Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Big Questions In Science

In a special collection of articles published beginning 1 July 2005, Science Magazine and its online companion sites celebrate the journal's 125th anniversary with a look forward -- at the most compelling puzzles and questions facing scientists today. A special, free news feature in Science explores 125 big questions that face scientific inquiry over the next quarter-century; accompanying the feature are several online extras including a reader's forum on the big questions.

Some of the top 25 questions of interest to readers of this blog include:

How and Where Did Life on Earth Arise? by Carl Zimmer

What Determines Species Diversity? by Elizabeth Pennisi

To read all the articles click HERE.

He Saw Horses, Horses, Horses, ...

Evolution, systematics, and phylogeography of pleistocene horses in the New World: A molecular perspective. 2005. Weinstock, J., E. Willerslev, A. Sher, Tong W.-f., S. Y. W. Ho, D. Rubenstein, J. Storer, J. Burns, L. Martin, C. Bravi, A. Prieto, D. Froese, E. Scott, Lai X.-l., and A. Cooper. Public Library of Science Biology: 3(8) [August, 2005] (doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0030241)

From EurekAlerts come this article:

The Patagonian Hippidion horse genus and North American stilt-legged horses have found a new place on the evolutionary tree, according to a new article in the open access journal PLoS Biology. In the paper, Jaco Weinstock, Alan Cooper, and colleagues use ancient DNA to argue that the Hippidion genus is younger than previously thought and that American stilt-legged horses were American endemics, not Asian emigres. Their analysis has also whittled down the taxonomy of North American species to just two.

"I think the biggest issue is that we showed the apparent lack of species diversity in North American horses in the Late Pleistocene - as horses are a poster child of evolution," says Cooper.

To explore the origins of the horses, the authors examined mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) extracted from fossilized horse bones. Mitochondria, which have their own genome, contain a stretch of sequence that's useful for inferring evolutionary relationships: though the region undergoes high mutation rates, the patterns of mutations remain stable over thousands of generations. The mtDNA analysis of the South and North American horses provided evidence that stilt-legged horses, the Hippidion genus, and caballine, or true horses, all arose from a common lineage.

Read the complete article HERE.

Q: Are We Not Men...?

In this week’s issue of Nature Henry Gee writes a fanciful piece for their ‘Futures’ section addressing the outcome of the recent proliferation of new hominid species.

"When the time came, they just settled down with us, side by side. Just ten years after the first Sasquatches came out of northern British Columbia in '39 in search of whiskey, the hominids were everywhere, and nobody raised a brow-ridge. It would be commonplace to find (say) a Sumatran Pendek driving your cab to work; your lunch cooked and served by a Malaysian Jive Monkey (and before you complain, that's what they called themselves); and an eight-foot Kaptar from the Pamirs, pole-dancing to Earth, Wind and Fire in a club after work (but only if you were into that kind of thing)."
Read the full text HERE.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

King Kong Trailer

From - Peter Jackson's King KongI think the title says it all!

The trailer was released earlier this week and has added to the positive buzz for the movie.

You can see the trailer at; you'll need QuickTime to view it.

For the more fanatical amongst us, there is already a screen-by-screen analysis on

As it is a holiday weekend coming up, posting will be sporadic for a few days - hope everyone (both in Canada and the U.S.) has a very happy holiday weekend!

Born this day: Ray Harryhausen

Unlike Michael (our absent Palaeoblogger), I don't have in depth knowledge of the comic book/dinosaur graphic art and movie domain. However, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that on this day in history, Ray Harryhausen was born in 1920 (fortunately, he is still with us today).

Known primarily for his stop-motion animation work in the movies "Jason and the Argonauts" and "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad", he is widely considered to be one of the giants in movie animation. Many directors making movies today - including Peter Jackson - count Harryhausen as a major influence in their movie making, making his work highly relevant today.

Happy 85th Birthday, Ray!

Here are some links to sites about Ray Harryhausen and his work:
  • Jason and the Argonauts Information Page
  • "The Fantastic Films of Ray Harryhausen" - a tribute site with many pictures and trailers
  • A February, 2000 interview from Animation World Magazine

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Paleo-Path Part 11 This Friday

Even though I'm in the field right now I've still made time to put together a new Paleo-Path column for this week featuring our own dino-drawin', 'Prehysterical' Pete Von Sholly.

Tune in this Friday for the scoop!

Monday, June 27, 2005

Dinosaurs Parade The Circle

On the weekend of June 10-11, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History took part in the big 'Parade The Circle' along with the other members of the University Circle including The Cleveland Art gallery and the Cleveland Botanical Gardens. A number of young museum volunteers built some elaborate and beautiful dinosaur masks and costumes under the direction of Susan Rozman, who also took these photos. A great day was had by all!

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Kong Is Topps


The Topps Company has been awarded the license to publish official KING KONG trading cards based on the upcoming movie from Universal Pictures and Academy Award-winning director Peter Jackson.

Topps plans an ambitious card program for KING KONG, worthy of the grand scale of the movie. “The chance to be a part of a milestone cultural event this big rarely comes around,” says Topps’ Friedman. “We’re creating fun, collectible cards to appeal to KONG fans and collectors of every age.” The Topps movie tie-in cards will appear on retail counters in advance of KING KONG’s theatrical debut.

