Thursday, November 28, 2019

DINOSAURS!: From Cultural to Pop Culture - 1825: Iguanodon


1825: Iguanodon

Despite some question about the event, it is generally believed that in 1822 Mary Ann Mantell stumbled upon a tooth unlike anything she had ever seen before. She presented the tooth to her husband, Gideon, a physician who had an interest in fossils. Based on the location of discovery, Gideon was able to trace the tooth back to its source and discovered several other teeth as well as some other bones. Although Dr. Mantell was unable to link the other bones with the teeth, he still had these highly unusual teeth to interpret.

Dr. Mantell ended up sending the teeth to renowned scientist Baron Georges Cuvier. Although Cuvier was initially skeptical of the teeth and said they were part of a rhinoceros, he later recanted. In a letter that Gideon reprinted in his announcement of Iguanodon, Cuvier expresses his opinion, that based on the structure of the teeth, they were from a very large, unknown, herbivorous reptile. Cuvier recommended finding more material though, of which Mantell was unable to do.

The teeth were found in the sandstone of the Tilgate forest, of which crocodile, plesiosaur, and Megalosaurus, material was already identified within the rock unit. These teeth, and some other bones, were the only pieces they weren't able to identify. Even though he didn't have much material to go on, Dr. Mantell would not be dissuaded and upon visiting the Royal College of Surgeons in London he was shown a specimen of an iguana, brought back from the West Indies by Darwin. Looking at the teeth, Dr. Mantell noticed the extreme similarity between the two, except his was much, much larger. He eventually published on the specimen in 1825 in a journal article entitled "Notice on the Iguanodon, a newly discovered fossil reptile, from the sandstone of Tilgate Forest, in Sussex".
"If however any inference may be drawn from the nature of the fossils with which its remains associated, we may conclude, that if amphibious, it was not of marine origin, but inhabited rivers or fresh-water lakes; in either case the term Iguanodon, derived from the form of the teeth, ... will not, it is presumed, be deemed objectionable."

The original illustration of the Iguanodon material from Mantell's 1825 paper, Notice on the Iguanodon...
The naming of Iguanodon made this the second dinosaur ever to be officially named, however it is still over a decade before the term “Dinosaurs” will be coined. Like the Megalosaurus paper the previous year, it was also assumed that these large saurians were aquatic, or at least amphibious. mostly based on their association with known aquatic species like plesiosaurs and sharks. Also, along with the Megalosaurus, no reconstructions were even attempted at the time. The only real description of the animal itself was a ballpark estimate on its size:
"That the latter equalled, if not exceeded the former in magnitude [Megalosaurus], seems highly probable; for if the recent and fossil animal bore the same relative proportions, the tooth, fig. 1. must have belonged an individual upwards of sixty feet long; a conclusion in perfect accordance with thatdeduced by Professor Buckland from a femur, and other bones in my possession."
The initial reconstruction for Iguanodon must also wait, like with Megalosaurus, another decade for a more complete specimen to be found. It is at that time that Mantell will return to the Iguanodon in order to create a what will become one of the first dinosaur reconstructions.

Mantell, G.A., 1825, VIII. Notice on the Iguanodon, a newly discovered fossil reptile, from the sandstone of Tilgate, in Sussex: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, v. 115, p. 179-186.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

DINOSAURS!: From Cultural to Pop Culture - 1824: Megalosaurus


1824: Megalosaurus

Starting in the early 1800's, people began to notice the fossils of extinct animals for what they were, extinct animals. Originally it was assumed that God would never let one of his creations ever go extinct, so these remains that were being discovered must be the remains of something not known in that region. However, as time passed people were realizing that the bones they were finding belonged to nothing that was alive today and therefore must be extinct. 

This trend of identifying unknown, extinct animals really kicked off in the 1820's with the discovery and naming of several aquatic animals like the Plesiosaurus (1821) and the Mosasaurus (1822). However, being aquatic animals there was always a possibility that they could still be around, just somewhere off in the deeps of the oceans. This changed as the first extinct land animals started to be identified. In 1824, William Buckland described and named the first known dinosaur species, however the term "Dinosaur" didn't exist yet. The bones, which were far from a complete skeleton, were discovered in Stonefield, England. Even though Buckland realized that he likely knew he had the bits and pieces of several individuals, he knew he had enough of the animal to determine that this is something the world had never seen before.

Buckland described and named his bits of bones in a paper entitled "Notice on the Megalosaurus or Great Fossil Lizard of Stonesfield". His description included images of the lower jaw from multiple angles, some teeth, some vertebrae still attached, or at least adjacent to each other when found, some ribs, pelvis pieces, scapula pieces, a femur, a fibula, and a metatarsal (some of the bones which were misidentified).

Most of the images of the Megalosaurus material from Buckland's 1824 paper
Buckland references several people who are, or will be, influential in paleontology in the coming years including Cuvier and Gideon Mantell. Mantell will later come out with descriptions of his own dinosaur the following year and it was this discovery which prompted Buckland to publish Megalosaurus as quickly as he could Based on the size of the bones presented, Cuvier would have estimated the animal to be 40 feet in length and weigh as much as an elephant seven feet high. Buckland seemed hesitant to place those exact dimensions on this animal but he did accede that it had to have been larger than any currently living animal. There was also another set of bones assumed to be from the same species that Buckland was describing which was significantly larger than his primary specimen. 
"...the beast in question would have equaled in height our largest elephants, and in length fallen but little short of the largest whales; but as the longitudinal growth of animals is not in so high a ratio, after making some deduction, we may calculate the length of this reptile from Cuckfield at from sixty to seventy feet. In consideration therefore of the enormous magnitude which this saurian attains, I have ventured, in concurrence with my friend and fellow-labourer, the Rev. W. Conybeare, to assign to it the name of Megalosaurus." 
Not knowing anything about the animal itself, Buckland also makes a rather interesting assumption about the ecology of Megalosaurus:
"The megalosaurus itself was probably an amphibious animal, and we might therefore expect (as is actually the case) to find it associated with the remains of other amphibia..."
The reference to Megalosaurus being amphibious was because it was discovered in the same deposit as crocodile, turtle, and plesiosaur remains. Buckland however does not attempt to provide a reconstruction of the animal, a common practice in today's scientific world. He describes the animal in both size, as listed above, and as quadrupedal, but doesn't really give any other description by which someone could recreate the giant beast. It wasn't until the 1850's when the world would see a recreation of Megalosaurus in the Crystal Palace exhibits by Benjamin Waterhouse. 


Monday, November 25, 2019

DINOSAURS: From Cultural to Pop Culture - 1696: Cornelius Meyer's Dragon


Cornelius Meyer's Dragon

Towards the end of the 1600's, Europe was still enmeshed is dragon fever, with dragons still commonly being thought of as real life animals. Nothing portrays that better than the case of Cornelius Meyer's dragon (or Cornelio Meyer as it is inscribed on the skeleton placard). The case of the dragon was excellently laid out in a 2013 publication by Phil Senter and Pondanesa D. Wilkins (Senter and Wilkins, 2013).  
Skeletal display of the dragon as presented by Meyer in his 1696 book.
In 1691, Cornelius Meyer "discovered" a dragon skeleton while excavating for a dike in the vicinity of Rome. The dragon had apparently plagued the landscape, being the blamed as the cause for much of the flooding that Rome was experiencing. The dragon was assumed to have been killed in 1660, however there was debate about the issue, and the dragon was re-assumed to be alive. The locals were skeptical of pissing off the dragon by constructing the dikes, so the dragon needed to be dealt with first. 

