STL Science Center

STL Science Center

01 April 2015

No Jokes

Cave art attributed to the Sahara
According to the The Marshall Illustrated Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals Sivatherium has been represented in rock paintings in the Sahara desert. Knowing that human cultures existed at the same time as Sivatherium this is a statement that could definitely hold water. The key to examining that claim, however, is knowing what the paintings looked like or if they still exist. There are two images, both equally terrible images, that have circulated that are supposedly from the Sahara and India that represent rock paintings of Sivatherium.The paintings appear to possess some giraffid qualities that could certainly represent the animal of interest. However, the one attributed to Indian civilization also appears to be easily representative of almost any four-legged animal that one might find on a farm let alone in the wild. The large horns in the Indian rock painting could be meant as ears and overall the picture looks very similar to a donkey with an elongate body. Elongated bodies would not be as important in portraying Sivatherium as elongate necks would be; however, artistic interpretation or the inabilities of the artist may just be showing up in this crude art form.
Cave art attributed to India
The Sahara attributed image is much more consistent with our interpretation of a giraffid animal and appears, vaguely, to have some horn-like appendage at the top of the small head. Small heads on large necks, though, are not exactly representative of the morphological state of Sivatherium; large heads on elongate, but short and thick necks are more accurate. The painting also has a long body, but not quite as long in appearance as the piece from India and in better proportions than the one from India. It is possible that Saharan cave painters were simply better at animal representation than their Indian counterparts, or that the species of Sivatherium in India was morphologically different enough that the image appears distorted but is not. Whatever the reason, someone that professionally interprets cave paintings once associated the paintings with Sivatherium and that interpretation will always exist somewhere in the world.

31 March 2015

Scholarly News

Comparisons of diet, tooth wear, and taphonomic analyses are among some of the more modern popular topics concerning research into the lives and history of Sivatherium. These are all interesting topics and, coupled with classic and modern description, makes Sivatherium one of the more comprehensively studied mammals of the fossil record. There are certainly more well studied mammals, but Sivatherium research is not lagging behind the leaders. One of my favorite topics to see a paper on is the more historically aimed paper that asks if the ancient Sumerians were acquainted with Sivatherium. That could be my bias as an historian reaching over my scientific side though. The paper is from 1936, but it is still an interesting question to probe. The comparison is made by Colbert of a Sumerian artifact that bears a vague resemblance to a Sivatherium.
comparison drawing by Margaret Matthew Colbert

30 March 2015

Moved Movie

There are a couple of links that say they include some sort of information about Sivatherium but there are no actual good quality videos of the strange giraffid. The best is probably the video that I shared yesterday on here. The short videos that use the name Sivatherium or claim to have something to do with the animal are completely lacking or just straight out inaccurate. This happens a lot unfortunately but one would think that such a strange mammal would have made a high quality animal for at least the Walking With... series if not any other documentary series. To make up for this lack of a movie for the day, please enjoy this wonderfully colorful version of a Harder piece:

29 March 2015

Facts About a Giraffid

There are a number of both old and new websites as well as old and new books and sources of information regarding Sivatherium. The animal has even gone pretty hi-tech. It is actually only a little bit bi-tech in that it can be colored online (it is the Lydekker image). Some of the better sites for facts are Prehistoric Wildlife and About, as usual. The short powerpoint here is also fairly informative.

28 March 2015

Newer Illustrations

The newer illustrations, such as that seen yesterday, show Sivatherium as a rather giraffe-like creature with similar proportions and what appear to be nearly identical cranial elements. The adornments of the modern version of illustrated Sivatherium are very different from those that were illustrated when the original materials and descriptions were being publicized and discussed in the scientific community. The original depictions of Sivatherium showed an animal very much like a moose. Due to the proportions of the bodies of these animals those types of illustrations make a great deal of sense as biologists or naturalists of the time would have compared the animal in front of them to those in their living ecosystems and very few animals of the interior of Africa were known and well understood. The okapi, still elusive today, was probably not even known of at the time by the majority of illustrators and paleontologists like Heinrich Harder. A giraffe would have been only barely comparable to Sivatherium because of the proportions in question and the nearest living animal of the time in shape would have almost certainly been the moose. This, at least, has the appearance of a logical deduction as to why Sivatherium looks like a giant moose with horns in pre-1950's illustrations. I, if readers remember correctly, love anachronistic art pieces like this. Heinrich Harder is definitely one of my favorites, and this illustration is not an exception to the quality of his work.

27 March 2015

Age of Mammals

The diversity of this blog is about to really take off now. As we venture into random directions and sometimes talk about dinosaurs and sometimes not, I will probably ask people what their favorite animals are to get ideas for future directions. Today is one of those instances. That means that we will sometimes have similar taxa back to back and sometimes not. Sometimes we may not even discuss dinosaurs for an extended period (I might want to change the name of the blog I realize as I type this).

Either way, this week's fossil animal comes to us from the heart of the age of mammals. An extinction date as recent as 8,000 years ago makes this fossil artiodactyl an astonishingly young fossil taxa for a site typically discussing taxa millions of years old. There are a number of reasons that this animal is wonderful and intriguing though. First of all, rock paintings in the Sahara Desert are thought to resemble this animal, though perhaps they are simply terrible drawings of one of their living descendants. Those living descendants, okapi and giraffes, look very similar to Sivatherium giganteum Falconer and Cautley 1836. Sivatherium was an odd "giraffid" that had a known range from Northern Africa to the Indian subcontinent; the type species material was discovered in a valley at the feet of the Himalayas. This odd looking animal is nestled, in height, between giraffes and okapi at around 2.2 m (7 ft 4 in) tall at the shoulder. The head of the animal was considerably well built, far more robust than either of its living relatives, and the neck, accordingly, was extremely muscular to support the head.
Museum of Evolution of Polish Academy of Sciences By Hiuppo (Own work) [GFDL (httpwww.gnu.orgcopyleftfdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (httpcreativecommons.orglicensesby3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

26 March 2015

The Most Famous Fossils

Eurypterids, despite being a group and not a single organism, have been a fun set of discussions this week. We could easily venture into each species over a great length of time, and perhaps we can revisit some of them in the coming years. Until then though, enjoy the riches of eurypterida that has flowed out into the world thanks to their massive biomass in the fossil record and the Walking With series... probably moreso the second than the first. Regardless of where you turn, whether it is books, television, or the internet, everyone that loves eurypterids should own one of these: