Nanotyrannus: Up Hell Creek Without a Paddle

Hey there every peoples!

Dinosaurs may seem cool on their face. But once you get into them they start heaping up their own kinds of problems. I usually tell people one of the reasons I stick with mammals is that dinosaur taxonomy is a complete freaking mess. It is always changing with families sunk and started all over the place. One relation may exist today, but it could be revised tomorrow. This is how science works, but hell if it aint hard to keep track of. But, some disputes over taxonomy can last longer than others. Especially when the evidence is scant. Here we are going to look at one of the most heated taxonomic debates since “Toroceratops” (in fact, it’s been around for 3 times as long).

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Jurassic World Needs Bigger Guns

Hey there every peoples!

This last Friday The Avengers: Age of Ultron kicks off the summer movie season. I’ll see it, but i can’t say i was actually waiting to see it. That honor goes to Jurassic World, which opens in about a month and a half. However, i won’t be talking about the history of the film. Nor will i discuss the inaccuracies in this film, as i already about that on facebook (not because i find them bothersome, but because of the giant temper tantrum the dino fanboys threw over them). This time, i’d like to talk about a different aspect of the film: the apparently underwhelming fire power of the Jurassic World security force.

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The Dinosaurs Cometh!

Hey there every peoples!

Holy hell the last week and a half have been a blur! Going up to Madera County, getting committed, 4th of July, and of course, the Dino Social Media Meetup at the Natural history Museum of Los Angeles County. I have spent the last few days slaving away trying to get my video coverage edited. It took awhile to get it done because not only do i have to go in and position photographs instead of video, but also because part of my learning disability dictates that i do better when i can take my time instead of the pressure of a deadline. So I am not going to write a long winded article like i usually do since i discuss so much in the videos below. But a couple things to touch on.

First, this hall was friggin awesome! And to get a sneak peek was unbelievable! I just wish i had more time! One of the conditions of attending was posting updates or photos at least once during the event with the hashtag #NHMLADinos, which i was sadly unable to fulfill because 1) not enough time  2) my phone doesn’t have a facebook app (i have neither the money nor the need for an iPhone. Though i wish i could have rented an iPad for the event). Many of the the mounts from the old hall return such as Mamenchisaurus (with a fancy new skull no less), Allosaurus, Stegosaurus, Carnotaurus, and Morenosaurus. Several new guys joins the crowd too such as Triceratops, a growth series of Tyrannosaurus rex, and a plethora of original specimens.

I also got quite a kick out of talking with the people behind the exhibit. Judging from tags people were wearing, there were more Dinosaur Institute personnel there than the ones i talked to, but so what; the people i talked to were awesome. I even managed to score a little chit-chat with Dr. Luis Chiappe, the museum’s curator of dinosaurs. A couple of them, Doyle and Paige i believe, who mentioned volunteering at the museum. I appreciate the thought, but i am not sure how to make that work at this time. I toyed with the notion of being able to go down once a month, but the museum’s volunteer application said that it has to be once a week (among other parameters), so i don’t know. If any museum personnel are reading this and have any ideas, I’m all ears.

But for now i am proud to present the museum’s new dinosaur hall:

If you would like to view the actual photos used in these videos, you can check them out here (they don’t have labels or descriptions yet; i will try to get around to that, time permitting). All i know right now is that i am totally burned out and am glad to have finally gotten this video up.

Till next time!

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Addendum: I did a little followup video.

The Tragedy of Tinker

Hey there every peoples!

This post was inspired by my little debate with Brian Switek over at Dinosaur Tracking spawned by my stupid little observation. First off in my defense i did offer a suite of possibilities other than new species (Jane was a runt, Thomas may have been eating something different to gain weight faster, or they may have been different sexes). Well the reason i used those two was because they were the only ones i could get full specs on. Bucky length and height (33 feet long, 10 feet tall) matches Thomas’ but he/she has no age or weight listed. The juvenile specimen in the LA Museum’s upcoming growth series has only been described as 20 feet long (same length as Jane). And another fossil that was claimed to “have the potential to end the Nanotyrannus debate once and for all” doesn’t have any specs because of the legal tug of war he became a part of.

A commercial collector named Mark Eatman was looking for dinosaurs to whore off in the badlands of South Dakota in 1998. But the land he found the bones on was a little fuzzy; it either belonged to rancher Gary Gilbert or land that had been leased to Gilbert by South Dakota’s Harding County. Eatman only found the T. rex and had no desire to dig it out, so he sold his excavation rights to a group of fossil hunters led by Texas prospector fossil whore Ron Frithiof. Frithiof got a lease from Harding County for the rights to the fossil, so long as the county got a 10% cut. Frithiof made a deal with the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis for $8.5 million for the skeleton. That’s when the troubles began.

supposedly parts of Tinker's skull

A damaged and healed rib supposedly from Tinker

The county didn’t know the value Frithiof slapped on the fossil. So in 2003 they began litigation to rescind the lease and make the claim that Frithiof had collected the specimen illegal from federal lands. Tinker was placed in the holdings of a private preparator where the fossils sat around (with some still in the ground). The legal battle raged for years, but on August 6, 2009 an appeals court sided with Frithiof. They concluded that it was the County’s fault for not checking into what kinds of fossils were being found. They declared Frithiof’s lease valid, meaning the County will still get 10% of what Tinker gets sold for.Unfortunately this did not mean the end of Tinker’s life in purgatory. The preparator filed for bankruptcy, and the fossils were taken into the custody of a federal bankruptcy court. No new information has since come to light. I doubt any will for some time.

Anyone who knows me or has read my post on Lone Star is familiar with the utter disdain i have for commercial collectors. They are not interested in serving science or the public. They are only interested in their pocket books. Frithiof in an article for Smithsonian Magazine even admitted that he got into paleontology because he heard how much was payed for Sue and thought he too could cash in on prehistory. And to add on to the crap heap: he was going to charge a children’s museum $8.5 million for the specimen? What the hell! Where were they supposed to get that kind of money? Museums are strapped for cash as it is. The only reason The Field Museum was able to buy Sue was because they were able to make deals with Disney and McDonalds (probably the only good thing to ever come out of McDonalds). And just Like Tinker, Sue was the subject of legal disputes. And Tinker wouldn’t have as much scientific value because i doubt the guys took detailed geologic notes when digging him up (the less of that you have to do, the quicker you can get him out and sell him). Fossils need all that collateral data, as Brian Switek  so eloquently points out:

It is not paleontology’s aim to simply fill museums with the inhabitants of lost worlds or create static menageries of ancient monsters. The goal of this science is to understand prehistoric life, and this requires that we pay careful attention to the context and associations of bones. Carelessly rip a specimen out of the rocks, and you lose a world of information

Also, according to Pete Larson, the bones weren’t treated with adhesive or glue, so they are in really rought shape.

Tinker, along with other fossils like Lone Star, illustrate one of the most contentious debates today: who should and should not be allowed to excavate fossils. Unfortunately since fossils on private land are considered private property, people often let yahoos like Frithiof or Joe Taylor dig there and keep them. This is a big part of why i want to start my own museum. We need another professional entity out there to find fossils and bring them to the public trust. But that is a monumental task, and until i can get it off the ground, more fossils are either eroding away or being snatched by greedy fossil hounds. Gah!

Till next time!