Friday, March 15, 2013

Retiring

Hello people of the paleo-blogosphere. I'm sorry to say this, but I have decided to retire from blogging. This was not an easy decision to make, and I only came to it after a great deal of soul-searching. The fact is, my heart just isn't in blogging anymore, and it hasn't been for quite some time. When I started this blog, I was very enthusiastic and enjoyed sharing my thoughts on various paleo-related topics, but lately I've been feeling like I have less and less things to talk about, and my posting has become fairly irregular as a result. I think it's time to end the fight, and move on to other things. But rest assured, my interest in paleontology has not diminished. However, from this point on, I will be pursuing my interest on a more personal level, with less involvement in the online community. Finally, I want to thank everyone who has followed and commented on my blog. Without your support, this hobby would not have persisted as long as it has. But now it is time for me to focus on other endeavors. Goodbye, and best wishes to all of you.

P.S. I'm sorry I wasn't able to finish my Utah Travelogue series, but it was my lack of dedication that helped lead me to the decision to stop blogging. In addition, a recent Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs post covered the same material I was going to cover in the final post of my series, so finishing up seemed rather superfluous.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Utah Travelogue Part 4: Utah Field House of Natural History

Hey everyone. I sincerely apologize for the long delay. While part of this has to do with being busy in college, I must confess I've also been lazy as well. However, since I started this series, I intend to finish it. With that out of the way, let's dive into the Utah Field House of Natural History.

After visiting the CEU Prehistoric Museum, my mom and I headed off for the last leg of our journey through some of Utah's prehistoric attractions. Our final destination was the town of Vernal, which was a short drive from the famed Dinosaur National Monument, our final destination. But first we intended to visit the town's museum, the Utah Field House of Natural History. We had visited it back in our 2002 trip, but I read the museum had been revamped, and I was eager to see what they did with it. We stopped at the building we had visited a decade before with the retro dinosaur statues in front of it (which I sadly did not get a picture of). However, when we went up to the door, we were surprised to find a notice telling of the museum's new location. I then realized that they hadn't just redone the museum, they made a whole new building for it! No problem, we just drove to the new location and went inside.
In the main foray of the building we were greeted by an impressive mount of a Diplodocus skeleton. This skeleton had also been in the old building, and it created a sense of familiarity with the place. After looking around the area for a bit, we entered a small theater area where a short film played discussing the fossils of the Morrison Formation and the Eocene Green River Formation, both of which could be found in the area around Vernal and were the main focus of the exhibits. Once the film was finished, we went through the theater exit which led to the exhibit halls.
The first stop was the exhibit devoted to the Morrison Formation, the rock unit represented by the famous Dinosaur Quarry at Dinosaur National Monument. The centerpiece of this hall was a "sandbox" display showcasing the mounted skeletons of a Stegosaurus and an Allosaurus. Also in this display was a skeleton of a Haplocanthosaurus, one of the lesser known Morrison sauropods, laid out to look like the Allosaur's dinner. A very nice mural served as a background for this display. What made this mural unique was that it also provided glimpses into the process of making such a piece, with features such as a preliminary sketch of an Allosaurus next to the final image and a part that was left deliberately unfinished. Many other, less complete Morrison fossils were scattered throughout the halls, as well as some Jurassic marine fossils to provide a more complete view of the Jurassic world. There was also an area where kids could make their own Morrison scene based on different interpretations of the flora and fauna. I'm not ashamed to admit I played around with it a bit myself.
The next hall, as implied above, was devoted to the Green River Formation. Standing out in this exhibit was a Uintatherium skeleton that I also recognized from the new location. Various other mammal fossils were also on display, as well as reptiles and birds that had been found in the unit. However, perhaps the most impressive display was a wall of rock slabs containing fossil leaves. The Green River Formation is well known for its detailed preservation of small fossils, and this display provided a fine example of that. I must admit that while paleobotany isn't really my thing, it was hard not to appreciate these spectacular plant fossils.
After looking at the fossil hall, we stepped into a large-scale diorama depicting the environment of the Green River as it may have looked back in the Eocene. The life-size Uintatherium stood out of course, but there were many small animals scattered about that you had to find. My mom and I both had fun trying to find as many of the creatures as we could, some of which were hidden in the mural that provided the backdrop. However, even after spending a considerable amount of time looking, there was still and animal or two we couldn't find.

