Sunday, July 27, 2014

Where to see metro geology, part 5: Shadow Falls Park

Having worked the dinosaurs out of my system for a couple of weeks at least, it is time to return to the Twin Cities. Today's location is one of my favorite places. I first visited it when I was an undergrad at the University of St. Thomas around the turn of the century. This may surprise some of you (well, if this is the first post you've read), but the non-scholastic aspects of college life were utterly lost on me. I did some writing and reading, learned how to kind of flail at a guitar in a rhythmic fashion and sing at the same time, and started the world's drabbest-looking website on dinosaurs. It's amazing how these things will occupy you. In my hectic schedule I also found time to spend poking around the network of goat trails along the Mississippi gorge, which is where the subject of this post comes in.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The generic history of dinosaur paleontology: 1990 to 2014

We come now to the end of this series (previous installments 1699 to 1869, 1870 to 1899, 1900 to 1929, 1930 to 1969, and 1970 to 1989). 1970 to 1989 was the heart of the Dinosaur Renaissance, with its "dinosaur heresies"; as you might guess, when heresies last long enough, they stop being heretical. Funnily enough, for everyone who became interested in dinosaurs after the mid-1980s, the Dinosaur Heresies are a lot closer to the Dinosaur Orthodoxies. You'd have trouble selling a book with that title, though.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The generic history of dinosaur paleontology: 1970 to 1989

Welcome back! We are nearing the end of this series; for reference, the previous installments are 1699 to 1869 (birth), 1870 to 1899 (Bone Wars), 1900 to 1929 (growth to contraction), and 1930 to 1969 (doldrums). The current period, 1970 to 1989, covers the height of the Dinosaur Renaissance, basically from Deinonychus (1969) to the first edition of The Dinosauria and Jurassic Park (the novel) (1990). The last segment, 1990 to the present, could be broadly considered the Post-Renaissance, the Internet Age, or the Feathered Age of Dinosaurs. If I had to guess, I'd say the transition from Renaissance to the modern era goes from about 1990 to 1996, which includes such milestones as the film version of Jurassic Park (1993) and the appearance of the Dinosaur Mailing List (1994), and ends with the publication of feathered dinosaurs (Sinosauropteryx). Feathers are really the key: before Sinosauropteryx, feathered dinosaurs were the province of just a couple of workers, particularly Gregory Paul. That first description and the discoveries to come changed the game.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The generic history of dinosaur paleontology: 1930 to 1969

"[O]ne day I was half-stepping, and the lights went out." – B. Dylan
"This is gonna get worse before it gets better." – Chief Wiggum

World War I and the resulting economic turmoil had already kneecapped European dinosaur paleontology in the years leading up to 1930. The market collapse of 1929 and the Great Depression further drove people and resources out of the field. World War II scrambled things again, this time adding wholesale destruction of important collections in bombings of England, France, and Germany. Yet, these all together are not necessarily enough to cripple a science. Changes in attitude that reduced dinosaurs to a sideshow prolonged the deleterious effects of war, lack of new workers, and lack of funding. In the end, dinosaurs had to be rethought for the science to come back, and these movie monsters of the '50s made a triumphal return from seeming death, like any good movie monster.