Monthly Archives: November 2014

Belemnites and battleships


On Sunday 7th November, the small historic town of Totnes in Devon stood still. Quietness floated down the steep Elizabethan high street, where the large crowd of locals stood. A trumpet softly played ‘The Last Post’, while a small flock of pigeons slapped their wings as they flew as one above us.

Remembrance Sunday is held on the closest Sunday to the 11th November; the date the First World War ended. It is a time to remember those who have given their lives for their country.

Often we are so busy we don’t actually get the time to stop and think. Everyday life is hectic: as hectic as we make it. This is what makes Remembrance Sunday special. For two minutes at 11am people stand in silence together and remember. The two minutes silence is held again on the 11th November. It allows people…

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A cast not worthy

If you were expecting another terrible cast today, you will not be disappointed. This week we meet another really awesome creature, only to be bitterly disgusted by another truly Bad Cast. Can we really be saddened by another cast of a fossil that looks nothing like the fossil? From what we have seen in the twenty other bad casts, we should really expect it. But, even seeing what I have seen, I am still shocked at the poor quality, lack of detail, and pure shoddiness of these casts. And here is another.

I have seen a lot of real fossils in my time, and this cast doesn’t even attempt to look anything like its original. With it’s 1970s sickly brown colour and thick, ugly, visible brush strokes, there was clearly no love in making this cast.

Beautiful. Just beautiful.

Beautiful. Just beautiful, with a hint of sarcasm.

Almost as an afterthought, because the brown chosen for this cast was so bad, the makers have added a few strokes of crapness to the cast. On the bottom jaw, there are a few brush strokes of darker brown paint, and a few on the top right. I can’t think why they did this, as it adds no detail or beauty to the cast. Flabbergasted is the only word for this cast: it was a ‘professionally’ made cast, from a real fossil.

But here it is and we must make what we can of it. Clearly it’s life as a museum object has been one of neglect: bad storage, poor handling and no respect shown by the chipped paint, random splotch of red in the top middle, and a strange number scribbled onto it.

Just in case it is not obvious, this is a cast of a skull. Luckily, the label tells me what creature it was based on; Hyaenodon brachyrhynchus. Although the name sounds like it was a type of hyena, it wasn’t. The name means ‘hyena toothed’ (but you cant really see that from this crap cast). Hyaenodons were a really cool group of carnivores that belonged to an extinct group called Creodonts. All creodonts are now extinct, replaced by more successful carnivores, like the lovely cuddly ones we know so well, the Felids.

There were at least 42 different species belong to the Hyaenodon family, and they were around for over 26 million years. The skull was pretty chunky and you can see the small ridge on the head which would have held large muscles for chomping meat. These animals cut and sliced meat; their teeth were not strong enough to crunch bone like hyenas today.

Now this is what a fossil looks like. A skull of Hyaenodon cyluxi. (Image from here)

Now this is what a fossil looks like. A skull of Hyaenodon cyluxi. (Image from here)

This wasn’t a massive creature. The bad cast would sit comfortably in the palm of my hand. Species varied in size, with some as big as modern day hyenas, and others as small as a weasel. Our bad cast, Hyaenodon brachyrhynchus was living in the Old World during the Miocene (around 20 – 6 million years ago). There were species running around America, Europe and Asia; this was a very successful group of carnivores.

Hyaenodons were the top predators in their environment. It is not clear why they became extinct, around 8 million years ago, but it could be that competition from mammals with more stamina, greater speed and bigger brains pushed them to the edge. Whatever the cause of these amazing animals vanishing, I am left with this bad cast.


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