Monday, June 12, 2017

DINOSAURS!: From Cultural to Pop Culture - 1802: Noah's Ravens


1802: Noah's Ravens

Back in 1802 a young boy named Pliny Moody, was farming his fields in South Hadley, Massachusetts. While he was plowing, he unearthed a rock slab with a bunch of weird markings across it. He took the slab home and set it as a doorstep, because that's apparently what you did with these things back then (Nash Dinosaur Track Site). 

In 1810, the house, along with the rock, was sold to Dr. Elihu Dwight, who lived there for 30 years. During this time, the markings on the rocks were "identified" as the tracks of "Noah's Ravens". 

Eventually the rock came to the attention of Edward Hitchcock, who is generally considered to be the first ichnologist (a person who studies tracks and traces left behind by animals), who ascertained that this was not Noah's Ravens but the tracks of ancient birds. 

Eventually, around the 1860's, paleontologists finally went back to Hitchcock's "bird tracks" and realized them for what they were, dinosaur tracks. 

The "Noah's Raven" rock slab in Hitchcock's collection at Amherst College. Photo from

Here is the passage from the King James Bible from which the terminology is stemming from:

Genesis 19: 6-7
6And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made:7And he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth.
The raven never returned to the ark and it was thought that these footprints represented the location where the raven touched down onto Earth following the floods. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Geology Through Literature - The Last of the Mohicans

The next up on my Geology Through Literature thread is The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper published in 1826. You can get my complete thoughts on the book/story over at my blog - The Remnant, but for here I will just go into the geological or basic scientific aspects that are brought up in the story.

There is only one instance of geology that I could find worth mentioning but it is a long one. 

Midway through Chapter 6

     A spectral-looking figure stalked from out of the darkness behind the scout, and seizing a blazing brand, held it toward the further extremity of their place of retreat. Alice uttered a faint shriek, and even Cora rose to her feet, as this appalling object moved into the light; but a single word from Heyward calmed them, with the assurance it was only their attendant, Chingachgook, who, lifting another blanket, discovered that the cavern had two outlets. Then, holding the brand, he crossed a deep, narrow chasm in the rocks which ran at right angles with the passage they were in, but which, unlike that, was open to the heavens, and entered another cave, answering to the description of the first, in every essential particular. 
     "Such old foxes as Chingachgook and myself are not often caught in a barrow with one hole," said Hawkeye, laughing; "you can easily see the cunning of the place - the rock is black limestone, which everybody knows is soft; it makes no uncomfortable pillow, where brush and pine wood is scarce; well, the fall was once a few yards below us, and I dare to say was, in its time, as regular and as handsome a sheet of water as any along the Hudson. But old age is a great injury to good looks, as these sweet young ladies have yet to l'arn! The place is sadly changed! These rocks are full of cracks, and in some places they are softer than at othersome, and the water has worked out deep hollows for itself, until it has fallen back, ay, some hundred feet, breaking here and wearing there, until the falls have neither shape nor consistency." 
     "In what part of them are we?" asked Heyward. 
     "Why, we are nigh the spot that Providence first placed them at, but where, it seems, they were too rebellious to stay. The rock proved softer on each side of us, and so they left the center of the river bare and dry, first working out these two little holes for us to hide in." 
     "We are then on an island!" 
     "Ay! there are the falls on two sides of us, and the river above and below. If you had daylight, it would be worth the trouble to step up on the height of this rock, and look at the perversity of the water. It falls by no rule at all, sometimes it leaps, sometimes it tumbles; there it skips; here it shoots; in one place 'tis white as snow, and in another 'tis green as grass; hereabouts, it pitches into deep hollows, that rumble and crush the 'arth; and thereaways, it ripples and sings like a brook, fashioning whirlpools and gullies in the old stone, as it 'twas no harder than trodden clay. The whole design of the river seems disconcerted. First it runs smoothly, as if meaning to go down the descent as things were ordered; then it angles about and faces the shores; nor are there places wanting where it looks backward, as if unwilling to leave the wilderness, to mingle with the salt. Ay, lady, the fine cobweb-looking cloth you wear at your throat is coarse, and like a fishnet, to little spots I can show you, where the river fabricates all sorts of images, as if having broke loose from order, it would try its hand at everything. And yet what does it amount to! After the water has been suffered so to have its will, for a time, like a headstrong man, it is gathered together by the hand that made it, and a few rods below you may see it all, flowing on steadily toward the sea, as was foreordained from the first foundation of the 'arth!" 
     While his auditors received a cheering assurance of the security of their place of concealment from this untutored description of Glenn's, they were much inclined to judge differently from Hawkeye, of its wild beauties. 

