Category Archives: Paleontology

Prehistory and Paleolithic Pop Culture

Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 11.42.09 AM
Image Source: IMDB.com

Turns out Hugh Hudson has a new film out that focuses on the discovery of the prehistoric cave paintings in Altamira. If you aren’t familiar with the discovery, the Cliff Notes version is an 8 year old girl named Maria led her father Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola to a cave which held amazing paleolithic paintings of bison among other wonders; scientific debates ensue.

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Image Source: Screen capture from Mark Knopfler Making of Altamira Soundtrack video on youtube
Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 11.41.08 AM
Image Source: Screen capture from Mark Knopfler Making of Altamira Soundtrack video on youtube

The end of the 19th century was rife with debates on man’s place in nature as well as the entire story of mankind in general. The established French view was that prehistoric humans were incapable of such higher forms of thought required to create such things. Arguments about the past and the professional nature of the scientists and divided disciples were heated, marked, and many times personal. Paleoanthropology and other disciplines as we know them were in their infancies fetal stages and battle for the authority to pontificate on humanity’s past was as much the prize as finding answers to the questions they were asking.

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Image Source: Screen capture from Mark Knopfler Making of Altamira Soundtrack video on youtube
Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 11.41.48 AM
Image Source: Screen capture from Mark Knopfler Making of Altamira Soundtrack video on youtube

Having done a fair amount of research on the Piltdown Affair and its context within the debates that came to a head because of find like Altamira, I am especially intrigued. Adding to that is the fact that like so many other important discoveries in this period it was made by an amateur. That is to say it was reported by an amateur since it was originally discovered by a child.

800px-Altamira-1880
Drawing of Altamira cave originally from grotte d’Altamira, Espagne. Relevé du plafond aux polychromes publié par M. Sanz de Sautuola en 1880 (d’après Cartailhac, 1902) hosted on Wikimedia Commons

The movie itself looks wonderful since it will have the debates and forces of will involved (including the Church). It also included the wonder that fills Maria as the bison from the cave come alive in her dreams and become a part of her.

Bison in the reproduction museum in Altamira
Bison in the reproduction museum in Altamira

As with most things in life I didn’t get to this from any direct route. I actually first heard of this film through a trailer for its soundtrack. As bizarre as soundtrack trailers sound the bits and pieces around it are where I can glean more of the story.

Mark Knopfler and Evelyn Glennie worked together to create the score for the film and it sounds incredible. It was on Mark’s official Facebook page that I first say the trailer to the soundtrack. Complete with the reimagined stylized version of the famous bison on the front.

The bison form Altamira are iconic and you may recognize them from the plethora of Bisonte cigarette ads/packs that are everywhere. (I say everywhere, that may only be the case if you are as interested in Spain as I am).  If not everywhere then at least on cigarettespedia.com which is a more useful website than you may think, especially for someone who studies visual culture.

Bisonte Cigarrettes, From Cigarretespedia.com
Bisonte Cigarrettes, From Cigarrettespedia.com

Getting to the heart of the film is difficult since all the available trailers are in Spanish since it was released there at the first of this month (April 2016). This isn’t because the film is in Spanish, but because of locality (I guess). So the trailers are dubbed into Spanish which just strikes me as odd, even if I am appreciative of the fact that was produced in English.

There are a few English clips that are part of the making of the soundtrack video below where I grabbed some of the above photos. As far as the cave itself goes, it remains closed to visitors since the damage it sustained from visitor’s breathing in the 1960s. The museum close by has a full replica included some sculptures of human faces that you couldn’t get to in the cave itself.  There are also reproductions in Madrid, Germany, and most recently Japan.  The Caves were up for reopening to the public a few years ago, but in an effort to preserve the site the decision was made to keep them closed. looking at a fake trope was still contentious in 2014.

The Cave was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985 and they have a short video on it as well. Until it gets wider release this will have to suffice to piece together what is going on.

 

Update: Aug. 3, 2016 Full length English trailer finally hits youtube.

 

Glyptodos and Glyptodonts*

*Thanks and/or blame for this goes to Tom Luczycki

Hey look! A paleo entry on an supposedly paleontologically themed page! How novel.

