April 20, 2011
A few months ago, prosauropod supremo Adam Yates blogged about the Aardonyx cake that the BPI honours class baked in his honour. In the comments, I mentioned that my wife Fiona once made me a BMNH R5937:D9 cake (i.e. a cake in the form of the more posterior of the pair of nicely preserved dorsal vertebrae of The Archbishop, in right lateral view). At the time, I couldn’t find the photo that I knew had been taken, and Adam asked me to post it when it turned up.
And here, once more, is the real thing for comparison:
(Note that the topology of the lateral lamination is spot on, with a single infradiapophyseal lamina which forks into anterior and posterior branches only some way ventral to the diapophysis. That’s what you look for in a cake.)
Update (21 April)
Silly me, of course what I should have shown is the cake and the vertebra side by side. Here they are — together at last!
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!
November 18, 2009
Last week, for the first time ever, I spent the entire working week on palaeo. I took a week away from my job, and spent it staying in London, working on the Archbishop at the Natural History Museum. (For those of you who have not been paying attention, the Archbishop is the informal name of the specimen NHM R5937, a brachiosaurid sauropod from the same Tendaguru area that produced Giraffatitan brancai, and which has been generally assumed to represent that species.)
My main goal was to take final publication-quality photographs that I can use in the description (which I have committed to try really, really hard to get submitted by the end of 2009). There’s quite a bit of material (more than for Xenoposeidon, anyway!) — six cervicals in various states of preservation/preparation, cervical ribs, two complete dorsals, two more dorsal centra and a dorsal spine, some scap scraps, a partial ?pubis, a long-bone fragment and “Lump Z“, whatever that is. What you see above is my best lateral-view photograph of what I’ve designated “Cervical U”. One of these days, I’m going to do a post on how to photograph large fossils — something it’s taken me five years to get the hang of — but for today, I want to tell you about an exciting adventure with Cervical U. [Update: I wrote the How To post a few months later.]
Because my other big goal on this trip was to get it CT-scanned. Thanks to the generosity of John Hutchinson of the Royal Veterinary College, and to the help of the NHM people in arranging a loan, everything was set up for my host Vince Bickers and me to ferry the specimen up to the RVC, scan it and return it.
But first it had to be packed:
Lorna and Sandra spent a long time looking for a crate big enough to pack the bone in, but came up empty — there was one that was long enough but not wide enough, one that was tall enough but not long enough, and so on. In the end we sat the bone, on its very solid plaster base, on a plastic pallet, and wrapped it in pillows, bubble-wrap and that blue stuff whose name I don’t know.
As it happened, the scan had to be delayed for a day due to lack of personnel at RVC, but Vince and I took the vertebra up on the Thursday anyway; he had to return to work on the Friday, but I took public transport to RVC for the big day. Before we went into the scanning room, John showed me his freezer room:
I found it amusing that they have enough Segments Of Awesome that they have to label the various elephant-part freezers differently. And further down the aisle:
Then it was off to the scanning facility, where we found that we had to unpack the vertebra: it was small enough to go through the machine, but there was no way the pallet was going through. Once we’d unpacked it and removed it, it fit pretty nicely:
Because the scanner spits out X-rays in all directions, it’s controlled from a separate room, behind lead-impregnated glass:
We ran three scans before we got the settings right — we needed more voltage to get through the bone and matrix than we’d first realised, and a filter was causing unhelpful moire patterns. The third scan was definitely the best, and the one I expect to be working with.