In the hallway leading to the exit of the exhibits were displays providing some basic information relating to the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic eras. Near each of these displays was a window, where we could see a statue of an animal representing one of these eras. These statues were also part of the museum's famous Dinosaur Garden, but we'll get to that in a bit. After exiting the exhibit area, we ended up on a balcony overlooking the Diplodocus. On this balcony were various paintings by Ernest Untermann, a German artist who lived in Vernal late in his life and illustrated much prehistoric life. The paintings were mostly outdated, but they were still nice to look at nonetheless.
Having seen what was to be seen in the building, we headed outside to see the museum's famed Dinosaur Garden, which is, as the name implies, a garden containing the statues of various dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures. I remembered this as one of the highlights of my first visit, and I was very excited to see these statues after so many years. One of my favorite pieces in the garden was the woolly mammoth, with hair made out of hemp that apparently must be periodically replaced due to the fact that the local birds like to use it for their nests.
As one moseys around the garden, one will notice that many of the statues are in rather old fashioned poses. For example, the T. rex stands upright, the Triceratops has its front legs sprawled out, and a few of the Diplodocus has its tail dragging on the ground. However, this is forgivable, as many of these statues were originally made in the 60's, when such reconstructions were thought to be accurate. As a side note, I like how the new location has the Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops facing off in the classic battle of the titans that has pervaded pop culture for many decades, given that the two were relatively far away at the old place.
Despite many of the statues being outdated, I was pleasantly surprised to see a sign of the changing times. Statues have been continually added to the garden for years, and on this visit I was greeted by the newest addition, an Allosaurus. Not only was this an appropriate dinosaur to include, given that it was found locally, but the makers also were sure to put it in an accurate horizontal pose. While this does clash a bit with the more retro dinosaurs, it does nicely show the progression of science since the first statues were made.

In the end, we had an enjoyable visit to the Utah Field House, which was a nice mixture of the old and the new. However, I was really excited because the next day we were to visit the big one, the place we had driven all the way to Utah to see. We were to finally visit Dinosaur National Monument.

To be concluded in part 5...

Friday, November 2, 2012

Utah Travelogue Part 3: CEU Prehistoric Museum

The morning after my mom and I visited Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, we headed over to the other paleontological attraction the town of Price had to offer, the CEU (College of Eastern Utah) Prehistoric Museum. We actually arrived a little early, before the museum opened, and I was anxious to get inside and see what was to be seen. When the doors were finally unlocked, I wasted little time in entering the building.
Once inside, we were greeted in the main lobby by a very impressive mount of a Utahraptor skeleton. I don't know if it or any other dromaeosaurid was really capable of positioning its leg in the manner shown in the photo above, but it is nevertheless an exciting and dynamic pose, a nice change from the standing around of many mounted skeletons. Plus, I have to give credit for it not having pronated hands. Seeing this skeleton also gave me an appreciation for the size of the animal. Of course I knew Utahraptor was very large for a dromaeosaurid, but it wasn't until I saw this skeleton in person that I realized just how large of an animal it was. There were also a couple display cases next to the skeleton, one showing the original fossil material of the animal, and another discussing the relationship between dinosaurs and birds.
The museum has two halls, one devoted to paleontology and the other to archaeology. Not surprisingly, our first stop was the paleontology hall. To my surprise, I discovered that the hall is currently undergoing renovations to update its exhibits. Much of this has to do with the museum's new directorship under renowned paleontologist Kenneth Carpenter. I knew he took over the position as director of the museum a couple years ago, and I'm glad he's using his position to ensure the museum is kept up-to-date. I admit I was mildly disappointed to find that not everything was in place, but I was determined not to let that ruin my visit, and I'm glad to say it didn't. Besides, it gives me a reason to visit again in the future.

