Wednesday, December 14, 2016

DINOSAURS: From Cultural to Pop Culture - ~800 AD: Of Beowulf and Dragons


For our next entry, we move on from the Prehistoric Times into the Medieval Times:

~800 AD
Of Beowulf and Dragons

"He heeded not the fire, though grievously it scorched his hand, but smote the worm [dragon] underneath, where the skin failed somewhat in hardness."
 One of the hallmarks of the Medieval time period was, of course, dragons, and the knights that rode in to slay them. Beowulf was one of the first pieces of literature to present the dragon, along with the now synonymous fire breathing aspect of it.  

Even though there are no illustrations from the period of Beowulf to show what contemporary people thought the dragon would have looked like, here is a 1908 illustration by J. R. Skelton, which is as far removed from any modern interpretations as I could find in reference to Beowulf specifically.
Similar to the gryphon, cyclops, and Amazonians from before, the bones of dinosaurs are thought to be the basis for the dragon mythology. Ancient people would find the bones and build legends around them, much like they did in ancient Rome and Greece. However, in this instance the beasts that were created became dragons, with an ever expanding array of features like fire breathing, armored skin, and wings. Unlike dragons of modern day though, the dragons on the middle ages appeared more "worm-like" as mentioned in the Beowulf text. As we continue on through the middle ages, this will become more pronounced.

One fossil find that is even named after dragons because of it's uncanny resemblance to what we know of today as dragons is the pachycephalosaur Dracorex

Dracorex at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, photo by David Orr
Although not discovered until 2003, it is unlikely that this specific species of dinosaur was the source of the dragon mythology. But it is not out of the realm of possibility that other similar fossils sparked the medieval imagination.

The next few posts will follow the "evolution" of dragons through the Middle Ages to see how they have "evolved" in medieval culture.

For a full listing of all of the entries you can click here: DINOSAURS!: From Cultural to Pop Culture


Friday, December 09, 2016

DINOSAURS: From Cultural to Pop Culture - ~100 AD: Battle of the Amazonians


~100 AD
Battle of the Amazonians

For our next entry, we continue on the island of Samos with the last entry in the "Prehistoric Times" (at least for now).

A long time after Euphorion talked about the Neades (about 300 years), Plutarch came and also came up with a reason for the bones on the island. Plutarch talked about a tale where the god Dionysus tried to recruit the giant Amazon warriors, however they refused, and Dionysus pursued them to Samos. A great battle took place and the Amazonians were slaughtered in "fields of blood". 

The majority of Samos is covered with white and beige sediments and rocks, however there is a significant deposit of red sediments with many white fossil bones eroding out of them. The localities of these deposits coincide with the locations of battles depicted on ancient maps.

Samos red rock fossil beds (Soulinias, 2007)
The deposits of these fossils were found within a volcanic tuffa that was interbedded with sandy marls and gravels from the Early Miocene. The variety of mammals within the fossil beds is astounding, ranging from Mastodons, rhinos, and hyenas, to flightless birds (Forsyth Major, 1893).  

One of the most common fossils that are found on the island is that of the Prehistoric horse, Hippotherium. Coincidently (or perhaps not), the Amazonian's were known to have rode horses into battle.

Fossil of Hippotherium gracile (By Ghedoghedo - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

DINOSAURS: From Cultural to Pop Culture - ~220 BC: The Neades


~220 BC
The Neades

Samos is a Greek island located in the Aegean Sea, near present day Turkey:

Location of Samo from Sarris et al, 2007

This island has been written about numerous times in the ancient past. One of the notable examples was the following:
" primeval times Samos was uninhabited [except for] animals of gigantic size, which were savage and dangerous, called Neades. Now these animals with their mere roaring split the ground. So there is a proverbial saying in Samos: 'So and so roars louder than the Neades.' And Euphorion asserts that their huge remains are displayed even to this day"
Euphorion (~220 BC)
Quoted in On Animals by Aelian (3rd Century AD) 
The Neades seem to be similar to other ancient beasts, which were the works of ancient authors finding the fossils and trying to come up with a story to explain them. Below are some of the fossils that have been found on the island of Samos and have been dated to the Tourolio during the Early Miocene (

Some of the Early Miocene fossils that have been found on the island of Samos (

The original writings of Euphorion had been lost, but the above section had been quoted by the natural historian Aelian in the 3rd century AD. Fossils today have been found in the Mytilini basin, which is located north of the village of Mytilini on Samos, along a major fault zone on Samos. Faults = earthquakes. Perhaps the ancient Greeks equated the earthquakes with the roar of the Neades (Soulinias, 2007). Euphorion's quote also seems to focus on the fossils being put on display. It was discovered that around the 7th century BC a large fossil thighbone was placed on an altar of the Temple of Hera, a popular place at the time (Kyrieleis, 1988). It is likely that Euphorion saw the thighbone and created a tale of his own to explain it. Besides Euphorion's tale, not much is written about the Neades (I couldn't even find an illustration depicting them), but Samos continued to be a focal point where paleontology influenced the culture of the time period. For the next stop we will look at when Plutarch made a more impactful statement about where he thinks the fossils came from.