The location being described above is Glens Falls (spelled "Glenn's" in the story) on the Hudson River in current day New York. Although the story is fiction, the caves are based on an actual set of caves located on an island within the Hudson River at Glens Falls. The caves have been named in honor of James Fenimore Cooper for popularizing the caves and are now known as Cooper's Cave

Aerial view of the river showing the island, which currently has a bridge laying on top of it (I'm pretty sure the bridge did not exist in the time of the story).

An excellent image of Cooper's Cave (center crack) from the Wireman blog

Given the extraordinary detail that Cooper gives into describing cave formation in the story, I feel I really don't have much to add in that regards. It sounds good and it's pretty spot on with how it actually likely occurred.

The black limestone in question is a fossiliferous unit called the Glens Falls Limestone, and it is part of the Trenton Group from the Late Ordovician (Mohawkian).

Here is some text on the area from the Historic American Engineering Record on Glens Falls Dam:

The Glens Falls Dam is situated at the head of Glens Falls on the Hudson River, a natural rock descent over Glens Falls limestone. The top of the falls is at an elevation of approximately 256 feet. A descent of 36 feet of the limestone bedrock occurs over a horizontal distance of 200 to 320 feet, culminating in a pool at the bottom of the falls with an elevation of 220 feet. Two channels have developed at the falls. The secondary channel lies toward the south side of the Hudson River. The main channel is closer to the north side of the river. Since the main channel carries more water than the secondary channel, it has eroded upstream at a faster rate. Therefore, the falls begin farther upstream on the north side of the river than on the south side. This difference in erosion rates has determined the position and shape of the Glens Falls Dam. Instead of being a single straight-line structure perpendicular to the water's flow, and spanning the river from bank to bank, the Glens Falls Dam is constructed in three sections that follow the arc of the highest part of the bedrock at the top of the falls.

The Glens Falls Limestone can be subdivided into the into a lower unit, the Larrabee Limestone, and an upper unit, the Shoreham limestone. The limestone itself is abundantly fossiliferous and formed in the deeper-shelf  (Garver, 1995).

Here is a bit of the basic description of the unit from Geolex:
Named the Glens Falls limestone of the Trenton group for Glens Falls, Warren Co., eastern NY. Consists of thin layers of very fossiliferous limestone with shale intercalations near top and a 2 inch conglomerate layer at base. Contains ripple marks and other signs of shallow water conditions. Basal unit of Trenton group. Thickness is 17 feet. Overlies the Tribes Hill limestone or the Amsterdam limestone and underlies the Canajoharie shale. Fossils indicate that the Glens Falls is of Middle Ordovician age.