In order to allay the fears of the local populace, Cornelius Meyer went out to "take care of" the dragon, which he so conveniently produced the body of for public display. The image above is an illustration of the skeleton that was put on display with the caption "Drago come si ritrova nelle mani dell' Ingegniero Cornelio Meyer" (“Dragon as it was recovered in the hands of the engineer Cornelius Meyer”). 
Reconstruction of the dragon based on the associated skeleton from Meyer's 1696 book.
The image of the skeleton, as well as the reconstruction drawings were reproduced for a book authored by Meyer, Nuovi ritrovamenti Divisi in Due Parti (New Findings Divided in Two Parts), which was published in 1696. The book is mostly a description of dike construction projects in the vicinity of Rome with just a few brief images of the dragon and its reconstruction. Very little information is given in the text about the dragon itself.
Another reconstruction as presented by Meyer in his 1696 book.
This particular dragon was recently brought back into the public conscious as evidence that pterosaurs and humans once coexisted. To quell that idea, Senter and Wilkins went about to describe the specimen as it is presented by Meyer in the skeletal reconstruction. Based on comparative anatomy, they were able to deduce that the skeleton was indeed a hoax (assuming a real skeleton was ever actually presented as it is illustrated). From their scientific analysis they determined (pretty conclusively in my opinion) that the skull was that of a dog, the mandible a smaller dog, the hind limbs were of a juvenile bear's forelimbs, the ribs were from a large fish, and the tail, wings, and nose horn were all fake additions. The skeleton was also presented with "advantageous" skin coverings which hid the joints between the disparate parts. 

I find that the most interesting aspect of the dragon is the continuation of the medieval body plan of the dragon being dragged almost into modern day society. We still continue to see the prevalence of two hind limbs, leathery wings, an elongated fat leathery body, long tail, and a dog-like face. So much dog-like that the skull was determined to be an actual dog! The body itself also appears to be rather small, given that the skull was of a dog. I would estimate that the entire body would only likely be about 10 feet from snout to tail tip and a few feet high standing upright. In general, although they somehow reigned terror in the Middle Ages, they were only about the size of a large lion at the most. 


Saturday, November 23, 2019

DINOSAURS: From Cultural to Pop Culture - 1651: The Mexican Dragon


The Mexican Dragon

Dragon illustration from the Nova plantarum, animalium et mineralium Mexicanorum historia (1651) by Francisco Hernandez [Page 816].
In the 1570's, a Spanish physician named Francisco Hernandez was tasked to travel through Mexico and document the plants and animals for the region with the intent of publishing a tome with this information. His trip was funded and directed by King Phillip II, whom Hernandez was the physician for. King Phillip II was intent on expanding Spanish influence on scientific matters in the world by directing the first European scientific exploration of the "New World". Hernandez ended up traveling through Mexico for three years with the help of the local Aztecs, constantly cataloging plants and animal species. He eventually spent a small fortune but the trip was considered a success with a boat load of specimens brought back to Spain.

Unfortunately, by the time of Hernandez's death in 1587, the tome wasn't even close to being published. Still wanting to make a profit on this knowledge, King Phillip II tasked another court doctor to finish the publication. Eventually, this new doctor and King Phillip II both passed away without making much headway. Part of the issue was that Hernandez's notes were confusing and jumbled up, adding to the difficulty in organizing them, especially for anyone who wasn't on the trip in the first place. He also often used the local name for species of plants and animals, not knowing how they related to European plants and animals.

In 1603, some of his notes were eventually discovered by Federico Cesi, a member of a high-class Italian family. Being fascinated with the papers, Cesi spent a small fortune obtaining all of the scattered Hernandez papers that he could find. He then tasked himself and his friends, which included a young Galileo, to organizing and eventually publish this tome. Years went by and all of Cesi's friends who were working on the publication eventually passed away, except for one, Francesco Stelluti. Stelluti was finally able to bring the final document to publication in 1651, eighty years after Hernandez initially set out to the New World. The finalized work was entitled Nova plantarum, animalium et mineralium Mexicanorum historia (New Plants, Animals, and Minerals Mexican History).

With so many people touching this manuscript from the time of Hernandez's journey until final publication it is impossible to know which illustrations were original to the author and which were added later. The illustration itself also looks like it was pieced together from several different animals with the head and body of a snake, and the scaled wings unlike anything that I am aware of. I have seen people claim that this illustration, or others like it, is evidence of pterosaurs still in existence, however the body structure and wing plans are nothing like any pterosaur that I aware of. The body structure however does resemble previous dragon illustrations throughout the history of the middle ages in Europe. Specifically like the dragons from Topsell's The History of Four-footed Beasts and The History of Serpents. This strong similarity lends credence that this dragon is completely made up, probably by one of Cesi's crew of workers.

Hernandez, F., 1651, Dracunculus monoceros, Nova plantarum, animalium et mineralium Mexicanorum historia (A New Natural History of the Plants, Animals and Minerals of Mexico): Rome, p. 816-828.

Friday, November 22, 2019

DINOSAURS: From Cultural to Pop Culture - 1572: The Last Dragon Slaying


The Last Dragon Slaying in Europe

Most of the dragons that appeared in the middle ages (AKA the Medieval Times) were fanciful beasts, often feathered, with wings and perhaps a couple of front legs. But they were clearly in the realms of people's imaginations brought about into life by some variety of artisan. This current "dragon" is a bit different, to the point that it is very debatable whether this could even be considered a "dragon" by the loosest stretch of the definition. 

Drawing of the "dragon" in question by Ulisse Aldrovandi in the The Natural History of Snakes and Dragons (page 404), published posthumously in 1640. 
It started in 1572 when a herdsman named Baptista of Camaldulus came across this beast that, as far as he knew, resembled a dragon near the town of Bologna. 
"...the herdsman noticed a hissing sound and was startled to see this strange little dragon ahead of him. Trembling he struck it on the head with his rod and killed it."
Normally this would be written off as nutery, however the person who described the remains of this "dragon" was Ulisse Aldrovandi, a naturalist of some influence who had written many essays on the subject and had slowly built up a museum termed the Theatre of Natural Science in Bologna. Aldrovandi described the beast as reptilian that slithered along like a snake, however it used it's front limbs to help propel itself forward. 

