Tag Archives: fossil

The road kill fossil

Yes, this is another cast of a real fossil. No, before you ask, I don’t know why it was allowed to be made.

Not a pancake, but an extremely bad cast of the belly of a tortoise.

Not a pancake, but an extremely bad cast of the belly of a tortoise.

The label with this specimen says “Tortoise. Plaster cast on rectangular slab” (‘Tortoise’ has been written in pencil, possibly after the specimen was donated). The label then mentions those two chaps I am beginning to loath; “Presented by Mr J. R. Gregory, per A. G. F. Gregory. April 10 1906”. There is more information about those two fraudsters on these labels than the actual specimen they took a cast of.

It would be ever so splendid to jump back in a time machine to April 1906 and accidental bump into Gregory and Gregory knocking their briefcase full of bad casts over, accidental breaking them all so they never ended up in the museum. If that happened though, these posts would never exist, so I would never have gone back in time. Love a time travel paradox.

Or they could have just sent some more really bad casts in May 1906.

As it is, we are stuck with these bad casts and must do what we can to get them out there.

This ‘rectangular slab’ holds a cast of a tortoise or a turtle. The belly of one in fact. I admit, this is far from the greatest belly ever to be posted on a blog. I also admit that this looks like something that has been flattened by a lorry. A road kill fossil.

The only story I can think this bad cast is trying to tell is that these reptiles have been around for a long time, and fossils of them have been found.

I am inclined to say this is a cast of a turtle. It appears more turtle-like than tortoise. Turtle or tortoise, the story begins a long, long time ago in the Triassic Period, around 220 million years ago.

The origins of turtles is a little murky, but becoming clearer with new finds each year. One current contender for a turtle ancestor is a rather bloated looking reptile called a Eunotosaurus discovered pretty recently in 2008. A funny potential ancestor you might say. You would be right, but fossils of this creature show really thick ribs which curved around its back. This is possibly how the first turtle shells evolved.

The pot-bellied Eunotodaurus. The potential ancestor of turtles (and tortoises and terrapins).

The pot-bellied Eunotodaurus. The potential ancestor of turtles (and tortoises and terrapins). (Image from here)

From this pot-bellied, long-tailed reptile came the wonderful turtles. The ribs fused together to form a hard, protective shell around the turtle. Something strange happened with these animals; these fused ribs grew to a dome like shape, but also fused with some kind of hard amour on the outside of the skin.

Turtles had an advantage by moving to live in the water; their shells. This protected them from predators (although not entirely). They could also swim huge distances, so spread around the world fairly quickly, where some groups stayed and adapted to their little local environment. Some moved back onto the land where they adapted to have tougher harder shells to minimise water loss.

From this pretty awful cast is a fascinating tale, drastically reduced here. Turtles and tortoises are amazing creatures and very close to people hearts. For some strange reason we have an empathy and fondness towards this scaly beast. Their slow lumbering gait along with their old, wise faces both make us all warm inside.

Unfortunately this terribly cast doesn’t quite have the same effect.

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Before high definition casts

The world has seen locusts for many, many years. Long before the 8th plague of Egypt, these large juicy insects have been swarming, feasting and surviving for years. Million of years. Hundreds of millions of years. Delicately preserved fossils of these familiar little insects are known from a few sites around the world. Solnhofen, in Germany is one such site.

Solnhofen is more famously known for the discovery of the infamous Archaeopteryx, the feathered reptile that is almost a bird (fun blog post here checking out what the researchers think about Archaeopteryx). As well as the 11 specimens of this beautiful dino-bird, and a feather, the Solnhofen limestones have preserved a huge number of ancient creatures, including, starfish, fish, shrimps, horseshoe crabs, dragonflies, reptiles, pterosaurs, and locusts. (You can see a number of beautiful fossils with incredible detail here.)

150 million years ago, Solnhofen was a little bit different. It was a beautiful lagoon, surrounded by islands. The extremely high salt (or salinity) of the waters meant that life could not live there. There was also no oxygen deeper down, meaning the muds also lacked any life, including worms and bacteria that would normally eat away flesh. Because of the lack of life in this lagoon, any animals (or plants) that fell beneath the waves were slowly covered in fine sediment, and preserved in exquisite detail. The fine feathers of Archaeopteryx and the delicate wings of a locust would be preserved for eternity.

Here is what you have been waiting for, this weeks bad cast. Here she is. I was going to say, ‘She is beautiful’. But I can’t. Because she is not. Not at all. She lacks a dash of colour to brighten her up. She lacks any detail. It could easily be something you may buy for your three year old niece to paint and draw on. But it is a real cast of a fossil. Accessioned with the fossils. Embarrassingly, here it is, our  cast of a 150 million year old locust:

The cast of a fossil locust. Remember, fossil locusts are beautiful, delicate fossils. Something this cast fails to convey.