Founded in 1938, Topps is a leading creator and marketer of distinctive confectionery and entertainment products. The Company’s confectionery brands include “Ring Pop,” “Push Pop,” “Baby Bottle Pop” and “Juicy Drop Pop” lollipops as well as “Bazooka” bubble gum. Topps entertainment products include trading cards, sticker and album collections, and collectible games.

For additional information, visit For additional information, visit

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Call Of The West

I'm off to the field but the Palaeoblog continues on, so stay tuned in for frequent updates!

"I feel a hot wind on my shoulder
And the touch of a world that is older
Listen to the Call of the West HERE.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

New Discovery: Two Palaeocene Mammals Had Venomous Bite

from - image of fossilized teethRichard Fox of the University of Alberta has uncovered fossilized "dagger-like" teeth for two mammals in Central Alberta. The previously known Bisonalveus browni - a shrewlike animal - and a second, unnamed animal exhibit the characteristics needed for venom delivery.

The teeth - which have no corresponding groove on the lower jaw - would have been used to stab prey (most likely beetles). The presence of these teeth suggest that this predation strategy may have been more common than previously thought during the Palaeocene.

There are only four mammals on the planet today that use venom - the Caribbean Solenodon the North American Short-tailed Shrew, the Eurasian Water Shrew, and Australia's Duck-billed Platypus.

Read the LETTER at

Smithsonian Dinosaurs On-Line

The Smithsonian has several new on-line features of interest to readers of the Palaeoblog including an informative listing of its extensive collection of type fossils.
The Smithsonian Institution is one of the largest museum systems in the world, and has served as a repository for animal, plant, and other natural history specimens since its founding in 1846. Today the National Museum of Natural History houses these collections—totaling over 124 million specimens—in its 1910 building at 10th and Constitution Avenue, Washington, D.C., and in its Museum Support Center in Suitland, MD.

Among these, many are type specimens, the original and name-bearing specimens for new species. These important materials form a foundation for comparative biology and systematics, because they represent the focal point for the identification and naming of new taxa.

The 40 million specimens in the Paleobiology Department include 250,000 of these types, 46 of which are dinosaurs. These specimens represent only a small fraction of the more than 1000 known dinosaur species, but many are unusually complete and important specimens. In particular, the types of Ceratosaurus nasicornis, Stegosaurus stenops, Camptosaurus browni, and Thescelosaurus neglectus are among the finest specimens known for these dinosaur species.


Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Bone Sharps

It's coming to bookshops later this summer. Read all about it HERE.

Pay attention to the paragraph about the ILLUSTRATED CHARLES KNIGHT AUTOBIOGRAPHY that the same company will soon be publishing. But it's not illustrated by Knight; instead it features a dozen beautiful B&W illustrations by Mark Schultz of selected incidents in Knight's life. I've seen Mark's original drawings for this and they are without a doubt the BEST WORK of his career -- no lie!

'Boiled' Eggs & Dinosaur Sex Ratios

Image from HERE.

In the discussion of what killed off the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous you’ll often read that the asteroid impact coincidental with the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary caused extreme environmental changes. Scientists know that the sex ratio of some incubating reptile eggs can be strongly effected by temperature with more males hatching at low temperatures and more females hatching at higher temperatures. If the average temperature at the end of the Cretaceous changed enough to effect the sex ratio of enough different types of dinosaurs over a long enough period of time, the resulting imbalance in the number of males to females born could have contributed to their extinction.

In the paper below, Ann Göth and David T. Booth show for the first time that the incubating eggs of some living birds show a similar response to temperature. Since extinct dinosaurs are phylogenetically bracketed by reptiles and living birds it stands to reason that dinosaurs could have been susceptible to the same problem.

Temperature-dependent sex ratio in a bird. Ann Göth and David T. Booth. Biology Letters 1: 31-33. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2004.0244

Abstract: To our knowledge, there is, so far, no evidence that incubation temperature can affect sex ratios in birds, although this is common in reptiles. Here, we show that incubation temperature does affect sex ratios in megapodes, which are exceptional among birds because they use environmental heat sources for incubation. In the Australian brush-turkey Alectura lathami, a mound-building megapode, more males hatch at low incubation temperatures and more females hatch at high temperatures, whereas the proportion is 1:1 at the average temperature found in natural mounds. Chicks from lower temperatures weigh less, which probably affects offspring survival, but are not smaller. Megapodes possess heteromorphic sex chromosomes like other birds, which eliminates temperature-dependent sex determination, as described for reptiles, as the mechanism behind the skewed sex ratios at high and low temperatures. Instead, our data suggest a sex-biased temperature-sensitive embryo mortality because mortality was greater at the lower and higher temperatures, and minimal at the middle temperature where the sex ratio was 1:1.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Plans For Dino-Theme Restaurants

Image of Jurassic Park T-Rex from Big Skins WallpaperThe creator of the Rainforest Café has come up with a new idea for a chain: "T-Rex", a dinosaur theme-restaurant that will be an edutainment experience that also provides dining and shopping opportunities.

