Monday, May 31, 2010

Eye-Witness Paleoart

Above: A more speculative take on Genyornis by somebody (Nobu Tamura) who has never seen one in person. Licensed.

As noted on the DML, the ABC is reporting on a pretty awesome find:

That there is some Aboriginal rock art depicting the long-extinct Australian flightless dromornithid Genyornis newtoni. All paleontological evidence suggests that this bird became extinct at least 43 thousand years ago, based on the dating of eggshells. According to a paleontologist (unnamed in the linked article) who examined the site, the details of the painting match well enough to known Genyornis specimens that it must have been done by an eyewitness, and probably is not a handed-down cultural memory of the bird.

Dan Pigdon on the DML also pointed out that the oldest dated rock art in Australia is 40,000 years old, and that also happens to be the limit of carbon dating, so human art on the continent conceivably could be even older, which would certainly overlap with the fossil range of Genyornis. Either way, this represents some of the earliest evidence of humans in Australia and may have been done near the time humans first arrived there. The art itself is pretty cool, and the animals as depicted look more moa-like than emu-like to me, but of course they're fairly abstract. They also seem to have some kind of banding pattern, I wonder if that represents their coloration in life... The one on the right is smaller and more gracile, maybe a juvenile or a smaller sexual dimorph?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Trendsetting 2: Return of the Dork

A few weeks ago I told the story of the Pioneer Dork and how he's catching on in dinosaur scale diagrams thanks to the ones I've been doing for Wikipedia over the last four years. Well this is getting out of hand, because now there is an actual t-shirt company marketing a shirt about the Dork's suicidally placid wave.

You can buy the official Dork t-shirt here for US$18.95. I don't see a dime of that but I'm looking at this as more of an homage (it doesn't even use any of my original silhouettes, even though the Dork himself is public domain, which is why I started using him in the first place).

Sunday, May 16, 2010

More Non-Dinosaurs! Oh no!

Back to dinosaurs soon, I promise.

I've been doing some research on
Nyctosaurus lately for my own web site and toward improving the Wikipedia article. The crest situation always confused me, because many traditional depictions of this pterosaur show it with a low, dorsal keel type crest on the snout, similar to some ctenochasmatoids. The well-preserved skulls of the famous gigantic-crested N. sp., however, don't show this feature, and neither to several other nyctosaur skulls. As it turns out, Chris Bennett, who has been working on a detailed osteology of Nyctosaurus, pointed out on the DML several years back that the "N. bonneri" style crest isn't real, an artifact of crushing mistaken for a crest and subsequently enhanced by preperators.

As for the Nyctosaurus sp. with the head like a sailing mast, older depictions showed it with the back-pointing boom much shorter than the up-pointing spar. However, the fossils of KJ1 and KJ2 (the crested specimens) appear to have broken booms, and Bennett 2003 states that the boom was at least 3/4 the length of the spar. Luckily this meme has taken off among paleoartists thanks to the efforts of Mark Witton, and John Conway updating his famously brilliant paintings of this species.

I've updated my own depiction here, as well as the version I had donated to Wikipedia. Oddly enough, I found the older version in a Flikr photo by mavra_chang accompanying a Nyctosaurus display at the Brazos Valley Museum of Natural History in Bryan, Texas. The version is CC licensed but that requires at least crediting my name somewhere. It's hard to tell if that happened there as the image is partially cropped, but they certainly didn't notify me or ask permission... Don't get me wrong, I'm stoked to have my stuff (however outdated) up in a frigging museum. Just, y'know, a heads up would have been nice.