The centerpiece of the paleontology hall is what is referred to the "kitty litter box," a sand-filled display area with mounted skeletons of the Jurassic dinosaurs Allosaurus, Camarasaurus, Stegosaurus, and Camptosaurus. Unfortunately, this section was the subject of much of the renovation. Most of the sand had been removed, and most of the skeletons were not mounted in their final positions. Only the Allosaurus was left standing, although this was hardly something to complain about, since it's a pretty cool mount, as can be seen in the picture above. I especially like the way the right foot is gripping the large femur. The Camarasaurus and Stegosaurus skeletons were laid out on the floor in the general position they occupied in the old "litter box," which was apparently to make them seem like carcasses. It was nice to still get to see these bones, even if they weren't remounted in their exhibit yet. The Camptosaurus was in in the lab, being remounted into a new, more accurate position (but read on).
In the area around the "litter box" were numerous display cases showcasing fossils of various kinds. Each case had its own theme, allowing the displays to cover a variety of topics. Unfortunately, I can't remember all of them, but they included the Palaeozoic, dinosaur footprints, and paleopathology. I found the latter especially interesting, partly because paleopathology is a subject I find interesting, and also because of one particular specimen on display. Said specimen was an Allosaurus vertebra, I believe a caudal, that appears to have been penetrated by a Stegosaurus tail spike. And just to clarify, the spike shown in the picture above was not found embedded in the fossil, but rather is just put there to show how well a thagomizer spike fits in the wound.
In the back area of the paleontology hall was the museum's prep lab. As the name implies, this is normally where fossils are prepared, but at the time I visited one of the big projects seemed to be the remounting of the Camptosaurus skeleton. Previously the skeleton was mounted in the classic but inaccurate upright position, and now it's being put in the correct horizontal pose. The skull was not yet mounted, but I suspect it will be changed to the one now known to have belonged to the animal, rather than the Theiophytalia skull of the old mount, especially since Carpenter was coauthor of the paper that corrected the problem.
It would be a crime not to mention the Allosaurus bust mounted on the wall of the hall. The most striking feature is of course the forked tongue. It's unlikely that Allosaurus, or any other theropod for that matter, had such a tongue, but it serves as a nice reminder of a time when dinosaurs were still seen as very much reptilian.
Once we were finished looking at what the first floor had to offer, we headed up to the second floor. Up here were several more dinosaur skeletons on display. Included were two representatives of the armored dinosaurs, namely Gastonia and Animantarx, both of which were found in Utah. Nearby were some examples of dinosaur tracks that had been discovered in a coal mine near the town. Most of these were made by hadrosaurs, and a skeletal mount of Prosaurolophus was displayed to represent this family. Nearby was also a Chasmosaurus skeleton, since apparently some ceratopsian tracks have also been found.

There was also a display case covering the topic of the extinction of the dinosaurs. There wasn't much new to me there, but I like how they listed aliens as an unlikely cause of the extinction, despite the fact that it reminded my of that dreadful episode of Ancient Aliens. Next to this display was some material covering some of the local Cenozoic paleontology. I admit I'm not insanely thrilled by Cenozoic stuff, being mainly a Mesozoic guy, but it's still nice to see it acknowledged, since it is still part of Earth's history.
On the other side of the museum is the archaeology hall. I confess we hastily went through this one. While archaeology is an interesting field, after going through a hall of paleontology it seems to pale in comparison. Still, there was some noteworthy stuff there. Probably the highlight was a display of a Clovis hunter attacking a mammoth. There were some nice mounts of other Ice Age mammals, as well as an interesting display on making a Clovis point, but overall there wasn't as much to grab me or my mom. However, this is just a matter of taste, and it was still a well done hall.

After we were done with the exhibits, we of course had to get some souvenirs at the gift shop. I got a museum T-shirt and a copy of Mesozoic Vertebrate Life, of which Carpenter was an editor.
 
Since we entered through the back entrance, I had to go out front to see the statues that stood near that part of the building. The closest one was an Allosaurus attacking what appeared to be a Camptosaurus. It of course looks very dated, but it has a nostalgic charm I think. As a fun little side not, when we got lunch at a restaurant in town, there were numerous dinosaur toys on some shelves, two of which set to resemble the statue. The other statue was a Utahraptor in a similar position to the skeleton inside.

Overall, I highly recommend the CEU Prehistoric Museum. It has many interesting exhibits and the renovations definitely give something to look forward to. Between this museum and Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, I think Price is rivaled only by Vernal as Utah's "Dinosaur Town." And speaking of Vernal...