And a little bit of more in depth information from the US Geological Survey.
Middle Ordovician New York and Vermont and Ontario Canada  
G.M., Kay, 1937, Geol. Soc. America Bull., v. 48, no. 2, p. 264-267. 
Member of Sherman Fall formation. Constitutes zone of Cryptolithus tesselatus Green, the limestones of lowest Sherman Fall age. In type region, beds comprise upper Glens Falls limestone, overlie lower Glens Falls Larrabee member of Hull age, and underlie Canajoharie shale of later Sherman Fall age. Beds consistently contain Cryptolithus tessclatus, which is limited to the member and Prasopora orientalis Ulrich and Trematis terminalis Emmons. This zone persists in the Sherman Fall northwestward to Lennox and Addington County, Ont., in the equivalent beds of northern Lake Champlain, and northeastward to city of Quebec. In type section, lower 36 feet of member is exposed. Along Mohawk Valley, member is composed of 15 to 25 feet of dark-gray calcareous claystones and shales that contrast with subjacent Larrabee member, and are succeeded abruptly by Canajoharie shale. Member has exposed thickness of 30 feet north of McBrides Bay, South Hero Township, Grande Isle County, VT, with a metabentonite 11 feet from base. Overlying beds are Cumberland Head shaly limestone and Stony Point shale, both of later Sherman Fall age. In New York underlies Denmark member (new).

And there you have it. Another piece of evidence that a piece of historical literature can turn a geological based location into a landmark.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

DINOSAURS: From Cultural to Pop Culture - 1607/1608: The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents


The History of Four-footed Beasts and The History of Serpents by Edward Topsell
"Among all the kindes of Serpents, there is none comparable to the Dragon..." (Edward Topsell)
Illustration of some dragons from Edward Topsell's The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents (1658) 
In 1607, Edward Topsell wrote The History of Four-Footed Beasts, shortly followed in 1608 by The History of Serpents. Both volumes were eventually combined in 1658 into The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents after Topsell's death. You can actually find a PDF of the book here at to check it out yourself, but as far as I am aware the 1658 text is identical to the original text of 1607 and 1608.

The purpose of the volumes was to provide an accurate representation of animals that exist in the world, however Topsell relied on other people's accounts on what was real and what was fictional. It is my understanding that everything Topsell wrote, he believed was real:
"The second thing in this discourse which I have promised to affirm, is the truth of the History of Creatures, for the mark of a good Writer is to follow truth and not deceivable Fables."
Topsell wrote several items of note about dragons in his books as if they were real-life animals.
"The remedies or medicines coming from this beast are these: first, the flesh of them eaten, is good against all pains in the small guts, for it dryeth and flayeth the belly. Pliny affirmeth, that the teeth of a Dragon tyed to the sinews of a Hart in a Roes skin , and wore about ones neck, maketh a man to be gracious to his Superiors... I know that the tail of a Dragon tyed to the Nerves of a Hart in a Roes skin, the suet of a Roe with Goose-grease, the marrow of a Hart, and an Onyon, with Rozen, and running Lime, do wonderfully help the falling Evill, (if it be made into a plaifter.)" (Page 92)
There are many other recipes as well which call for "the head and tail of a dragon" or "the fat of a dragon's heart".

But this has to be my favorite account:
"There are Dragons among the Ethiopians, which are thirty yards or paces long, these have no name among the inhabitants but Elephant-killers. And among the Indians also there is as an inbred and native hateful hostility between Dragons and Elephants: for which cause the Dragons being not ignorant that the Elephants feed upon the fruits and leaves of green trees, do secretly convey themselves into them or to the tops of rocks: covering their hinder part with leaves, and letting his head and fore part hang down like a rope, on a suddain when the Elephant comcth to crop the top of the tree, (he leapeth into his face, and diggeth out his eyes, and because that revenge of malice is too little to satisfie a Serpent, (he twineth her gable like body about the throat of the amazed Elephant, and so strangleth him to death."
There are pages and pages about dragons once you get to the "On the Dragon" portion of the text (pages 701-716) if you want to check it out yourselves. But the most important part of the text is the illustrations (for my purposes). The sketches of the dragons in his book (above and below) aren't any better than dragon depictions from any of the previous Medieval works from the 1400's back through the 1100's

