September 18, 2012
Friday evening I was in a pub with Mike, Darren, John Conway, and Emma Lawlor. We were killing time waiting for the Pink Giraffe Chinese restaurant down the street to open. I was chatting with John about “All Todays”, his speculative presentation with Cevdet Kosemen (a.k.a. Nemo Ramjet) on how future sentients might reconstruct Holocene animals if they were known only from fossils. Like his “All Yesterdays” presentation last year, John’s flights of scientific fancy had fired my imagination and gotten me thinking about how paleontology forms sort of a skin or membrane between the bubble of what we know and the surrounding ocean of what we don’t. I decided that we should pass a pad around and each sketch a speculative sauropod.
My own entry is based on the holotype of Mamenchisaurus hochuanensis, which was found almost complete except for the skull (naturally) and forelimbs. I have often joked that diplodocids were basically bipeds whose forelimbs happened to reach the ground. Mamenchisaurs were probably not that back-heavy, but their presacral vertebrae were extremely pneumatic and if our hypothetical future paleontologists had no other sauropod material to work with, I think it’s possible that they would reconstruct the M. hochuanensis holotype as a biped.
I’m not sure there’s much to say about Mike’s brachiosaur, beyond the Ebert-like observation that if a brachiosaur dressed up in a coat and top hat and went cruising for dames, this, I am forced to conclude, is more or less how it would look.
John Conway also drew a mamenchisaur, this time Mamenchisaurus youngi with its bizarrely bent-back sacrum. John’s explanation for the weird sacrum brings to mind ground sloths and–for those who saw “All Yesterdays” at SVPCA 2011–a certain black-feathered therizinosaur. I’d also like to note that he knocked this out in about 5 minutes, thus demonstrating the difference between a professional artist and a mere doodler like myself.
Darren’s hindlimb-less sauropod complements my bipedal Mamenchisaurus. Here the animal, evidently known from only the front half of the skeleton, has been restored as a giant bird. Dig the giant thumb claws and spreading metapodials. Surely, you say, future paleontologists of any species or machine culture would know a pectoral girdle when they saw one. But I’ll bet a sauropod scapulocoracoid could pass for an ilium, if said future paleontologists were still in the early stages of understanding the morphology and diversity of vertebrates. Remember that Seeley described the sauropod Ornithopsis as “a gigantic animal of the pterodactyle kind” based on its pneumatic vertebrae. There is also a long and honorable (?) tradition of mistaking sauropods for hadrosaurs (Sonorasaurus), theropods (Bruhathkayosaurus), and tree trunks (Sauroposeidon), so don’t be too quick to rule this out.
What I want to see next is a skeletal reconstruction of Darren’s sauro-bird, using only elements from the front half of a sauropod skeleton. Anyone want to give it a shot?
Our penultimate entry is Emma’s rendering of an evil bastard snake devouring an innocent baby sauropod. Tragically this one is not speculative–we have very good fossil evidence that the scene shown here really happened, probably a lot. She tried to make it up to us with a smiley face on the next page, but it was too late. We were so depressed after this that we could barely choke down four courses of excellent Chinese food.
One more for the road: a totally new depiction of the enigmatic sauropod Xenoposeidon by yours truly. I expect to see this incorporated into future talks and papers dealing with European sauropod diversity in the Early Cretaceous. Just credit me as you normally would.
That’s all, folks. I hope that speculative sauropod sketches get to be a Thing, and that we see lots more of them from future conferences.
December 23, 2011
October 31, 2011
Back when Darren and I did the Xenoposeidon description, we were young and foolish, and only illustrated the holotype vertebra NHM R2095 in four aspects: left and right lateral, anterior and posterior. No dorsal or ventral views.
Also, because the figure was intended for Palaeontology, which prints only in greyscale, I stupidly prepared the figure in greyscale, rather than preparing it in colour and then flattening it down at the last moment. (Happily I’d learned that lesson by the time we did our neck-posture paper: although it was destined for Acta Palaeontologia Polonica, which also prints in greyscale, and though the PDF uses greyscale figures, the online full-resolution figures are in colour.)
As if that wasn’t dumb enough, I also composited the four featured views such that the two lateral views were adjacent, and above the anterior and posterior views — so it wasn’t easy to match up features on the sides and front/back between the views. Since then, I have landed on a better way of presenting multi-view figures, as in my much-admire’d turkey cervical and pig skull images.