I will start with this great coincidence from 2007 when the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology’s journal (JVP) was released not only on my birthday, but with one of my favorite extinct creatures on the cover:

IMG_2237
JVP Vol. 27, no. 4. Author’s Copy

And since it is one of my favorites, the past few days’ worth of paleo news circulating in the popular press and among friends and colleagues on twitter has been a delight.

Yes, well. If you haven’t heard/read by now, they have played around with some glyptodont DNA (how cool is this?) and determined what any school kid will tell you: They are related to the stately armadillo. Actually related to “armadillos and their allies” so the end is nigh for the Ice Age Axis Powers.

Standoff
Screen grab from BBC’s Ice Age Giants episode 1: Land of the Sabre-tooth

Since the original press release, I have posted several different versions over on the PaleoPorch Facebook Page. Enough to constitute putting them together on here so you can be annoyed all at once instead of incremental scrolls on your timeline.

p018t3cd
Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p018t43c/p018t3cd

I mentioned that any school kid will tell you they are related to armadillos. I mean this in the same manner that all school kids will tell you that South America and Africa fit together–it is just obvious. Right?

871fb8a99af2e10e1feda0c76405b1f0
Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p018t43c/p018t3fp

BBC.Ice.Age.Giants.1of3.Land.of.the.Sabre-Tooth.720p.HDTV.x264.AAC.MVGroup.org[09-20-28]
Look at that shell, pretty dillo like, even upside down. Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p018t43c/p018t3cd
Since science doesn’t like to live in the obvious it sometimes takes studies like the one linked above to provide a backing for something that seems self evident. I mean, it *could* be a case of convergent evolution like sharks and dolphins.

109578_web
On display at AMNH © AMNH/ D. Finnin Recent source: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-02/amon-meg022216.php

This might also prove that they didn’t have “trunks.”  I never really bought into this argument and it is probably my own fault of thinking about an armadillo with an elephantine proportioned proboscis, which isn’t technically what proponents of the elongated schnoz are/were pitching.  Bit, DNA can’t give us shapes of soft tissue unless it is fully cloned and 100% and viable and… Welcome to Ice Age Park. (A dinosaurid aside: at one point, and I am not sure where in print, Bob Bakker was theorizing that the brachissaurus’ nostril on its head made it akin to an elephant, but Darren Naish (@Tetzoo) put that to rest way back in 2009.)

Now that there is scientific proof that Glyptodonts are related to armadillos, that means the allies range from the pink fairy armadillo, which is about the size of a toilet paper tube, to the Volkswagen beetle behemoths we’ve all come to know and love.

glyptodont_Image_1
Clean Burning Diesel, or something. Source: http://dailynews.mcmaster.ca/article/scientists-map-genome-of-giant-shelled-mammal-known-as-the-glyptodont/

Besides, I am from Texas, and we love our armadillos, especially when they are Texas-sized. Especially when it means that the beer can be scaled up equally.

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Source: lives, relatively speaking, on pinterest, found through image search, original domain from tineye was a dead link)

We has one of these when I was a kid. It was plush stuffed and not taxidermy stuffed and lived, so to speak, on top of our kitchen cabinets, I thought it was the neatest thing. Full disclosure: Shiner is a better beer.

I was also less than thrilled with the short shrift they got in the Ice Age cartoons too, but that is another story.

Glyptodon_design
Source: http://iceage.wikia.com/wiki/File:Glyptodon_design.jpg
Stu
How undignified Stu, Source: http://iceage.wikia.com/wiki/Glyptodon

 

A relatively recent documentary on Ice Age Giants captures some great fossil footage of in situ and museum specimens down in Arizona. Ice Age Giants was hosted by Professor Alice Roberts (@DrAliceRoberts) and it definitely worth a watch. (part of an older post here). Here is the first episode and the Glyptodonts show up around the 22:20 mark, just after the Shasta Ground Sloths and the Grand Canyon segment.


BBC.Ice.Age.Giants.1of3.Land.of.the.Sabre… by singaporegeek

As an ending thought, the next time you are out for Mexican food or Tex-Mex, take the opportunity to order yourself a nauseous armadillo (that is a queasy dillo (quesadilla))

 

W.P.A.leontology

Since the beginning of the year I have been involved in a project of more or less my own design. I have been digitizing and curating a collection of photos at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History here at OU. They are mostly records of paleontology projects undertaken at some point with WPA funds. Some were already working before the WPA projects, others were opened with the funding, others still were either, neither, or both.

