Sunday, 26 March 2017

EXPLORE YOUR CANADA | CANADA 150

HMS Oriole, Salt Spring Island

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Friday, 24 March 2017

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Friday, 10 March 2017

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

ICE AGE PROBOSCIDEANS




















This disarticulated fellow is Mammutus primigenius from the Pleistocene of Siberia, Russia. He's now housed in the Museo Nacional De Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, Spain in a display that shows thoughtful comparisons between the proboscideans. They have a wonderful display of mammoth teeth, the diagnostic flat enamel plates and the equally distinct pointy cusped molars of the mastodons.

He was a true elephant, unlike his less robust cousins, the mastodons. Mammoths were bigger (both in girth and height), weighing in at a max of 13 tonnes. They roamed widely in the Pliocene to Holocene, covering much of Africa, Europe, Asia and North America.

We see them first some 150,000 years ago from remains in Russia. They enjoyed a very long lifespan of 60-80 (up to 20 years longer than a mastodon and longer than modern elephants) and quite surprisingly, at least to me, the last mammoth died just 3,700 years ago in the icy frost of a small Alaskan island. 

Not all had the shaggy coat of long hair we picture them with. But all of these behemoth proboscideans boasted long, curved tusks, big ears, short tails and grazed on leaves, shrubs and grasses.

So why the tusks? Likely for displays of strength, protecting their delicate trunks, digging up ground vegetation and in dry riverbeds, digging holes to get at the precious life-giving water. It's a genius design, really. A bit like having a plough on the front of your skull.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

PADDLERS PARADISE


BIRTHPLACE OF ANTAEUS

Quintus Sertorius, a Roman statesman come general, grew up in Umbria, the green heart of what is now central Italy.

Born into a world at war just two years before the Romans sacked Corinth to bring Greece under Roman rule, Quintus lived much of his life as a military man far from the hills, mountains and valleys of his birthplace.

Around 81 BC, he travelled to Morocco, the land of opium, massive trilobites and the birthplace of Antaeus, the legendary North African ogre who was killed by the Greek hero Heracles.

The locals tell a tale that Quintus requested proof of Antaeus, hard evidence he could bring back to Rome to support their tales so they took him to a mound at Tingis, Morocco, where they unearthed the bones of a Neogene elephant, Tetralophodon.

During the Miocene and Pliocene, 12-1.6 million years ago, this diverse group of extinct proboscideans, elephant-like animals walked the Earth.

Most of these large beasts had four tusks and likely a trunk similar to modern elephants. They were creatures of legend, inspiring myths and stories of fanciful creatures to the first humans to encounter them.

Tetralophodon bones are large and skeletons singularly impressive. Impressive enough to be taken for something else entirely. By all accounts these proboscidean remains were that of the mythical ogre Antaeus and were thus reported back to Rome as such. It was hundreds of years before their true heritage was known.

I was lucky enough to travel to Morocco a few years ago and see the Tetralophodon remains. At the time, the tales of Antaeus ran through my head. Could this be the proof that Quintus wanted. As it happens, it was.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Friday, 3 March 2017