So, putting it all together, here is how we should have illustrated illustrated Xenoposeidon back in 2007 (click through for high resolution):
(Top row: dorsal view, with anterior facing left; middle row, from left to right: anterior, left lateral, posterior, right lateral; bottom row, ventral view, with anterior facing left. As always with images of NHM-owned material, this is copyright the NHM.)
Of course, if we’d published in PLoS ONE, then this high-resolution (4775 x 4095), full colour image could have been the published one rather than an afterthought on a blog somewhere. But we didn’t: back then, we weren’t so aware of the opportunities available to us now that we live in the Shiny Digital Future.
In other news, the boys and I all registered Xbox Live accounts a few days ago. I chose the name “Xenoposeidon”, only to find to my amazement that someone else had already registered it. But “Brontomerus” was free, so I used that instead.
July 21, 2009
I hesitate to inflict these images on SV-POW! readers, but I have to post them somewhere if only so I can point my family to them; and who knows, maybe some of the rest of you will enjoy the amusing hat.
Last Friday (17th July), I drove down to Portsmouth, with my wife Fiona, to graduate — the consummation of my Ph.D programme. I’d expected to be issued with a sober black robe and one of those hats with a flat square on top, but I was unprepared for just how silly the kit would turn out to be:
In fact, I looked less like a palaeontologist and more like a member of the Spanish Inquisition. Which, I’m sure I need not point out, was the last thing I’d expected.
My supervisor Dave Martill was there for the ceremony, also dressed up as a silly person; and Darren came along in civvies to say hello before the show, and to meet up afterwards at the reception at the Department:
Also present and graduating was Portsmouth pterosaur maven Mark Witton, but I don’t have a picture of him in regalia, as he turned up too late to have his photo taken — wise man.
As I sat through the very, very long ceremony — if you’ve never listened through a list of 600 names being read out and watched 600 people walk up on stage and shake hands with the pro vice chancellor, you don’t know the meaning of the word “party” — I became bored enough to read the programme cover to cover, and so I discovered that photography during the ceremony is strictly forbidden. Fiona, however, did not realise this, and so I am able to show you this actual photograph of me caught in the act of graduating:
We doctoral graduands got special treatment: not only did we shake hands with the pro vice chancellor — as though this were not thrill enough — but we also had the titles of our dissertations read out. As mine sounds rather vague (“Aspects of the history, anatomy, taxonomy and palaeobiology of sauropod dinosaurs”) I was left wishing that I’d stuck with my original title.
After the ceremony it was back to the department for nibbles and also to — finally! — pick up the printed-and-bound copies of my dissertation, which until then I’d not seen in the flesh. Apart from the two mandatory copies (for the University and Department libraries), I had four printed — one each for me, Dave, Darren and Matt. Those of you not fortunate enough to have received one of the printed copies can assuage your lust for my dissertation by buying it in mug form:
I’m not quite sure what made me think this would be a cool thing to do, but anyway I did it, and this is now my first-choice mug as I make my way through the numerous cups of tea that, as an Englishman, I am obliged to drink each day. (And yes, you really can buy one of your very own.)
You may wish to know that, at the time of writing, the top five search terms that are bringing people to SV-POW! are: rabbit, flamingo, basement, svpow, and twinkie.
April 29, 2009
If you woke up this morning and thought, “Global warming is on the rise, amphibians are in a race to see who can go extinct first, the economy is in the toilet, any day now my boss will discover that I don’t actually do anything at work, and my blog will never have the eclectic cachet of SV-POW!, but at least Mike Taylor doesn’t have a Ph.D.,” then it is my happy duty to ruin your day. Mike defended today, successfully.
Ladies and gentlemen, I proudly present Michael P. Taylor of Ruardean, Englishman, adventurer, raconteur, Doctor of Philosophy in the paleontological arts. Note that when recumbent he is approximately equal in length to 1.5 Sauroposeidon cervicals, and appears to be cradling an invisible wine glass. Don’t stare too long, or you might not be able to look away.
Congratulations, sir! Let the blogosphere ring with the happy news, and undescribed sauropods cry out for recognition.