Workers in the field under WPA sign 2
copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the University of Oklahoma

 

Workers in the field under WPA sign
copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the University of Oklahoma

 

I am almost halfway through the set, scanning them as high as my laptop can stand. They aren’t bad quality, but they could be better, anything over 2400 dpi and a .tiff file goes against everything my current laptop stands for. It is a useful endeavor and one I am already seeing fruit from which makes it worth it. The reason I am updating now is that abstract submissions are open and I need to think through how I am going to present this information at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology this year. I use writing to do that.

The Old University Chevrolet loaded with bones from Eldorado. Picture made at the east end of the O.U. Geology Building. L.I. Price standing on truck
copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the University of Oklahoma
Bones in front of geology building
copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the University of Oklahoma

 

About two-thirds of what is on display in the paleo hall in the museum was, in some way, connected to WPA money. Even the final report in 1940 stated that many of these projects will be ongoing for the foreseeable future. As a side note, the archaeological excavation of the Spiro Mounds in Oklahoma were at least partially funded by the WPA. The interesting thing about WPA funding in history is that it falls into two categories the “muralists” and the “non-muralists.” Muralists painted murals. Non-muralists has been used to describe the out of work authors. A friend of mine is doing her PhD on post office Murals in Oklahoma. I ran across some WPA stuff in my first thesis as the murals at the National Zoo in D.C. were painted by WPA painters. The artists that weer on hand for the Spiro work were WPA artists and there is even a poster about the “forgotten artists of that project hanging in the hallway going down to our collections at the museum. In that same hallway are two paleo murals painted by Ralph B. Shead, who was artist and the state supervisor for the OU branch of the WPA.  The frames obscure the dates somewhat, but I believe one is from 1934 and the other was finished in 1941.

Shead Mural 1
photo by author

 

Shead Mural 2
photo by author

 

My point here is that the WPA was more than just art and literature. The “non-muralists” were the ones who were paid to write up travel guides for the western states and similar ephemera for the tourist industry. Where did WPA fund science, exactly? I know it was at OU, I know University of Texas has some stuff, KU does, and I think University of Nebraska does as well (that one is iffy). There are some reports online that some WPAleontology happened out in southern California, but I haven’t been able to chase those down yet. So there are broader connections here that I am working on and will hope to have published sooner rather than later if for not other reason that to show that the WPA funded more than ditch-digging, sidewalks, and train trestles.

WPA crew
copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the University of Oklahoma
WPA field crew group 2
copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the University of Oklahoma

 

My first indication that they did any more than that comes from a hippo in the Field Museum. The placard said that it was prepared by WPA workers and I have been intrigued by that ever since. Growing up in Southeast Texas many of my family had been part of the WPA projects there which amounted to digging ditches to drain the swamps and river bottoms or something similar under the Corps of Engineers, in fact my uncle (great-great uncle in fact) used to say that WPA stood for “we piddle around.”

The WPA Hippo at the Field Museum
The WPA Hippo at the Field Museum
A WPA photo (not one I have scanned)
A WPA photo (not one I have scanned)
Warning: This Hippo is Flammable
Warning: This Hippo is Flammable

The photos that I am digitizing reveal that there were some sparsely populated areas where few workers could be found. They also reveal that the work was not only labor intensive overburden removal. Several of the workers were installed in the Paleontology lab that was at that time housed in the football stadium and given jobs as preparators bringing fossils out of their matrices, etc.

WPA Crew in Workship at Norman. Reading left to right standing. House, Gardner, Smith, Houck, Graham, Brown, Chesser, Stark, Hart, Covey, Hurst. Sitting- Grizzle, Goodman, Hutchins
copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the University of Oklahoma
View of the Workshop in the stadium
copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the University of Oklahoma

 

This is as American Experience profile as much as anything we’ve seen on PBS and if I could get similar stuff from these other university museums I think I could pitch it to Ken Burns (no relation) and have him come pan over the photos for dramatic effect.

Shots of crew and bones gathered on field trip 2
copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the University of Oklahoma

 

Shots of Crew and bones gathered on field trip 3
copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the University of Oklahoma

 

At OU and the Sam Noble in particular, some of the exhibits that have been on display for 75 years came to fruition through federal funding. That it was a federal program also give me, as a historian of science, a wealth of records as reports, letters, explanations, etc. were part of the patronage system. The papers housed in our Western History Collections reveal an astute businessman on one end dealing with the government and a natural showman when putting these things on display for the public, or an oil and gas festival, or a newspaper or radio interview.