To be continued in part 4...

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Utah Travelogue Part 2: Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry

Entrance to the quarry visitor center.
Hello everyone and welcome to the second part of my account of my dinosaur themed road trip through Utah. I want to apologize for the delay. My college semester started back up and I've been preoccupied with familiarizing myself with my classes and getting back in the swing of things. Now that that's out of the way, I'm ready to tell you about my trip to Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry.

After leaving Blanding, my mom and I headed over to the town of Price. I actually had two stops in the area that I wanted to visit, the first being the famous Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry. After having lunch in town, the two of us headed south to visit the site. Getting there was quite an adventure in itself, given that we didn't realize how far away the place was. In particular, once we got on the gravel road to the quarry, we kept going over hill after hill, hoping to see our destination. I admit I started to wonder if the place even existed. Fortunately for us, we eventually came upon the visitor center, much to our relief.
Map showing the distribution of bones in the quarry.
Upon entering, we were greeted by a young man at the desk, who kindly gave us some information of the site. He explained the unusual situation at the quarry, where the large majority of remains found were of carnivores, and these in turn are dominated by Allosaurus. He also told of the two main competing scenarios for the formation of this assemblage, the first being that the site represents and ancient predator trap, and the other being that it was a shrinking water hole during a drought. The evidence is not a perfect match for either hypothesis, which only makes the site all the more fascinating to me.

The visitor center itself was made into a small museum showcasing some of the findings at the quarry. Included were some cases showcasing skulls of some of the animals found at the site, one showing carnivores, the other showing herbivores. There was also a replica of a Camarasaurus hind leg, which really allows you to appreciate the size of the animal. Also interesting was a display showing the many museums some of the dinosaurs found at the quarry are now held.
Mounted Allosaurus at the visitor center
Down a small flight of stairs we came to a large area dominated by an impressive Allosaurus skeleton. Near the railings surrounding the museum's centerpiece were more cases showing some fossils discovered in the quarry. In one corner was a fun little puzzle where you could attempt to put together a rubber Allosaurus skull. Since there were no other visitors there at the time of our visit, my mom and I decided to give it a shot. I had something of an advantage due to my knowledge of theropod skull anatomy, while my mom, who's more familiar with the anatomy of mammals (she's a veterinarian by trade), treated it more like a jigsaw puzzle, just seeing which pieces fit. Despite our different approaches, we soon had the whole thing assembled, much to our satisfaction. Near another corner was a wall display showing the various hypotheses for how the assemblage was formed. Next to that was a neat growth series of Allosaurus femurs. The most notable change, other than size, was the transition from a gracile to robust build, consistent with what is known about theropod ontogeny.
Quarry buildings
Once we were finished with what was to be seen in the visitor center, we made our way over to the quarry itself. There are actually two quarry buildings, one of which is open to the public. It was a bit of a walk to get over there, but thankfully there was a paved path and it wasn't particularly hot.
Sauropod sacrum
Inside the building were numerous dinosaur bones spread out on the ground. Many had been fully excavated and prepared, and then placed back in the building for visitors to see. Probably the biggest bone in the building was the sacrum of a sauropod, I believe Camarasaurus, in addition to many other remains that seemed to mostly belong to, surprise, Allosaurus. Displayed in a small glass case on the ground was something very special, and egg found at the quarry. Given that the Morrison Formation isn't a unit best known for its fossil eggs, it is quite a find.
Fossils in their original orientation
Probably the highlight of the quarry building was a scattering of various bones in a small area. These were placed in the original orientation in which they were found, not just horizontally, but vertically as well, thus allowing us to see the orientation in three dimensions. This allowed me to appreciate the taphonomy of the place, and also speaks volumes of the attention to detail in documenting the findings, which is crucial to any field paleontologist.

Overall, Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry proved to be another great stop in my Utah trip. While it's not on par with the sheer scale of the more famous quarry at Dinosaur National Monument, it nevertheless is an interesting locality that poses some fascinating questions. If you're ever in the area, this place is a must-visit.

