Sunday, December 16, 2012

Skull Fraud 'Created' the Brontosaurus

With the correct skull, it's an Apatosaurus as shown here.

This post concerns the very, very ancient, but it’s here because it’s a fascinating tale. It seems the fierce competition for fame between two palentologists ~ O.C. Marsh of Yale and Edward Cope of Philadelphia ~ led to the false creation of the Bronosaurus, a creature that, as it turns out, never existed.
According to NPR, quoting Matt Lamanna of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History:
It was in the heat of this competition, in 1877, that Marsh discovered the partial skeleton of a long-necked, long-tailed, leaf-eating dinosaur he dubbed Apatosaurus. It was missing a skull, so in 1883 when Marsh published a reconstruction of his Apatosaurus, Lamanna says he used the head of another dinosaur — thought to be a Camarasaurus — to complete the skeleton. 
"Two years later," Lamanna says, "his fossil collectors that were working out West sent him a second skeleton that he thought belonged to a different dinosaur that he named Brontosaurus." 
But it wasn't a different dinosaur. It was simply a more complete Apatosaurus — one that Marsh, in his rush to one-up Cope, carelessly and quickly mistook for something new.
You can easily guess the rest of the story. What’s particularly amazing is that the two warring paleontologists even ordered some dinosaur skeletons to be smashed to pieces while still in the ground, just so the other fellow wouldn’t unearth them.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Constantine the Complex

Rome's long and enigmatic chain of emperors was rife with complex personalities, few the match of Constantine (282-337). In his new Constantine the Emperor, biographer David Potter makes a case for this emperor's historical prominence.
"No Roman emperor had a greater impact on the modern world than did Constantine. The reason is not simply that he converted to Christianity but that he did so in a way that brought his subjects along after him.” 
"Alongside the visionary who believed that his success came from the direct intervention of his God, resided an aggressive warrior, a sometimes cruel partner, and an immensely shrewd ruler. These characteristics, combined together in a long and remarkable career, are those that restored the Roman Empire to its former glory."
Potter, a professor of Greek and Roman history at the University of Michigan, actually offers this major hunk of history in a surprisingly readable and compelling manner. His description is excellent of Constantine's complicated world with its spreading Christian influence, altogether as good a story as the sordid family strife surrounding this emperor.

Potter's book ~ published by Oxford University Press ~ is available from Please see the link at the top of the "Ancient Tides Books" column at the left of this page.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Native American Genetic Source is Located

Artist rendition of crossing Bering Strait.

Northern European populations ~ British, Scandinavians, French and Eastern Europeans ~ descend from a mixture of two ancestral populations, one of which is related to Native Americans. This genetic discovery helps understanding of both Native American and Northern European ancestry, while explaining genetic similarities among the very divergent groups.
According to Science Daily, quoting Nick Patterson, first author of the report published in the November issue of Genetics magazine:
 "There is a genetic link between the paleolithic population of Europe and modern Native Americans. The evidence is that the population that crossed the Bering Strait from Siberia into the Americas more than 15,000 years ago was likely related to the ancient population of Europe."
One of these ancestral populations was the first farming population of Europe, whose DNA lives on today in relatively unmixed form in Sardinians and the people of the Basque Country, and in at least the Druze population in the Middle East.
The other ancestral population is likely to have been the initial hunter-gathering population of Europe. These two populations were very different when they met. Today the hunter-gathering ancestral population of Europe appears to have its closest affinity to people in far Northeastern Siberia and Native Americans.