Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Monday, September 22, 2008
(above picture from this guy's photostream)
Okay. So back in 1982, one of Canada’s greatest paleantologists, Dale Russell, conducted a thought experiment. The idea had been thrown around before, but Ol’ Dale took it to the next level. What if the age of the dinosaurs had not ended with an asteroid in the late creataceous, but had kept going? Would it be ridiculous to posit that intelligent life would develop?
So, with that in mind, Dale grabbed Ron Séguin, taxidermist and artist, and had him make two models. One of Troodon, a maniraptoran dino who appears to have one of the largest brains of any known dinosaur - aka the intelligence of an equivalently sized flightless bird - and one model of what Troodon perhaps would have evolved into. Thus, the dinosauroid, a dinosaur hominid, was born. The eyes grew larger and more binocular, the head larger to accommodate the brain, and the body upright to support the big brain.
However, plenty of people thought that this was arrogant at best, and ridiculous at worst. Why would a non-avian dinosaur abandon its horizontal form in favour of a body type so specific to mammalian primates?
So here’s where I pick it up. I read a post by Darren Naish, a great paleontologist from the UK, about some of his thoughts on the matter. After visiting the Tet Zoo and looking at the Hornbills there, his reflections ended in this interesting conclusion:
“Of course you don’t need to compare ground hornbills with Cretaceous predatory dinosaurs, or with hominids or other primates, to make them interesting. But I can’t help coming back to Russell & Séguin’s ‘dinosauroid’ hypothesis. No, post-Cretaceous maniraptorans wouldn’t end up looking like scaly tridactyl plantigrade humanoids with erect tailless bodies. They would be decked out with feathers and brightly coloured skin ornaments; have nice normal horizontal bodies and digitigrade feet; long, hard, powerful jaws; stride around on the savannah kicking the shit out of little mammals; and in the evenings they would stand together in the trees, booming out a duet of du du du-du, a deep noise that would reverberate for miles around.”
Inspired by this, the Turkish artist “Nemo Ramjet” came up with this design.
(The coolest thing about this design is that he also made a series of cave paintings, using spit and charcoal (etc) and his mouth to hold the brushes he made.)
Intrigued by all this, I started to look into avian intelligence, and came upon something pretty fucking cool. It turns out that crows - most specifically, the New Caledonian Crow - have been found to be at least as clever as the great apes. Moreover, these little bastards are as good at tool use as the chimps - and they only have beaks and feet to work with! The clever dinosauroids these fellows have been talking about already exist - and they're eating our garbage, luckily, instead of killing us off and conquering the world. (update - after more reading, it seems that they can learn all types of advanced behaviour - an evolutionary psychologist in Israel witnessed a hooded crow successfully bait-fish using torn off pieces of bread - cool, huh?)
That being said, instead of being discouraged to find that evolution had beaten me to the punch, I’ve been basing the intelligent dinos I’ve been drawing on the corvids, and their tool use on the tool use of the new Caledonian crow. These are the nicer drawings I’ve been doing…
(There are some rougher sketches, but not many are as nice)
Now, in conclusion, the idea of intelligent crow-raptors learning to fish may not be as exciting as green scaly men - but green scaly men are cliché and look fucking dumb.