Kyrieleis, H. (1988). Offerings of the common man in the Heraion at Samos. Early Greek cult practice, 215-21.
Mayor, Adrienne. 2000. The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

GIS "Pro" Tips - Getting GPS Coordinates from an Address

While working as a GIS Specialist, there were times when I needed to know the GPS locations of a lot of places based on their physical address. The fastest and easiest way I found to do this was to use Google Maps.

Here is how:

Go to

Type in the address that you are interested in. Here I put the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Utah (my alma mater).

Then if you look at the actual web address you will notice there are two GPS localities listed. The blue circle (on the left) is the GPS address of the center of the page. If you shift the map, this will change accordingly. It is not necessarily the GPS address of the point you input, if the page loads with your location off center (as often happens). The red circled address (at the end of the web address) is the actual address of the point you input. To show you where you can use that, you can take the numbers and put them in ArcMap as seen below.

In the default toolbar, there is a button called "Go to XY". Click on it.

A box will pop up with Longitude and Latitude boxes.

Type in the second number first, this is your longitude. Include the negative sign if applicable. Then type the first number in the second box. This is your latitude. When you hit "Enter", a flash will appear on the map where your point is. It also converts the Decimal Degrees of Google Maps to Degrees Minutes Seconds. You can click on the "Add Point" above the coordinates to put a green dot in that spot. Then you have to zoom in manually.

And if you put in the second GPS coordinates, you will get a dot precisely where Google Maps puts the address, which is more often than not, correct. Although there are instances where this isn't always the case.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures - Death Valley

My next post about the Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures is...

You can find more Geology of the National Parks Through Pictures as well as my Geological State Symbols Across America series at my website

Finishing our tour of the southwest's desert national parks was Death Valley. The hottest, driest, and lowest National Park. Also the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. We entered the park at the southern entrance, which enabled us to hit up Badwater Basin on our way into the park, since that was the main thing I wanted to see. Unfortunately, we were getting there right at sunset so the sun is in a lot of the photos, since we were on the eastern side of the valley.

 Drive by Entrance Sign shot.

 Our first view of valley known as Death Valley on our way towards Badwater Basin. The valley was formed during the expansion of the western United States creating the region known as the Basin and Range province. Initially the United States was being squeezed by a large plate off the west coast known as the Farallon Plate. This plate was slide beneath North America while also pushing up against North America. Eventually most of that plate complete subducted (went beneath) North America. At that point the pressure was off and North America began expanding outwards like a squeezed sponge. This outward expansion produced a series of linear mountains alternating with linear valleys, the Basin and Range. This region extends from mid-Utah, through Nevada, and into eastern California. 

 Distant view of Badwater Basin towards the north.

  Here is a shot while standing in Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere (282 feet below sea level). This view is looking towards the east, up at the valley wall. If you look closely there is a little white box towards the center of the photo. The box says "Sea Level".

 The salt that has accumulated at the bottom of Badwater Basin. Badwater Basin is a terminal basin, meaning that all of the water that flows into this basin, stays here, until it evaporates away. This means that all of the minerals from the surrounding landscape also get deposited here and stay here. This causes many end basins to have very, very high concentrations of minerals like halite (salt) and gypsum. A similar terminal basin is the Great Salt Lake, also with a very high salt content. 

 Looking out towards the basin along the salt walkway that the tourists are allowed on. You will notice all the holes. I'm positive these are people digging them, then going "Now I'm at the lowest point!". Please don't do do this. Those people are just jackasses and breaking the law.

 Another view of Badwater Basin. 

 Close up shot of the salt flats. Love the designs in the salt.

 Looking back towards the "Sea Level" sign and the valley wall.

 The marker stating "Badwater Basin 282 Feet/85.5 Meters Below Sea Level".

 The car's altimeter was a little off, but it was still cool to see it say -260 ft.

 View from our room at the Stovepipe Wells Village looking at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.

 Got out and hiked around the dunes a little. 

 Interdunal deposits.

 Traces of dune life. Looks like lizards and mice to me.

 More tracks. Maybe a hare mixed in and I'm sure there were scorpion tracks in there somewhere.

 Furnace Creek visitor's center, which is the location for the hottest place on Earth. It was only 85 while we were there, so not too bad. The reason that Death Valley holds the record for being the hottest places on Earth, and is also one of the lowest places on Earth are not separate isolated instances. The valley floor is so low, and the surrounding mountains so high, that the air currents within the valley can't escape during the hot summer months. So as the sun heats up the valley it isn't able to cool down at night very much because the air is trapped in the valley. Come the daytime that slightly cooled air descends back down to the surface and heats up even more. It's a cyclical cycle that produces incredibly hot temperatures. 