Compared with contemporary dragon illustrations there appears many similarities, however this dragon is notable for its lack of wings. Nearly every example of European dragons (at the time) were two legged, winged, reptilian beasts. And although Aldrovandi's illustration hits most of the salient parts, its lack of wings is noticeable. It may be assumed that Aldrovandi was a quack, or just wrote hearsay articles about dragons without any definite proof, so why put any stock in this image. However, he specifically states in his book where this dragon appears, The Natural History of Snakes and Dragons, that all of his dragons are presented as third-hand knowledge and he has had no direct knowledge of any dragons ... except this one. Why single out this one individual?

For example, here is another dragon illustration from the book, which is specifically of a dragon, not a personally described specimen. This dragon follows the body plan that was more or less laid out at the time.

Another dragon illustrated by Ulisse Aldrovandi in the The Natural History of Snakes and Dragons (1640). Image from

As a scientist myself, I wonder if this is some exaggerated specimen of a snake that just ate a large meal, or perhaps a mutated snake with vestigial limbs. Being a naturalist I would assume that Aldrovandi would be able to identify a well fed snake versus a legitimately "fat" snake. This specimen was also apparently kept in his collection at the Theatre of Natural History for a long period of time until it was eventually lost (conveniently), likely sometime in the 1700's or 1800's. Perhaps it was all a hoax at our expense, the world may never know.

Although this would more than likely be classified as an oddity of biology and not a legitimate "dragon" (if it were indeed true), it was often referred to as the "last dragon" of Europe. And Aldrovandi himself referred to the animal as Draco Bononiensis (Bologna Dragon). So I place this here in our history of dragons as cultural influencers, as perhaps this species of animal, whatever it may be, may be our actual link to a dragon source.


Thursday, November 21, 2019

DINOSAURS: From Cultural to Pop Culture - 1260: St George and the Dragon


St. George and the Dragon

A few years ago I was invited to give a talk in St. George, Utah. I had chosen a version of my "Dinosaurs! From Cultural to Pop Culture" to give to the audience when a friend of mine asked if I was going to include the story of St. George and the Dragon, knowing that I had a heavy dragon component to the talk. At the time my talk was pretty well set and I hadn't heard of St. George and the Dragon, so I let it go to be researched another day. That day has come.

The story of St. George and the Dragon is a convoluted one through history. Aspects of the story were written far later than the real St. George's life, added to, and adapted from other sources. The primary source for the story of the dragon appears to come from the Legenda Aurea written in approximately 1260 by Jacobus de Voragine. The story goes, that there was a dragon which was terrorizing a town. The people satiated the dragon with sheep. However when sheep alone wouldn't satisfy the dragon anymore they started adding people into the mix with the sheep. And when that didn't work anymore it became multiple people at a time. Until one day the king's daughter was the sacrifice. Despite all he tried, the people would not let the king get away without sacrificing her. He ended up sending he along to the dragon's lair to be sacrificed for the sake of the town. Well, when she was standing outside the dragon's home, the man who will eventually become known as St. George happened to pass by. 

St. George was a good Christian proselytizer who lived during the 3rd century AD. He was born in Cappadocia, which eventually became Turkey, but he was eventually killed by  Emperor Diocletian for refusing to give up his Christian faith, a faith handed down to him through his parents. However, that it not the primary reason he is remembered today. He is known for his dragon tale. 

After St. George passed by the princess, he decided to take on the dragon to save the princess' life.
"Thus as they spake together the dragon appeared and came running to them, and S. George was upon his horse, and drew out his sword and garnished him with the sign of the cross, and rode hardily against the dragon which came towards him, and smote him with his spear and hurt him sore and threw him to the ground. And after said to the maid: Deliver to me your girdle, and bind it about the neck of the dragon and be not afeard. When she had done so the dragon followed her as it had been a meek beast and debonair."
After defeating the dragon, St. George dragged it back to the town where he promised to kill the dragon if everyone converted to Christianity. Upon everyone's conversion, St. George killed the beast and "smote off his head."  

12th Century icon of St. George and the dragon from Likhauri, Georgia. Image is in the Public Domain

Early works of art depict St. George sitting triumphantly upon a horse with a spear point towards the ground. No dragon is to be seen. Later works though, began to incorporate the dragon at the base of the horse. The earliest work that I could find with the dragon is this 12th century icon of St. George and the Dragon from Likhauri, Georgia. This image of the dragon followed the cultural norms of the time, showing the dragon in a snake-like form with feathery wings and long, pointy ears. 


Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Geology Through Literature - The Periodic Table

Geology Through Literature: The Periodic Table

The Periodic Table was a rich experience with the author, Primo Levi, recounting several stories within his life through the framework of elements on the Periodic Table, hence the name of the book. But here we are interested in the "geology" through literature, not chemistry, so what does this book have to offer us? Quite a bit actually. Here are some of the more geological sections.

First Chapter - Argon
"...[this] Piedmontese dialect, never written except on a bet, and the Hebrew inlay, snatched from the language of the fathers, sacred and solemn, geologic, polished smooth by the millennia like a bed of a glacier."
Although there are known instances where glaciers have moved quickly, they are generally known to have a slow pace to them. Hence the term "glacial" meaning slow. But over time, as the glacier moves, the base of the glacier defrosts and refreezes continually. This defrosting and freezing causes the base of the glacier to pick up various pieces of rocks, gravels, sand, and rock powder. These pieces of the landscape are then forced downwards by the weight of the overlying ice, which can sometimes reach many miles in thickness. These rock pieces, that are being forced downwards as the glacier moves forward, have the effect of acting like sandpaper on the surface of the Earth, slowly polishing the bedrock smooth. Over time that smoothness is ground down finer and finer. This polishing effect also produces powered rock known as glacial flour, just like sandpaper does to a piece of wood.

Sixth Chapter - Nickel
"Yes, all mines are magical per se, and always have been. The entrails of the earth swarm with gnomes, kobolds (cobalt!), nickel, German 'little demon' or 'sprite,' and from which we derive the word nickel, creatures who can be generous and let you find a treasure beneath the tip of your pickax, or deceive and bedazzle you, making modest pyrites glitter like gold, or disguising zinc in the garb of tin: and in fact, many are the minerals whose names have roots that signify 'deception, fraud, bedazzlement.'"
This passage is interesting because it touches on a couple of different aspects of minerals. One is their sometimes resemblance to other, more or less important minerals. And the other is the naming of the minerals, which sometimes goes so far back in history that their original names don't have any direct correlation with what they are known for today.

Visual comparison of Pyrite to Gold from GeorgiaGold.Com
One of the most commonly misidentified minerals would probably be pyrite for gold. Pyrite, often known as "fool's gold", has a strong gold colored metallic luster to it, where people are immediately drawn to assume it is gold.  Pyrite is actually a fairly common mineral, especially when compared to the far more valuable and elusive gold. Pyrite is made up of iron and sulfide (FeS2), while gold is just made up of elemental gold (Au). The name "Pyrite" comes from the Greek word "Pyr", which means "fire". The name comes from the fact that when it was struck with an iron tool back in ancient times it emitted sparks.