The first restaurant is scheduled to open in Kansas City, Missouri next year; plans for a total of 8 restaurants in markets already possessing major tourist attractions are in the works.

Based on the menu at the Rainforest Cafe, we can almost be assured of a 'Brontosaurus' Burger...

Read the official press release.

Monday, June 20, 2005

On Newsstands Now - Dinosaurs!

June 20, 2005 Newsweek cover from MSNBC.comThe cover story of the current issue of Newsweek (June 20) discusses some of the more notable discoveries in vertebrate paleontology over the past several years. The article it appears to be a partial overview of the American Museum of Natural History's "Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries" exhibit.

Among the topics covered in the article are:

Rise Of The Robosaurs

From an article by Robert Jones in the New Zealand Herald:

Roboraptor, is a new 32-inch long hi-tech robo-beast with three mood levels - hunter, cautious and playful - and 40 pre-programmed functions - or buyers can just let him run wild. The $200 toy is part of the Robosapien range designed by ex-Nasa scientist Mark Tilden.

Tilden, who worked for Nasa building "real" robots before realising that nobody wanted those kinds of things in their home, hopes that by building friendly toy robots using proper robotic techniques, people will become comfortable with them and welcome them into their families. After seeing the Roboraptor it’s clear that Tilden is bent on world domination and is not to be trusted.

You can leave Roboraptor to guard a particular area, or in remote control mode so he’s at your beck and call, or just let him do his own thing in free-roam mode. If you ignore him long enough he’ll get bored and switch himself over to free roaming anyway and go off looking for some baby birds to torment or a Robosapien to torture.

You can even lead the Roboraptor around by tracing a path using the remote control’s laser beam. Or you can ignore the remote altogether and just poke him and watch him dance - oh, how he can dance. He can also waddle, hunt and run so make sure you’re a safe distance away before taunting him.

Read the rest of the story HERE. Images from HERE.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Hall of Teeth and Horns is Open

The new Hall of Teeth and Horns at the Museum of the Rockies - previously mentioned in PALAEOBLOG - is now open to the public.

The Hall is the part of the larger Siebel Dinosaur Complex to be completed in 2007. The complex will be over 10,000 sqaure feet in size and house over 4,000 Montana specimens. Among the items currently on display are the bone containing dinosaur soft tissue and a reconstruction of the Torosaurus which had its skull airlifted on NBC's Today show back in 2001.

Read the original PALAEOBLOG posts:
Read the full article.

South American Dinosaur Track Site Shows Late Cretaceous Biodiversity

From, photos of the Cal Orcko dinosaur tracksThe paleontological team at the Cal Orko cement quarry in Sucre, Bolivia (near the center of the country) discovered over 5,000 tracks belonging to 294 dinosaur species. During the late Cretaceous, this area was a shallow lake; subsequent upheaval exposed the tracks in a near-vertical position.

Tracks for sauropods and theropods have been found, but also discovered were tracks for an ankylosaurus, an animal previously not found in South America. A Cretaceous Park is planned to open on the site next spring, to help preserve and protect the vulnerable outcroppings.

Read the full article at Tierramérica.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

A Mammoth Conclusion

From Pennsyvania’s Times

Japanese scientists said Friday that DNA tests have shown that the prehistoric woolly mammoth is more closely related to Asian elephants than to their African counterparts, settling a long-running debate over the lineage of the giant animals that went extinct 10,000 years ago.

Nagoya University professor Tomoo Ozawa and his team examined muscle tissue DNA taken from a woolly mammoth excavated in Siberia and determined that the mammoth and Asiatic elephants branched off from the same ancestor 4.8 million years ago. African elephants diverged from the family tree earlier on, about 7.3 million years ago, the group said. Ozawa's group analyzed DNA taken from the mammoth and compared it with that of Asiatic and African elephants. Experts' views had been divided over which group of elephants the woolly mammoth was more closely related to.

Read the rest of the story HERE. Image from HERE.

Darwin Dogs Beagle For BBC 4

Few voyages have had more impact on science than Charles Darwin's visit to the Galapagos Islands in 1835. The archipelago of volcanic islands off Ecuador, with their unique diversity of plant and animal life, inspired Darwin's first ideas of evolution.

Charles Darwin's descendant Chris retraces part of the voyage for BBC Radio 4's “It's My Story”. He says the islands retain the sense of mystery and wonder that captivated his great, great grandfather.

"It's still got the innocence that really grabbed him 170 years ago," he told the BBC News website.

But he says the landscape would have looked very different then. The vast tracts of rainforest on the west coast of South America that Charles Darwin would have seen from HMS Beagle have been cleared, while wildlife on the islands has fallen prey to invasive species introduced by humans.

"There has definitely been damage in the sea," says Chris Darwin. "This is something I really noticed between the two trips I have taken. This time, I didn't see a single hammerhead shark and far fewer sea cucumbers."

"It's My Story: Beyond the Beagle" is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 2000 BST on Thursday, and then available on the network's website for a short period afterwards.