Jacketed femur in front of tent
copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the University of Oklahoma
Brontosaurus femur in Kenton Pit 2 of 2
copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the University of Oklahoma

 

This goes beyond just an interesting story to tell and showing cool photos. It is about civic involvement in science, it is about federal patronage, it is about governmental oversight, it is about federally funded citizen science. Community involvement was part of the deal and at least once, in May 1940 (the 20th to 25th to be precise) there was a week long exhibition at the museum, at the field sites, throughout the community that was to engage the public. It was “advertised in local newspapers and guides were present at all times to explain the exhibits.” The week was called “This Project Pays Your Community.” I have heard that some of these were held to educate people in order to stop looting, vandalism, etc. and I think that might be true for things like the Spiro Mounds, but the relative obscurity of these sites and there proximity to anything resembling town paired with the different money market for fossils then make that an unlikely motive for these particular projects.

WPA photo
copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the University of Oklahoma

 

I will try to update more, even if they are just posts of the most interesting images I have scanned or something similar. If my education and outreach poster is accepted I will definitely be sharing that on here as well. The interest is there, the timing is right, and people should know that the WPA was more than a stamp in the sidewalk and encompassed more than ditch diggers, mural painters, and guidebook authors.

Stovall with leg in situ 2
copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the University of Oklahoma
Stovall with pick
copyright Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History, the University of Oklahoma

 

 

One Year On

In the year since I posted last, I have not only outfitted an more than modest sized traveling museum and finished a second MA, but was able to squeeze in a few shows for students as well. The greatest highlight to share is that in a couple weeks I will be presenting Paleo Porch at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology Conference in Berlin, Germany. My abstract was accepted in the “Education and Outreach” session which is all poster format, but I will be going to discuss not only the outreach with traveling artifacts (in this case casts) but also how successful using the humanities to teach science outreach can be.

Below is a sampling of the talks I did in the Spring and Summer with the Paleo Porch Mini Mobile Museum. The Paleo Porch Facebook page is still running strong, and is updated frequently with paleo news, good fun, and bad puns. There is still a lot going on as I make my way towards comprehensive exams. Currently I am living in the Art History department absorbing everything I can on the Art of the American West, and the Myth and Memory of that same west. Understanding what artists were representing about the west, helps us to understand the expectations of that west (and what came out of it) that those living wast of the Mississippi were using to make sense of their world and relationship with it. With that in mind it also influences how museums were designed and filled and what artifacts were used to establish authenticity and authority including giant fossil bones, whether they were from dinosaurs or giant mammals. You can read about one such method of communication here
Until there is more to report from Berlin, and I have time to put together posts on Natural History Museums (which is my next plan for here) enjoy these candid shots of kids learning about paleontology and the history of science through the Paleo Porch Mini Mobile Museum. Total reach for the year is about 1100 and that is only with a handful of exhibitions. More to come! 
First “Paleo in the Park” 

Middle School 

Middle School

Middle School

Middle School

University Talk

University Talk

University talk layout and Q&A 

Pre-Collegiate Class at University

Pre-Collegiate Class at University

Pre-Collegiate Class at University

I will get some photos of the conference and my poster up when I return. The conference runs Nov. 5-8, 2014.

DinoSkulls

The Indiegogo campaign has come to an end. The perks and goodies have been mailed, and the money transfer has been “initiated.” The Paypal donations have already cleared and that is what I purchased the perks, the cases, and paid for the shipping with. There was enough to put in a quick order for a few pieces before they disappeared. The Carnotaurus was discontinued with only 3 left in stock, so I wanted to act quickly. They also offer damaged skulls for a fraction (about 1/3) of the regular price. So, I ordered one of each that they offered. At most it would just be a little gluing. I will highlight the first shipment for the Paleo Porch Mini Mobile Museum:

The package as it was delivered. Well packed, I might add. 
Three boxes=3 skulls

Opening the Carnotaurus first

These are really high quality replicas. 

