Field of Science

Welcome to the Boneyard 2.4!

What are they?
Creations of mind?- The mind can make Substance,
and people planets of its own

With beings brighter than have been, and give

A breath to forms which can outlive all flesh

"The Dream", Lord Bryon (1788-1824)

Thanks to many participants (and a little call by David) this month Boneyard can present again a large variety of different time epochs and animals. We range from the Cambrian to a distant future still to come, we will hear tales from the early arthropods and from the archosaurs, with a guest appearance of three insolent monotremes, we will find the fossils in the field, look artists at work to reconstruct dinosaurs and visit a museum.

Observing the images of an ancient creature displayed in a book or found in the internet we tend to forget how many persons and how many work and knowledge is involved in the reconstruction of the past.
The first step to display an organism in a museum is to find evidence of its former presence in the field, comprising bones, shells and tracks. In some cases the presence of fossils is so abundant, that entire cabins were build by locals using fossil bones, as in Wyoming seen by ScienceBuzz.

But in most cases fossils tend to be hidden under the surface of earth, a tough place where rocks can become metamorphic and fossils destroyed. But sometimes sediments can escape such a fate, and the field researcher can find wonderful fossils and study the environment where they became deposited. One such example is the Barrandium in the land of the trilobites, where naturalists of the 19th century discovered the most ancient live forms known at these times.

Fig.2. "The trilobites", collector cards from the "Animals of the Prehistoric World" by Heinrich Harder 1916 (images from

There are still today such localities, even if sometimes it is hard to get to them. What for example is still hiding in one of the most remotes place of earth - Tarchia at Pseudoplocephalus introduces us to a cool theropod, why he is important for the phylogeny of carnivorous dinosaurs and how an expedition to the end of the world hopes to discover more about it.

Fig.3. "Teleosaurus", collector cards from the "Creatures of the Primitive World" by F. John 1902-1906.

Another vertebrate group of the archosaurs experienced important discoveries in the last years, but here the problem is not so the inaccessibility of some localities, but the lack of interest of newsletter to report their story - but it is not good that these stories are forgotten, so Susan remember us at The Forgotten Archosaurs the tale of the "crocodile of Bauru".

As the fossils are recovered, more detailed research is carried out to understand the structure of the former living organism. Sometimes what is found is very complex and to explain it is cryptic, the anatomy of flying archosaurs of the Mesozoic baffled the naturalist in the 18th and 19th century - but have you ever heard of the terrible fanged, blood-sucking, demon turtle from the Upper Cretaceous?
Actually David Tana at Superoceras presents the facts behind the myth of Chupacabrachelys complexus.

Fig.4. "Meiolania", collector cards from the "Creatures of the Primitive World" by F. John 1902-1906.

Modern palaeontology and development of new technologies have increased the information's that can be extracted from fossils. The signs left on the bones by muscles can give clues for the reconstruction of soft tissues, comparative anatomy shows how bones are arranged in a skeleton, but also careful observations of modern animals can inspire artists.

Fig.5. "Hydrosaurus", collector cards from the "Creatures of the Primitive World" by F. John 1902-1906.

One possibility to understand anatomy is to reversing the process, by comparing living reptiles and their bony counterpart the artist can grasp better the distribution of soft tissue, doing so david's really interesting pages shows what we can learn from the modern genus Varanus about dinosaurs.
In a similar way The Optimistic Painting Blog displays the process by which an awesome attacking Styracosaurus came back to life by various steps.

Fig.6. "Torosaurus", collector cards from the "Creatures of the Primitive World" by F. John 1902-1906.

This image brings us to the next question and another Boneyard submission - to what would you compare the gait of a large ceratopsian? Tentative approaches included lizards (to small) and elephants (still to small). Studying, analyzing, digitalising and modelling the bones of Chasmosaurus irvinensis, the team of the Canadian Museum of Nature and computer expert Alex Tirabasso decided to use a computer-aided approach and the results of his 3-Dino can be found here.

Fig.7. "Archeopteryx", collector cards from the "Animals of the Prehistoric World" by Heinrich Harder 1916.

Bones are evidences that enable us to reconstruct a reasonable model for the past. For many aspects of primordial life however evidence is still missing, this comprises especially the behaviour of extinct organisms. So Albertonykus from Raptormaniacs is arguing in a three chapter comic above puggles, why males are not always as smart as they think they are and how short some theropds possibly remained in their nest.

Fig.8. Painting of Arthur Lakes (1844-1917) showing the hard work to recover dinosaur bones from the Como Bluff site, entitled "Professor Mudge" and his new finds (period of 1877-1889).

Finally, when the (preliminary) science is done, the artwork terminated, it is time to display the findings in a museum and present them to the public. Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs introduces us to the children's museum of Indianapolis and especially the work that is done "behind" the exposition, often forgotten but essential to run a museum.

Fig.9. "Iguanodon", collector cards from the "Creatures of the Primitive World" by F. John 1902-1906. Today we know that many of these representations are incorrect, but at the time of drawing it was a reasonable approach - these artists and naturalists were the pioneers of such art. Thanks to new discoveries and fossils our knowledge has improved, and so the possibility of the artists to display former life forms.

The displayed fossils in their showcase are one of the most compelling proofs of past evolution, a process still ongoing. For the specimen in the showcases the tale is not yet over - they can inspire people, like scientists as artists - Tricia´s Obligatory Art Blog! introduce us to possible fossils of a distant future, as imagined by Dougal Dixon and based on how evolution "worked" until now - and by the way dinosaur-fossils can also provide a rock opera -yeah!

Let´s conclude with the words of an palaeo-blogger of old date:

"Beyond the awesome grandeur of the reconstructed skeletons of Gorgosaurus, Triceratops, and other long-lost creatures, every single bone has a story to tell about the life and evolution of the animal it once belonged to. The skeletons of the dinosaurs are much more than static monuments of a bygone age; they are intricately detailed records of an ongoing evolutionary "experiment" that has been carried out on this planet for the past 3.5 billion of years and provide the context for understanding our own evolutionary history."
Brian Switek, Time and Change, from Written in Stone (2010).

So we came to the end of this December edition of the Boneyard, many thanks again to all the palaeo-blogger who contributed and send in their posts and thoughts about the past, and remember for the future the next edition of the monthly Boneyard will be hosted on January 4, on When Pigs Fly Returns and to remain up to date with the newest development on the Boneyard visit the official blog.


  1. Thank you for such a nice edition of the Boneyard, David (and for including my posts at the last minute!) I loved seeing all the vintage illustrations. Great finds!

  2. Well done, David!

    I really loved the images too.

  3. I just love the way this Boneyard was presented! Wonderful job!

  4. I have to thank – I enjoyed all the posts and so it was fun to put together the Boneyard.


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