Update (from Mike)
Thanks to Matt, and all commenters, for your kind words. I wondered when the “Latin love god” photo was going to appear, and that day has finally come. What Matt doesn’t know is that this photo was used for the cover of my forthcoming album:
February 20, 2009
UPDATE: Oops, I’m a moron. I wrote this post at work (on my lunch hour!) and didn’t realize that I had free access to the Wiley stuff because I was at work. I can’t get them from home either. But as a public service to disappointed readers, I will send PDFs of the three Wiley articles to anyone who e-mails me: firstname.lastname@example.org (spam bots can suck on Google’s filters, which are teh awesome).
Apologies to Jerry for the title (you DMLers know what I’m talking about). In case no one has drawn your attention to it, the rate of arrival of hot new SV-POW!-revelant papers has gone near-exponential lately. Here’s a short hit list, all a few of which are currently free downloads!
First, three hotties from the all-open-access, all-the-time PLoS ONE:
- Claessens, L. P. A. M., O’Connor, P. M. & Unwin, D. M. 2009. Respiratory evolution facilitated the origin of pterosaur flight and aerial gigantism. PLoS ONE 4 (2): e4497. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004497. This one is about pterosaurs, but it is also about pneumaticity and air sacs. The case for a bird-like air sac system in the ancestral ornithodiran is getting stronger…
- Martinez, R. N. & Alcober, O. A. 2009. A basal sauropodomorph (Dinosauria: Saurischia) from the Ischigualasto Formation (Triassic, Carnian) and the early evolution of Sauropodomorpha. PLoS ONE 4 (2): e4397. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004397. Explore the humble roots of sauroponderous vertebrawesome with Panphagia, a new basalmost sauropodomorph from Argentina.
- Bates, K.T., Manning, P.L., Hodgetts, D., Sellers, W.I. 2009. Estimating mass properties of dinosaurs using laser imaging and 3D computer modelling. PLoS ONE 4(2): e4532. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0004532. We haven’t talked enough about mass estimates here (yet), and this paper unfortunately only features stinkin’ theropods and a stinkin’ ornithischian, but I’m sure it will be discussed here a lot in the future. A little bird told me…and by “little bird” I mean “huge bird-lunged sauropod”.
As long as you’re over at PLoS ONE, you might as well read up on fighting ceratopsians and pregnant land whales (be careful how you use that last phrase, too–we don’t want to lose any readers to domestic violence).
Next, two important recent papers from the Journal of Experimental Zoology (other than my own). These are free right now but who knows for how long, so download them pronto before they go behind a paywall to anyone who e-mails me for them.
- Claessens, L.P.A.M. 2008. The skeletal kinematics of lung ventilation in three basal bird taxa (emu, tinamou, and guinea fowl). Journal of Experimental Zoology 309A. Leon has been busy. This paper is all stinkin’ theropods of the stinkin’ present (i.e., birds), but it is the new state of the art for understanding how birds breathe, and therefore worthy of mention in these hallowed electronic halls. If we ever figure out the actual mechanics of sauropod breathing, it will be because of work like this.
- Perry, S.F., Christian, A., Breuer, T., Pajor, N., Codd, J.R. 2009. Implications of an avian-style respiratory system for gigantism in sauropod dinosaurs. Journal of Experimental Zoology 311A. Everyone’s favorite topic (or mine, anyway): sauropod air sacs. Includes some new physiological calculations and some novel ideas on the link between air sacs and giant body size in sauropods.
Continuing with another sauropod paper from Germany, this time in the journal of the Museum fur Naturkunde in Berlin. This one is also currently free but may not be forever. Don’t tarry. You know the drill.
- Remes, K. 2009. Taxonomy of Late Jurassic diplodocid sauropods from Tendaguru (Tanzania). Fossil Record 12(1):23-46. A very useful rundown of Tendaguru diplodocid material, including Tornieria africana (formerly “Barosaurus” africanus), Australodocus bohetti, and some bits that might belong to either or neither.
Finally, the redescription of Euhelopus by Jeff Wilson and Paul Upchurch is in press, and hopefully we will have a URL to add here soon (and hopefull it will also be free, at least for a while).