Tune in for part 3...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Utah Travelogue Part 1: The Dinosaur Museum

Well, I'm finally back with another blog post. For a while I've been wanting to do bigger stuff with this blog than the posts I've been doing, and I decided a good place to start would be by giving accounts of some of the museums and other paleo places I visit. And it just so happens that I already have some good material. A few weeks ago my mom and I went on a road trip to Utah to check out the new quarry building at Dinosaur National Monument, which we last visited in 2002. However, there is no shortage of paleontology related places in the Beehive State, so I was sure to work a few other stops into the trip. I will be covering each of them in the order we visited them. First stop, the Dinosaur Museum.

The Dinosaur Museum, located in Blanding, Utah, is owned and run by famed paleoartists Stephen and Sylvia Czerkas. Although the exterior of the building is rather unassuming, visitors, including me and my mom, are introduced to a very interesting and eclectic assortment of displays, which I shall describe here for your enjoyment.
When we entered the building, we were greeted by a very large replica of an ammonite. Given the generally small size of the ones you generally see, it is truly amazing to see how large some of them got to be. There was also a meteorite and a display on the ancient Earth. Past the reception desk we came to a display on the Permian, including casts (which most of the fossils on display were) of various animals that lived during that period, as well as some fossilized Permian logs. Next to these were some Triassic animals, such as the reptile Protorosaurus and your typical set of primitive dinosaurs, specifically Herrerasaurus, Plateosaurus, and Coelophysis. After a Dilophosaurus skeleton, this little "life through time" display ended with specimens from the Late Jurassic, dominated by a beautiful Allosaurus sculpture by Stephen Czerkas. Also in this room was a "two-faced" Albertosaurus, with one side showing just the skull, and the other being fleshed out.
In the space between the room and one of the halls are a series of display windows showcasing various dinosaur related items. Some of these displays are science oriented and are devoted to specific topics such as dinosaur skin and eggs. Others are more historical in nature, with one window showing items related to the earliest dinosaur discoveries. However, I thought the real highlights were the pop culture related displays. One showed numerous vintage dinosaur toys and figures, with another containing a collection of old dinosaur comic books and pulp magazines, as well as some stuff on dinosaur movies.
And speaking of movies, the halls of the museum are a dinosaur movie aficionado's dream come true. Hung on the walls are an impressive collection of dinosaur movie posters. These range from the well known films to more obscure titles well known only to dedicated connoisseurs of saurian cinema. What makes this poster collection even more interesting is that many of the posters on display are foreign. These range from being very similar to their American counterparts to some being quite bizarre, most notably the Polish poster for One Million Years B.C.
Next we wandered into one of the other exhibit rooms. Here we saw more of Stephen Czerkas' excellent sculptures, including a large Styracosaurus, which is my mom's favorite dinosaur. In addition, there was a Deinonychus in desperate need of feathers. Sadly, time has not been kind to this model, and I hope it does eventually gets some repairs to its body, in addition to feathers. Nearby was also a display case showing a sculpture of Czerkas' older version of Deinonychus, with scales instead of feathers.
It is about here that I think I should bring up what might have been on my readers' minds. Being Czerkas' museum there are unfortunately some displays showcasing his rather odd views on bird origins. I've already covered them on my blog previously, so I will not go into them here. However, I will admit seeing them made me cringe a little bit. I also gave my mom a little warning that some of his views were unconventional, but did not go into detail. Still, I was sure not to make this aspect ruin my whole visit, since there was still much to enjoy. And even though I may not agree with Czerkas as to the exact nature of some of these animals, I still appreciated his sculptures of Caudipteryx, Pterorhynchus, Scansoriopteryx, and "Cryptovolans" (put in quotes since it seems to likely be a synonym of Microraptor).
Upon entering the next room, we were treated to some displays dedicated to the original King Kong. One display showed a reconstruction of one the old sets used for the movie's stop motion scenes and an explanation of how the special effects were pulled off. It really makes you appreciate the ingenuity of early filmmakers. Nearby was probably the coolest piece of dinosaur movie memorabilia in the museum; the original "Brontosaurus" model used for the film. Much of the exterior had deteriorated away, but it was still amazing to see in person this actual item used in one of the most famous films of all time. On the other side of the room were more science related displays, including an impressive Tarbosaurus skeleton and a replica of the arms of Deinocheirus.
After this we entered the final room of the museum. The centerpiece was an impressive replica of a hadrosaur mummy. Looking closely at the preserved soft tissue, I was able to note the way the skin on the hands had been flattened, which for years had been misinterpreted as webbing, which in turn contributed to the misconception that this family of dinosaurs was aquatic. On the walls of this room was a great deal of information on dinosaur footprints, including discussions of significant dinosaur track sites. Also on one of the walls were casts of various types of dinosaur tracks.
Once we were finished exploring the exhibits, we of course stopped at the gift shop. A number of books were for sale, including Czerkas' somewhat infamous volume on feathered dinosaurs. I instead purchased his book on dinosaur movies, as well as a t-shirt. The woman at the counter was also very nice and my mom and I managed to strike up a conversation with her for a while.

