Wednesday, 21 September 2022

What is Har Deshur?

Even though it has been going on for almost two months, I only now realized that I have not yet written a formal introduction for my newest project as I did with Rhynia. So, here it is.

As you have surely noticed, Mars and astrobiology are a special interest of mine. For a few years now I have been working on a fictional paleontology textbook from the future about fossil life found on the red planet. After recently reworking the concept, and also losing fun with working on Rhynia, I realized I could already show off some of the creature concepts as an online speculative evolution project, though in a slightly different context.

The result is Har Deshur

Named after Mars’ designation in Egyptian mythology, it is the first (public) speculative evolution project written and illustrated wholly by me. Instead of dealing merely with fossil forms, it takes place in an alternate world where Mars has stayed slightly more habitable until modern day and human explorers are making contact with the native wildlife. The keyword here is slightly, as this fictional Mars is not that much removed from the real deal. While air pressure, atmospheric make-up and temperature have been adjusted to make macroscopic life on the surface possible, the majority of the planet is still a harsh, cold desert, plagued by global dust storms. Here you will not find any civilizations or giganticbeasts, animals and plants will stay small, simple and adapted for extreme conditions.

Most of the metrics of this fictional Mars (down to the global temperature map) I did not pull out of thin air, but instead strongly based off real computer model studies about the Red Planet in its prehistory (Ramirez 2017 & Palumbo et al. 2018). Another source was outdated studies about current Mars from the 1950s and 60s (Salisbury 1962) and even older stuff from Percival Lowell and H.G. Wells (both 1908). Some data, such as the topography, seasons and the meteorology of the dust storms, is also taken directly from current sources on real life Mars (Forget 2006 & Sparrow 2014).

Apart from providing some of the science, the time period of the 50s/60s is also the main inspiration in style and tone, the goal being to recapture the charm of programs like Disney’s Mars and Beyond or Carl Sagan’s wishful thinking after the Mariner missions, trying to present a Mars that is inhospitable, but still interesting for a zoologist.

Some creatures you might recognize if you have read my infamous post on brachiopods, as the aliens featured at the end of that article are directly related to what you will find on Mars (though they are of an earlier iteration). The alien mummy “Ted” on the Rhynia was also meant to be a nod to this universe here but will unfortunately be retconned soon by Bob Guan (his loss). And do you remember the big article I wrote on Charnia and Ediacaran life and ever wondered where part 2 is? That one never manifested, because the communal spec-evo project I originally wrote that “intro” for never went anywhere BUT the concepts I have come up with I have been able to reuse for Har Deshur (this is not pure recycling to be clear, the original book draft already had Ediacaran-style organisms but they were not well thought-out and this was a good opportunity to rework them).

I hope you have fun reading through this new Mars and staying updated. The goal for now is to equip each of the planet’s biomes with a full ecosystem and then look where things might be expanded from there (if there even needs to be expansion). I have also toyed with the idea of using this second site as a more regular blog to write about the history of astronomy and astrobiology (or maybe even science news). The first post on the site is already such a non-fiction article about past visions people had about life on Mars and I have also written one or two astrobiology-themed posts on this site here, which I always felt did not quite match the rest of the blog. Let me know if you would like to read more non-fiction stuff about space.

 Now that every has been said, here's the plan: Get your ass to Mars!

Related Posts:

References:

  • Forget, François; Costard, François; Lognonné, Philippe: Planet Mars. Story of Another World, Paris 2006.
  • Lowell, Percival: Mars as the abode of life, Flagstaff 1908.
  • Palumbo, Ashley & Head, James: Early Mars Climate History. Characterizing a “Warm and Wet” Martian Climate with a 3-D Global Climate Model and Testing Geological Predications, in: Geophysical Research Letters, 45, 2018, p. 10249 -10258.
  • Ramirez, Ramses Mario: A warmer and wetter solution for early Mars and the challenges with transient warming, in: Icarus, 297, 2017, p. 71 – 82.
  • Salisbury, Frank: Martian Biology. Accumulating evidence favors the theory of life on Mars, but we can expect surprises, in: Science, 136, 1962, p. 17 – 26.
  • Sparrow, Giles: Mars, London 2014.
  • Wells, Herbert George: The things which live on Mars, in: Cosmopolitan Magazine, 44, March 1908, p. 334 – 342

Thursday, 25 August 2022

"Hawkinspunk" Spinosaurus

Fig. 1: Another cursed Spinosaurus reconstruction to rival Spinofaarus.

I have recently been reading through The Art and Science of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs by Mark Witton and Ellinor Michel. It is an excellent piece that I recommend everyone should buy and read, not only because it is expertly written and researched, but also because all proceeds will go to fund the Friends of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs.

While reading I learned a lot of new things about the nature of the fossils which informed the famous statues, as well as Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins’ methodology in reconstructing the creatures and building the models. But I also got inspired. Being quite a fan of “retroactive paleoart” or whatever you want to call it, I had an idea in my mind that I could not get out of it until I put pen to paper: What if another famous megalosauroid besides Megalosaurus was discovered back then and reconstructed along similar guidelines for the park?

