Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Dinosaur Renaissance pt. 2: Our Knowledge of Dinosaurs Increases

Well, the year's already flying, yet it feels as if it's just begun! Isn't that strange? Things are going pretty well with our Easter drama, “The King on a Cross” – we had our first dress rehearsal last Sunday. It's surprising how much of an impact costumes make (and after spending several hours in my costume, it sure felt like I'd visited the Holy Lands, man that thing makes me hot!). I can't wait for the night of the drama and the second performance on the day after (contact me using the email address at the bottom of this blog post for specific details).

With the update on the play out of the way, let's get started with our “usuals” before we dive into the second part of my three-part series on the “Dinosaur Renaissance”.

Days Till
It is: 10 days till Palm Sunday
It is: 14 days till the Friday night performance of “The King on a Cross”
It is: 18 days till Easter Sunday

In the Spotlight
This week we've got a good dose of news concerning the fourth film in the Jurassic Park series, Jurassic World! Just last week, I showed you all some pictures of some JW concept art for the movie's Visitor Center. This week, I've uploaded some photographs recently taken of the helipad that's going to appear in the film! Here they are:

It's not much too look at yet, as it's still unfinished, but one can just imagine the type of scenes that might take place here; this location would look fantastic with some hadrosaurs and sauropods in the background, or maybe near the end of the movie the film's heroes must escape a pack of raptors or tyrannosaurs by reaching the helicopter in time. Who knows?

Also in other news, Irrfan Khan – who is playing Patel, the owner of the new theme park – has revealed his upcoming filming schedule is anything but not-busy. He described his schedule in a recent interview with Bollywood Hungama. Here's what he had to say:
"It's a brief schedule to begin with, though my role is anything but brief. At the moment all I can tell you on record is that it's a pivotal role. I am very excited about the project. It's the second American global franchise after Spiderman that I am part of . . . After the first brief first schedule of Jurassic World, I'll be back in India to shoot for Shoojit Sircar's Piku. I'll complete one long schedule of Piku and then return to the US for a long schedule of Jurassic World. So it'd continue for the rest of the remaining part of the year."
It has been suggested by some fans that his role will be similar to the one that of John Hammond in the first film, mainly trying to stay out of harm's way while Chris Pratt's and Bryce Dallas Howard's character will be trying to fight for their lives!

The last bit of JW news is about one of the young actors named Ty Simpkins. As you might recall, we've known about him being in this film for quite some time, but it was only just revealed that his character name is going to be “Gray” (exactly what he does in the film is unknown at this point). By the way, Simpkins has just arrived in Hawaii to do some film shooting! I can't wait to see the finished project! Every bit of JW news only gets me more and more excited. As you guys might or might not already know, they start filming next week! Finally, after 13 years of pre-production, Jurassic World is heading to the production stage of the process!

Topic of the Week by Christian Ryan
Two weeks ago, we looked at how early discoveries of dinosaurs changed rapidly as we made more and more fossil finds. Now moving on into the 1870's, scientists were becoming very interested with the “terrible lizards”. And also during this time, more dinosaurs were being discovered not in Europe where the first findings took place, but in the United States – particularly in the western states.

It is now that we reach one of the greatest “dinosaur revolutions” in history, and it all started with two important men: Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope. These two scientists were very different, but were drawn together (and later apart) by the same goal – the desire to discover classify more dinosaurs! Marsh was an American paleontologist born in 1831 in Lockport, New York. Cope was also an American paleontologist and he was born in 1840 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvannia.

Othniel Charles Marsh (left) and Edward Drinker Cope (right) were both American paleontologists with a great interest in dinosaurs . . . and this would eventually drive them both nuts!
Now, at first, these scientists, who were friends at the time after they met in Berlin in 1864, set out toward the western portion of the United States to find more species of dinosaurs. When they did find some new species, they even named some of the species after each other. But that's when trouble started brewing – the two scientists went to Cope's marl pit in New Jersey (where the first Hadrosaurus was found) and the moment when Cope turned his back, Marsh had the fossils being dug up diverted to him instead of Cope. From then on, it got from bad to worse; the two men turned from friends to enemies and by 1877, the Bone Wars (or “Great Dinosaur Rush”) had begun!