The Dinosaur Museum in Blanding was a very fun place to visit. In spite of Czerkas' somewhat wonky views on bird origins, there is plenty of stuff to enjoy. I would suggest trying to ignore the stuff relating to birds, because if you let it bother you too much, you will deprive yourself of an otherwise highly enjoyable experience. Overall, I highly recommend this place to dinosaur lovers, despite the flaws.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Some Ramblings on Ceratopsian Quills

For the past several years or so, there has been a particular trend in the reconstruction of ceratopsian dinosaurs. Specifically, it has become relatively commonplace to depict the horned dinosaurs with a set of quills, either on the tail or throughout the body. Here I wish to discuss the origin of this trend, and give my thoughts on the issue.

It all started with the description of a spectacular Psittacosaurus specimen from Liaoning, China, which included not only the outline of the animal's body, but also a series of quills sticking out from the top of its tail. Since this discovery, it has become the rule to depict this genus with quills, in keeping with the revelation of this find. Eventually, some artists began to take this even further, and began portraying other ceratopsians with a similar set of quills on the tail, or a covering of quills on the back and torso area. I don't know exactly when this began, but it seems to have been spurred on by a  Triceratops specimen, nicknamed Lane, preserving some of the skin. Among the different types of scales, some are elevated and vaguely cone-like. It has been speculated that these scaled may have served as bases for quills, no doubt inspired by the Psittacosaurus specimen from China.

What do I make about all this? Let's start off with Psittacosaurus. The presence of quills on the famous specimen is indisputable. However, I can't help but wonder how widespread this feature actually was among the genus. Psittacosaurus is a diverse genus with many species. Is it possible that some species had quills while others didn't? Also, could different species have had different arrangements of quills? Maybe some species had quills throughout their bodies while others just had them on their tails. Or maybe the size of the quills varied by species. We do not even know how the quills varied within the species. Ontogeny, gender, or other factors might have influenced features of the quills, or even whether they were present at all. With only one specimen (as far as I know anyway), we cannot be certain as to how widespread these features were.

What about Lane the Triceratops? While the discovery of the fossilized skin is undoubtedly a cool find, I'm not convinced they show evidence of quills. It's quite possible the tall scales in question are just that. Maybe Triceratops was just a bumpy dinosaur. While it's not impossible that they were bases for quills, I do not think the evidence is strong enough yet to say for certain that Triceratops was a bristly dinosaur.

All this being said, however, I am not necessarily opposed to the depiction of ceratopsians other than Psittacosaurus having quills. I just think it remains a speculative issue at the moment. If you feel like giving your ceratopsians quills, feel free to do so, I will not complain. As for Psittacosaurus, I don't think it's wrong to depict them with the same quill arrangement as shown for the one fossil. However, I would also suggest maybe getting a little creative with them. There are many possibilities out there, and until more fossils turn up, I think it would be interesting to explore more of them in art. Just my two cents.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Enter the Feathered Terror



I have decided to expand my online presence and started a new Youtube channel. I had a channel before this, but I really wanted to get a fresh start, since I'm not a big fan of my videos on my old channel, most of which were just slide shows. I now wish to make better content. I'm starting off by reviewing dinosaur models, but I hope to expand into other areas once I get more ideas. I won't be discussing a lot of scientific stuff, since that's what this blog is for. If you're interested in checking it out click here. My first video on the channel is above so you can get a taste of what I'm doing. I know it's a little awkward, but I hope to improve with more time and experience. Hope to see you there.