The mineral cobalt. From
The name of the mineral cobalt originally came from the German word for goblin or devilish spirit, kobold.  Around 1500 AD (BCE), German miners were mining for silver when they came across this substance, which looked like silver but did not act like silver. And to top it off, when they tried to melt it down it gave off noxious fumes, which caused the miners to get sick and sometimes die. They attributed it to goblins having bewitched the silver ore causing the noxious fumes. One of the problems was that the primary metals known at the time: gold, silver, copper, iron, tin, lead, and mercury,  were the only known metals since ancient times and the miners had no concept that new metals could even exist. In the 1730's a Swedish chemist, Georg Brandt, was able to isolate the metal and ended up using the same name that the German miners had branded it with.

A small chunk of nickel from Live Science. 
In the 1600's the Germans were at it again. This time miners were searching for copper and came across this brownish-red rock that they believed was copper. However, when they tried to extract the copper from the rock they were unsuccessful. They ended up blaming "Nickel" for the lack of copper, who was a mischievous German demon. They called the ore kupfernickel, which means "copper demon". In 1751, another Swedish scientist, Baron Axel Fredrik Cronstedt, was able to extract the nickel from the kupfernickel ore, which was a mixture of arsenic and nickel. He ended up dropping the first part of the name and kept the "nickel" part as the name of the element and mineral. 

Eighth Chapter - Mercury
"That very evening just before nightfall, we heard a great rumble of thunder, as though the island itself was being shaken to its roots. In a few minutes the sky darkened and the black cloud that covered it was lit from below as by a fire. From the top of Mount Snowdon we saw first rapid red flashes leap out and climb up into the sky, then a broad, slow stream of burning lava: it did not descend toward us but to the left, the south, pouring from ridge to ridge, hissing and crackling. After an hour it reached the sea and there it was doused with a roar, lifting up a column of vapor. None of us had ever thought that Mount Snowdon could be a volcano; and yet the shape of its summit, with a round hollow at least two hundred feet deep, could have made us us suspect this. 
The spectacle continued all through the night, calming down every so often, then picking up again with a new series of explosions; it seemed that it would never end. Yet, toward dawn, a hot wind blew from the east, the sky cleared off again, and the uproar gradually died down until it was reduced to a murmur, then silence. The mantle of lava, which had been yellow and dazzling, turned reddish like smoldering coals, and by daylight it was extinguished."
Map of Desolation Island highlighting Mount Snowdon from The Periodic Table
Unfortunately,  Desolation Island, and the mysterious volcano Mount Snowdon, were both made up for the story. I had hopes that they would really exist given the autobiographical nature of the rest of the story, however this chapter was one based entirely in fiction. The original Mount Snowdon, the one from which the story's volcano was named, was formed during the Ordovician period (450 million years ago) along a prehistoric convergent plate boundary in what is now Whales. A convergent plate boundary is when one plate was forced down underneath another plate. This caused the lower plate (the one going down into the Earth) to melt. The liquid rock, magma, then slowly rose over time and ended up forming volcanoes, like the aforementioned Mount Snowdon (the real one). The real Mount Snowdon however has long been an extinct volcano and has been eroding ever since.
Simplified map of the Mediterranean plates showing the subduction zones. From Ring et al, 2013
Although it is never spelled out, there are a couple of locations for which the island could be located. One of those is the Mediterranean based on the eruption style. Within the Mediterranean you have an over abundance of islands, many of which are either volcanoes or volcanic in origin. This is because you have the same situation as the formation of Mount Snowdon (the real one). There are numerous subduction zones, creating numerous volcanoes across the region, specifically in Italy and Greece. These volcanoes form as the subducted plate starts to melt and that melted plate material, the magma, rises up through the crust. Eventually, as more and more magma builds up, the pressure builds up and the volcano erupts. When the magma moves through continental crust it picks up more silica based minerals, which melt at a lower temperature and produce more explosive eruptions, like the ones seen from Mount Vesuvius. The story of Mount Vesuvius/Pompeii is very reminiscent of the story that Levi told in the The Periodic Table with lava and ash clouds erupting from an unknown volcano.

However, Levi points out at the beginning of the chapter that Desolation Island is located 1,200 miles to the southeast from an island known as St. Helena. St. Helena is actually a real volcanic island that is located in the middle of the southern Atlantic Ocean. It's claim to fame is that it was the location of Napoleon's final exile/imprisonment and where he eventually died. Although the island is a volcano, it's last eruption was 7 million years ago, when the island was situated along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is a divergent plate boundary, which means that two plates are pulling apart from each other. This pull-apart results in a very long volcanic mountain chain located beneath the oceanic surface. While most of the volcanoes remain below the surface of the ocean, some do break the surface, with St. Helena being one of those examples. Eventually the island moved along with the plate as the plate spread out from the divergent plate boundary. This movement moved the volcano away from its source of magma, making it an extinct volcano, likely never to erupt again. The type of eruption that came from St. Helena would be vastly different than the one from Pompeii as well. While Pompeii would contain an explosive eruption with lots of ash and volcanic gasses and clouds, St. Helena would more resemble a Hawaiian eruption, with a steady stream of low-viscosity lava and very little clouds.

Ring, U., Gessner, K., Thomson, S., & Markwitz, V. (2013). Along-strike variations in the Hellenide Anatolide orogen: A tale of different lithospheres and consequences. Bulletin of the Geological Society of Greece47(2), 625-636.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Geology Fun Fact - Dinosaurs and Grass

Geology Fun Fact

Question: Did dinosaurs eat grass?

There has been a continuous debate over the pictures showing dinosaurs eating grass and scientists frequently stating that it didn't happen because grass didn't evolve yet, or grasses during the Mesozoic (the Age of the Dinosaurs) were primitive. However, recent research has shown that there were more advanced grasses during the Mesozoic, perhaps even as far back as 100 million years ago (Ma). Non-avian dinosaurs first appear ~230 Ma and went extinct about 65/66 Ma, so they had access to grasses for about ~20% of their existence.

Click HERE for more Geology Fun Facts!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Geology Through Literature - Leaves of Grass

Geology Through Literature: Leaves of Grass

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman exudes beautiful descriptions of the natural environment around all of us. This includes many geological terms being thrown about such as "gneiss" and "coal". Without any context though, those words are just ... words. But there is one line that provides a great geological context:
[Song of Myself]
"...In vain the plutonic rocks send their old heat against my approach..."
Although this is a simple line, it actually provides a great deal of insight. Plutonic rocks are a variety of igneous rocks. Igneous rocks are a type of rock that forms from molten/liquid rock. There are two main varieties of igneous rocks. They are known as external igneous rocks and internal igneous rocks. 

External igneous rocks, also known as volcanic rocks, form from molten rock that has erupted to the surface of the earth (i.e. lava) and solidifies there. These types of rocks have no visible crystals within them because they cool so quickly.

Internal igneous rocks, also known as plutonic rocks, form from molten rock that has not erupted to the earth's surface and remains within the earth (i.e. magma). Since these rocks cool within the earth they cool a lot slower allowing the crystals within them to grow much larger than volcanic rocks.  Granite is a common type of internal igneous rock. The earth provides a type of blanket to these molten rocks allowing the heat to remain within them for a lot longer. This leads to the "old heat" reference in the text from the plutonic rocks. 