Read the full story HERE.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Palaeoblog News

On June 24th I head into the field and will be gone for a good part of the summer. This means that my postings to the blog will be light BUT will include a number of interesting updates on my field work (complete with photos) once I reach Dinosaur Provincial Park by about the middle of July. However, posting will continue in the meantime thanks, in part, to TONI HUDZINA who will be covering the 'this day in history' and 'dinosaur and related news' items for the blog. Toni is a veteran of several field expeditions with me and is a true dinosaur enthusiast and web wizard. Her skills will be a welcome addition to the blog.

Welcome Aboard, Toni!

Tom Beecham - Lost World Artist?

Some time ago Pete Von Sholly sent along the above images and asked, "This [Lost World cover] may be familiar to you and many on your blog (be the first one on your blog!) and it certainly looks like the same artist (Tom Beecham) who painted the first "Kona" [top], maybe the first couple? What do you think"?

If anyone knows for sure please drop me a line.

Visit Pete's excellent site HERE.
Buy Pete's new book HERE!

Dr. Philip Currie To Speak At Canadian Science Writers Conference In Jasper

From the Jasper Booster:

Dr. Philip Currie, Head of Dinosaur Research at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller, Alberta, will host a public presentation on June 19 called ‘Hunting For Dinosaurs’ in conjunction with the Canadian Science Writers Association AGM and Conference. Delegates from the conference will be in Jasper, Alberta, from June 17 - 21.

The main thrust of Currie’s talk will be giving people an idea of what’s going on with dinosaur research in Alberta. “We’re long past the stage where we just describe new animals and tell people what they look like,” said Currie. “We are very much into understanding the biology of these animals and a lot of this research is being done on the basis of material from Alberta.”

Currie, who has published 14 books and many articles on dinosaurs, is a leading proponent of the dinosaur-bird link. “In a way, dinosaurs are not extinct,” he said.

“There’s no question at all that birds are the direct descendents of dinosaurs and that in fact under a modern biological classification...dinosaurs are still alive.”

Currie will talk about that and other dinosaur-related topics, and the presentation will also include a visual component.

Currie’s presentation takes place on June 19 at 7:30 p.m. in the Jasper Jr./Sr. High School gym.

Image from HERE.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Born This Day: George Gaylord Simpson

June 16, 1902 - Oct 6, 1984.
"Life is the most important thing about the world, the most important thing about life is evolution. Thus, by consciously seeking what is most meaningful, I moved from poetry to mineralogy to paleontology to evolution." G.G. Simpson
From the web site supporting the excellent PBS show “Evolution”:

As one of the founders of the "modern synthesis" of evolution, paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson argued that the fossil record supports Darwin's theory that natural selection acting on random variation in a population is the driving force behind evolution. Simpson was among the first to use mathematical methods in paleontology, and he also took into account newly discovered genetic evidence for evolution in his study of paleontology. In his 1944 book, Tempo and Mode in Evolution, Simpson divided evolutionary change into "tempo," the rate of change, and "mode," the manner or pattern of change, with tempo being a basic factor of mode. Simpson saw paleontology, revealing the long history of life on earth, as a unique field through which to study the history of evolution.

The early part of the twentieth century saw evolutionary theory embattled by disagreements over Darwin's emphasis on natural selection. The then-newly rediscovered work of Gregor Mendel in the nineteenth century was an uncomfortable fit with evolution, as many scientists saw it. They weren't at all certain that natural populations contained enough genetic variation for natural selection to create new species. So they entertained other explanations, including inheritance of acquired characteristics, "directed" variation toward a goal, or sudden large mutations that resulted in new species.

In the field of paleontology, the scientist who did most to resolve these questions was George Gaylord Simpson, who was on the staff of the American Museum of Natural History for 30 years.At a time when other paleontologists were convinced that the fossil record could best be explained by directed variation, Simpson disagreed. He said that fossil patterns needed no mystical or goal-oriented processes to explain them. For example, where others saw the modern horse as having arisen in a single advance toward the specialized form, Simpson saw the path as that of an irregular tree that had many side-branches leading off to extinction.

Simpson argued that the evolution of mammals, as seen in their fossilized remains, fit perfectly well with the new mechanisms of population genetics being studied at the time. He used the then-new mathematical methods to clarify how evolution occurred in "gene pools" in populations, not in individual members of the population.

Importantly, he showed that gaps in the fossil record reflected periods of substantial change through rapid "quantum evolution" in small populations, leaving little fossil evidence behind. At other times, he observed, rates of change could be so slow as to seem almost nonexistent.

Read more about Simpson HERE.

Patagonian Bugs Ate.... Plants!

South America has the most biodiversity of any major region today and according to an international team of researchers, that biodiversity began at least 52 million years ago.

Fossil leaf in the laurel family with over 30 examples of probable fairy moth feeding, from Laguna del Hunco in Patagonia, Argentina (52 Myr). Note leaf cases at centers of damaged areas. Scale intervals 1 cm.

From EurekaAlerts!:

Dr. Peter Wilf and his colleagues looked at plant diversity and insect feeding richness on fossil plants and compared fossil leaves collected at Laguna del Hunco, Patagonia, Argentina, that date to the globally warm Eocene, with fossil leaves collected at three Eocene sites in North America – Republic, Washington; Green River, Utah; and Sourdough, Wyoming. The researchers looked at the types and amounts of insect consumption on the fossilized leaves at all four locations.

