Friday, January 08, 2021

Paleo in Pop Culture - Star Wars Paleontology Xcavations

Back in 2018, Uncle Milton came out with a line of "educational" Star Wars toys that blurred the lines between paleontology and Star Wars. These toys called Xcavations Creature Crates were short-lived toys that I only saw once in the aisle of my local Walmart. Searching for any Uncle Milton Star Wars toys now seems to be a game of hide-and-seek, where they must have lost the Star Wars license since I see nothing current up on their own website

I had wanted to wait and do a post once I could find more of the toys, but then time slowly slipped away and several years has now passed without me personally seeing any of these anymore, so we will make a post about them now. For anyone interested in finding these toys, they are available on eBay though, and for not too bad a price (~$10 a piece for new, in crate ones). 

The way that the toys work was that they had one skull, broken into a few pieces, from a variety of Star Wars characters/species located within a crate. The person opening the crate would dump the entire block of sand and skull pieces out onto the table and "excavate" the skull pieces out of the sand from which they skulls were embedded. The sand was essentially Kinetic play sand, that was fairly easy to excavate and didn't make a terrible mess once it was out. My gripe would be that they were too easy to excavate, reducing the level of fun (but that's just my opinion). 

After the pieces had been excavated, reconstructing the skull is fairly straightforward with each skull being made up of only a few pieces (3-4 or so). The fun is then discovering what skull you had unearthed, because each package was blind-boxed, meaning you didn't know what you were getting. The two that I got are below...

Here is a Gamorrean skull, pictured on the top left of the packaging in the first picture.

Here is the Hutt skull that I got. This one is also picture in the display case that all of these boxes came out of. Each skull came with a different colored sand, so I am curious what the range of sand colors were. But the different colored sand gave the impression that these skulls were fossilized within different environments, hence the different sediment properties. 

One of the best parts about Uncle Milton toys was that they tried to make everything they did not only fun, but also educational. With these skulls they came with a paleontology pamphlet that not only described paleontology but also included comparisons of the Star Wars skulls to those found on Earth.

From the pamphlet above:
Paleontology is the study of life from the past. These scientists, or paleontologists, search for and study fossils here on earth. By simply examining the fossils, they can discover clues that teach them about different creatures, plants and other living things from the past and how they lived on earth.

There are numerous types of fossils that a paleontologist might discover all over the world. Most can be grouped into two main categories - traces fossils and body fossils. Trace fossils are tracks, trails and other marking that have been preserved in rocks, shells and other things that show evidence of past life. Body fossils are the actual remains of past living things such as skeletal bones.  

On the back of the pamphlet you can see that they compare the Star Wars skulls as a combination of real life skulls. Such as the Gamorrean skull being a combination of a Gorilla and a Wild Boar skull.

Close up of the Gamorrean skull

A replica of a gorilla skull from Skulls Unlimited

A replica of a wild boar skull from Skulls Unlimited

Since the skulls are essentially sculpted, they don't have the level of detail that I would expect from one that is based on a real life animal. They are also a bit thicker than I would expect, I assume for durability. But they do have some pretty cool features. One of my favorites is the brain case area of the skull. In vertebrate animals, the brain is not typically (if ever) preserved in fossils. However, the skull that protects the brain, is left with impressions of the brain where they came into contact. They recreated these skull impressions within the fossils as well, of which you can open up the skull casing to see the brain cavity.

Brain case of the Hutt skull

Brain case of the Gamorrean skull

Are these skulls works of art? No, definitely not. The level of detail, while admirable, is still rather low. However, they do provide a gateway drug for kids to start asking questions. "What is that impression within the skull? Is it really a brain impression? Is that found in real life skulls?" I'm tempted to pick up a few more of these just to see what I can find. 

I love it. As a friend said to me "It seems like they made these just for you."

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