[Boring technical side-note: I plan to use 3D Slicer for visualisation thanks to Andy Farke's series of tutorials. But, frustratingly, I wasn't able to load the DICOM files from the scan into that program: it crashes when trying to load them (segmentation fault) even though it works fine on the ankylosaur skull that Andy walked us through in the tutorials. I fixed this by gluing the 300-odd files together into a single stack file that 3D Slicer was able to read. For the benefit of anyone else who needs to do this, the command (on a Ubuntu Linux box) was: medcon -f *.dcm -c dicom -stack3d -n -qc]
Here is an example slice, showing part of the condyle in posterior view:
The grey blobs at the bottom of the image are the plaster jacket that supports the vertebra; the white is bone, and the light grey inside it is matrix that fills the pneumatic spaces. I’m showing the condyle here because its cavities are clearly visible: further back in the vertebra, they are harder to pick out, perhaps in part because of the iron bars scattering the X-rays. It’s notable that this vertebra is less pneumatic than would be expected for a brachiosaurid — by eye, it looks like like the condyle is only 20-30% air, and this slice is not unrepresentative. Most neosauropods would be at least twice this pneumatic, so we may have an Archbishop autapomorphy here.
I’ve not yet persuaded 3D Slicer to build a 3D model for me, but I’m pleased to say that before I left RVC, John mocked up a quick-and-dirty render of the bone using only density threshholding, and I can at least show you that.
Here we see the bone from the left side, previously obscured by solid plaster. From a single static image, it’s not easy to make out details, but we can at least see that there is a solid ventral floor to the centrum … and that those two crossed iron bars obscure much that we would like to see. You will get more of an idea from the rotating video that this is screencapped from.
Looking at this and comparing it with the right-lateral photo at the top of the post, it’s apparent that the density threshhold was set too high when making this model: all the bone along the lower right margin of the middle part of the centrum is good, but it’s been omitted from the model. In other words, the vertebra is more complete than this proof-of-concept model suggests. Hopefully I will shortly be able to show you a better model.
November 22, 2008
If you’ve been following SV-POW! closely – perhaps a little too closely – you will know of BMNH R5937, a Tendaguru sauropod collected in 1930 on one of the British Museum (Natural History) expeditions, and reported in 1931 by Frederick Migeod (pronounced ‘mee-zhou’). Discovered in the ‘M23′ quarry at Tendaguru, the specimen was assumed by Migeod and all subsequent authors to be another specimen of Brachiosaurus brancai, but what’s notable is that Migeod mentioned several features in the vertebrae of the specimen that really sounded quite un-Brachiosaurus-like. Despite the size and quality of the specimen however, nobody ever got round to studying it properly – until Mike did exactly this. An abstract and talk slides on the specimen can be found here. For whatever reason, the specimen has become known as The Archbishop.
While Migeod wrote about The Archbishop, he never published any illustrations of it (with the exception of a quarry map). I don’t think I’m betraying any secrets by letting on that Mike is working on a full technical desciption of the specimen, wherein it will of course be illustrated properly. Little known however is that The Archbishop has appeared in the literature before, but (unsurprisingly, and in keeping with tradition) has been misidentified as Brachiosaurus. After all, it’s a big sauropod and it comes from Tendaguru, so it must be Brachiosaurus, right? Here’s the proof: it’s p. 94 of David Lambert’s Ultimate Dinosaur Book, published by Dorling Kindersley in 1993. The Archbishop photo is, of course, up there at top right, masquareding as the dorsal vertebrae of Brachiosaurus brancai.
April 25, 2013
Generally when we present specimen photos in papers, we cut out the backgrounds so that only the bone is visible — as in this photo of dorsal vertebrae A and B of NHM R5937 “The Archbishop”, an as-yet indeterminate Tendaguru brachiosaur, in right lateral view:
But for some bones that can be rather misleading: they may be mounted in such a way that part of the bone is obscured by structure. For example — and this is a very minor case — the ventral margins of the centra in the photo above are probably slightly deeper than they appear, because the centra are slightly sunk within the plinth that holds the vertebrae upright.
So I’ve been toying with a different idea: instead of cutting the background out completely, leaving it in place but toning it down. Then the supporting structure is visible, but clearly distinct from the actual bone. (For a more extreme case, see the “Apatosaurus” minimus sacrum.)
