Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Dinosaur Renaissance pt. 1: Early Discoveries

How is everyone enjoying their spring so far? Mine is going pretty good so far. Not a lot is going on around here except our work on the Easter drama, “The King on a Cross”, coming up in just a few weeks. As you might recall if you've read my previous posts, there will be two performances: one on Good Friday (the 18th) at 7 p.m. and the other on Saturday the 19th at 2 p.m. Be sure to contact me if you're interested in more details with the email address at the bottom of this blog post.

Days Till
It is: 17 days till Palm Sunday
It is: 22 days till the Friday performance of “The King on a Cross”
It is: 24 days till Easter Sunday

In the Spotlight
I can't tell you how exciting it has been for me as a Jurassic Park fan over the past several months! News concerning the new forth movie, Jurassic World, has been literally pouring into the media. Earlier this week, two pictures of concept art have been revealed! For those of you that don't know, concept art is pictures made for movie-makers when they're trying to get their ideas for a movie into visual form. Here are the two concept arts:

To me and many other Jurassic Park fans, these two pictures seem to be portrayals of the new Visitor Center for the new Jurassic World theme park. As you can see, the central rotunda is similar to the one in the first movie, but more futuristic. This makes sense when you remember that the movie will take place in 2015, while the events of the first movie took place in 1993. Here's the Visitor Center from the first film and the concept art for the new film for comparison:

This is the Visitor Center from Jurassic Park.
This is the concept art depicting the Visitor Center from Jurassic World.
Also, you can tell based on the pictures that the new film will feature monorails running across Isla Nublar. These could potentially lead to some really cool action sequences in the film!

Since these pictures are dated 2013, it is possible that this is just early concept art and it may not reflect what the Visitor Center in the movie will really look like. Perhaps they've changed the design of the buildings and/or the monorails since these were created. I guess we'll have to wait till June 12, 2015 to find out!

That's not the only news in the Jurassic World universe – two more actors' involvement with the film has just been confirmed. The actors are Omar Sy and Jake Johnson. We don't know what parts they will be portraying yet, but I can't wait to find out. The film's director, Colin Trevorrow has also given us some more insight as to who will be in the picture; there are three more yet-unnamed main female roles to fill. And as if that wasn't great enough, you might recall that I mentioned in a blog post several months ago that Universal Pictures will start the production phase for this movie next month! Finally, after over a decade Jurassic World is finally going to see the light it deserves!

Topic of the Week by Christian Ryan

Dinosaurs: you've seen them in books, movies, television programs, video games, computer games, in museum halls, advertisement . . . and even in toy shops! Perhaps these animals are so popular because we humans are so drawn toward creatures or concepts we don't really understand well. And compared to animals living today, we really don't know too much about dinosaurs at all if you think about! But our knowledge of these beasts is increasing year by year; there once was a time we knew even less about these beasts God created: they were portrayed as nothing more than sinister, primeval, evil, lazy, cold-blooded creatures destined for extinction. But that was before a great revolution in dinosaur science known as . . . the Dinosaur Renaissance (sometimes called the Dinosaur Revolution). So how did we get from the older depictions of dinosaurs to the ones we're familiar with today? Well, this three-part series of mine called "The Dinosaur Renaissance" will help you understand just how much about dinosaurs we've learned since they were first discovered!

The Dinosaur Renaissance is a period of time when scientists began to learn new and amazing facts about these dinosaurs. But before we learn about the Dinosaur Renaissance, there are some other facts you should now about what happened before this time period, and some basic dinosaur science in general. First off, the area of science devoted to the study of dinosaurs and other ancient animals and plants is called paleontology. Scientists who study paleontology are called paleontologists. Fossils of dinosaurs – dramatic reminders of the several (billions of) lives lost in the water's of Noah's Flood – have been uncovered from the ground for thousands of years, but nowhere near the scale we dig them up today. This is because we weren't looking for them and/or we didn't know what to look for. Many early discoveries were thought to be the bones of dragons (and people who believed that were actually pretty correct; post-Flood dinosaurs inspired dragon legends before their extinction). And some scientists of the 1600's actually believed that dinosaur fossils were the bones of large elephants or even giant humans! Today, we know the largest confirmed human was the giant Goliath described in 1 Samuel in the Bible.