"All four floras are very rich in fossil plant species and the Laguna del Hunco flora is the most diverse of the group," Wilf says. They report in the online version of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that by 52 million years ago, plants and insects in Patagonia were more diverse and abundant than those at that time in North America.

"We still do not know when Patagonia became that diverse," says Wilf. "We have to go back in time some more to find the beginning of increased diversity."

"Insect damage on leaves, the remains of insect meals, is uniquely valuable data," says Wilf. "While actual insect fossils can give us taxonomic information, leaf damage provides unique ecological data about which and how many kinds of insects were eating and interacting with ancient plant species in the deep past. Also, insect damage on fossil plants, which can be very abundant, can give us a great deal of information about insects at times and places with very few insect fossils."

Read the rest of the article HERE.

Tale Out Of Time

In the misty reaches of the prehistoric past – in the days before the fall of the great lizards – there lived a creature, the likes of which the world had never seen. In his time, he strode through the Valley of Flame like a giant, red-scaled demon – his only companion, a young Dawn-man called Moon-Boy…Stan Lee presents: A TEMPEST-TOSSED TALE OUT OF TIME!

Art © Dan Brereton. Devil Dinosaur © Marvel Comics

The above drawing of Jack Kirby’s “Devil Dinosaur” is by the Palaeoblog’s good friend, Dan Brereton. Although he doesn’t draw a lot of dinosaurs, he does specialize in dark and creepy Halloween-inspired characters like his own Nocturnals. I got to know Dan when I helped him kick around some scientific concepts for his book ”Gaintkiller” a few years back.

Go HERE to visit Dan’s own web site.

To read all about Marvel Comic’s very first issue of “Devil Dinosaur” click HERE to go to Scott Shaw’s! Oddball Comics.

For more info on the Devil Dinosaur go over to the Kirby Comics Blog.

Giantkiller © Dan Brereton

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Have Dinosaur, Will Draw

Michael Skrepnick is a veteran illustrator of dinosaurs and other prehistoric art. His paintings and black & white reconstructions have graced the covers of most preeminent scientific journals, been featured in National Geographic, and can be seen in many of the premier museums in North America. Most recently Michael’s image of Falcarius was used to announce the discovery of this new theropod. Michael lives and works just south of Calgary, Alberta, and I’ve been lucky enough to work with him on a few of my projects.

This article by Dennis O’Brien in the Baltimore Sun discusses how artists and scientists work together to reconstruct dinosaurs:
Skrepnick, whose image of a snarling Falcarius (left) appeared in newspapers and magazines across the country, is more of a dinosaur specialist. He's been drawing the ancient beasts since he began working as a volunteer at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Drumheller in 1985. His work has also appeared in National Geographic and at the Field Museum in Chicago.

In the case of Falcarius, the illustrator was lucky: Researchers had 90 percent of the creatures' bones. All too often, paleontologists and their artist collaborators have only fragmentary evidence to go by.

"The more you have to work with, the better off you are," Skrepnick said. "I feel like I'm acting as a representative of the dinosaur because it can't speak for itself."
Paintings © Michael Skrepnick

Read the rest of the article HERE.

Michael has also written and/or illustrated a number of excellent dinosaur books, such as THIS ONE. Most of them are available through your local bookshop or on-line dealer.

Illustration of Falcarius © Nature

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

More Kong Art

Another bootleg 'Kong" poster. Nicely done.
Thanks to the Alberta Movie Guide Blog for pointing this one out to us.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Born This Day: Luis Alvarez

June 13, 1911 - Sept. 1, 1988

Alverez was an American experimental physicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1968 for work that included the discovery of many resonance particles --subatomic particles having extremely short lifetimes and occurring only in high-energy nuclear collisions. In about 1980 Alvarez (left) helped his son, the geologist Walter Alvarez (right), publicize Walter's discovery of a worldwide layer of clay that has a high iridium content and which occupies rock strata at the geochronological boundary between the Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras; i.e., about 66.4 million years ago. They postulated that the iridium had been deposited following the impact on Earth of an asteroid or comet and that the catastrophic climatic effects of this massive impact caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Though initially controversial, this widely publicized theory gradually gained support as the most plausible explanation of the abrupt demise of the dinosaurs.

Read more HERE. Image from HERE.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Krayt Dragon

Photo © Michael Ryan

In 1995, Dr. David West Reynolds and I traveled (in the early days of The Phaeton Group) to Tunisia to investigate both the Roman ruins and the palaeontological resources that the country has. Along the way we relocated all the locations used in the filming of the first Star Wars movie (now episode IV). This is a photograph I took of the remains of a fibreglass replica of a sauropod we found that had been used for the skeleton of a ‘krayt dragon’ and then abandoned in the desert after filming was over. That's Reynolds and some of the Berber kids who were helping to guide us in the distance.

Once news of our trip got out it eventually spawned a small "SW movie tourism" business that traveled across Tunisia in our footsteps. The few props that we had found and left behind have now all been scavenged and probably sold on Ebay.