Here’s how the image above looks if I desaturate the background:
I’m not sure what to make of this. It looks a bit strange to me, but that might only be the strangeness of unfamiliarity.
And it might not work so well (or indeed it might work better) for photos taken against a busier background.
What do you think?
March 6, 2012
Folks, you should all stop reading this blog right now, and get yourselves across to What’s In John’s Freezer?, the awesome new blog of biomechanics wizard and brachiosaur-cervical scan facilitator John Hutchinson.
Oh, and if you wonder about the blog title, and can’t see how the contents of someone’s freezer could be very interesting, here’s a photo of two of John’s many freezers that I took when I was visiting:
December 14, 2011
This year, I missed The Paleo Paper Challenge over on Archosaur Musings — it was one of hundreds of blog posts I missed while I was in Cancun with my day-job and then in Bonn for the 2nd International Workshop on Sauropod Biology and Gigantism. That means I missed out on my annual tradition of promising to get the looong-overdue Archbishop description done by the end of the year.
But this year, Matt and I are going to have our own private Palaeo Paper Challenge. And to make sure we heap on maximum pressure to get the work done, we’re announcing it here.
Here’s the deal. We have two manuscripts — one of them Taylor and Wedel, the other Wedel and Taylor — which have been sitting in limbo for a stupidly long time. Both are complete, and have in fact been submitted once and gone through review. We just need to get them sorted out, turned around, and resubmitted.
(The Taylor and Wedel one is on the anatomy of sauropod cervicals and the evolution of their long necks. It’s based on the last remaining unpublished chapter of my dissertation, and turned up in a modified form as my SVPCA 2010 talk, Why Giraffes Have Such Short Necks. The Wedel and Taylor one is on the occurrence and implications of intermittent pneumaticity in the tails of sauropods, and turned up as his SVPCA 2010 talk, Caudal pneumaticity and pneumatic hiatuses in the sauropod dinosaurs Giraffatitan and Apatosaurus.)
We’re going to be realistic: we both have far too much going in (incuding, you know, families) to get these done by the end of 2011. But we have relatively clear Januaries, so our commitment is that we will submit by the end of January 2012. If either of us fails, you all have permission to be ruthlessly derisive of that person.
… and in other news …
Some time while we were all in Bonn, the SV-POW! hit-counter rolled over the One Million mark. Thanks to all of your for reading!
December 12, 2011
I’m just back from a three-day conference in Bonn, Germany, which I unhesitatingly nominate as the best I’ve ever been to. To begin with, the subject was a guaranteed winner: sauropod gigantism. I can hardly overstate how awesome it was to hear 43 talks about or relevant to sauropod gigantism (sixteen on the first day, fifteen on the second and twelve on the third). For another thing, it was one of those rare occasions where all three SV-POW!sketeers got together — I think the fourth or fifth time ever. For yet another, I met honorary SV-POW!er Ranger Vanessa Graff and Brontomerus artist Francisco “Paco” Gasco for the first time. And it’s always good to spend time with people like biomechanics wizard John Hutchinson and occasional SV-POW! guest-blogger Heinrich Mallison. (Apologies to those I’ve not mentioned by name: lots of good people!)
The meeting was The 2nd International Workshop on Sauropod Biology and Gigantism: a public meeting of DFG Research Unit 533 “Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs”. That’s a mostly German group, headed by Martin Sander, which has been working for nearly eight years on multiple lines towards understanding the evolution of gigantism. Along the way, that group has produced 105 publications and counting, including a very nice hardcover volume Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs: Understanding the Life of Giants, available for the reasonable price of £40 [amazon.co.uk] or $50 [amazon.com]. (Compare with the price of £95 [amazon.co.uk] or $190 [amazon.com] for the comparably sized Geological Society volume on the history of dinosaur palaeontology. Hang your head in shame, GeolSoc.) Maybe most importantly, the group published a big synthesis paper at Biological Reviews that is freely available, and which everyone interested in sauropod palaeobiology should read to understand the current state of the field. Although I certainly don’t agree with everything that’s been published by the group, overall it’s done excellent work and plenty of it. So it was a real privilege to be a part of this second public meeting. (Matt and I were also at the first, three years ago.)