Scaled down for super-easy transport

They even come with very nice little stands with their names and scale size on it: 
Here is where the fun begins: How badly would these be damaged? They didn’t say:

The deinonychus was missing a few (4) teeth, as you can see, and was now a two piece. 

I learned about Duco cement at University taking my Archaeology course. This stuff is fantastic for nearly any type of medium you need to reattach and it works brilliantly on resin. 

 
The jaws, being good little levers were heavier on the end so I had to employ a bit of spacering and rubberbanding. 
The Brachiosaurus was another story. The jaw was separated from the skull, just as the deinonychus was, only it was missing many, many more teeth. Both from the lower jaw:
and the upper: 

This actually let me realize just how good these casts are. Brachiosaur teeth are notably described as “peg-like” or “pencil-like” and these are. All of them. But, they each have the flattened wedge shape on the inside. That made it only a little easier. 

Also, the don’t simply get smaller from the front back. They vary in size all along the tooth row. 
There was a lot of checking and double checking. 

Some progress:
Upper was a bit easier, or that is to say went quicker. 

I am still not 100% certain they are all in the correct “sockets” but they look pretty good

Required the same advanced techniques for holding things together . It was here I realized there is a great opportunity to market DragonSkull shoes. They would still look better than crocs
Once all the teeth were in and the jaws were rigged into place
 it was just a matter of the Duco setting up. Total time to get 
 to this point about 2 and a half hours. 

With the jaws being so heavy on the ends and needing pressure in all the right places, I was worried that the Duco might not make it. Shouldn’t have worried though, once the bands and spacers were in the right places it was just a matter of time. Now that the Duco has completely cured, the glued joints are stronger than the regular resin pieces. 

 They may have come out of the boxes completely different, a few hours of work and dry time, there isn’t that much difference in the finished products. And now you have the first three skulls in the Paleo Porch collections. These three and a few teeth and claws will be at the Pioneer library meeting this Thursday and Friday to potentially negotiate workshops at all 10 libraries in their system during summer vacation. I think it is a fitting sample of what the Paleo Porch Mini Mobile Museum will have to offer 
More to come as I work with retailers to get more bang for buck. I will update as new orders arrive and new workshops get planned, check back here for more updates! 

Gearing Up

The first of my large cases came in last night. Trying to figure out how to make a museum mobile isn’t terribly difficult, but finding things that you can use to actually do it isn’t terrible easy. After searching the internet and countless hours of review grazing and product specs reading I decided to give this one a shot. It was a bit more than I wanted to spend, so I resigned to have it in my ebay watch list all summer, and wait. Finally went on sale this past week, for a $100 and FREE shipping which when compared to Amazon’s and others $25 shipping was part of the deal.

Another neat thing about indiegogo (besides getting the option to keep funds if you don’t make your goal) is that donations rendered via paypal immediately go into my paypal account and I can USE them. Which is how I got this case. So your donations have already been put to good use. I also ordered all the business needs and all the small perks and a few of the shirts. They are slated for a delivery around the 9th but who knows.

This case is actually much better than I had anticipated, which is a pleasant surprise. It is essentially two units that are stackable and latchable. The top acting as a lid for the bottom. There is also a bonus lid in case you want to carry only the bottom, or you need to take them apart for better spatial maneuvering. The pictures below are already up on the Paleo Porch facebook page, but it’s worth sharing on here for a broader, less facebook oriented, curious public.

 An extend-o handle and luggage wheels make this a nice little traveling piece. Even when the wheels inevitably eat it on a curb, the whole thing weighs under 20 pounds empty, and the resin replicas won’t add too much to the overall dificulty of packing the items into the library or lecture Hall. Everything latches down pretty streamlined so nothing should get caught on anything, but this is life.

 I really like the tacklebox like action of the top case. All together this unit is about 38 inched high, a foot and a half long and about a foot deep. Plenty of room to house teeth, claws, and dinosaur eggs. Especially since the dividers can be moved around. The bottom unit houses a shelf, and then is empty space providing amble room for the scaled down skulls and larger pieces like the Archaeopteryx and pteranodon pieces I have on my list.

So, there you have it, the fist official purchase with crowdsourced funds. I was so impressed with the quality that I have ordered another one to take advantage of a discount offered by the ebay store and the still free shipping. So I will have two to start out with, at the cost of 1.5 and saving $50 on shipping. All of which gets funneled back into the replica purchasing fund. This excited about an empty box with latches (it is rather shiny and official looking) image when I start getting the fossils in and getting to post about them. 
                                   