This is a sketch Marsh drew of a dinosaur he discovered called Claosaurus. This image clearly represents how scientists viewed dinosaurs at the time, notice the creature's tripod body posture.
The two scientists were determined to find and classify more fossils of extinct animals than the other; they were so desperate, that they even used spies to scope out the other's dig sites, planted fake bones in their opponents digging area, stole and even sometimes destroyed the other's fossils! Talk about Bone Wars! Most of the places Cope and Marsh were digging were in the states of Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming, and here the two scientists found many new dinosaur species and helped early scientists of the time to learn more about the incredible beasts they were uncovering. The Bone Wars finally met its end in 1892 when Marsh and Cope were both financially ruined and could no longer continue their feud (partly because of Cope's death). But it was thanks to the efforts of these scientists that 142 new species of dinosaurs were discovered! Now scientists had even more fossils to work with.

But despite the fact that the two scientists were discovering more fossils, they still made a few mistakes with their reconstructions. When Cope discovered a marine reptile known as Elasmosaurus, he reconstructed the beast as a sea creature with a short neck that propelled itself through the water with a long tail. But Cope noticed that the fossils didn't fit very well together, so he had Professor Joseph Leidy take a look at it and he found the problem – Cope had placed Elasmosaurus' head on its tail and vise versa! This creature in reality was a long-necked marine reptile with a short tail. Leidy then had a scientific paper about Cope's mistake published and Cope – based on his next course of action – must have been terribly embarrassed. So to avoid being disgraced, Cope bought ever one of the papers Leidy published he could find to avoid anyone else knowing about his mistake.
When initially reconstructed, Cope accidentally placed the neck bones of Elasmosaurus where the creature's tail should have gone!

It turned out that Elasmosaurus had a long neck and a short tail, and not the other way around.
A popular myth is that it was Marsh who pointed out Cope's error and published his input on it, but the truth was that Marsh apparently liked the story of his enemy making a mistake and 20 years later, Marsh claimed that he was the one who pointed out Cope's error. However, if you ask me, Marsh made an even more serious mistake.

Among the creatures Marsh discovered was the famous brontosaurus, but he overlooked a tiny problem – when he found the original specimen of “brontosaurus”, it was without a head, so he placed the skull of another specimen found nearby on it to complete it. Little did he know that the skeleton and the skull were of two very different species: the skull was of a Camarasaurus and the skeleton from an Apatosaurus! It wasn't until the 1900's that scientists found out that brontosaurus never existed; to this day, the general public is still oblivious to this fact. That's why I think Marsh made a worse mistake than Cope, because Cope's error was pretty much forgotten soon after it happened.

This is the original reconstructed skeleton of Apatosaurus, aka "brontosaurus", with a Camarasaurus skull.
In reality, Apatosaurus had a more elongated skull, similar to its relative Diplodocus
But our two paleontologists didn't only make fumbles in the Bone Wars. During the Bone Wars, Marsh and Cope discovered numerous fossils of what would become one of the most famous carnivorous dinosaurs ever (at least to dinosaur enthusiasts): Allosaurus fragilis, a ferocious theropod dinosaur with a crested head. Now we were able to paint a better picture of how dinosaurs looked and behaved. From the late 1800's onward, scientists knew that many dinosaurs walked on two legs instead of four, though two-legged dinosaurs were still portrayed as walking and standing in the tripod position. Carnivores such as Allosaurus were depicted walked with their heads held high up in the air and their tails dragging along the ground.

Allosaurus was one of the many dinosaurs discovered during the Bone Wars.
But that's not the only dinosaur discovered in this era – new dinosaur species making their appearance included Coelophysis, Stegosaurs, Camarasaurus, Triceratops, Apatosaurus, Diplodicus, Ceratosaurus, Camptosaurus, Barosaurus, Torosaurus, Laosaurus, Dryosaurus, Drinker, Othnielia (I wonder who that dinosaur was named after . . .), Labrosaurus among many others.