Maybe the greatest thing about this meeting was the involvement of many scientists whose usual work is not on sauropods, but who were able to bring their expertise in other fields and apply it to sauropod-related problems. For example, Jurgen Hummel on on digestive energetics, Michael Fagan on biomechanical modelling, Tom Schanz on soil mechanism (and implications for interpreting tracks) and Jennifer McElwain on plant growth in simulated palaeoatmospheres. The word “interdisciplinarary” is bandied around a lot, but this conference really fulfilled that description. That’s truly helpful: for example, five minutes’ conversation with people who actually understand digestive energetics saved me weeks or months of what would have turned out to be fruitless work on the Nourishing Vomit Of Eucamerotus hypothesis.
Another huge benefit of working with scientists who have other specialisations is the ability to triangulate on a problem. For example, in my talk on how little we truly know about sauropod necks, I mentioned that we don’t know whether their intervertebral joints were fibrocartilaginous, like those of mammals and crocs, or synovial, like those of birds. I had been hoping to get a student working on comparative dissections of birds and crocs in the hope of identifying osteological correlates that might allow us to recognise relevant indications in sauropod bones. But Martin Sander pointed out that histological analysis of the preserved osseous articular surfaces might allow us to tell directly what kind of joint was used — an approach that would never have occurred to me.
So: scientists who know about things other than sauropods. Recommended.
Unlike most conferences, this one allowed time for discussion after each talk — something that made a huge difference. The slots allocated were each 30 minutes long, but speakers were asked to use only half of that time. In practice, many talks ran twenty minutes or so, but nevertheless the kind of discussion that you get in ten minutes is qualitatively different from the rather perfunctory one-quick-question-and-move-on that you get at most meetings. It was in those intervals that a lot of important ambiguities were clarified, misunderstandings remedied, and ideas explored. (I’d love to see this become more widespread, but of course I understand the difficulty of fitting all the talks into the programme at a larger conference like SVPCA. Not to mention SVP.)
Unsurprisingly, highlight talks for me included those by Matt (reviewing the last three years’ developments in pneumaticity, and considering the way forward) and Darren (presenting our no-necks-for-sex work in a way that was both persuasive and funny).
But perhaps the talk I enjoyed most was Vanessa’s on neck support hypotheses (ligament, pneumatic stabilisation, ventral compressing bracing, muscle). It’s only the second time she’s presented at a conference, and the first time ever in palaeo. Having workshopped the content of the talk extensively, first with Matt, then with both of us, she then prepared the presentation within an inch of its life and did a fine job of delivering it.
There is good news for the 6,999,999,940 of you who missed this conference: the sessions were all recorded on video, and will hopefully become available shortly. And there will be a proceedings volume — exact venue to be announced, but we have some good options. Matt, Vanessa and I will all contribute to this. (Darren won’t, of course, since his talk was describing already-published research.)
And more good news for the future: although the funding for DFG Research Unit 533 is coming towards an end — it has about a year left to run — the people who have been running it are keen to hold a 3rd International Workshop, in maybe three years’ time. It’s not clear yet where the funding will come from, but let’s hope they come up with something!
… and a correction to Taylor et al. (2009)
One point that came up in Kent Stevens’ talk was a factual correction to something we wrote in our 2009 neck-posture paper, and it seems right that we should put it on the record. We wrote (Taylor et al. 2009:216) that:
Physical manipulation of the mounted Diplodocus skeleton DMNH 1494, by Ken Carpenter, resulted in a mounted posture in which the neck is extended farther vertically and horizontally than is allowed by Stevens and Parrish’s digital model (personal observation). Since the neck of this mount is a cast of the Diplodocus carnegii holotype CM 84, the very same individual used by Stevens and Parrish (1999), it is evident that the results of such computerised studies are not as objective as they may appear.