We also found the "Tunis Dig" locality from "Raiders of the Lost Ark". Although there was almost nothing left behind from the filming, I did pick up and keep a fragment of old plaster and burlap with the impression of few glyphs still visible on it. Many years later I learned that this is actually a portion of top of the slab (unseen in the movie) used to seal Indy in the Well of Souls. Maybe I'll post a picture of this one of these days.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Ancient Crocodile Baurusuchus salgadoensis

From the Orlando Sentinel:

Eleven recently discovered skeletons of the prehistoric crocodile Baurusuchus salgadoensis suggests that an ancient land bridge once linked South America to Indo-Pakistan. The new crocodile appears to be closely related to another ancient crocodile species, the Pabwehshi pakistanesis discovered in Pakistan.

Baurusuchus salgadoensis lived about 90 million years ago in an area of southeastern Brazil known as the Bauru Basin, about 450 miles west of modern-day Rio de Janeiro, said Pedro Henrique Nobre, one of the authors of the crocodiles' scientific description. An adult measured about 10 feet from head to tail and weighed about 900 pounds, making it the largest crocodile species ever discovered in South America.

Unlike modern crocodiles, Baurusuchus had long legs and spent much of its time walking. It also could live in arid areas where water was scarce, much like other carnivorous dinosaurs of the epoch, Nobre said.

"This discovery really proves that South America was at one time linked to the India-Pakistan bloc and this link could have only been through Antarctica or Australia," said Rudolph Trouw, regional editor of the scientific magazine Gondwana Research.

Photo from HERE.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Tyrant's Stephen R. Bissette: The Paleo-Path (Part 10)

Stephen R. Bissette
is an artist, writer and film historian who lives in Vermont. He is noted for, amongst many things, his long run as illustrator of SWAMP THING for DC Comics in the 1980's and for self-publishing the acclaimed horror anthology TABOO and a 'real' dinosaur comic TYRANT (R). For the past several months Steve has been gracious enough to share with us his eloquent thoughts on the history of ‘dinosaur’ comics in his own column, “The Palaeo-Path”. We now turn the lens back on Steve in this interview conducted by e-mail over the past few weeks. (NOTE: Click to enlarge most images.)
PB (Palaeoblog): Throughout your nine-part "Paleo-Path" that you did for the Palaeoblog you've detailed your love for the old (and new) dinosaur comics. What specifically lead you to the creation of "Steve R. Bissette's Tyrant"?
SB (Steve Bissette): I had always dreamed of doing a genuine dinosaur comic, presenting the life of an individual prehistoric creature as vividly and accurately as humanly possible for a layman cartoonist. I pitched the concept to a couple of publishers over the years, but no one was interested: they always wanted to change it to a science-fiction time-travel adventure, or insert human characters, which inherently conflicted with my concept. Eventually, in 1992, I simply began work on what I thought would be the first issue, but eventually became TYRANT #3 -- in fact, that issue's first page was the first completed page for the entire series. Specifically, Dave Sim, creator and self-publisher of the recently-completed 300-issue CEREBUS comic, led me to it. Dave knew I had always wanted to do my own dinosaur comic, and presented self-publishing as the ideal alternative to the ongoing indifference and rejection my proposal received from established comics publishers. The financial nest-egg to launch TYRANT was earned by my participation as co-creator, editor, and penciller for the Image series '1963,' (right) which reaped more than my entire 25-year career in comics cumulatively did -- which afforded me the two-three years I poured into TYRANT.
PB: When you created your 'look' for the T.rex for the series were you drawing from any specific sources?
SB: If you look at the four extant issues, my reconstruction of the Tyrannosaurus rex clearly evolved -- as a character, as a reconstruction of prehistoric life, and in terms of illustrative clarity. My sources were many, but creating the 'look' of the T. rex was more a matter of stripping away my own preconceptions and approaches to drawing the creature. The mother T. rex in TYRANT #1 betrays the influence of my artistic heroes a bit too much -- a bit of Ray Harryhausen here, a lot of Joe Kubert there -- and it wasn't until #3, really, that I was arriving at a T. rex that was more influenced by the advice and guidance of more contemporary information, research, texts, and specific individuals (yourself included, Michael!) who are paleontologists, and know the hard science I do not. So, to answer your question, while the impetus came from my life-long love of the work of artists like Charles Knight, Zdenak Burian, Ray Harryhausen, and Jim Danforth, TYRANT's T. rex was the result of UNLEARNING as much as learning, and stepping away from those influences that were rooted in outmoded perceptions of T. rex, its world, and how it lived.

