I don’t normally post links or reblog, but this was so good (and my latest effort so held up by external factors I won’t bore anyone with) that I had to post it. I’ve always been sceptical about claims that Dragon mythology is based on Dinosaur fossils, and this post by Mark Witton roundly debunks one of these – that the Griffin of Ancient Greece was inspired by real Protoceratops fossils. This is reminiscent of similar attempts to explain away folklore using modern science, like the specious link between the disease porphyria and vampirism. Science can explain big chunks of folklore, like the ‘old hag’ or ‘night mare’ (indeed vampires too) being explicable by means of sleep paralysis. But people in the past, indeed people now, are more than capable of inventing things from whole cloth, and we still need to apply critical thought to convenient explanations like the Dinosaur/Griffin.
Whilst catching up on some of the great dino-gossip on the Dinosaur Mailing List, I came across this little gem of a Daily Mail article that I’d missed through my usual online channels:
The first ‘WTF?’ moment came with the title. This was not a T. Rex specimen, nor any type of tyrannosaurid. It’s part of a rather large suborder of dinosaur (see here for a simple cladogram) – the therapoda. There are countless dinosaur species that it’s far closer to, though I suppose by media standards it’s not an UNtrue statement to make.
But then there’s the ‘of the deep’ bit, which makes no sense whatever. This is very similar to the title of an episode of ‘Monsters Resurrected’ about mosasaurs (probably by coincidence, as it turns out). Yet the description, photos, and all other reports on the find in question, make clear that it was a land-based (theropod) dinosaur. What gives? All will become clear – well, nearly all. Time for some BS Palaeontology!
As contributors to the Dinosaur Mailing List pointed out, aside from the wonderful photo of the real fossil in question, the other two images are clearly nothing to do with the find. Thanks to the attribution that the Mail are obliged to provide, it didn’t take too long to find the very library pictures that they’d arbitrarily chosen to pad out this story:
They are taken from a February 2011 find in Antarctica of an archaeocetes – a primitive whale. Which explains why one caption in the dodgy article states:
‘Unearthed: Scientists uncovering the remains of the dinosaur thought to be a relative of the modern-day whale.’
Now, if we look at the Mail comments section, we find that a fourth image was taken down after a comment from a UK reader;
Its extremely unlikely that the ‘computer generated image’ is what the paleontologists who found Otto think he looked like. Did you invent this? Among several differences is the fact that the image is of a sea dwelling creature with a flipper-like tail, and crucially very small rear flippers laterally. The skeleton however clearly has very large rear legs with claws – hence the description ‘Beast-footed’ and suggestion that it is in the same family as the T-Rex. Since I doubt you would show a picture of the wrong skeleton (although this is plausible), I suggest the second image is falsely captioned.
– Alex, Yorkshire, UK, 12/10/2011 19:04
Which rather well describes this artist’s impression from the same story, to be found in the same archive:
Makes you wonder how many other of their articles are this badly cobbled together. This excellent site suggests that the answer is ‘lots’.