Triceratops, another Bone Wars discovery, was originally thought by Marsh to be an extinct species of Bison and initially called it Bison alticornis!
After the Bone Wars were over, scientists continued to find more new species of dinosaurs; the year was 1902 when the most famous dinosaur of all was discovered by Barnum Brown in the Hell Creek Formation – he discovered "The Tyrant Lizard King": Tyrannosaurus rex! At the time, T. rex was thought to be the largest carnivorous dinosaur ever to exist, easily overshadowing the other large carnivore known at the time, Allosaurus.

This leads us to another key figure in how dinosaurs have been portrayed over the years: Charles Knight. Charles, who lived from1874-1953, was an American artist who painted beautiful recreations of many extinct creatures – including dinosaurs. Though most of his pictures of dinosaurs and other extinct reptiles are considered inaccurate today, they are a vivid reminder of what we used to think these creatures were like.
Here is a portrait by Charles Knight of a pair of hadrosaurs.
Charles Knight modeling a Stegosaurus.
Dinosaurs at the time were portrayed as very reptilian beasts that were extremely dimwitted. One dinosaur that brought on this way of thinking was the discovery of Stegosaurus (once again, it was discovered during the Bone Wars). When scientists peered into its brain case, they thought that the brain was only about the size of a walnut – an alarming thought considering the dinosaur was about as long as a school bus and weighed five tons! Today, we know that Stegosaurus actually had a brain the size of a dog's. Even though its brain was still quite small for a dinosaur, we must remember that Stegosaurus didn't need a large brain to survive; God created Stegosaurus with enough intelligence to survive and that's all it needed. Unfortunately, everyone (scientists and the general public alike) thought that the small brain-thing applied to all dinosaurs and viewed all dinosaurs as over-sized dummies. That's not the only idea we got wrong at the time.

The relatively small brain of Stegosaurus (inaccurately depicted here with the wrong dorsal plate and tail spike arrangement) gave rise to the false idea that all dinosaurs were dimwitted.
The “terrible lizards” were also thought to be quite sluggish and cold-blooded, having to bask in the sun to raise their body temperatures. Carnivores such as Tyrannosaurus and Allosaurus were believed to have a tripod posture; they were thought to walk with their heads held high and their tails dragging along the ground (at the time, there wasn't much difference between T. rex and Allosaurus other than size). In fact, that's how pretty much all bipedal dinosaurs – including hadrosaurs and the Iguanodon we learned about in part 1 – were pictured.

Iguanodon was portrayed as a dinosaur that walked in a tripod posture for much of the 20th century.
These Tyrannosaurus rex are inaccurately posed in a tripod posture and they have three fingers; today we know they only had two.
Four-legged herbivores were also thought to let their tails drag on the ground, and many were even thought to have been at least semi-aquatic. Take the sauropods, or long-necked dinosaurs, for example; here were dinosaurs that were much larger than anything walking the land today. Sauropods, like Apatosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Camarasaurus, and Diplodocus could weigh anywhere from 30-50 tons (and back in before the Dinosaur Renaissance, most weight estimates for sauropods went much higher) and were imagined as lumbering and lazy behemoths that were so heavy, that they couldn't support their weight on land. Scientists of the time thought that these dinosaurs must have lived in swamps to support their weight. Creatures such as hadrosaurs were also believed to live in swamps.

Sauropods like "brontosaurus" were once thought to spend their lives wallowing in swamps.
Even still, the general public was falling deeply in love with dinosaurs. By the early 1900's, dinosaurs were quite popular and started making their appearance in movies and books. The first dinosaur ever to appear in cinema was Gertie the Dinosaur, who made her theatrical debut in 1914. The Lost World by Connon Doyle, published in 1911, and the movie based on the book with the same name that was released in 1925 were instant hits. The views of dinosaurs as slow, poorly evolved, dimwitted brutes and creatures destined for extinction were prevalent by this point, even up into the 1940's and 50's. And it stayed that way . . . up until the 1960's, that is! In the final part of this series, we'll explore how our view of dinosaurs changed with the coming of the Dinosaur Renaissance and learn just what they mean to us in the 21st century. We'll learn how the Dinosaur Renaissance first began!

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