Monday, November 11, 2019

Geology Through Literature - Dragon Teeth

Geology Through Literature: Dragon Teeth

Dragon Teeth had come across my radar for my work through AiPT Comics. I had initially done a joint review for the book with fellow reviewer and fellow dinosaur fanboy, Robert Reed. Dragon Teeth is the latest book that has come out by Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton. However, Crichton has been dead for some time before the publication of this book so it is unknown how much reworking and polishing was needed by other people before the book had been put to print. Dragon Teeth takes place during the tumultuous times in early paleontology during a period termed the "Bone Wars". When giants in the field Othniel C. Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope, would have their minions literally battling it out over fossils or destroying scientifically irreplaceable specimens in the goal to prevent the other from obtaining them. It is during this time period that we have Dragon Teeth taking place, an entirely fictional novel, although presented as if it were a historical reenactment. 

Dragon Teeth takes place in 1876 and follows a rich, but lazy, student William Johnson, at Yale University who ends up with a bet that he would never be able to survive a trip to the west. In response to the bet, Johnson declares that he was already involved with the expedition west led by Marsh, a professor at Yale. Despite his boast, Johnson had nothing to do with the expedition but he managed to weasel his way in by saying he was a photographer. After months of training to actually be a photographer, the expedition sets off for the west, without the participants having any real idea as to where they were going. 

There are quite a few instances of paleontology and geology that are mentioned throughout the novel, however there are not as many as you would expect given the subject. I found that reading The Life of a Fossil Hunter in conjunction with Dragon Teeth gave me a much better understanding for both books, the real life adventure and the fictional one based on real events. Here are a few of the geological and paleontological mentions that I would like to highlight and discuss. 

Part 1: Second Chapter - Marsh (there are no chapter numbers)
"Marsh led him back into the interior of the museum. The air was chalky and shafts of sunlight pierced it like a cathedral. In a vast cavernous space, Johnson saw men in white lab coats bent over great slabs of rock, chipping bones free with small chisels. They worked carefully, he saw, and used small brushes to clean their work. In the far corner, a gigantic skeleton was being assembled, the framework of bones rising to the ceiling.
"Giganthopus marshiensis, my crowning achievement," Marsh said, nodding toward the looming beast of bones. 'To date, that is. Discovered her in '74, in the Wyoming Territory. I always think of her as her.'"
From what I can tell, there is no dinosaur with the genus Giganthopus, nor has there ever been. This appears to be an MO with Crichton, which is to mix seemingly plausible scientific names with actual scientific names. The reason for the mixed occurrences is unknown to me. However, since there is enough material in the text to speculate what Crichton could mean, let us do that. He says that the dinosaur in question was discovered in the Wyoming Territory in 1874, which at that time the boundaries were identical to the finalized state of Wyoming. Knowing how quickly Marsh was able to turn around a fossil from discovery to naming of the dinosaur, this means that the dinosaur could have been one that Marsh named in 1874, 1875, or 1876. Even though the story takes place in 1876, we could fudge that 1876 date a bit.

Within the text we know that the dinosaur Marsh is referring to was big, a "looming beast of bones". We also know that it had enough of a skeleton that it could be reconstructed. This leaves us with a few dinosaurs that Marsh had discovered including Allosaurus, which was named by Marsh in 1877 and discovered in central Colorado. However, there were not many bones from the initial discovery of Allosaurus to piece together a "looming beast". The Apatosaurus was named in 1877 and discovered in Colorado, however it was based on a nearly complete specimen. Diplodocus was found and named shortly after this in 1877, also found in Colorado. And one more potential dinosaur, although I wouldn't consider it "looming", was Stegosaurus, named in 1877 and found, again, in Colorado. So even though all of these are named after the text, it is logical that the papers could have been in the works. The biggest glaring error with these was that Marsh would clearly have known the difference between Colorado and Wyoming, which all of his major dinosaur finds at the time were coming out of.

Part 1: Sixth Chapter - Chicago
"Then, too, Chicago reporters never tired of repeating the story of Marsh's earliest public exploit, the affair of the Cardiff giant. 
In 1869, the fossilized skeleton of a ten-foot giant was unearthed in Cardiff, New York, and quickly became a national phenomenon. It was generally agreed that the giant was one of a race of men who had been drowned in Noah's flood; Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald and a number of scholars had pronounced it genuine. 
Marsh, in his capacity as the new paleontology professor from Yale, went to view the fossil and said, within earshot of a reporter, 'Very remarkable.' 
'May I quote you?' said the reporter. 
'Yes,' said Marsh. 'You may quote me as saying, 'A very remarkable fake.' 
It was later determined that the so-called giant originated as a block of gypsum, carved secretly in Chicago."
Unlike the encounter previously mentioned, this one actually did occur, and nearly identical to how it is presented here. From, the Cardiff giant was a phenomenal hoax of the time. In an attempt to discredit a preacher, George Hull came up with the idea of creating a "petrified man" by carving one out of gypsum and burying him.

The gypsum came from Fort Dodge, Iowa. The gypsum in question was from the Jurassic, Fort Dodge Formation. Gypsum is an evaporate mineral, formed in much the same way as salt deposits form, except in water that has a high sulfur content. Gypsum is white to grey in color and is extremely soft, being able to be scratched by a fingernail. So, although it would would be quick and easy to make a statue out of, the statue itself would not last long, especially buried in the wet soil of upstate New York. Many people noticed this and questioned the statues legitimacy.

And it was indeed Marsh, who upon seeing the statue said that it was “of very recent origin, and a most decided humbug.”

