of selfish reasons, fear, or inconvenience? Have they never judged someone wrongly and their judgment precipitated consequences they could not prevent or later remedy? Have they never had their motives misunderstood so deeply that despite their best efforts it could not be corrected? Have they never wasted time to the extent that important opportunities for growth, progress, productivity, success were irretrievably lost? No. Really? I don’t believe it.  

It is possible I suppose, for one to say he has learned great lessons for which he is grateful without regret. But the attitude which values only the lessons learned and at the same time casually dismisses the real genuine damage and injury that was done, but which was not redressed, is worse than callus, it is chilling. Are they really that proud, insensitive, uncaring, and cold hearted?  

True, chronic regret may stifle, even paralyze. Aldous Huxley was not happy with his first version of Brave New World and apparently let it sit a long while. In the “Foreword” to his 1968 paperback version he wrote:  
Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean. (2)
But I am affirming the merit of regret. William George Gordon says, “The man who looks back upon his past life and says, “I have nothing to regret,” has lived in vain. The life without regret is the life without gain.”  This is true because every life is marred by sin, error, mistakes, and wrong doing.  He continued, 
Regret is but the light of fuller wisdom from our past, illuminating our future. It means that we are wiser today than we were yesterday. This new wisdom means new responsibility, new privileges; it is a new chance for a better life. But if regret remains merely “regret,” it is useless; it must become the revelation of new possibilities, and the inspiration and source of strength to realize them. Even omnipotence could not change the past, but each man, to a degree far beyond his knowing, holds his future in his own hands.(3)
From a religious point of view, regret or remorse is one element in the positive forward moving process of repentance. When sin and error are present in our lives we can ignore and deny them and their consequences; we can become catatonic, wallowing in the muck of regret; or we can be moved into action to correct the mistake and not repeat it. It is all about how one views one’s personal responsibility and the purpose of life. Regret can and should be a catalyst to growth and improvement. It begins with an acknowledgment that one is not perfect, has not lived a perfect life, and has at many points through his life harmed and injured others. The presence of regret suggests one’s sense of personal and social responsibility. It’s absence implies a cold hard-heartedness that as Jordan says, is a life without gain. Regret is also the presence of an opportunity for greater light and wisdom regarding our future interpersonal relationships.

Let’s think together again, soon.

Notes:

1. This idea is so common it does not need a footnote, however, one example may suffice.  In this one Pat Williams recount’s John Havlicek’s address to his teammates at Indiana University prior to their 1976 basketball championship game.  See, Pat Williams, Secrets from the Mountain (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 2001), pp. 88-89. 

2. Aldos Huxley, “Foreword,” to Brave New World, (Harper & Row, Publishers, September 1968), p. vii.

3. William George Jordan, The Kingship of Self-Control, (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, n.d.), pp. 46-47.

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs (Herbert S Zim) - Part 2

As you'll no doubt recall, the last time I posted on LITC, it was to share my #cleaneating cooking tips and various photographs of myself flashing my pristinely white teeth while preparing cabbage-based dishes in a mysteriously desaturated, blandly rustic-looking netherworld. Nah, only joking - it was all about an old dinosaur book from the 1950s, written by Herbert Zim and illustrated by James Gordon Irving. Here are some more intriguing excerpts from said book, ranging from your usual Knightian hadrosaurs to a 5' 8" American. I should also point out that my teeth are far from perfect. I am British, after all. Oh, and thanks again to Charles Leon for sending me the scans!



In this little ornithopod gathering, the hadrosaurs look rather pleased with themselves, while Iguanodon appears rather cross and stab-happy. The overall 'look' of the 'anatosaurs' again belies the use of AMNH models as references for the illustrations in this book, mostly in that they're actually quite decent-looking for the period, if a little inconsistent (for example, the individual on the left appears to have cheeks, while the one in the centre doesn't). The shading is again quite lovely. The Iguanodon, while sporting the typical humanoid arms, is also adopting an unusually horizontal pose for an illustration of this vintage.


Over on the Fezbooks, Herman Diaz seemed to recall an illustration of 'adult and juvenile' dinosaur trackways side-by-side. Here they are, Herman! Sort of. There's no mention of these prints having been made by differently-aged individuals of the same species, but the illustration would appear to depict two different theropod trackways, at least. This illustration provides the backdrop to an explanation on how Ornithischia and Saurischia do not form a single clade (see previous post). Nope. No way.