I will be posting about the businessy and perk things as soon as they come in so be watching here and/or on facebook for the next exciting update of things that are going on in the world of creating a mobile mini museum! 
*For Full Disclosure: this is actually a traveling makeup case. It even came with a free mirror! So, if you are looking for one of those for your business or your travling theatre/one act play, it’s not a bad purchase, lol. Originally $170, I got 2 for $206. *

Collision of Worlds

If you have read (or will read) the first entry of this blog, you know (or will know) the story behind The Paleo Porch. A great many of you may have already made the connection with the Have Bones Will Travel slogan, too. But in case you haven’t, or maybe want to understand how circuitous my thoughts run, here is a brief rundown.

It’s Catchy. I mean, it is really catchy, that’s why it’s been used over and over again in popular culture. From the simple beginnings of a gunman for hire to a Fractured Fairy Tale in The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. The latter was a new take on the Puss in Boots fairytale. Two of the items included, “Have Boots Will Travel,”  and “Have Spoon Will Travel.” Have Bones Will Travel is also a section of Yale’s Medical School, that shows up on google searches as beginning in 1996. “Have Fossils Will Travel doesn’t work on account of fossils having too many syllables.”

It’s part of our culture. Our shared television culture, that is. Most of the children that attend my workshops have no idea who Richard Boone or Paladin was–their parents might, and their grandparents usually all do. A few even know of the history behind Paladin’s pseudonym. Paladins being the Twelve Peers and warriors of Charlemagne. Which for me is even better because it ties into one of my favorite songs: Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner by Warren Zevon. Roland and Van Owen coming from some of the earliest French literature in the Song of Roland. In the song, Roland, a mercenary, is double crossed by Van Owen another gun for hire. The trope appears again in the movie version of The Lost World (Jurassic Park II) Where Roland, the great white hunter is thwarted by Nick Van Owen, a documentary filmmaker and environmentalist, so in a Rube Goldbergian sort of way, it connects back to dinosaurs and fossils.

Roland
Van Owen

Replacing the iconic chess knight of silver with a dino-knight, just looks cool. The paralophosaurus is pretty iconic and still offers a more interesting profile than the T-Rex.

Back to the show: Have Gun Will Travel was never a favorite, but I liked it well enough. I also liked Wild Wild West, Gunsmoke, and Bonanza. On Sunday afternoons if the weather was right, I could pick up channel 55 out of Houston. The Tube, as it was called showed a marathon of old westerns: Rawhide, The Rifleman, and those mentioned above. The thing that drew me back to Paladin when I was creating this…thing…was his duality.

At his hotel in San Francisco Paladin is a wealthy playboy who enjoys the best of everything. Once he takes a case he shifts into “field mode” a completely different uniform and modus operandi. It’s very similar to real paleontology. Back at the University or Museum Lab–usually in town far away from the field, is a completely different world than the field work. Just ask anyone that does it.

Finally, I remember how smart Paladin was. He quote classic literature, poetry, etc whenever the need arose, to prove a point, or frame a situation. It showed that in a television show that was idolizing the single epitome of masculinity protecting , serving, helping, etc. etc. that it was still okay to be smart. So, when all these things slammed together in my head one night I created this persona for the best way to brand my talks and my little traveling museum. So, as Paul Harvey said, Now you know the rest of the story.

Have Bones Will Travel

Stepping out into the well tested waters of crowd funding for science. It’s at least well tested for others, I have never done it. But, as part of the indiegogo project, I wanted to attach it to this blog as well as the Paleo Porch facebook page.

When I was working in the Vertebrate Paleontology Lab at Lamar University we had a collection of replicas and fossils that we could take to the local elementary classrooms to give a little workshop. Now that I am no longer there, I do not have access to the lab or the collection, so I have decided to collect my own and start again. That is where the appeal for donations comes in.

I actually starter with Kickstarter to, well, kickstart this collection. After going through all the motions to get it activated they rejected the idea. They said the projects that have a proven track record are more likely to get funded. Here I had the definition of a kickstart all wrong. After working on things throughout the summer I decided to try again with an indiegogo attempt.