 Went over to Artist's Drive. View of the valley wall. The expansion of the crust also thinned the crust. This thinning allowed magma to start leaking through and producing volcanoes in various places along the expansion region. These volcanoes eventually moved towards the east but not before producing volcanic eruptions including ash and lava. The rocks in this area specifically are heavily composed of that ash, which is rich in heavy minerals and elements like nickel and cobalt. When these heavy metal elements start to erode, they produce vibrant colors not typically seen in a normal sedimentary landscape. 

 Another view of the valley wall along Artist's Drive.

 Looking out towards Death Valley from Artist's Drive.

Artist's Palette. This was an extremely colorful  ash and claystone deposit, made colorful by the various metals in the ash. The colors got a little washed out in the photo but they were rather striking in person.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Geology in Pop Culture - U of U Parking Garage

Back in 2012 (or about) the University of Utah decided that they wanted to build a parking structure next to the Sutton Geology Building. This was a rather contentious issue since we had a phenomenal view of the Salt Lake valley from our building and putting a parking structure right next to our building would not only block our view but would be a rather ugly eyesore to the campus in general. After much debate there were people from the department appointed to the committee to design the parking garage including myself as the Sutton Geology Building student representative and Marjorie Chan as the faculty representative. 

Even though one of the main concerns of the Geology Department was blocking the view, we also didn't want the parking garage to be, well, a parking garage. We wanted something that wouldn't be an eyesore to look at day in and day out for the students and faculty, long after most of them (including myself) have moved on. To do this I sent in my own ideas for what we would want for the building and the walkways that lay between the parking garage and the Geology Building. 

We eventually were able to work with the architects and the committee to get the parking garage to a height that would not impede the views from the 3rd or 4th floor of the Sutton Geology Building at all, which is more than any of us could ask for. However, their initial ideas for the walkway seemed pretty far from what we (Marjorie and I) thought were good ideas so we started kicking around ideas of our own. I thought a great idea would be to draw people in from the street via a braided river design that flowed into a meandering river. 

I used the above image (from as a baseline for what I wanted the walkway to look like.

I then drew this up, based on the construction drawings for where the Parking Garage (grey box on the left) and the Sutton Geology Building (grey box on the right) were located. I then traced in a walkway connecting the main walkways that were likely to not change in the area, adding in some small islands to emphasize the braided river scheme.

Lo and behold, after I submitted the above design to the architects and landscape person, they come back with the above image. Besides cutting the meandering portion of the river short, the design was identical to what I had worked up myself! Everyone on the committee loved it as well. 

Besides just the walkway, there was a matter of the facade of the building. What did we want to do? By this point Marjorie Chan was no longer able to be on the committee due to time constraints so the department chair, John Bartley, joined on in her stead. We talked it over and we agreed that looking out over the Salt Lake Valley, it would be nice to have a graphic illustrating the Basin and Range illustrating what you are looking at towards the west.

Based on that conversation, I came up with the above design. It was tweaked a little between John and I, but generally it remained the same. I designed a silhouette of the Basin and Range provenance from the Geology Building west to the Nevada state line. 

When looking from East to West (right to left on the picture above), the mountain ranges you can see are the Wasatch Mountains (which the Sutton Geology Building was located on), then the Oquirrh Mts, the Stansbury Mts, the Cedar Mts, the Bonneville Salt Flats, and finally the Deep Creek Mts, all the way at the border with Nevada. I tried to design the mountains and the valleys to emphasize the way that the Basin and Range formed, with the tilting of these massive blocks and the filling of sediment in between. I also wanted to highlight that the Bonneville Salt Flats are actually located above some buried mountain ranges that formed the same way. My biggest mistake was when designing the mountains, which was fixed by this image, the main Deep Creek fault actually tilted in the opposite direction, towards the west, from all the other mountains to the east of it.

This design the committee also agreed upon our proposal for the facade, and construction went ahead on the garage.

 October 3rd, 2014
 By this point, since I was no longer a student and on campus everyday, I had my advisor, Tony Ekdale, take some in construction images for me while they were building it. All of these images are from the Sutton Geology Building (3rd floor), looking towards the west.

October 6th, 2014

October 20th, 2014

November 7th, 2014

June 12th, 2015
 Big jump in time a few months. Most of the structure is installed.

August 5th, 2015
 The walkway has begun to be installed.

September 9th, 2015
 The walkway is done and the facade is mostly complete. 

November 18th, 2015
Project Complete!
 The facade from the Sutton Geology Building is complete with different colored "stain" used to emphasize the mountain segments from the valley fill.

 Partial view of the walkway and facade.

View of the meandering walkway.

 Better view of the facade.

Probably the best picture I got of the facade. I should go back and get a better picture on a sunny day.