Part 2: Eighteenth Chapter - Bone Country

The following series of entries is actually one continuous passage that presents a pretty accurate look at the early history of the science of paleontology.
"In 1876, scientific acceptance of dinosaurs was still fairly recent; at the turn of the century, men did not suspect the existence of these great reptiles at all, although the evidence was there to see. 
Back in July 1806, William Clark, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, explored the south bank of the Yellowstone River, in what would later become Montana Territory, and found a fossil 'semented [sic] within the face of the rock.' He described it as a bone three inches in circumference and three feet in length, and considered it the rib of a fish, although it was probably a dinosaur bone."
Northeast of Billings, Montana lies a promontory of sandstone along the Yellowstone River known as Pompey's Pillar, now designated a National Monument. It was near here that Clark truly did find a fossil within the face of a rock on July 25th, 1806. His description of the find went almost identical to Crichton's recount:
“…I employed myself in getting pieces of the rib of a fish which was cemented within the face of the rock. This rib is about 3 inches in circumference about the middle. It is 3 feet in length though part of the end appears to have been broken off. I have several pieces of this rib. The bone is neither decayed nor petrified but very rotten.” 
Although he thought it was a fish rib, paleontologists now suspect a dinosaur bone, perhaps a Hadrosaurus, Triceratops, or Tyrannosaurus, all of which have been found in the nearby sediment.
"More dinosaur bones were found in Connecticut in 1818; they were believed to be the remains of human beings..."
What is generally assumed to be the first discovery and collection of dinosaur bones in North America was in Connecticut in 1818. Fossilized bone fragments were found within Late Triassic red sandstones while blasting a well near Ketch's Mills in East Winsor. The bones were discovered by Solomon Elsworth Jr. who gave them to some professors at the Medical Institute of Yale University. The professors thought that the bones might be human remains, however they couldn't be certain. Later studies and descriptions of the bones allowed them to be named a new species of prosauropod, Anchisaurus colurus (Lull, 1912), which was later renamed Anchisaurus polyzelus (Galton, 1976).
"...dinosaur footprints, discovered in the same region, were described as the tracks of 'Noah's raven.'"
I had broken down the Noah's raven tracks previously as part of my DINOS! From Cultural to Pop Culture series. In short, the story goes back to 1802, when 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". The term "Noah's Ravens" refers to the birds that were sent by Noah to find dry land during the flood. 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. These tracks were later seen by famed ichnologist Edward Hitchcock, who identified them as bird tracks. Later scientists came back to the tracks and realized that they were really dinosaur tracks.
"The true meaning of these fossils was first recognized in England. In 1824, an eccentric English clergyman named Buckland described 'the Megalosaurus or Great Fossil Lizard of Stonesfield.' Buckland imagined the fossil creature to be more than forty feet long, 'and with a bulk equal to that of an elephant seven feet high.' But this remarkable lizard was considered an isolated specimen."
In 1824, William Buckland was the first person to describe and validly name a dinosaur species (although it wasn't known as a "Dinosaur" at the time). The paper in which Buckland described the specimen was titled "Notice on the Megalosaurus or Great Fossil Lizard of Stonesfield". His identification and descriptions were based on the lower jaw, some teeth, some vertebrae, pieces of ribs, and some other bones. Based on these pieces of evidence Buckland said that Cuvier placed animals with these sized bones to be as big as 40 feet in length and weigh as much as an elephant seven feet high. Buckland seemed hesitant to place those exact dimensions on this animal but he did accede that this animal had to have been larger than any currently living animal.
"The following year, Gideon Mantell, an English physician, described 'Iguanodon, a newly-discovered Fossil Reptile.' Mantell's description was based largely on some teeth found in an English quarry. Originally the teeth were sent to Baron Cuvier, the greatest anatomist of his day; he pronounced them the incisors of a rhinoceros. Dissatisfied, Mantell remained convinced that 'I had discovered the teeth of an unknown herbivorous reptile,' and eventually demonstrated that the teeth resembled those of an iguana, an American lizard."
In 1822, Mary Ann Mantell stumbled upon a tooth unlike anything they had ever seen before. She presented the tooth to her husband, Gideon, a physician who had an interest in fossils. Gideon was able to trace the tooth back to its source and discovered several other teeth as well as some other bones. Not only did he send the bones to Cuvier as described above but he also sent them to the aforementioned William Buckland. Cuvier suggested it was a rhinoceros and Buckland said is was from a large fish and advised not to pursue it any more. Dr. Mantell would not be dissuaded and upon visiting the Royal College of Surgeons in London he was shown a specimen of an iguana, brought back from the West Indies by Darwin. Looking at the teeth, Dr. Mantell noticed the extreme similarity between the two, except his was much, much larger, and identified the tooth as belonging to a giant extinct reptile. He eventually published on the specimen in 1825 in a journal article entitled "Notice on the Iguanodon, a newly discovered fossil reptile, from the sandstone of Tilgate Forest, in Sussex".
"Baron Cuvier admitted his error, and wondered: 'Do we not have here a new animal, an herbivorous reptile ... of another time?' Other fossil reptiles were unearthed in rapid succession: Hylaeosaurus in 1832; Macrodontophion in 1834; Thecodontosaurus and Paleosaurus in 1836; Plateosaurus in 1837. With each new discovery came the growing suspicion that the bones represented a whole group of reptiles that had since vanished from the earth."
Gideon Mantell went on from his initial publication on Iguanodon to discover and describe several others of the initial dinosaur publications including Hylaeosaurus (1832) and Peleosaurus (1850). Mantell acquired a series of bones from a gunpowder explosion at a mine in West Sussex in 1832. The bones, Mantell realized, could be reassembled to form a partial skeleton. After being advised that this wasn't just another example of his previous find, Iguanodon, he decided to publish his find under the name Hylaeosaurus, which became the first named and identified anklyosaur.

Macrodontophion is a dubious animal since it was initially described by A. Zborzewski from a single "tooth" from the "Jurassic redbeds" of southern Russia. However both the age of the fossil and the identification of it as a tooth have been called into question.

Thecodontosaurus was initially discovered in 1834 in one of Bristol's limestone quarries. The initial discovery of the bones led to a race between two groups of researchers with Samuel Stutchbury and Henry Riley coming out on top describing and naming what will eventually be identified as an early sauropodomorph. Although not officially published on until 1840, an abstract for a talk with the name and short description of the fossils in 1836 was enough to solidify that date as the fourth named dinosaur specimen.

Paleosaurus was also named in the same abstract as Thecodontosaurus by Riley and Stutchbury based on two fossil teeth. Neither Thecodontosaurus or Paleosaurus were identified as part of Dinosauria, when "Dinosauria" was officially named, because they were dubious specimens at the time. It wasn't until several years later they were reevaluated and found to truly represent dinosaurs.

Plateosaurus was initially found in Heroldsberg, Germany by physician Johann Friedrich Engelhardt in 1834. The discovery, which consisted of some vertebrae and leg bones was eventually described and named by paleontologist Hermann von Mayer in 1837. Although not thought of as a dinosaur at the time due to the scant remains that initially identified it, Plateosaurus has since become one of the most abundant dinosaur discoveries in history with well over 100 known skeletons.
"Finally, in 1841, another physician and anatomist, Richard Owen, proposed the entire group be called Dinosauria, or 'terrible lizards.'"
Even though there were many potential "dinosaur" discoveries up until this point, many of them were not recognized as being dinosaurs until reevaluations much later. It is for that reason that Sir Richard Owen only used three particular species to identify his new characterization of "Dinosauria". As I go into more detail here, in 1841, Owen identified common characterizations that Megalosaurus, Iguanodon, and Hylaeosaurus contained. Mainly that they had columnar legs instead of the sprawling gait of crocodilians, and vertebrae fused to the pelvis. It was from these characterizations that he gave the following comments in a talk, which were later published,
"The combination of such characters, some as the sacral ones, altogether peculiar among reptiles, others borrowed, as it were, from groups now distinct from each other, and all manifested by creatures far surpassing in size the largest of existing reptiles, will, it is presumed, be deemed sufficient ground for establishing a distinct tribe or suborder of saurian reptiles, for which I would propose the name of Dinosauria."
And the continuous passage ends with the following:
"The notion became so widely accepted that in 1854, full-sized reconstructions of dinosaurs were built in Crystal Palace in Sydenham, and attained wide popularity with the public."
There is a place called the Crystal Palace located in Sydenham Hill that was constructed over a period of time from 1853 to 1855. The Crystal Palace is still around today and remains largely as it was when the park opened in 1854. For the dinosaurs, sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, examined the fossils and conferred with Richard Owen, predominant paleontologist, to present the most accurate reconstruction of dinosaurs at the time.