As part of the transparency pledge and group involvement, I will be sharing all the purchases and all the  talks that I do on here as well as on the facebook page. I have high expectations for what I will be able to do with this little traveling museum. Mainly I will focus on giving talks at local schools during the school year, and working with public libraries during the summers.

My hope is that this will not be just located to within a few hours drive time of where we live. That might require a little more work. Since we now live in Oklahoma, I have a base of students and schools up here to work with. But, we still have family in Texas that we will end up visiting at one time or another, and I will always have my stuff with us when traveling.

My wife and I have also thought about taking them with us when we go on vacation. If we do go somewhere for a few days, as soon as we hit where we would stay we would contact the local library, or similar public foray and see if we would be able to set up there near the end of our trip. So, on paper it looks like the gift that keeps on giving (maybe).

I don’t expect any really large donations, but a lot of a few dollars at a time. The perks aren’t anything greatly spectacular, but they are part of what makes us, well, us. Above you see our logo, that will be on the magnet and the T-shirt. Below is the logo icon that will be on the stickers.

Finally, the real payoff for doing stuff like this is getting science into the hands of school kids that may never get the opportunity to go to a museum. Coming from a small school, I know how big of an ordeal it was to even plan a trip to the Natural History Museum. Sharing the wonders of science, and the history of science with kids, just may keep them interested in science. If it doesn’t do anything else, it might help kids to think beyond their little community and ask more questions. 
Turns out the kids are usually really grateful that you took the time to share this stuff with them. I will wrap up here and share just a small smackeral sampling of the “Thank You” letters I have received in the past from giving these talks. As I get more I will share them as part of the posts to let everyone who has been gracious enough to support this project now that the have helped make a difference or at least an impact on some child’s education. 
and, just as the letters attest, Thank You for stopping by, taking the time to read, and possibly helping fund such an endeavor. If you are interested in helping me out, or just want to know more, please check  out my Indiegogo project and see what it’s all about. Please donate and spread the word. 

Ice Age Vogue

From the Denver Museum of Natural History

     
  Suddenly, quite suddenly actually, extinct mammals have shown up in documentaries and traveling exhibits. Granted they are still the “giants,” “titans,” and “other impressive adjectives” versions of the creatures that took over after the dinosaurs died out. These guys are every bit as diverse and impressive as their non mammalian counterparts, they may not be 125ft long with supersonic tail whips, (the blue whale is still the largest thing on the planet. ever.) But their biodiversity and niche filling adaptations make them quite incredible to study. Here is a little preview of a traveling exhibit called Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age,” which, as I write this, is currently on display at the Denver Museum of Natural History. Check with your local (or close-ish) museum to see if they are going to be getting in the next few years.

You may remember her taking National Geographic by storm in 2009.
Waking the Baby Mammoth

If you want a bit of interaction you can go here and play in a virtual lab with more details on Lyuba, the baby mammoth. 

What is really exciting is the upcoming BBC spectacular: Ice Age Giants. I just looked at some of teh storyboard drawings released to the BBC and they are great. I mean, these are enlarge frame and hang in your office good. That is, of course, you have some strange office decorations like I do. Guess what University now has a policy on shrunken heads? The link for the image slideshow is over at BBC News. But, here are a couple that I really liked:

 The trailers for this look fantastic. The CGI has improved so much from when they first started making these kinds of things. I do miss the animatronic stuff, but that usually shows up in larger budget productions. Here is a brief trailer and a bit of the behind the scenes talk with the animators and twitchy digital programs that make animal hair move how its supposed to when an extinct animal walks.

There is a second trailer here that has even better quality previews of the animals. For whatever reson that video will not embed, so you are stuck going over to youtube. It’s worth it though. 
To say that people were just beginning to notice these large hairy mammals is quite untrue. They have always been around. They were some of the first vertebrate fossil remains discovered. Some have even been the basis for national identity as well as bodies of mythological heroes. 
Since the discovery of dinosaurs, however, they have been pushed into the wings, awaiting their cance to shine after big meetings where dino groupies roll like some quasi-scientific wave over the newest argument of Tyrannosaur feathers. Once the scaly/feathery goo has sloughed off the street you can get a clearer view of these impressarios as they were, as they were interpreted, and as they are now. Always, there, they are far more than a dinosaurs understudy. Don’t believe me? Read this. 
                   

