Sunday, June 29, 2014

"And one minute is a long time", or a reason to listen to Revolution 9

Taking a brief break from the "generic history" series:

If you've gone through a basic geology class at almost any level, you've probably encountered some kind of metaphor for geologic time versus some familiar standard, the objects of which are to give you an idea of the geologic chronology and the scale of deep time, and to impress upon you the rather tiny speck of time occupied by recorded history, Homo sapiens, and so on. The two favorites are the length of a calendar year and the length of a day. If you do not work with geologists and wish to forever establish yourself as eccentric, you should look up one of these and memorize it, and then at appropriate times use that information to excuse yourself from meetings, gatherings, and so forth. "I'd love to come over, but there won't be enough oxygen in the atmosphere at ten." "I am incapable of doing anything until twelve minutes before midnight on December 31." The truth of the matter is you can come up with all sorts of different ways of doing this exercise. All you need is enough of whatever you're converting to geologic time to get decent resolution, and a subject that will hold interest. Geologic time in a mile or kilometer? Sure. Geologic time based on the reigns of Holy Roman Emperors? You could do it, but it probably only appeals to a very select crowd. Why not pop-cultural subjects? A single movie or series of movies could be easily done, and offers the potential for endless irritation by pausing the show and exclaiming that Pangea is rifting apart. How about an album? Well, you're going to want one that goes a little longer than 30 minutes...

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The generic history of dinosaur paleontology: 1900 to 1929

We now turn the page from the 19th century (previous entries here and here). The characters are still colorful (in fact, about the only time the characters aren't colorful is when there aren't any characters), and the stage is expanding, both in terms of geography and in the players. The American Museum of Natural History is in its paleontological ascendancy. Improving logistics are permitting expeditions to go farther afield. With the passing of the previous generation, the bloodlust appears to be under control, but never fear, there are still plenty of driven personalities and nutty ideas. Most of these ideas are beyond the scope of this entry, but if you go through biographies you'll find plenty of strange spiritual theories of evolution and obnoxious racial schemes.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The generic history of dinosaur paleontology: 1870 to 1899

Following on from the previous post, we end up in the 1870s, departing the formative era of dinosaur paleontology and entering what you could call the "heroic era", of a few larger-than-life individuals performing outsized deeds. It was a time when great finds were being made and great advances being reported, but hardly anyone was playing in the sandbox. Three researchers turn up again and again in the literature from about 1870 to 1900. In alphabetical order, they are Edward Drinker Cope, Othniel Charles Marsh, and Harry Seeley. If you have spent much time reading about dinosaurs, you have probably encountered the first two gentlemen, most likely in the context of the "Bone Wars" that sprang from their stubborn rivalry. Seeley, a British paleontologist, described a number of new genera and species, almost all of which languish in obscurity. His most lasting contribution is instead the division of dinosaurs into saurischians ("lizard-hipped") and ornithischians ("bird-hipped"). Add Seeley's British contemporaries John Hulke and Richard Lydekker, and you've got practically the entire roster of paleontologists working extensively on dinosaurs in this thirty year period.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The generic history of dinosaur paleontology: 1699 to 1869

A few months ago, not long after I started writing this blog, I thought it might be fun to do a monthly roundup of news in dinosaur paleontology. The month was February, and almost nothing happened. Well, there was a publication on an extension of the geologic range of Polacanthus, which is probably much more interesting to me than to practically anyone else, but that can't really hold a whole month. I might as well just drop the pretense and post on Polacanthus. One day I will be tempted to do so, and it will be a terrible post. Fate has ordained it.