At least some segments of the music industry are getting used to the idea that file-sharing can be piracy, but it can also be free distribution and publicity. The new trend of corporate journals offering free downloads on current articles makes me wonder if they’re starting to think the same way [or not]. I’m reminded of John Gilmore’s famous line, “The net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” [like me] Authors are going to keep e-mailing PDFs to all of their friends and colleagues anyway; why not go with the flow? If everyone else’s stuff is being traded and read (and cited!) while yours is sitting behind a paywall, you lose; the “you” applies to both authors and publishers [unless some idiot volunteers to send your stuff around, in which case you only lose if you are the publisher]. End of rant.
Enjoy the new goods!
February 17, 2009
It’s been a while since we looked at everybody’s favourite partial dorsal vertebra, and there may be those who feel we’ve said all that can be said about it, but there is one feature of Xenoposeidon that we’ve never really highlighted here and which is well worth a look.
For anyone who’s not up to speed, a super-brief resumé: Xeno is an indeterminate neosauropod which Darren and I named in 2007 on the basis of a single element, a superbly preserved partial dorsal vertebra loaded with distinctive features that make it very clearly distinct from any other named taxon. For anyone who wants more background, the original paper is freely available, as is a page summarising the story for the media, some unnofficial supplementary information, and a whole week’s worth of SV-POW! posts.
Here is the canoncial Xenoposeidon photo: the specimen in left lateral view. (Don’t worry, this old chestnut is not your Picture of the Week — it’s just setting the scene.)
Up near the top of the preserved part of the vertebra, where the neural arch is broken off, there is a distinctive “V”-shaped pair of laminae, which we identified as accessory infraparapophyseal and infrapostzygapophyseal laminae. The more posterior of the two (on the right as we look at at it here) has a very distinctive wrinkled texture, and that’s what I want to show you today:
Now I’ve heard different things said of those wrinkles: I’ve never seen them on any other specimen of anything before, but then I’ve not seen a whole lot of material. Other people have told me that this kind of thing is pretty common, though I don’t recall anyone ever having told me a specific other specimen that has it. What is completely clear is that no-one seems to know what it is or what it means. It’s very hard to see how this could be the result of any kind of post-mortem distortion, so this must be what the bone was like when the animal was alive. What are the possibilities?
- I wondered whether it could be some kind of pneumatic feature, perhaps the trace left by a diverticulum or set of diverticula; but IIRC Matt doesn’t think that’s likely.
- Could it be the result of some sort of infection? Maybe neontologists, or for that matter doctors, see this kind of thing all the time but we poor palaeontologists are ignorant.
- Er … what else? Seriously, I am out of ideas here.
So, comments are open. Enlighten me. What is the cause of this distinctive texture?
Oh, and finally — for some reason, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned that I uploaded most of the Xenoposeidon news spots onto Youtube a while back. So if anyone wants to hear me talking about my favourite subject, and arguing with the Channel 4 News guy, or indeed just wants to see how mainstream media can get a science story completely right when we trouble to give them good information, get over to http://www.youtube.com/user/Mirk101
November 15, 2008
Happy Xenoposeidon day! Today, November 15, 2008, is the one-year anniversary of the publication of Xenoposeidon Taylor and Naish 2007.
By happy coincidence, I’ve just been sent a courtesy copy of Kids Only, a new guide-book for the Natural History Museum … and there is Xenoposeidon on page 5, exemplifying dinosaur diversity. Rock!
It’s good to see our baby out there educating people!
For much more of Xeno, see Xenoposeidon week.
January 11, 2008
Well, not really. Mike has been profiled on Science Careers. It’s a big lovefest for Mike, Darren, me, SV-POW!, the Dinosaur Mailing List, Xenoposeidon, Apatosaurus, father-son relationships, and science in general.
And it’s all true.*
* Actually, Mike would describe his day job differently. He’s a transponster!
November 21, 2007
By now BMNH R2095 must be the best described, most pored-over 2/3 of a vertebra on the planet. What more can we possibly have to show you?
How about this dandy poster for your living room wall, or the entrance to your corporate headquarters?
And a heretofore unpublicized life restoration, courtesy of Mike Taylor. Some details are hypothetical…
And finally, the happy authors basking in the glory of Good Science.
That concludes our coverage of Xenoposeidon week here at SV-POW! Don’t forget to check back next week–and every week–for even more mind-bending morphology, bleeding-edge science, and soul-
To pneumaticity and beyond!