Regarding the provenance of the Denver Diplodocus mount, we were misled by the DMNH online catalogue. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be online any more, but this is the information it gave regarding the reconstructed portions:
Majority of specimen exhibited in Prehistoric Journey; skull cast from CM 1161, cervicals cast from CM 84, Left scapula, and L & R humeri, radii, & ulnae all cast from HMNS 175 (Houston Musuem of Natural Science), distal 6 caudals cast from Western Paleontology Laboratory specimen.
Kent has spoken to Ken Carpenter about this mount, and it turns out that while the majority of the neck is indeed a CM 84 cast, the last three or so posterior cervicals are from a different specimen — presumably DMNH 1494 itself — and are somewhat restored in plaster. Thanks to Kent for clearing this up.
(Regarding the rest of Kent’s talk: I’ll withhold comment until Kent publishes his criticisms.)
Update (the next day)
Thanks for John H. and Heinrich, who both tweeted the conference. You can (for now, anyway) read their comments, and a few by other people, in the saved messages under #SauroBonn. But I don’t know how long they last, and I don’t know a good way to save them. Can anyone help?
November 21, 2011
We’ve had the good fortune to work with some very talented paleoartists on several of our projects, and we occasionally write posts drawing attention to pieces of paleoart that we think are especially cool or noteworthy, or use paleoart as a springboard for talking about paleobiology. As usual for SV-POW!, the tone of the posts ranges from completely serious to deeply silly.
- Giant snow-sauropods of the Sapporo Ice Festival
- The Archbishop … restored!
- Pimp my pod
- Pimp my ‘pod 2: haids
- Genesis of an instant paleo-art classic
- Sauropods stomping theropods: a much neglected theme in paleo-art
- Sauropods stomping theropods redux
- The most awesome piece of art EVER
- Brontomerus in National Geographic
- More Brontomerus artwork, from Highlights magazine
- The elephant in the cave: accurate vs familiar vs usual in paleoart
- Hot sauropod news, part 2: A new look for Sauroposeidon
- Greatest. Palaeoart. Ever.
- Speculative sauropod sketches of SVPCA 2012
- An Apatosaurus worthy of All Yesterdays
- Ending on a high note
- More sketches from Brian Engh
- The Diamantinasaurus in the cave: definitely unfamiliar this time
We also have a series of posts reviewing the Apatosaurus maquette from Sideshow Collectibles, with some thoughts on the likely life appearance of sauropods:
- Sideshow Collectibles Apatosaurus maquette, Part 1: introduction
- Sideshow Collectibles Apatosaurus maquette, Part 2: the head
- Sideshow Collectibles Apatosaurus maquette, Part 3: the neck
- Sideshow Collectibles Apatosaurus maquette, Part 4: body, tail, limbs, base, and skull
- Sideshow Collectibles Apatosaurus maquette, Part 5: posture
- Sideshow Collectibles Apatosaurus maquette, Part 6: texture and color
- Sideshow Collectibles Apatosaurus maquette, Part 7: verdict
Finally, for lack of a better place to put them, here are links to the complete Umbaran Starfighter Saga:
- Was the Umbaran Starfighter from Clone Wars inspired by an Apatosaurus vertebra? (Dec. 13, 2012)
- Heck, yes, the Umbaran Starfighter from Clone Wars was inspired by an Apatosaurus vertebra (Dec. 15, 2012)
- Umbaran Starfighter vs. Apatosaurus cervical, round 3 (Dec. 16, 2012)
- Umbaran Starfighter update (Jan. 4, 2013)
- CONFIRMED: the Umbaran Starfighter is an Apatosaurus cervical (Jan. 21, 2013)