PB: What were some of the recent breakthroughs in palaeontology that you incorporated into your book?
The eye-opening revelations of the past two decades, including the dramatic T. rex fossil discoveries and subsequent analysis, including Sue [the now famous Field Museum T.rex -- PB], were central to the look, feel, and content of TYRANT. I had conceived my planned presentation of life in-the-nest, and the growth of the surviving three T. rex siblings, as a means of addressing and entertaining both Horner's and Bakker's theories on T. rex behavior -- including diet -- but, alas, I didn't get that far in the series before having to pull the plug. The then-recent articles and texts on dinosaur eggs were of course vital to TYRANT #3, as were embryology texts on birds and reptiles, specifically alligators, crocodiles, and collared lizards studies. In the formative stages of the series, the book WARM-BLOODED DINOSAURS and the work and writings of Jack Horner and Robert Bakker were key, but I have to say my membership to the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology and participation in the annual conferences for too-short-a-time (approx. 1995-96) were vital. By TYRANT #4, I was really feeling some measure of comfort and access that I'd longed for, including the ability to freely contact interested paleontologists when I had specific questions on their respectives areas of expertise; I cited all their names and my sources regularly in 'The Gizzard' footnotes section of every issue.
PB: In the few years since you wrote the introduction to Jim Lawson's "Paleo" that we converted into the "Paleo-Path" column, there have been other dinosaur-related books that have come out, as well as a few that were skipped over in your column. Are there any books that you'd like to comment on here?
SB: Forgive me, but I'm currently writing a revised, expanded version of the PALEO PATH essay -- I'll be covering most of the missing there! I would, however, like to recommend an excellent graphic novel that in no way concerns dinosaurs, but does present an innovative and completely captivating approach to dramatizing the lives of living creatures: Jay Hosler's CLAN APIS. It dramatizes the birth and life of a single honey bee in a hive, and it's just an amazing piece of work on all levels, a real breakthrough in the wedding of science with comics, thoroughly engaging, entertaining, and enlightening for all age levels. By proxy, it sets a new standard for all comics to follow that are depicting the lives and behavior of animals -- and that's definitely revelent to the Paleo Path essay, and TYRANT.
PB: For a number of years you edited and published the critically acclaimed anthology "Taboo". Are there any interesting dino- or paleo-related horror stories you could recommend to our readers?
SB: Actually, I have a perverse appetite for the earliest prehistoric fiction, written from the late 19th to early 20th Century, including Jack London's gem BEFORE ADAM and H.G. Wells's STORIES OF THE STONE AGE, from which all 'prehistoric tribal man-and-woman' novels sprang. I love and occasionally revisit what might be the first sympathetic dinosaur novel, BEFORE THE DAWN by "John Taine," the pseudoname of mathematician Eric Temple Bell. There's some fantastic imagery in there, and Bell also scribed my favorite 'arctic lost world' novel THE GREATEST ADVENTURE, which proposed a sort of hyper-evolved lost world populated by mutant saurians.

One of my favorite semi-horrific dinosaur short stories from the very early genre years is an obscure oddity entitled "The Monster of Lake Lametrie" by Wardon Allan Curtis, published in 1899, in which a man's brain is transplanted into the skull of a surviving Elasmosaurus living in a remote mountain lake in Wyoming; Sam Moskowitz included it in his
anthology SCIENCE FICTION BY GASLIGHT, and it's well worth seeking out. I'll also have to cheat a little and cite Nigel Kneale's absolutely brilliant teleplay QUATERMASS AND THE PIT as one of the most chilling, imaginative, and potent sf horror works grounded in imaginary paleontology (a London tube excavation unearthing evidence of Martian tampering with prehistoric man's evolution, inadvertantly opening a Pandora's Box of horrors and triggering apocalyptic 'race wars' between modern descendents of divergent 'strains' of humanity). In a way, Kneale was fleshing out a post-Darwinian horror concept H.G. Wells introduced in his novella THE CROQUET PLAYER, which I also recommend; it's a sort of primal ghost story, if you will.

For flat-out dinosaur horror, improving on the usual JAWS-inspired 'primordial croc/shark' stuff that surfaces from time to time (MEG, etc.), I quite enjoyed John Brosnan's novel CARNOSAUR (written under his pen name "Harry Adam Knight"), which was better than Adam Simon's film adaptation, though I enjoyed that, too. Ray Bradbury's romantic anecdote "The Foghorn" is forever burned into my memory -- still, nothing, but nothing beats Ray Bradbury's “The Sound of Thunder.” There are more and more days I wake up to the latest news of more hideous antics of the current US administration and wonder what idiot stepped on the butterfly.
PB: A few years back you announced your retirement from the world of comics. Despite this you have a strong fan base. Is there any way you could be enticed back into continuing the Tyrant story?
SB: Enticement isn’t the issue, really. I won’t go into all the issues regarding my pulling the plug on Tyrant; suffice to say, it wasn’t viable for me to earn a living any longer in comics, and nothing has changed in that regard. I don’t mean to sound defeatist, but I have to be pragmatic. The only offer from a publisher regarding Tyrant was laughable, and the market I produced Tyrant within simply no longer exists. I regularly turn down offers for me to work, essentially, for free -- nothing up front, whatever monies earned paid on the back end -- which is hardly tempting. If that were viable for me, I’d still be doing Tyrant, but the financial risks of self-publishing Tyrant since the mid-1990s implosion of the comics direct sale market have only increased since I closed up shop in ‘97 and retired from comics in ‘99. I recently wrote a comics script for my friend Jim Lawson for his fine dino comic Paleo --depending how that goes, that could lead to something. It certainly whet my appetite to return to Tyrant, but the fiscal reality isn’t condusive to that. When I was doing Tyrant, I lived and breathed the project; that simply isn’t possible for me now.

