So November ended 12 days ago, which you may have realised, but I hadn't. Well I had, but I carried on trying to achieve my AcWriMo November goal of 500 words per day without realising it had officially ended. So I guess it was a success in that I didn't stop writing at midnight on the 30th. Did I write 500 words per day every day for the whole month? Nope. But I wrote a heck of a lot more than I would have otherwise.
What AcWriMo did for me was to re-introduce the idea of pure scholarly pursuit: simply enjoying writing ideas down, reading papers, digesting the information then writing more ideas down. So at least I can move forward with this new found invigoration, and the knowledge that I am capable of producing and communicating innovative thoughts. That blank page isn't nearly as intimidating now...
I've always thought that palaeoartists who extend their reconstructions into the realm of 'things not actually supported by the evidence' were just bending the rules to make their art more interesting. But this quote made me stop and think:
Those who restore prehistoric life are limited by the evidence at hand, this is true, but “more conservative” does not mean “more accurate.”
Our opinion on what ancient fauna looked liked and how they behaved is heavily biased by taphonomy (yes, I managed to work taphonomy into the argument again, buts it's true!). The way in which remains are preserved - what is present and what is lacking - dictates the limits of 'conservative' reconstruction. But are we missing out on a deeper understanding ancient animals by limiting ourselves in this way?
I suppose when I think of accuracy of prehistoric reconstructions, I think about representations of behaviour more than anatomy. The images in All Yesterdays that I've seen so far use what we know about modern vertebrate behaviour to illustrate possible ancient animal behaviour, instead of viewing these animals as static objects in an ancient environment, or for carnivorous non-avian dinosaurs in particular, as 'evil' eating machines.
Interactions between carnivores and herbivores do not have to equal chaos and DEATH.
I'll order a copy of the book, or maybe receive one for Christmas (*wink* *nudge*, dear family), after which I'll talk about the behavioural and anatomical reconstructions represented therein. And the beautiful palaeoart too!
This is just a quick post to say that I attended a three-day Career Advantage - Global Collaborations workshop for RHD students at UQ, and loved pretty much every minute of it! Topics ranged from developing career opportunities, creating networks (not networking, thank goodness), understanding how international universities operate, and understanding how to interact with people from different cultural backgrounds (where culture can be nationality, sex, discipline etc...). I met a lot of friendly RHD students from other disciplines, and have also expanded my professional network. I would highly recommend this workshop to any RHD student looking to work overseas or collaborate with overseas colleagues. There are also another two packages on offer, Higher Education Practice and Leadership, and Research Innovation, Translation, and Commercialisation, which may be more suitable depending on particular research specialities and career directions.
Interesting fact: L. atopus went for a swim, then a sink
Although Lophorhothon atopus was a terrestrial hadrosaurid, its remains were found in a marine chalk deposit (the Mooreville Chalk Formation). Various taphonomic scenarios have been suggested for how it ended up in the middle of the ocean, including the bloat-and-float model. This model suggests that:
So the idea behind the location of L. atopus in marine sediment is that after it died, it was washed into the ocean, floated for a period of time, and then sank onto, and was buried by, marine chalk sediments. It would be difficult to tell whether it was washed out to sea while still alive, or whether it had already died. Although modern experiments involving carcasses lying on the ocean floor suggest that if had died at sea, it would likely be completely obliterated before it had a chance to float! (As per this pig decay experiment - WARNING - some may find these images disturbing). And the paucity of fossil material recovered from this specimen and others preserved in the eastern United States marine formations suggests that these oceans were very taphonomically active zones (TAZ), with lots of micro- and macro-scavengers consuming soft and hard tissue.
Representation of L. atopus floating in the taphonomically active zone (TAZ) of the eastern United States Cretaceous oceans. Courtesy of James T. Hays, copyright 2009, and the Encyclopedia of Alabama
This float-and-bloat model is exactly what I've been testing for my PhD: looking at the buoyancy of juvenile salt-water crocodiles and native fish in fresh water. This will help add to the body of knowledge regarding what sort of time frame different animals bloat-and-float over, and the potential distances they could travel in that time, including floating into the middle of an ocean!
Simplified cladogram of all non-avian dinosaurs. L. atopus was a hadrosaurid, within ornithopoda.
Langston, W. Jr. 1960. The vertebrate fauna of the Selma Formation of Alabama. Part VI. The dinosaurs . Fieldiana: Geology Memoirs 3(6): 315-361
Schwimmer, D. R., Dent Williams, G., Dobie, J. L., and Siesser, W. G., 1993. Late Cretaceous Dinosaurs from the Blufftown Formation in Western Georgia and Eastern Alabama. Journal of Paleontology 67(2): 288-296
Schwimmer, D. R. 2010. Lophorhothon. The Encyclopedia of Alabama TM & © 2012, accessed 7 December 2012.
They also posit that the pyroclastic flow was a 'cooler' temperature (250–600°C), similar to those experienced at Pompeii in 79 AD. They therefore propose that the C. neumayri died in a 'cool' pyroclastic flow, and the carcass traveled for some distance resulting in disarticulation and the loss of skeletal elements. I, personally, would be hesitant to say that would be the only plausible scenario, as the C. neumayri may have perished and disarticulated long before being swept up and buried. But the fact that it was preserved at all under such conditions is amazing!
Taphonomic processes involved in the preservation of the skull and jaw (and partial rib). From Antoine et al. (2012)
Antoine, P-O., Orliac, M.J., Atici, G., Ulusoy, I., Sen, E., et al., 2012. A Rhinocerotid Skull Cooked-to-Death in a 9.2 Ma-Old Ignimbrite Flow of Turkey. PLoS ONE 7(11): e49997. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049997
About the author
Dr Caitlin Syme is a palaeontologist who recently finished her PhD at The University of Queensland, studying the taphonomy (preservation state) of fossil non-avian dinosaurs, crocodiles and fish from the Winton Formation, Queensland, Australia. Think forensic science or CSI for fossils, and you're on the right track!
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