Illustration of another dragon from Edward Topsell's The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents (1658)
Reading the text, you get why his illustrations resemble previous illustrations of dragons so much. It is because Topsell isn't coming up with any new information himself. He is just taking the information that had been created previously, thinking it is an accurate representation of what there was at the time, and passing it along in the guise of a factual encounter of real-life dragons. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

DINOSAURS: From Cultural to Pop Culture - 3000 BC to the 1600s AD: Eastern Dragons through the Medieval Ages


3000 BC to the 1600's AD
Eastern Dragons through the Medieval Ages

In this entry we move from the dragons of European history to the Eastern dragons of China and elsewhere. Like the dragons of Europe, the origin of the Eastern (or Chinese) Dragon is also unknown. Based on the number of fossils that have come out of China and the surrounding regions there is a possibility that they helped to shape the future of what dragons eventually became (New World Encyclopedia).   

There are as many stories about how the dragon came to be (as you can imagine from a culture where the dragon is as deeply imbedded as the Chinese culture is). Here are just a couple of them: 

There is a theory that the Eastern Dragon is a conglomeration of many animals into one "super beast". The theory is that six to seven thousand years ago early Chinese people believed that certain animals and plants possessed the power to overcome nature's fury. Different tribes would adopt a different animal, or totem. One tribe, ruled by the legendary Emperor Huang Di (the Yellow Emperor), used the snake as their totem and as they conquered other tribes they would acquire their totem and merge them with the snake. Eventually the dragon was born with the head of a camel, horns of a deer, eyes of a hare, ears of a bull, neck of a snake, belly of a clam, scales of a carp, claws of an eagle, and paws of a tiger (

Another dragon origination theory suggested by the archaeologist Zhou Chongfa was that the initial inspiration for the dragon was lightning. The Chinese pronunciation of the word dragon "long" resembles the natural sound of thunder. This theory combined the early settlers need for water and the relief that the lightning provided as it was intricately linked with the much needed rain (People's Daily). 

Is there any proof that dinosaur skeletons influenced the historical creation of dragons, No. But the possibility is there. This is something that will never be disproven or proven, the evidence just doesn't exist either way. So I say let's just have fun with it and explore the "evolution" of the Chinese dragon through time.   

The Zigong Dinosaur Museum, Zigong, China (CNN)

Disclaimer: Unfortunately trying to find legitimate images of ancient Chinese dragons is near impossible on the internet with the plethora of  Pinterest posts that don't actually link to anything, rampant auction sites with their often dubious claims of authentic dates (and personally I can't condone the selling of ancient pieces of history, "It belongs in a museum!"), or Creationist websites with their own variety of distorting the facts. I tried my best to filter out those images, and only focus on the ones I could determine were seemingly legitimate dragons representations dating to the time periods represented. That being said:

Here are some of the Eastern Dragons as we progress through history.

Hongshan Culture (~3000 BCE)

One of the earliest known physical depictions of a dragon. This Hongshan culture "C" shaped plate of a dragon  ( This looks like many of the early dragon forms which are termed the "pig" dragon. Pig dragons are dragons with pig-like heads and snake bodies, often coiled up in some manner.

Xia Dynasty (1994 BCE - 1766 BCE)

One of the earliest dragon sculptures ever found. This dragon sculpture is made of over 2,000 pieces of turquoise from Erlitou, which was possibly the capital of the Xia Dynasty (

Shang Dynasty (1766 BCE - 1027 BCE)

Shang Dynasty "pig" dragons (  

Zhou Dynasty (1122 BCE - 256 BCE)

Early Eastern Zhou dragons ( In these I feel the dragon shaped head is starting to progress to the stereotypical dragon we know of today.

Qin Dynasty (221 BCE - 206 BCE)

Qin Dynasty bronze dragon design - Shaanxi History Museum, Xi'an, China ( Here I feel we have more snake-like representations than many of the previous forms.

Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 220 AD)

Han Dynasty stone relief engraving showing a form of Dragon Dance (Wikipedia). This is the first time where a dragon has been depicted having limbs. Previous dragons all had a rather snake-like representation and here we are starting to get more of a mixture of animals. The Dragon Dance is the dance often seen in parades where many people dress up inside a giant dragon and dance/march down a street.

Gold hook buckle with jade dragon, Western Han dynasty, from the mausoleum of Nanyue King Zhaomo, Xianggang, Guangzhou - Hong Kong Museum of History (

It appears that at about this point in history, we move away from the generic "pig" dragon, with a pig head and snake body, into one that is much more detailed with many of the now iconic features of the Chinese dragon, such as the fish scaled body, clawed arms, and the now famous dragon head.

Sui Dynasty (589 AD - 618 AD)

Model of a Sui Dynasty dragon boat (

Tang Dynasty (618 AD - 907 AD)

Gilded bronze dragon from the Tang Dynasty (

Close up of the head (Art Gallery NSW).

From this point on, I feel we have reached a modern dragon.

Sung Dynasty (969 AD - 1279 AD)

Piece of the Nine Dragons handscroll created by Chinese artist Chen Rong from 1244.

Yuan Dynasty (1279 AD - 1368 AD)

Yuan Dynasty dragon hanging scroll ink painting (The Met).

Dragon images on a Yuan Dynasty porcelain pot (

Ming Dynasty (1368 AD - 1644 AD)
The Nine Dragon Wall in Beihai Park, Beijing was built in 1402.

Close up of some of the dragons (Wikipedia).

Flask decorated with a dragon and wave scrolls in underglaze blue, Ming dynasty, 14th century. Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (Encyclopedia Britannica)


Although created first, there is little evidence that the Chinese dragon influenced the European dragon in design and creation. It is possible that Marco Polo brought back information on dragons after his travels, which were during the late 1200's and early 1300's. But it is never mentioned in his Travels of Marco Polo diary account of his trip. But regardless, it can't be denied that the Chinese developed their dragons to a high degree of detail, far earlier than the Europeans, who were only producing rudimentary dragon artwork at this time.

And we will end this episode there, matching the time period our travels through the European Middle Ages had brought us to, the end of the 1400's. Also, you can see that dragons in modern day China greatly resemble, if not are identical, to many of the dragons being created over 500 to 1500 years ago. The dragons produced in China's history showed remarkable detail and exquisite design, in a style that has been imitated and matched for over 1,000 years.

Until the next time...

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Dinos in Pop Culture - T-REX Restaurant at Walt Disney World

There is a restaurant in what is now known as Disney Springs called T-REX that I have always wanted to go to since it opened (for obvious reasons). Well we finally got to go last year.

Main entrance sign.

 Some skeletons hanging about near the entrance.

 Is this the cause of the dinosaur's demise? 

Walking around inside the restaurant they had different areas. I don't recall the names but this was the ice cavern area with a nice size wooly mammoth. 

Inside the ice cave we have a blue glowing T-rex skeleton. 

 Another view of the woolly mammoth, this time with baby in view.

 Some pteranodons flying about. 

 Here we have a couple of apatosaurus. The baby is up on the right side and the mother is back on the left side. Look at the people eating, it's like they don't even care.

Up close and personal.

 A couple of Parasaurolophus.




Octopus bar that actually moves (the octopus, not the bar).

And your entrance greater, the T. rex. He was actually just next to us as we were eating and he moved! The kid did NOT like that.

And of course I took pictures of the bathroom. Because look at them!

All of the fossils in the bathroom were labeled so anything that you found interesting you could find out more information about. Here are some nautiloids. 

And some Knightia fish from the Green River formation of Wyoming.

 And last but not least, the gift shop. 

 Because...yea, we got this.

They also have a Build-a-Bear in the restaurant where you can make stuffed dinosaurs. The kid and I may have made one each.

They are sooo cute. 

And that is all.