East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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Hunting the Kamongo in the Black Lagoon

I was home alone for lunch, so I cooked myself a bowl of rice, and then I watched The Creature from the Black Lagoon, from 1954. Because it’s a movie I like, because it’s been a long time since last I watched it, and because in a couple of weeks I’ll have to record a podcast about it and I want to sound smart and say intelligent stuff.

And as I was quietly enjoying the show, something suddenly … ah!

Continue reading


Our dinosaurs are different

Terribly late, today – I’ve been writing, because as I said, the sprint for House of the Gods is on. NaNoWriMo has nothing on ditching 20.000 words in a 35.000 words draft and having to rewrite the lot in two weeks.
But I am making it – even if I find it a bit taxing, physically.

But anyway – one thing I’m having fun with is, of all things, the good old Tyrannosaurus rex. Because really, you can’t write a novel featuring dinosaurs and leave old T rex *out of it.
‘s the word.
But why not have fun with it?


And the best way to have fun with the old T rex is, believe it or not, through science. Continue reading


Dragons of the ancient world

It was in 2005, if I remember correctly, and I was on my third congress of the Italian Palaeontological Society.
In the 2005 congress two works were presented – a colleague’s paper on the connection between fossils and mythology, and a poster of mine on the cultural relevance of dinosaurs.
My colleague’s work featured griffins and cyclops, my poster featured Godzilla and Bruce Willis.
We were both severely thrashed, the standard question being “You call this paleontology?”
To which the reply was of course, yes – we were after all discussing ancient remains, deep time, and the perception and interpretation of those remains – but our position was not shared by a large portion of the audience*.

And yet, the idea of Geomythology was emerging in the early 21st century – and the book I’m reading these nights, part for research duties and part for the sheer pleasure of it, was one of the first works on the subject.
It was published in 2000, by Princeton University Press.

k9435Adrienne Mayor‘s The First Fossil Hunters – Dinosaur, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Times (new edition, 2011) is a delightful and higly stimulating read.
The idea that a culture of fossil observation existed in ancient times – not limited to a few philosophers chancing on an old bone – is intriguing, as is the idea of a strong, direct connection between fossils and certain beasts of myth.
The book is filled with illustrations, and offers ample material in support of its central thesis.
And there’s much food for thought (and for fiction!) between its covers.

So I’m reading it both because of my job as a paleontologist (as long as I have one) and as documentation for my writing.
And anything providing a different angle on the perception we have of ancient times, is sure to slip straight on top of my reading list.
This one is highly recommended.

* one year later the situation had changed enough for two members of our hostile audience to publish in the Society’s magazine an article that followed closely my poster (curiously enough forgetting to credit my work in its very short bibliography)


Some notes on dinosaur hunting – part 2

Bring ’em back alive!

We discussed hunting dinosaurs in the classic one shot-one kill style.
A gentleman’s pursuit.

But let’s say our interest is more scientific and we want to collect live specimens…
What should we do?

scf4327-082The obvious choice is stealing the eggs and then incubate them.
A brief moment of panic and a hectic run might save us a lot of trouble.
After all, it worked for Professor Challenger, right?

But ok, let’s say we want to collect a live dinosaur.
We must somehow knock the beasties down.

The best sleeping drugs for reptiles is Isoflorane, an alogenated ether which is administered by inhalation.
Yes, we can gas the dinos.

People interested in the old sleeping gun way, the dart in our gun can be loaded with any of the classics:

Most veterinarians swear by a cocktail of Ketamine (a dissociational drug) and either Diazepan or Medetomitine (a muscular relaxant).
The volume depends on the bulk of the animal – its total weight.
It works in ten minutes.
Or it should, anyway.
It’s better to be out of the way after thirty minutes after sedation.

Now we face two problems.
The first problem is mechanical – injecting the drug.
The best way should be to inject the drug cocktail between two scales – as perforating the scale is painful for the animal and ineffective as a way to sedate it.
In other words, we might end up with a an enraged, fully awake dinosaur.
If we are dealing with carnivores or saprophages, the best policy should be shooting the dino in the neck, and from behind, thus taking advantage of the scale orientation.

But the real problem is the second: estimating the dosage.
The cocktail described above is suggested in doses of 15 milligrams per kg of mass.
This means that, for big specimens, we should shoot or anyway inject them with many litres of drugs.
Better to look for youngs, and focus on smaller species.