And now for some mid-century nonsense about the pituitary gland. Zim explains that most humans vary little from the 'average' in terms of size - Americans might be slightly taller, since they consume lots of wholesome hamburgers and milkshakes down at the local bar-'n'-grill of a Friday evening, and the Japanese may be shorter and a bit funny-looking, but in terms of height they're only a few inches either side of the 'average' in each case.


Of course, one does occasionally come upon individuals who are exceedingly tall, or unusually short - even shorter than a Congo Pygmy. Such strange, er, heights are entirely explained by an overactive or underactive pituitary gland. (Oh yes, that's quite literally the only cause there is. Pipe down at the back. We're reading a 1950s dinosaur book, here.) For whatever reason, the shorter fellow here is depicted in full suit and tie, and smoking what appears to be a cigar; his tie is also too short, quite unlike the current POTUS, whose ties are always far too long, even if certain other parts of him are small. But I digress. Could it be that large dinosaurs had a serious hormone imbalance, and this led directly to their giant size and tendency to break out in ugly zits?


Well, no, obviously, but it's a funny thought. As Zim notes, hormones alone aren't enough to guarantee that an animal reaches a giant size - it must possess certain anatomical adaptations to carry all that bulk around. Dinosaur enthusiasts will note that the brachiosaur would look quite different in a modern-day illustration, but it's amusing to note that the blue whale would, too. Balaeonoptera musculus remained enigmatic well into the latter half of the 20th century, even while it was being systematically slaughtered by the whaling industry. As such, illustrations and models of this magnificent beast tended to make it too fat and bloated, probably the result of information on its appearance having mostly been gleaned from carcasses; the model in the NHM in London famously suffers from this.



Naturally, one can't mention some dinosaurs' huge size without also mentioning that their brains were really, really small, thus allowing us humans to feel all smug about our mammalian superiority. Stupid, stupid dinosaurs. The illustration on the left appears to have been adapted from an older one that featured in AMNH books, although I'm not sure who the artist was.


The book concludes, naturally enough, with a look at why the dinosaurs went extinct. (Birds, don't forget, evolved from a separate thecodont ancestor.) Naturally, there is speculation that the fact that the pituitary gland occupying a disproportionate part of their brain cavity meant that they were poor learners and slow to adapt; I mean, it's only sensible. I always enjoy a strangely smooth-skinned, snakelike illustration of a brontosaur neck; utterly at odds with the overbuilt, chunky reality of apatosaurine neck vertebrate, it's a palaeoart peculiarity that just won't die. On the right, meanwhile, we have some rather marsupial-like Early Mammals. Could these intelligent animals have suddenly become egg-crazed eating machines, outwitting the tiny-brained saurians into abandoning their nests? Probably not.


And finally...you've got to love the 1950s paraphernalia in the illustration on the right. Of course, it's intended to illustrate that the fact that what might seem the incomprehensibly distant past to us is but a tiny blip in geological time; as a book that I previously reviewed rather drily put it, humans 'haven't had time to change that much'. In that sense, it's rather effective. On the other hand, comparing a single extant species with a huge clade of thousands upon thousands of species seems a bit silly, as does the contention that dinosaurs only 'ruled the Earth' for 60 million years (even by 1950s standards). The illustrations of the dinosaurs at the foot of the page seem passable, until one takes a closer look at that sauropod's forelimbs - for some reason, they're T. rex tiny. Good luck trying to roam the swamps with those things.

Oh, and the caveman doesn't have any nipples.

Prevent Fallout, Fading, Creasing with One of the Best Eyeshadow Bases

*Post originally written by Olivia J on The Unknown Beauty Blog. If you see this post elsewhere, it has been stolen.*


Finding a good eyeshadow base is hard and I have tried many.  I fall in love with one only to fall out of love because it starts to miss the mark when it comes to working with several different eyeshadow brands.

I beg you, click to read more »

Cruralispennia, the Opposite Opposite Bird

Despite maintaining a continuous list of new maniraptor studies, I have not been very inclined to write entire articles about dinosaur news. After all, everyone else already blogs about them! However, I have come to the conclusion that this assumption is not completely correct. Some of the papers from last year that I found most interesting barely received any popular press. As a result, I have decided that I'm going to start blogging occasionally about maniraptor news, time permitting (but I'm in the middle of working on my Master's, so don't expect too much).

