The Archbishop … restored!
October 15, 2010
This post is nearly three weeks late — it’s based on a piece of artwork that appeared on 25 September, and which I wanted to write about immediately. But it got washed away in the flood of camel necks (which by the way is not over yet), and then in the festival of articular cartilage, then by the whole “Amphicoelias brontodiplodocus” thing and the subsequent discussion of amateurs in palaeo, and then by what was already an overdue announcement of my sauropod history paper and the attendant copyright nonsense. So it’s been a stupidly busy time here at SV-POW! Towers, but now the air has cleared a little, and it’s time to look at this beauty:
This would be a beautiful piece of art by any standards — the world can always use brachiosaur art! — but what makes this extra special for me is that it is the first ever life restoration of my very own brachiosaur, BHM R5937, the Tendaguru specimen known as The Archbishop. It’s by SV-POW! regular Nima, and I am absolutely delighted to see it. It’s very Greg Paul-like, and I mean that in the most positive sense. (I may not be a fan of Greg’s taxonomic vicissitudes, but his art is just beautiful.)
Over on his blog, Nima has described in detail how he created this piece, and shows four progressively refined versions (of which the one above is the last) — I urge you to check it out if you’re interested in art, brachiosaurs or both.
Nima’s blog-post also includes a brief history of the Archbishop, mostly taken from my 2005 SVPCA talk. It’s a good summary, but I do have a few comments to make. (I typed a lot of this in as a comment to the original post, but Blogger ate my comments as usual.)
- The specimen is not known as M23, and has never been — that is in fact the designation of the Tendaguru quarry from which is was excavated. Paul (1988) mistakenly conflated the quarry name with a specimen number, and referred to this specimen as BMNH M23, and Glut’s (1977) encyclopaedia perpetuated the error, but it’s always been R5937.
- “The giant Brachiosaurus finds of the Germans” are now, of course, Giraffatitan.
- “Controversy lingered” — well, no, not really. The problem was worse than that: no-one paid a blind bit of notice to the specimen before 2004.
- “It turns out the double spine claim was totally bogus and unscientific” — well, we don’t really know that yet. It’s certainly true that none of the prepared vertebrae (five cervicals, two complete dorsals and an additional dorsal spine) have bifid spines; but Migeod reported these from the anterior dorsals, and it’s not clear that we have those. A fair bit of material remains in jackets, and more has probably been lost or destroyed. So it is possible, if unlikely, that one day we’ll open one of those jackets and find good evidence for bifid spines.
- “Close-up of the Archbishop vertebrae (doesn’t look much like the mitre of an archbishop to me, but who knows” — well, the name The Archbishop is not based on any resemblance of the bones to a mitre. (Nor is it based on anything else. It’s completely arbitrary.)
Last 0f all, what about the actual picture? Well, the long, thin, snakelike neck is beautiful art, but I don’t think it’s great science. The height of the cervicals that we have for this animal show that the neck would have had to be quite a bit dorsoventrally taller than shown here. And because there were only 13 cervical vertebrae — 12 if you omit the atlas, which is really a whole nother kettle of badgers, a neck bent into a strongly sigmoid pose like this would exhibit noticable kinks at some of the intervertebral joints — as you can see in giraffes when they twist their necks.
That aside, though, this is great. Again, I am really delighted that it’s out there. Congratulations to Nima!