Back in Victorian Times, depicting dinosaurs as lively and agile creatures was unheard of!
But when did people actually learn that dinosaur bones were completely different from animals we know today? Well, that all started between 1815 and 1824, when a geology professor named Rev. William Buckland collected the fossils of a dinosaurs later named Megalosaurus. He can be credited as the first person to successfully describe a dinosaur as a dinosaur and not something else (e.g. a giant elephant or giant human). The second fossils recognized as an animal new to science were discovered by Mary Ann Mantell, the wife of English geologist Gideon Mantell, in 1922. She showed the finds to her husband, who had a great interest in fossils, and he published his findings in 1825. These fossils were later named Iguanodon, based on the similarities of their teeth to a modern iguana. In 1841, an English scientist named Sir Richard Owen correctly identified these two new creatures as animals that no longer existed and made a new name for them, a name that strikes fear and amazement into our hearts to this day: dinosaur, which means “terrible lizard”.

Sir Richard Owen invented the name "dinosaur" in 1841.
Soon, scientists and artists from the Victorian era began trying to reconstruct these magnificent beasts . . . but their efforts were . . . well, let's just say they weren't the most accurate! Sir Richard Owen had the first reconstructions of the Iguanodon depicted as a lizard and rhinoceros-like creature, with a horn on its snout, a bulky body, pillar-like legs and a thick tail. One of the very first Iguanodon sculptures ever made was, before it's completion, used to hold around 20 scientists for a dinner! You can imagine it was very uncomfortable!

These two Iguanodon scultptures, in Crystal Park, were some of the first depictions of dinosaurs ever made.
Megalosaurus didn't fare much better in its recreation! It was portrayed sort of like a half crocodile/half rhinoceros type of animal that walked on all four legs. Megalosaurus, we now know, didn't really look anything like the initial depiction, as you'll read later on. The first reconstructions of the two mentioned species were placed in Crystal Park, right outside of the the Crystal Palace. The palace burned down since then, but the dinosaurs can and are often still visited there to this day! It wasn't long before the first reconstructions of Iguanodon and Megalosaurus were obsolete. (However, even the initial Iguanodon wasn't the worst mistake paleontologists have made over the years; one scientist we'll learn about in the "The Dinosaur Renaissance pt. 2" placed an extinct reptile's head where the tail should have gone!)

Megalosaurus was the first dinosaur ever correctly described as a dinosaur. This sculpture is also located in Crystal Park among other Victorian recreations of extinct reptiles.
More and more dinosaurs began being discovered, not only in England, but also in the America's. Before the next big dinosaur discovery, scientists believed all dinosaurs walked on four legs. But in 1858, this all changed with the new discovery of Hadrosaurus, a large hadrosaur, or duck-billed dinosaur, in New Jersey. It was clear, based on the skeleton, that the dinosaur could walk in a bipedal fashion, meaning it could walk on four legs. And scientists were about to get a BIG shock coming from a dinosaur they already knew about: workers in a Belgian coal mine discovered 38 specimens of Iguanodon in 1878. Many of them were complete or almost-complete. This made scientists realize that their original reconstruction of Iguanodon was wrong – now that they had more fossils, they knew that, like Hadrosaurus, Iguanodon could also walk on two legs. That wasn't the scientists' only surprise: thanks to all of the new specimens discovered, they learned that the supposed “nose horn” of Iguanodon was really a thumb spike (only one spike was found on the original specimen in 1822 and it wasn't attached to the dinosaur's hand); this dinosaur had a spike on each hand that would have been used for defense and/or to help it forage.

After the discovery in the Belgium coal mines, scientists learned that Iguanodon could walk on two legs and that the "nose horn" was actually a thumb spike. However, their depictions of this dinosaur would still be wrong until almost a century later.
Scientists kept digging more and more dinosaur fossils out of the ground. In fact, even to this day, there are more fossil discoveries than there are scientists to actually study them! By the late 1800's, dinosaurs were becoming very popular . . . but this isn't the end of our tale. In fact, by the late 1800's, the tale of dinosaur discoveries was only just beginning!

I hope everyone enjoyed reading the first article in The Dinosaur Renaissance series. Please come back next week for my co-author Joy's latest article and, the week after that, we'll continue with my series and see what happens when scientists get a little too anxious to discover more dinosaurs!

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