They are as part of America as baseball, apple pie, and cliches. Once the dust settled, the revolutionaries turned scientist. Our Founding Fathers worked with Our Founding Fossils. I am working on a paper discussing that which will, hopefully be finished end of June. Look for it in a future post. Until the next time we meet, keep reading the bones.

A Regular Family Business Part Deux

I have touched more on family here than I think I intended. But, while that train is rolling, let’s just ride for a while. There is something interesting when you start looking at your family tree. I have mentioned before how in just a few generations you are directly related to more people than populated England in the 16th century. The idea that from all those strains you take your name from one, and hang some sort of cultural, ancestral, and /or genealogical identity on that is rather odd. I am sure it happens to others, but my case is really interesting since the only side of my family that has not been in America since the opening of the 17th century is the side I get my surname from.

Granted, that side also connects be to crazy people like Alexander “Bokhara” Burnes and Robert Burn(e)s. Their grandfather is my Great^7 Grandfather. We were the lucky younger children who, instead of inheriting land and titles, moved to the United States. Interesting side note, while on a trip to Vancouver, B.C in order to get engaged, my girlfriend and I had left the aquarium and was walking through Stanley Park, where a lovers of Robert’s poetry society had erected a statue of the bard. It seemed rather fitting that I proposed to my girlfriend by the statue of my cousin and in a fell swoop soon remove all of her ancestry and replace it with my last name. This idea of who you are just gets more and more ridiculous, doesn’t it?

While we are picking and choosing a new system arises when one goes to university. Especially when one goes to university and stays for as long as I have. You get an academic genealogy. Your faculty family tree can go directly through mentors/advisors and without giving you something like a name that people can hang your identity on for you, you get the benefits of all those academic ancestors who have studied before. Phd-comics has a neat little comic that highlights this phenomenon:

See how troubling something like this can be–and this from February 9, 2011. But I have talked to some people about having people that are their advisors serving on my committee and that making us academic cousins. So, there is something to this. After all I have been told that the Germans take this very seriously and refer to their advisors as “Doctor-Father.” Not sure if that changes to Doctor Mother in some cases. Come to think of it I know several people who refer to their advisors as a Mother—-ahem, that’s not what we are here to discuss.
Mine is something of an interesting case, again because I think so, because it’s geography parallels by real ancestry. Without getting too technical or deep into the politics of how this works, I will run the circle for you. I am currently studying at the University of Oklahoma. I received a Master’s at Lamar University where my mentor–Dr. Jim Westgate–my doctor father if you will– still works. Jim studied at the University of Texas-Austin under Drs. Ernie Lundelius and the recently passed Wann Langston, Jr. (top right)  Wann studied at the University of Oklahoma under John Willis Stovall. (above left). Wann and John named Acrocanthosaurus atokensis in a 1950 publication. If you remember in an earlier post I talked about my family living in Atoka at this time and working their fields that were within walking distance of the Acrocanthosaur find. (If you don’t remember it’s the earlier post Dino Dynasties)
I am on the left, Dr. Jim Westgate on the right, and
an academic sibling Jordan Mika.
Something to think about. Your academic ancestry can be direct or even branch out if you so choose. But, be warned, if one of your academic Aunts’s doctor-father was someone of imminent note, and you bring that up in casual conversation, it could do you harm–especially if your new forced family members like to use your extended advisor-in-law’s books for their classes.
Which is sillier? To mark who you are because of so many random decisions along the way, or mark how you think because of some random decisions along the way? Truth is, they are all interconnected in ways that are probably past the point of comprehension. Sure, there are no academic genetics that help structure your actual being, but if you stay in long enough, you will pick up on and adopt certain things which your advisor does. It is likely, that what they do is in some form a piece of what they inherited from their advisor and so on. So, while your non academic evolution as a person, as an individual with a surname might be considered standard under the Darwinian model, it sure looks like Educational Evolution still follows Lamarckian principles.
Keep sticking your neck out. Remember, you are building on knowledge that your advisor built on before, and with each passing academic generation the bar is raised even higher. Driven by that inner “need” to know more, answer more questions, graduate, and eventually take on a young grasshopper of your own, who, if you’ve done your job right, will have a longer neck than you.
This has been either the best analogy or the worst parable ever.
Welcome to how my brain works,
Cheers.