When Diplodocus Came to Kelvingrove

For a few all-too-short months, the Natural History Museum’s Diplodocus carnegii was hosted by Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery. Today, it’s on its way to Newcastle to see the tiddlypeeps of Northern England. There wasn’t a ceremony or send off: just a team quietly packing the bits away in boxes after the museum closed. I’d meant to have a post up long before this, but I kept agonising over it, because that Diplodocus means a great deal to me.

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The Great Dinosaur Plot

One of my most cherished memories of London was visiting the Natural History Museum to see my favourite dinosaur – or, rather, the famous cast of it – Diplodocus carnegii. I’ve been twice: once as a wee guy, and once as a not-so-wee guy. Both occasions filled me with the same sense of wonder, history, and awe regardless of the gulf in space and time. And soon, many wee Scots who haven’t had the opportunity to meet Dippy will have their chance!

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The Dark Man of Cheddar

Cimmerians. These people were descendants of the ancient Atlanteans, though they themselves were unaware of their descent, having evolved by their own efforts from the ape-men to which their ancient ancestors had sunk. They were a tall powerful race, averaging six feet in height. They were black haired, and grey or blue eyed. They were dolichocephalic, and dark skinned, though not so dark as either the Zingarans, Zamorians or Picts.
– Robert E. Howard, “Notes on Various Peoples,” The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, p348-349

Then when I was about twelve I spent a short time in New Orleans and found in a Canal Street library, a book detailing the pageant of British history, from prehistoric times up to – I believe – the Norman conquest. It was written for school-boys and told in an interesting and romantic style, probably with many historical inaccuracies. But there I first learned of the small dark people which first settled Britain, and they were referred to as Picts. I had always felt a strange interest in the term and the people, and now I felt a driving absorption regarding them.
– Robert E. Howard, letter to Harold Preece, 20th October 1928*

Prof Mark Thomas and Dr Yoan Diekmann at University College London analysed the sequences generated at the Natural History Museum to establish what Cheddar Man looked like. It was previously assumed that Europeans developed paler skin many thousands of years before Cheddar Man, so he was thought to have had reduced skin pigmentation and fair hair. The results however, indicate that whilst Cheddar Man had blue eyes, he also had dark coloured curly hair and ‘dark to black’ skin pigmentation. This means that the lighter pigmentation now considered to be a defining feature of northern Europe, is a far more recent phenomenon.
– The First Brit: Secrets of the 10,000 Year Old Man Press Pack 

The recent news about Cheddar Man will come as no surprise to people with an interest in anthropology, or even ancient history. Britons with dark skin & black, curly hair have been recorded since the Roman period, with early 20th Century folklorists such as Margaret Alice Murray, David MacRitchie, and G.F. Scott Elliot detailing stories of the early inhabitants of the British Isles.

What is perhaps more surprising is the reaction to that news.

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Slainte for Saltopus

Remember this post?

You might have heard of Saltopus if you’re my age or older: for the longest time, it was famous as the first dinosaur to be discovered in Scotland. In 1910, William Taylor found a tiny piece of jaw in the Lossiemouth West & East Quarry: the Württembergian palaeontologist Friedrich von Huene named it Saltopus elginensis (“Elgin’s jumping foot”).

Finally, we Scots had a dinosaur to call our own, to stand beside the many dinosaurs discovered, described and adopted by England! Scotland’s previous claim to fame beforehand was ammonites, trilobites, graptolites, stromatolites, fish, shrimps, sharks, sea scorpions, dicynodonts, “Devil’s toenails,”  missing links, googly-eyed eels, elks, and trees – but no dinosaurs to call their own. Every country should have at least one dinosaur. Even the Cetiosaurus bones found on Skye are just a northern branch of a species discovered in England. Alas, it was not to be: Saltopus was demoted to dinosauriform – a very dinosaur-like dinosauriform, but not a dinosaur itself.

Isn’t that just bloody typical? Scotland finds a dinosaur, and it gets reclassified. Still, there’s something poetic in Scotland’s “dinosaur” being a creature that’s nearly there, but not yet.

Well, Matthew G. Baron, David B. Norman, & Paul M. Barrett have published a paperA new hypothesis of dinosaur relationships and early dinosaur evolution. Pretty bold shake-up, but one of the coolest findings brings possible vindication for an old Scottish fossil!

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