Fossil birds in particular get little attention in the blogosphere (or anywhere else) compared to other dinosaurs, except from Andrea Cau, Mickey Mortimer, and Matt Martyniuk, so it seems appropriate to start with one. I'll discuss one of the first new dinosaurs described this year, the enantiornithine Cruralispennia multidonta.

The name is somewhat clunky; the etymology section in the paper implies that "donta" is Latin for teeth... Even as someone who has never been educated in Latin, that gives me pause. I imagine they had the Latin "dens" or the Greek "odus" or "odon" in mind. Yet behind all that is quite an unusual and fascinating dinosaur.

The holotype of Cruralispennia, from Wang et al. (2017).

Cruralispennia hails from the Early Cretaceous Huajiying Formation in China, the oldest formation from which we have found pygostylian (short-tailed) avialans and home to other spectacularly-preserved early birds such as Eoconfuciusornis, Eopengornis, and Archaeornithura. As its species name suggests, Cruralispennia had a whole lot of teeth, specifically in its lower jaw. As preserved, the holotype preserves at least fourteen lower teeth. Even though most enantiornithines had teeth, this is more than almost all other known enantiornithines except maybe Eopengornis.

Enantiornithes translates to "opposite birds", so called because whereas modern birds have a socket in their coracoid bone where the scapula (shoulder blade) connects to it, most enantiornithines have a socket in their scapula that the coracoid fits into instead. As it happens, Cruralispennia doesn't have this feature, though other details of its anatomy suggest that it is an enantiornithine. However, it has some characteristics that are not only atypical of enantiornithines, but are in fact more similar to those of modern birds, hence the title of this post!

The pygostyle, a fusion of the tail vertebrae at the tip of the tail in short-tailed birds, is short and stubby in Cruralispennia. This is not at all normal for most groups of Mesozoic avialans, which generally have longer, rod-shaped pygostyles, but it is widely found in one specific clade: the euornithines (modern birds and anything more closely related to them than enantiornithines)! In euornithines, the pygostyle supports a mobile fan of tail feathers that functions in steering and braking during flight, and pygostyle shape has been correlated with tail feather structure in modern birds, so one might expect Cruralispennia to have had a (presumably convergent) tail fan as well.

It doesn't. Though the holotype preserves feathers on its tail, it doesn't have large rectrices at all, instead just having short fuzz much like the condition in Eoenantiornis or female(?) Confuciusornis. Perhaps it evolved a blunt pygostyle for a different, undetermined reason from euornithines. Or, speculatively, maybe only some individuals had rectrices? That is the case in Confuciusornis, after all. As is typical in paleontology, we need more specimens!

Photographs and schematics of fossil avialan pygostyles, from Wang et al. (2017). (A) is Cruralispennia, (B) and (C) are other enantiornithines, (D-F) are euornithines, and (G) is Confuciusornis.

Another way in which Cruralispennia is more similar to euornithines than to other enantiornithines is in its growth rate. Modern birds grow unbelievably fast, most reaching adult size in a matter of months or even weeks. This was also the case in some Mesozoic euornithines. Most enantiornithines, on the other hand, took several years. Lines of arrested growth (essentially annual growth rings) are visible when you cut into their limb bones. The describers of Cruralispennia looked at the bone histology of the holotype's humerus, and they found... no growth rings at all, despite the fact that it appeared to have stopped growing. Like most euornithines, Cruralispennia was essentially an adult by the time it celebrated its first birthday.

One last oddity of Cruralispennia that I would like to highlight is its feathers. It is these that its genus name (which translates to "shin feather") refers to. The feathers on its legs and the leading edges of its wings are quite unusual in their structure. Each feather appears to be a narrow, solid sheet for most of its length, but there are short individual filaments that stick out at the tip. The describers gave them another somewhat clunky-sounding name: Proximally Wire-like [feathers] with a Filamentous Distal Tip (PWFDTs). This exact type of feather has not been found in any other kind of dinosaur (living or extinct), though they remind me of the "paintbrush-like" feathers in scansoriopterygids. It's difficult to say what these feathers were used for, but the describers point out that narrow feathers are useful for display without impeding flight too much.

Photographs and schematic of PWFDTs in Cruralispennia, from Wang et al. (2017).

That took longer than I expected. However, Cruralispennia deserved the attention, as I'm certain everyone now agrees.