The cast of a fossil locust. Remember, fossil locusts are beautiful, delicate fossils. Something this cast fails to convey.

Such a really, really bad cast. You can kind of see why they did it back in 1906; To show how insects have been around for millions of years, and are (ahem) beautifully preserved. Fossils from Solnhofen should look like this. Unfortunately our cast doesn’t look like one of those.

I am not sure if this, or any other bad cast, has ever been on display. I quite like to think they have, back when the display cases were made of lovely wood, and the dangerously thin glass was so easy to lean on. To have purchased and actually invested in this and other casts, they surely must have been displayed.

I often wonder what people would have thought when they saw such bad casts like this. Would they have squinted to try to ‘see’ what the label says it is? Or would they have even noticed that they were bad? It may be like high definition TV today; we notice if it isn’t HD because we have it. But back when we didn’t have HD, we didn’t complain.

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That nipple-toothed beast!

Ooooohh, yeah! It is that time of the week again. And today, you are in for a treat with this bad cast. It is truly a goddarn awful cast. I don’t really know what it looks like; some kind of delicately made chocolate treat? A terrible model of a stalagmite (or could it be a stalactite?)? The bottom looks like honeycomb covered in chocolate, which is delicious. Possibly a chocolate cake horn?

Wrong, wrong, wrong and “what the hell kind of birthday party did you go to” wrong.

 

Go on! Try and guess what it is without reading on! If you get it right, then this cast deserves to be taken out of the 'Bad Cast' series!!!

Go on! Try and guess what it is without reading on! If you get it right, then this cast deserves to be taken out of the ‘Bad Cast’ series!

This is a cast of a really amazing creature; the tooth of an extinct amphibian called Mastodonsaurus jaegeri. You will have to take my word for it , because it took me a looooooong time to ‘see’ it. (I did have a little advantage, as the name was written on the old accession card – a rare treat to have some information!!).

The name of the Genus, Mastodonsaurus, means ‘nipple-tooth lizards’. Now, I’m no expert on human anatomy, but I would like to think I am familiar with certain areas. I am sure things were not that different 190 years ago than today, because that is one odd shaped nipple. I’m sure Mr Holl, who named it in 1828, had his own playful reasons.

This terrible cast hides a wonderful story. The teeth may have looked (to some) like nipples, but they were no lizards. These were enormous amphibians which were dipping and diving in the swampy waters around 240 million years ago, during the Tirassic Period. Amphibians are a group of animals that share common features. For example frogs and newts are amphibians, and spend most of their lives in the water, having slimy skin to keep them moist if they venture out on land. Eggs are laid in water and the young will spend their lives swimming in the water; it is only when they are adults when they can use the land.

The tooth is massive, over 20 centimetres long in a head which was 1.2 meters long, the same length as a Tyrannosaurus rex head! The full length of the entire animal varied, but some of the largest specimens discovered so far could be as long as an African elephant (around 6 metres long). That is one mother of an amphibian!

This was like no other amphibian you know today. Frogs are fruit-flies compared to this creature! It belonged to an extinct group of animals called ‘Temnospondyls’ (say: tem – nos – pond – di – lis) – lets call them ‘Temnys’ (say: Tem – knees). Much bigger than amphibians around today, Temnys looked a little like a terrifying cross between a crocodile and a salamander. One feature uniting all Temnys is the triangle shaped skull. They also had very small arms and legs, with four toes on the arms, and five toes on the legs.

A lovely old artist interpretation of Mastodonsa

A lovely old artist interpretation of Mastodonsaurus (the creature with it’s head raised). This picture was drawn a while ago, and palaeontologists now believe that the Mastodonsaurus would have lived almost permanently in the water. (Image from wiki)

It was an amazing animal. Its eyes were mid-way down its head, on the top; so the body could be below the water surface. The huge mouth was packed full of peg-like teeth. And this is where our terrible cast comes in. On the bottom jaw, were two large teeth, bigger than the others, which slotted through holes in the top jaw. These could have been for grabbing prey, as these big beasts were predators. Although a difference between sexes (called sexual dimorphism) hasn’t been noticed yet, these could be in males and used for fighting during the mating season.

For such enormous amphibians, what would they have eaten? We can look at clues in other animals. Today dolphins have peg like teeth which they use for catching fish; there would have been plenty of succulent fish living in the swamps. There is evidence of them attacking land animals, probably through ambush; some smaller Temny fossils have tooth marks on them made by these nipple-toothed beasts.

What a creature! An enormous salamander-crocodile-newt thing! This animal lived 240 million years ago and had cousins which it ate, and others which were bigger than he was! Fossils bring to life the awesomeness of these extinct animals. It is a bit of a shame that this terrible cast doesn’t.

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