Two notes for today:
1) While I will always strive to give you my very best, sometimes circumstances restrain my time and efforts. Yesterday, I went to Salisbury Plain and got to see Stonehenge, and then wandered the city of Bath for a while, so I was gone all day. Likewise, today, I was simply not home. This means that while I think the images for today’s lessons are fine, I acknowledge they are not as high quality as I would prefer. I had a choice of postponing today’s lesson or having (hopefully quirky) funky images. It was more important to me to be timing consistent. I hope it isn’t too much of a bother to you all.
2) While a lot of the info today (especially regarding current evidence) will come from the internet, much will come from a very good book called “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson. I really can’t stress enough how everyone who has even the remotest interest in science or history (or the history of science) should read this book. However, I have it on my Kindle, which means that I don’t have page numbers for you. Again, I hope that’s not a bother.
Alright, here we go!
Scientists often seem out to destroy our childhoods. I know for my part, Velociraptor was one of my very favorite dinosaurs. I’m sorry, but those things were WAY more terrifying than than T-Rex. So imagine my consternation when I found out they probably looked like this:
I did not vote for this. While some dinosaurs probably totally evolved into birds, vis a vis, Dr. Grant’s supposition, we now know many were wiped out by the KT meteorite (The difference between “meteor,” “meteorite,” and “meteoroid,” will be the Definitions for another day, and I would be thoroughly unsurprised if I just used the wrong one).
Mr. Bryson asserts that there no other scientific field boasts so much vitriolic hatred as does paleontology. I think he’s right.
So, there was this guy, pretty well known scientist from France. And he thought that North America did not have the right environment to support larger animals. Thomas Jefferson disagreed, having seen many of the bison and caribou we can boast. It became a kind of zoological dick-measuring contest (am I allowed to say ‘dick’ on a PG comic?), which had the positive side-effect of encouraging paleontologists to go out and discover extinct animals that were impressively sized. Unfortunately, this also meant they frequently jumped the gun when it came to new info. While there’s no evidence to say the above conversation took place, it is a decent analogy of what went down.
Also, that should totally say ‘patties.’ Now I’m embarrassed. =_=
Ahhh, Richard Owen. You know that one guy who seems to get whatever he wants, and you want to punch him in his smug little face because he’s a total jerkwad? That would be Richard Owen. He looked like the bad guy from a classic movie and he was the only person that Darwin was known to have hated.
Owen is perhaps most well known for being the driving force behind London’s National History Museum. He’s almost equally well known for being a total ass (am I allowed to say ‘ass’ on a PG blog?). One of his douchey habits was to take credit for what other people had done. His favorite victim was one Gideon Algernon Mantell, a doctor who began dabbling in amateur paleontology just to have it more or less ruin his life, his marriage and his health. He went bankrupt trying to support his massive fossil collecting habit, only to have Owen systematically ‘rediscover’ everything he had found and take acclaim for it. Owen (kind of) got his later when Huxley got him voted off the paleontology council, but not before he coined the word ‘dinosauria’ and was given charge of poor Mantell’s twisted spine (he was hurt in a carriage accident) after the unfortunate doctor killed himself. It is quite likely that Mantell is the most under appreciated person in paleontology, but a close second would be…
When she was between 11 and 13 years old, Mary Anning found something stuck in the rock cliffs that skirted the English channel. It was a fairly intact fossilized skeleton of an ichthyosaurus . The legend (with fairly good evidence) goes that the tongue twister “She sells seashells down by the seashore” was coined because of Mary, as she would spend the next 35 years gathering fossils, which she sold to numerous visitors. For having no training and no financial support from any institution, Mary was a very fine paleontologist. One skeleton took over ten years to excavate (that of a plesiosaurus, my second favorite water-bound prehistoric creature), as she was very careful to conserve as best she could, despite having only the simplest tools. She never received any recognition for her efforts till much later, but we are very much indebt to her.
That’s today’s ‘happy’ story.
Without a doubt, the two most important individuals to dinotology is Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh. As Mr.Bryson says, “No two people in the natural sciences ever despised each other more.” And never has science been so furthered by such hatred.
We don’t know what started their feud. They started out on very friendly terms, naming species after one another, exchanging letters. I tried to make it look like they were texting, mostly because I wanted to believe the term ‘Totes’ could be used by someone who looked like this:
All we know is the efforts they went to outdo one another, to the point of sabotaging their rival’s efforts. It got so bad, their diggers would throw rocks at one another.
Marsh was a bit older, and very, very rich. He could pretty much buy whatever he wanted.
Marsh was far too classy to poop on Cope’s crates, but Cope WAS once discovered breaking into some of Marsh’s. I just had already drawn too many with Cope and thought Marsh needed some…love…attention at least.
The above is almost totally true. In their zealotry to outdo one another, they ‘discovered’ the species Uinatheres Anceps 22 times between each other. This was not a unique incident, as they were often so hasty to announce their finds they failed to realize what they had found was already known. However, the fact remains that if you can think of a dinosaur…Stegosaurus, Brontosaurus, Triceratops…ONE OF THESE GUYS FOUND IT FIRST. They increased the known dinosaur species from 8 to almost 150.
This DID so totally happen. Cope was working and it was pointed out to him that there was a battle going on nearby, and maybe rooting around to steal treasures from the angry Native Americans was not the most prudent plan. To his credit, he gave it a moment’s thought, but then went right on doing what he was doing. He was certainly the more adventurous of the two. I like to believe the guy warning him sounds like Mr.Smithers from the Simpsons.
I like to believe Cope’s power came from his mustache.
Recently, new information has come to surface. You may have heard that that it’s possible the the Triceratops did not actually exist and was only the juvenile form of the Torosaurus. If such was the case, Relax.
On the other hand, we now think there might have been a something running around that looked like this:
It’s called the daemonosaurus. No, I’m not making that up. The TL;DR info is that it was about the size of a large dog and was pretty scary. But you know what’s more frightening to me?
It’s called the Titanis. It was a huge flightless meat eater that was ten feet tall, weighed over 800 pounds and you see that beak? Could rip your head off.
If that’s not enough to make you glad for crazy big, climate raping asteroids, how about this…
That’s right, apparently some later dinosaurs, like our King, the Tyrannasaurus lived within ten degrees of the North Pole. Imagine Alaska. Imagine Alaskan blizzards. Imagine a T-Rex wandering around an Alaskan blizzard. Now imagine it wandering around AT NIGHT. If you are not terrified, you have clearly already become a zombie and fear nothing. It is possible, a British geologist named Stephen Drury, says, that the T-rex migrated to warmer climes (which would take a tremendous effort as they were VERY far away) during the THREE MONTHS A YEAR IT’S TOTALLY DARK at this latitude. But you know…possibly not. And I know the Jurassic period (which that article is referring to when it talks about nocturnal dinos) is not the same as the Cretaceous when the T-Rex was moving his pimp-self all over the frozen North, but if anyone could do it, that Boss could.
Next time, VIKINGS! And our first LMRTFY fanart!
Bryson, Bill. A Short History of Nearly Everything (New York: Broadway, 2003).