With that history of paleontology laid out, the text continues on with the story. The next paleontological point of interest comes up later in the same chapter.
"But the rock was fragile, and breaks in the fossils did occur, even with the most careful handling. Most frustrating of all was a break days or weeks after the fossil was lowered to the ground. 
It was Sternberg who first proposed a solution. 
When they set out from Fort Benton, they had brought with them several hundred pounds of rice. As the days went on, it became clear that they would never eat all the rice ('at least not the way Stinky cooks it,' Isaac grumbled). Rather than leave it behind, Sternberg boiled the rice to a gelatinous paste, which he poured over the fossils. This novel preservative technique left the fossils looking like snowy blocks-or, as he put it, 'gigantic cookies.' 
But whatever they called it, the paste provided a protective covering. They had no further breaks." 
This is one of the hallmarks of dinosaur excavation today, wrapping the fossils to protect them from damage, while trying to remove them from the rock, or remove the rock all together with the fossils embedded inside the blocks. The process is known as making a fossil field jacket and involves using burlap and plaster of Paris, along with other materials to stabilize the fossils such as pieces of wood and tissue paper or aluminum foil to protect the fossils. But that is the process we use today in the field. What about before all of that was invented? I went back to the source of the information to what ended up being a great tie-in book for Dragon Teeth, Sternberg's autobiography itself, The Life of a Fossil Hunter, in which he describes the fossil jacket creation process. Even though Crichton's main character in Dragon Teeth, William Johnson, was a complete fabrication, many of the people in the book were not, including Charles Sternberg. Here is Sternberg's own account of the situation, when he was indeed out in the field with Cope:
"When we uncovered these bones [from a Monoclonius sphenocerus] we found them very brittle, as they shattered by the uplift of the strata in which they were buried; and we were obliged to devise some means of holding them in place. The only thing we had in camp that could be made into a paste was rice, which we had brought along for food. We boiled quantities of it until it became thick, then, dipping into it flour bags and pieces of cotton cloth and burlap, we used them to strengthen the bones and hold them together. This was the beginning of a long line of experiments, which culminated in the recently adopted method of taking up large fossils by bandaging them with strips of cloth dipped in plaster of Paris, like the bandages in which a modern surgeon encases a broken limb."
Part 2: Nineteenth Chapter - Around the Fire
"Unlike Marsh, Cope was not an open Darwinian, but he appeared to believe in evolution, and certainly in great antiquity. Morton was going to be a preacher, like his father. He asked Cope, 'as a man of science,' how old the world was. 
Cope said he had no idea, in the mild way he had when he was concealing something. It was the opposite side of his snapping temper, this almost lazy indifference, this tranquil, calm voice. This mildness overcame Cope whenever the discussion moved into areas that might be considered religious. A devout Quaker (despite his pugilistic temperament), he found it difficult to tread on the religious feelings of others. 
Was the world, Morton asked, six thousand years old, as Bishop Ussher had said? 
A great many serious and informed people still believed this date, despite Darwin and the fuss that the new scientists who called themselves 'geologists' were making. After all, the trouble with what the scientists said was that they were always saying something different. This year one idea, next year something else. Scientific opinion was ever changing, like the fashions of women's dress, while the firm and fixed date 4004 BC invited the attention of those seeking greater verity. 
No, Cope said, he did not think the world was so recent. 
How old, then? asked Morton. Six thousand years? Ten thousand years? 
No, Cope said, still tranquil. 
Then how much older? 
A thousand thousand times as old, said Cope, his voice still dreamy. 
'Surely you're joking!' Morton exclaimed. 'Four billion years? that is patently absurd.' 
'I know of no one who was there at the time,' Cope said mildly. 
'But what about the age of the sun?' Morton said, with a smug look. 
In 1871, Lord Kelvin, the most eminent physicist of his day, posed a serious objection to Darwin's theory. It had not been answered by Darwin, or anyone else, in subsequent years. 
Whatever else one might think of evolutionary theory, it obviously implied a substantial period of time-at least several hundred thousand years-to carry out its effects on earth. At the time of Darwin's publication, the oldest estimates of the age of the earth were around ten thousand years. Darwin himself believed the earth would have to be at least three hundred thousand years old to allow enough time for evolution. The earthly evidence, from the new study of geology, was confusing and contradictory, but it seemed at least conceivable that the earth might be several hundred thousand years old. Lord Kelvin took a different approach to the question. He asked how long the sun had been burning. At this time, the mass of the sun was well established; it was obviously burning with the same processes of combustion as were found on earth; therefore one could estimate the time it would take to consume the mass of the sun in a great fire. Kelvin's answer was that the sun would burn up entirely within twenty thousand years. 
Corroborating evidence derived from the warmth of the earth. From mine shafts and other drilling, it was known that the earth's temperature increased one degree for every thousand feet of depth. This implied that the core of the earth was still quite hot. But if the earth had really formed hundreds of thousands of years ago, it would have long since become cool. That was a clear implication of the second law of thermodynamics, and there was no disputing it.  
There was only one escape from these physical dilemmas, and Cope echoes Darwin in suggesting it, 'Perhaps,' he said, 'we do not know everything about the energy sources of the sun and the earth.' 
'You mean there may be a new form of energy, as yet unknown to science?' Morton asked. 'The physicists say that it is impossible, that the rules governing the universe are fully understood by them,' 
'Perhaps the physicists are wrong,' Cope said. 
'Certainly someone is wrong.' 
'That is true,' Cope said evenly.
I had previously given a brief brake down of the historic calculations for the age of the Earth, including Bishop Ussher and Lord Kelvin's contributions on my Geology Through Literature post on Good Omens. Generally Crichton is correct here but he does have some errors mixed into the text as well. In the 1600's Lord Ussher did indeed determine the age of the Earth to be approximately six thousand years old, being "born" on 4004 BC.

This was the predominant theory of the time. However scientists started to come around to question that age. Specifically, in the late 1700's, James Hutton produced his principle of uniformitarianism which said that everything happening today has happened in the past, and at a similar rate. So, even though Hutton didn't give a specific age of the Earth, he did place a timescale on it, saying that the earth had to be hundred of millions or even billions of years old.