Here I therefore present you Spinosaurus, how it may have been reconstructed had its fragmentary remains already been known to British paleontology in the 1850s (in reality the genus would not be described until 1915 by German paleontologist Ernst Stromer). 

Fig. 2: The fossil chimaera used to make fig. 1.

To make this drawing I actually first produced an erroneous, fragmentary skeletal of real fossil remains, which you see here. You will probably notice that some of these bones do not belong to Spinosaurus at all. While a bit exaggerated, this is in-keeping with the Crystal Palace models, as some of them are actually quite chimeric in nature. The Iguanodon statues are modelled after the fossils of several different iguanodonts, all of which are today not actually classified as Iguanodon proper anymore, but either as Barilium or Mantellisaurus (Witton & Ellinor 2022). The Hylaeosaurus restoration included not just Hylaeosaurus but also jaw-parts of an indeterminate stegosaur and sauropod teeth. The “labyrinthodonts” consist of remains from Mastodonsaurus and Bromsgrovia, a ctenosauriscid archosaur.

Fig. 3: Probably the oldest reconstruction of the Spinosaurus holotype, with known remains blacked out, made by Stromer in the 1930s for the Paläontologisches Museum München.

 

Fig. 4: Known remains (in grey) of Carcharodontosaurus saharicus.

In this spirit, I imagined our hypothetical 1850s-paleontologist cobbling together the bones of at least three different dinosaurs in order to provide a more complete basis for a reconstruction. Though they are all from the Bahariya Formation. With the limited knowledge of the complete dinosaur skeleton at the time and the common practice of taxonomic overlumping, they may therefore have been mistakenly assigned to all belong to the same animal. The lower jaw, the spinal column and the ribs all come from BSP 1912 VIII 19, the holotype of Spinosaurus aegyptiacus discovered by Stromer (which was unfortunately destroyed in the Second World War, but excellent sketches of it remain). The upper jaw/skull, pelvis and hindlimbs come from the holotype of Carcharodontosaurus saharicus. The large humerus (upper arm bone) comes from the holotype of the sauropod Paralititan, which may have been added in lieu of both theropod specimens lacking forelimbs. If you think this is ridiculous, marrying sauropod and theropod remains together has actually happened around this time. The Swiss sauropod today known as Amanzia greppini was originally named Megalosaurus meriani, as its large bones were found together with Ceratosaurus teeth, leading its describer to think it was a large predatory dinosaur (Greppin 1870). Since here we are in a mindframe where all dinosaurs were thought to have been quadrupeds, giving a theropod such a large forelimb would not seem unlikely.

Fig. 5: Owen’s original Megalosaurus skeletal (possibly the oldest skeletal of a dinosaur) for comparison. Note that it actually differs in many aspects from the statue in the Crystal Palace Geological Court.

The resulting animal looks like the lovechild of Hawkins’ Megalosaurus and a Ctenosauriscus or, alternatively, like a Dimetrodon on steroids. My choice of encasing the bottom of the sail in a sort of fleshy or muscly hump was based off the Hawkins dinosaurs also having muscular shoulder-humps similar to rhinos or bovines, which, with these large spines, may then be extended along the whole back. My positioning of the forelimbs admittedly ended up looking quite awkward, as I tried getting the whole animal into a horizontal posture while the large sauropod foreleg would probably force it more diagonally upward. All in all, though, I do think it ends up looking like a plausible animal which may have existed at some point had evolution gone a little differently.

Tell me what you think and if you maybe have suggestions for other “hawkinspunk” dinosaurs to draw.

If you liked this and other articles, please consider supporting me on Patreon. I am thankful for any amount, even if it is just 1$, as it will help me at dedicating more time to this blog and related projects. Patrons also gain early access to the draft-versions of these posts.

Related Posts:

References:

  • Greppin, Jean-Baptiste: Description géologique du Jura bernois et de quelques districts adjacents, in: Matériaux pour la carte géologique de la Suisse, 8, 1870, p. 1–357.
  • Owen, Richard: Geology and Inhabitants of the Ancient World, London 1854 (Facsimile Edition).
  • Stromer, Ernst: Ergebnisse der Forschungsreisen Prof. E. Stromers in den Wüsten Ägyptens. II. Wirbeltierreste der Baharije-Stufe (unteres Cenoman), Dinosauria, in: Abhandlungen der Königlich Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften Mathematisch-naturwissenschaftliche Abteilung, 28, 1915, p. 1 – 32.
  • Stromer, Ernst: Wirbeltierereste der Baharijestufe (unterestes Canoman). Ein Skelett-Rest von Carcharodontosaurus nov. gen., in: Abhandlungen der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Mathematisch-naturwissenschaftliche Abteilung, 9, 1931, p. 1–23.
  • Witton, Mark & Ellinor, Michel: The Art and Science of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, Ramsbury 2022.

Image Sources: