20 December 2015

It Came From Dinovember

Firstly, I would like to apologise for the total lack of content here over the past several weeks months. I've been busy transitioning back to college life and I haven't really given Noah's Ravens the attention I'd have liked to. I've got a lot of ideas for some new posts so the plan now is to begin posting regularly with a lot more content!

Now then - last month I participated in what some have called 'Dinovember,' a 30-day celebration of dinosaur art; I produced a drawing a day.* I'd like to share them here (click to embiggen, of course), with a little bit of background on the animals pictured and how I restored them. Click the break below to continue...

* Well, I produced 30 drawings. I got behind several times and had to play catch-up, but did get all 30 done by the end of the month. Haha! My most productive bout of artiness since I was about nine.

25 July 2015

A Visit To the McWane Science Center, Part II: Southern Sea Monsters

In the previous post, we took a look at the Alabama Dinosaurs exhibit at the McWane Science Center in Birmingham, Alabama. However, as you may remember from the last post, much of Alabama was underwater during the Cretaceous Period, submerged by a shallow seaway.

Notice how much of Alabama is submerged by a shallow seaway.
[image from Sampson et al, 2010, 'New Horned Dinosaurs from Utah Provide Evidence for
Intracontinental Dinosaur Endemism'
, under CC Attribution 2.5 Generic licence]

The warm waters of this shallow sea teemed with life, and after more than 75 million years, the fossil record of these marine organisms can be found in Alabama, with a diversity and richness far surpassing the state's known collection of dinosaur fossils from this time. McWane presents a sampling of this prehistoric marine life in the sister exhibit to Alabama Dinosaurs, fetchingly entitled Sea Monsters...

WARNING: Clicking the 'read more' link below without having this open in another tab is highly dangerous. Proceed at your own risk.

17 July 2015

A Visit To the McWane Science Center, Part I: Dinosaurs of the Deep South

Sorry for the long absence. Hopefully there will be new content -- including art -- here soon.

Anyway, if you should ever find yourself in Birmingham, Alabama, as my family and I did last week, a day at the McWane Science Center is sure to prove a day well spent. McWane features a museum as well as an IMAX, and most of the exhibits are geared toward kid-friendly interactivity: there is a hall of physical-science based challenges, brain teasers, and the like, an aquarium featuring a shark and ray touch pool, and space for visiting exhibits, which at the time of our trip was hosting an interesting, interactive-heavy exhibit on the history toys and games over 20th and 21st centuries. Of course, as soon as we'd paid our admission, I dragged the family up a flight of stairs to get to what we all* came to see: the dinosaurs.

A nodosaur browses amongst the ferns as an Appalachiosaurus stalks behind it.
[photograph by the author]


10 June 2015

Still Alive

No worries - if anyone was worried - Noah's Ravens is still alive. I hope I'll be able to have a large, art-heavy post/series of posts up in the next week or two.

Thanks for your patience.


22 April 2015

Roll Up For the Roadshow

On Saturday, I participated in the kickoff of the Cambridge Science Festival in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Myself and one of the other student employees at the Beneski were asked to help run a booth showing fossils collected from western Massachusetts. The booth was organised by a group called the Jurassic Roadshow, who collect fossils and educate people about our geologic past, often at events such as this one; they kindly invited Beneski Museum docents to get involved with the event.

Jurassic Roadshow fossil fish.
[photo by the author]

08 April 2015

Day of the Diplodocids

Welcome, true believers, to a Very Special installment of Noah's Ravens. As you have no doubt seen while scrolling through Facebook or Twitter or while idly surfing the web, yesterday marked the appearance of a new (very long) paper reviewing the diplodocid sauropods, 'A specimen-level phylogenetic analysis and taxonomic revision of Diplodocidae (Dinosauria, Sauropoda)' by Emanuel Tschopp, Octávio Mateus, and Roger B J Benson, published open-access in PeerJ. Although I'm certain you've all had time to read it, pore lovingly over the cladograms, savour each and every word about each and every specimen, and completely lose yourself in the figures depicting small chunks of bone, I thought it might be nice to have a brief(ish) round-up post that covers some of the big ideas of the paper in a condensed(ish), hopefully-easy(ish) read.

It was nice knowing you, Diplodocus longus, but all good things
must come to an end. Read on to find out why. Legs belonging to
The Sauropod Formerly Known As
Diplodocus longus at centre.
[photograph by the author]

27 March 2015

Smiley Smilodon

...Meow? [photo by the author]
If there is one animal that could be considered the living (or, ah, once-living) emblem of the Ice Age, that animal is undoubtedly the woolly mammoth. But second place is nothing to sneeze at, and second place is firmly defended by a pair of 20-centimetre-long canine teeth. Yes, in the popular imagination, the second-most iconic animal of the Ice Age is the ferocious sabretooth tiger.

It's rather shame that there's not really such a creature as a sabretooth tiger.

15 March 2015

Frederic Loomis Discovers Everything, Episode 1: Raiders of the Lost Continent

Around three million years ago, South America became connected to North America via the Isthmus of Panama, and an event called the Great American Biotic Interchange took place, where wildlife from South America moved north and vice versa. Prior to this, South America had been isolated from most of the rest of the world since the Cretaceous Period, and connected only to Antarctica until they separated about 30 million years ago, allowing little exchange of wildlife from other places in world. As such, South America was a 'lost continent,' a strange land cut off almost completely from the rest of the world, with its own array of unique organisms, the characters in their own isolated evolutionary story. It was into this strange world that the North American emigrants came some three million years ago, and it was into the fossil echoes of this world that a very different group of North Americans came in the early 20th century.

Some Patagonian fossils from the Cenozoic Era. They include notoungulates (top row
and left middle row) such as the sheep-sized digger 
Mesotherium (top centre), superficially
elephantine astrapotheres (lower jaw of
Parastrapotherium, middle right), and the extant
xenarthrans (bottom row), including the flattened armour of an armadillo.
[photograph by the author]

21 February 2015

Happy World Pangolin Day!

It's 21 February 2015 and you know what that means: World Pangolin Day!

And I bet you thought I was joking when I mentioned more than one natural history-themed date in February...

Chinese pangolin Manis pentadactyla at the Leipzig Zoo. 
[image in the public domain]

12 February 2015

Happy Darwin Day!

It's 12 February 2015, and that means it's Darwin Day - everyone's favourite natural history-themed date in February - and this year we're celebrating 206 years since the great naturalist and founder of modern evolutionary science was born in 1809.

Charles Darwin, 1878. [image in the public domain]

05 February 2015

'Footmarks On Stone,' or, Why This Blog Is Called Noah's Ravens

The year is 1802. In South Hadley, Massachusetts, a farmer called Pliny Moody discovers something strange in a slab of rock. Closer investigation seems to indicate that the unusual markings in the rock are footprints, with three narrow, spread-out toes, very similar to the footprints of birds.

The mysterious track-maker was referred to as 'Noah's Raven,' in reference to the first bird set out from the ark after the flood in the book of Genesis; presumably these footprints were thought to have been made by the raven, which flew 'back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth,' and, apparently, eventually came to land in western Massachusetts.

The 'Noah's Raven' specimen at the Beneski. [photograph by the author]

04 February 2015

Welcome To the Museum

Welcome to Noah's Ravens, the blog where I'll explore the collections of the Beneski Museum of Natural History, the natural history collection at Massachusetts's Amherst College. It is also my current place of employment; I'm a first-year student at Amherst and work shifts as a museum docent and tour guide. As a hopeful future palaeontologist, it's basically a dream job made real.

Here on Noah's Ravens, I intend to take a closer look at some of the specimens in the Beneski's rather extensive collections, which include giant mammals of the Pleistocene, one of the world's largest assemblages of dinosaur tracks, and a lot of oreodonts. Seriously, there are loads of oreodonts.

The author, with the skull of one of the aforementioned oreodonts. 

I'm going to look for stories behind the fossils, to catch a glimpse of their often-interesting human histories as well as their natural histories. There will likely be diversions from the Beneski Museum as well, and maybe even slight dips into my personal life (natural history-related dips, of course). I do hope you'll find this blog interesting, and — if you don't already — come to share my fascination with the specimens that call this museum home.

— M

(PS — Wondering about the blog title? That'll need a post of its own...)