PB: You've mentioned on you website that you're going to start teaching this year. Can you tell us a little bit more about this?
I’ve been tutoring, teaching, and lecturing off and on for over fifteen years now, to all ages, from kindergarten to Yale graduate students. When James Sturm invited me last year to roll up my sleeves and get involved in his new experimental college, The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, VT, it seemed worthwhile, and a viable way to re-engage with comics. I retired from the industry, not the medium, and passing on what I know is important to me while I’ve still time to do so. That such a place was taking shape in my home state, about a 90 minute drive from my home, was an astounding bit of luck. Also, it felt so right: my comics career began in 1976-78 as a first-year-ever student at Joe Kubert’s experimental comics college, The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, Inc. in Dover, NJ.

The Kubert School was a grand adventure, and redirected my life and energy for decades. Now, I’ll be ‘returning the favor,’ if you will, on the other end of the classroom, as an instructor at a new comics college. It feels like a great, new adventure, and I’m looking forward to it. We’ve had our first faculty meeting, and James Sturm and Michelle Ollie have put together a terrific group of instructors -- cartoonists, writers, poets, fine artists, etc. -- and the orientation to comics and graphic novels is quite different from the industry-focused ‘trade school’ orientation of the Kubert School I attended: this is a liberal arts education, with comics as the core. I don’t see the two schools as competitors, but complements to one another, and suspect there will in time be productive cross-over and collaborative opportunities, if everyone can get past the initial impetus to compete. I suspect students dissatisfied with, say, the industry-orientation of the Kubert School might find CCS more appropriate to their path, but the opposite will be true, too: those itching to work in the industry of comics, or in populist genres for established publishers, may find the orientation of the CCS contrary to their interests, which would be better served by the Kubert School. I’m speculating here, but it seems to me the two schools philosophically complement one another, and should build bridges to serve the interests of the students. Maybe I can serve as a bridge-builder in time, having graduated in the first class of the Kubert School and benefitted enormously from that, and now teaching at the CCS, which I also think will prove enormously fruitful. Anyhoot, I’ll be teaching comics history first semester, and we’ll see where it goes from there. The website is at:
PB: Although many of the readers of this blog know you primarily as a writer/artist/editor in the comic book field, your interests and publications run much deeper than that. Please talk a bit about some of your other projects and what's on the horizon for you.
SB: Where to begin? I’m pulling together a collection of my short stories and writings, including my Hellboy story, doing up some original illustrations, and collecting them together with the short stories and poems of my friend Roderick Bates; we’re putting that out as the one-shot anthology entitled All That Lovecraft Loathes, which Black Coat Press is publishing later this year. I’m also working on a couple of novels, but haven’t found a home for those projects as yet, so we’ll see. I’ve written extensively on cinema and comics since 1988, and will be gathering those essays, interviews, and articles into a series of books, which will be forthcoming from Black Coat Press later this year and next. My first love is dinosaurs, and that will be the subject of one book, including the revised, expanded version of “The Paleo Path” I referred to earlier, and my interviews with special effects maestros Ray Harryhausen and Phil Tippett. My second love is horror, and that will fuel a series entitled Gooseflesh: The Secret Histories of the Horror Film, which series will cover everything from underground horrors to Abel Gance’s J’Accuse, The Brain That Wouldn’t Die to Andy Warhol, The Sadist to fundamentalist Christian horror movies, Alejandro Jodorowsky to Buddy Giovanazzo. My current preoccupation is a book series on Vermont and New England film and video, Green Mountain Cinema (below); the first volume came out at the end of last year, and is available at:
Green Mountain Cinema II will be out this summer, and I have two more volumes almost completed, including a special 50th Anniversary celebration of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry, which was set and partially filmed in Vermont. I continue to write for any and all venues, from the local newspaper to magazine like The Video Watchdog. When the invitation is extended, I also contribute to whatever book projects will have me. I’m in very good company in No Such Thing as a Free Ride? A Collection of Hitchers’ Tales, edited by Simon and Tom Sykes, which just came out in the UK from Cassell -- and I just contributed an essay to another great collective project, Kim Newman and Stephen Jones’s Horror: Another 100 Best Books, which will be out toward the end of this year from Carroll & Graf. I still keep my hand in the ink a bit by illustrating at least one book a year, as I have since 1989; last year I illustrated The Drifting Soul, a novel by Matt Spencer, and this year I’m working on illos for Paul Redmond’s Vietnam diary, as well as the Bates & Bissette short story anthology. And yes, there will be at least one dinosaur in there.
PB: Thanks Steve. Good luck with all your projects! You have a open invitation to contribute to the Palaeoblog anytime.

Visit Steve's own website HERE.

Note: The Palaeo-Path will continue as an irregular feature here at the Palaeoblog as a forum to discuss (usually) some the personalities behind your favourite dino-related graphic stories & art.

S.R. Bissette's Tyrant is © & ® S. R. Bissette. Cerebus is © Dave Sim; 1963: Tales From Beyond © Alan Moore, Rick Veitch, & Stephen R. Bissette; N-Man is © and TM Stephen R. Bissette; Clan Apis is © Jay Hosler.

Thanks to the Digital Dream Machine Blog for the great Tyrant scans!