Following Hutton within the 1800's, scientists were all over the place trying to use his theory, along with rates of sedimentation and erosion, to pinpoint a date. As Crichton said above, they really were not able to place an exact date and would frequently come up with widely contradictory dates. Darwin himself did weigh in on the debate. Within The Origin of Species, Darwin mentioned several time estimates for different periods of the Earth, all of which would insinuate that he thought the Earth was much older then the 300,000 years that Crichton thought he believed in, and it was actually more like 300 million years. From the first edition (1859) of On the Origin of Species Darwin wrote "So that in all probability a far longer period than 300 million years has elapsed since the latter part of the Secondary period." He goes into much more detail in later versions. In the sixth edition (1872) he wrote:
"Consequently, if the theory be true, it is indisputable that before the lowest Cambrian stratum was deposited long periods elapsed, as long as, or probably far longer than, the whole interval from the Cambrian age to the present day; and that during these vast periods the world swarmed with living creatures. Here we encounter a formidable objection; for it seems doubtful whether the earth, in a fit state for the habitation of living creatures, has lasted long enough. Sir W. Thompson concludes that the consolidation of the crust can hardly have occurred less than twenty or more than four hundred million years ago, but probably not less than ninety-eight or more than two hundred million years. These very wide limits show how doubtful the data are; and other elements may have hereafter to be introduced into the problem. Mr. Croll estimates that about sixty million years have elapsed since the Cambrian period, but this, judging from the small amount of organic change since the commencement of the Glacial epoch, appears a very short time for the many and great mutations of life, which have certainly occurred since the Cambrian formation; and the previous one hundred and forty million years can hardly be considered as sufficient for the development of the varied forms of life which already existed during the Cambrian period. It is, however, probable, as Sir William Thompson insists, that the world at a very early period was subjected to more rapid and violent changes in its physical conditions than those now occurring; and such changes would have tended to induce changes at a corresponding rate in the organisms which then existed."
Here Darwin highlighted the extreme inconsistencies with age dating at the time, which relied heavily on non-specific geological processes such as erosion and deposition.

In the 1860's, Lord Kelvin came into the mix. Lord Kelvin was a predominate expert in thermodynamics at the time. He based the age of the earth on the rate of cooling that the Earth needed to experience based on its size and current temperature. This led Lord Kelvin to estimate an age of the Earth in the range of 20-100 million years, eventually bringing that high number down to a range of 20-40 million years. Kelvin's biggest shortcoming was that he was indeed unaware of a different source of energy in the Earth. Following Lord Kelvin's estimates by about 30 years was the discovery of radioactivity. It was the energy and heat released by radioactivity that has kept the Earth a lot warmer than it normally would have been. This energy was what completely nullified Lord Kelvin's estimates.

Part 2: Twenty-first Chapter - Dinner with Cope and Marsh
"Cope was busy with preparations of his own. His picked through the piles of fossils they had found, selecting a piece here, a piece there, setting them aside. 
Johnson asked if he could help, but Cope shook his head. 'This is a job for an expert.' 
'You are selecting finds to show Marsh?' 
'In a way. I am making a new creature: Dinosaurus marshiensis vulgaris.' 
By the end of the day he had assembled from fragments a passable skull, with two horned projections that stuck out laterally from the jaw like curving tusks.  
Isaac said it looked like a wild boar, or a warthog. 
'Exactly,' Cope said, excited. 'A prehistoric porcine giant. A piglike dinosaur! A pig for a pig!'
Needless to say but there has never been a dinosaur named with the genus of Dinosaurus. Although there is apparently a movie.

Dinosaurus! (1960)

The name and the description were all entirely made up for the book, and they were even made up in the book. 

Part 2: Twenty-fourth Chapter - The Teeth
"'...I want a picture in situ. [said Cope]' 
'Of these rocks?' Johnson asked, astonished. 
'Rocks? You think these are rocks? They are nothing of the sort.' 
'Then what are they?' 
'They are teeth!' Cope exclaimed.... 
'Teeth,' he repeated. 'Dinosaur teeth.' 
'But they are enormous! This dinosaur must be of fantastic size' 
For a moment the two men silently contemplated just how large such a dinosaur must have been-the jaw needed to hold rows of such large teeth, the thick skull needed to match such a massive jaw, the enormous neck the width of a stout oak to lift and move such a skull and jaw, the gigantic backbone commensurate to the neck, with each vertebra as big around as a wagon wheel, with four staggeringly huge and thick legs to support such a beast. Each tooth implied an enormity of every bone and every joint. An animal that large might even need a long tail to counterweight its neck, in fact.  
Cope measured the teeth with his steel calipers, scratched some calculations on his sketch pad, and shook his head. 'It doesn't seem possible,' he said, and measured again. And then he stood looking across the expanses of rock, as if expecting to see the giant dinosaur appear before him, shaking the ground with each step. 'If we are making discoveries such as this one,' he said to Johnson, 'it means that we have barely scratched what is possible to learn. You and I are the first men in recorded history to glimpse these teeth. They will change everything we think we know about these animals, and much as I hesitate to say such a thing, man becomes smaller when we realize what remarkable beasts went before us.' 
'How big do you make it?' Johnson asked. He glanced at the sketch pad, now covered with calculations, some scratched out and done again. 
'Seventy-five, possibly one hundred feet long, with a head perhaps thirty feet above the ground.' 
And right there he gave it the name, Brontosaurus, 'thundering lizard,' because it must have thundered when it walked. 'But perhaps,' he said, 'I should call it Apatosaurus, or 'unreal lizard.' Because it is hard to believe such a thing ever existed....'
There are several inaccuracies within the section to the point that I don't think any of it can be taken as accurate.
  1. First off Marsh discovered both Apatosaurus and Brontosaurus, not Cope as is stated in the book. 
  2. The text goes on to state that the animal which these teeth belonged to would be named "Brontosaurus". The problem is that the name Apatosaurus (1877) was used first. Then another animal remarkably similar to Apatosaurus was later named Brontosaurus (1879). They were eventually determined to be the same species, so in science the name used first takes precedence. Hence the long standing problem where when people called a dinosaur a Brontosaurus they should really be calling it an Apatosaurus. This means that the name "Brontosaurus" was not used first, or even come up at the same time. 
    • On a side note, the fact that Apatosaurus = Brontosaurus has since come under fire, where recent studies have shown that the two original specimens of each species might in fact have been two separate species. This means that Brontosaurus would become a valid name again, however it doesn't take away from the fact that Apatosaurus was named first.  
  3. When discovered both the Apatosaurus and the Brontosaurus didn't have any skulls associated with them. No skulls and no teeth. That made identifying them as separate species initially very difficult, and also led to the confusion between the two species until a head for the initial Brontosaurus was unearthed, much, much later. 
  4. The name "Apatosaurus" also doesn't mean "Unreal lizard", it means "Deceptive Lizard" and was named for the vertebrae that resembled those of mosasaurs. 
  5. Besides the audacity of trying to determine the size of an animal based just on the teeth, the teeth that were eventually discovered for Apatosaurus were initially confused for Diplodocus teeth. And the skull itself for both of these large animals was rather small for an animal of such large size. It is near impossible to determine body size based just on the tooth size if you know practically nothing else about the animal, which they didn't at the time. Modern day analysis can come much close since we have a much larger database of dinosaurs to compare new teeth to. 
So the "teeth" of Dragon Teeth end up being a complete fabrication. It kind of goes along with the rest of the story. In general, I thought it was a fun book, but I was very disappointed when I found out that it was all made up. Crichton essentially set out to compress the Bone Wars into one year and place his protagonist into the situation. But, all in all, I'd say that it was a fun read.

You can find all of my Geology Through Literature posts here at my website!