Reference: Wang, M., J.K. O'Connor, Y. Pan, and Z. Zhou. 2017. A bizarre Early Cretaceous enantiornithine bird with unique crural feathers and an ornithuromorph plough-shaped pygostyle. Nature Communications 8: 14141. doi: 10.1038/ncomms14141

Twaddling Along: Trying to Sell Out to Being Broken

*Post originally written by Olivia J on The Unknown Beauty Blog.*


I thought you might like to know what has been happening beauty-wise after the start of the New Year.  Well, I feel just like Eric Cartman!!
I beg you, click to read more »

Vintage Dinosaur Art: All New Dinosaurs and their friends


Hello LITC readers! Today we’re taking a look at All new dinosaurs and their friends from the great recent discoveries! Don't let the featherless Deinonychus fool you, this is a great book with tons of personality and great art. Onwards!

 Published by Bellerophon Books in 1975, this slim little black-and-white book packs a lot of information alongside some really great stylized illustrations, and both the text and the art feel ahead of their time. The illustrations are by Gregory Irons, a poster artist, tattoo artist, and animator for the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. While I don’t think this book is specifically a colouring book, Irons illustrated several colouring books for Bellerophon back in the 70s and this book would certainly lend itself well to the current adult colouring book trend. I’m not sure if Irons tackled dinosaurs elsewhere in his career, but these hold up really well considering he was not a dedicated wildlife artist or palaeoartist. Of note for this little book is that no space is wasted – this particular page is actually the inside of the front cover and includes author bios, a huge illustration of Brachylophosaurus, and copyright information.

The remainder of the book is a series of beautiful two-page spreads with beautiful illustrations filling most of the space. Dense text wraps around the art, and almost every species of animal and plant is labelled with its proper scientific name. Here we’ve got a svelte Dilophosaurus looking pretty trim and sprightly for the 1970s. Of note on this page is this sentence “Theropods are the most bird-like of all dinosaurs, and there is little doubt this suborder gave rise to the birds” -  truly the Dinosaur Renaissance was well underway at this point!

I particularly like the unusual perspectives and cutaway environments featured in several of the scenes. Dinosaurs weren’t the only animals alive during the Mesozoic, and it’s cool to see the fish and turtles of the Jurassic of China given similar prominence. Mamenchisaurus may also be a relatively familiar dinosaur now, but at the time it’s incredibly long neck was a novel discovery.

Some sauropod reconstructions were a bit more idiosyncratic, like this Dicraeosaurus with proboscis. However, this is a great example of an early All Yesterdays approach to art, since a note in the text reads “...we will probably never have direct evidence for sauropod trunks, but it is an interesting suggestion, and we wanted to take this opportunity to see just what a sauropod would look like with a trunk!”

I love, love, love this nighttime hunt in the Djadokhta Formation, especially with the description of the environment as having “mortiferous beds of quicksand”. Although both theropods should have feathers and Oviraptor’s skull is a little bit wonky, I love the interaction between Oviraptor and Telmasaurus, and that swooshing night sky, sand dune, and moon are hard to beat.

Prenocephale and Homalocephale don’t get enough love in most popular dinosaur books, and the budding interspecies friendship shown here fills my cold, dead heart with happiness. The transition from the very arid environment of the Djadokhta Formation to the slightly wetter, seasonal environments of the Nemegt is well represented and described here. Plus there’s a special shout out to the Polish-Mongolian and Soviet-Mongolian expeditions here as well.

There are many pages dedicated to non-dinosaurian species, and my favourite is this fine illustration of Hupehsuchus, Hanosaurus, and Keichousaurus. None of these are species that are often featured in popular palaeontology books, and Hupehsuchus is just such a great name and a great animal. I also love the little swishy swimming lines and the way the text interacts with the art on this page in particular.

Most dinosaur books today, at least those that are arranged by time period as this book, end with vignette of the most famous of the final dinosaurs, Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus, sometimes meeting their doom as an asteroid crashes down around them. To choose Leptoceratops, one of the more obscure ceratopsians, and Paleosaniwa, which is probably basically unheard of in most pop sci books, is therefore a bold a welcome choice. I also admit to liking that this scene explicitly represents the Scollard Formation, Alberta’s Hell Creek Formation equivalent. The book also ends with a wonderful summary of all the amazing discoveries happening as the book was going to press: “Never before have so many directed their attention to these creatures. This is the golden age of dinosaurs.”