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Search tags: Dinosaur-nonfiction
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review 2019-06-27 22:28
Birds of Stone / Luis Chiappe, Meng Qingjin
Birds of Stone : Chinese Avian Fossils from the Age of Dinosaurs - Luis M. Chiappe

When fossils of birds from China's Jehol region first appeared in scientific circles, the world took notice. These Mesozoic masterpieces are between 120 and 131 million years old and reveal incredible details that capture the diversity of ancient bird life. Paleontologists all over the world began to collaborate with Chinese colleagues as new and wondrous fossil-related discoveries became regular events. The pages of National Geographic and major scientific journals described the intricate views of feathers as well as food still visible in the guts of these ancient birds. Now, for the first time, a sweeping collection of the most interesting of Jehol's avian fossils is on display in this beautiful book.

Birds of Stone makes visible the unexpected avian diversity that blanketed the earth just a short time (geologically speaking) after a dinosaur lineage gave rise to the first birds. Our visual journey through these fossils is guided by Luis M. Chiappe, a world expert on early birds, and Meng Qingjin, a leading figure in China's natural history museum community. Together, they help us understand the "meaning" of each fossil by providing straightforward narratives that accompany the full-page photographs of the Jehol discoveries.


If you are interested in dinosaurs, birds, and the relationship between these two groups, this is a book you should have a look at. It was larger than I had anticipated (over 30 cm tall), but that meant that the illustrations were large enough to truly appreciate. There were many full colour photographs of museum specimens, showing off the many fossil birds or the Jehol Biota, found in the Liaoning Province of China. The book collects photos of fossils from fourteen museums, thirteen of which are located in China and not easily accessible to the average North American fossil enthusiast. Finding all of them in one volume is fabulous.

The fossils themselves are marvels of preservation. Often, feathers and fleshy structures are also present in these beautiful fossils, proving that this Cretaceous Lagerstatten in China is a priceless resource. Sometimes stomach or gizzard contents are present, providing important information about the food habits of some of these creatures as well. And of course, not only birds and bird-like dinosaurs are preserved. The second half of the book also illustrates some plants and small animals that are represented in the sediments.

The second half of the book, giving more information on the current state of research on the evolution of birds, was informative, but rather repetitive. If the pygostyle (the short fleshy tail of modern birds, the pope’s or parson’s nose) was explained once, it was explained ten times. There were other details were which similarly repeated, maybe not quite so often or annoyingly. 

Still, if is definitely worth borrowing from your local library if you are a bird and dinosaur nerd, such as myself.

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text 2019-06-16 20:34
Reading progress update: I've read 77 out of 304 pages.
Birds of Stone : Chinese Avian Fossils from the Age of Dinosaurs - Luis M. Chiappe



Absolutely lovely photography!



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review 2018-11-23 16:21
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte


Ah, the blast that ended the dinosaurs!  So much controversy!


And to think it all dates back to the days when religion dominated science.  When extinctions were explained by catastrophes ordered by God.  Need to get rid of Pleistocene animals? Invoke a flood.  Not just Noah's flood, either, the various churches decided there were plenty of catastrophes to go around.  Catastrophism its known as.


Things started to change when Charles Lyell published his Principles of Geology.  His theory was that you could observe geological processes at work in the world and make conclusions based on that.  Erosion, sedimentation, etc. are slow, gradual processes.  Lyell's book was reading material that Charles Darwin took with him on his Beagle voyage and the whole slow-and-steady change message really influenced his thought on evolution.  It's known as Uniformitarianism.


But here's the thing--the geological community got hung up on this.  It became verboten to attribute change to catastrophes.  That was considered a reversion to the past, to the Church.  Hence all the denial that a comet or asteroid impact could possibly be the reason for the Cretaceous extinction event.


At University of Calgary, we have a professor, Dr. Alan Hildebrand, who studies meteorites and impact sites.  He has been a major contributor to the study of the Chicxulub Crater on the Yucatan Peninsula, the impact that is thought to have ended the Cretaceous period. 


Just like Brusatte, I got my moment with the K/T boundary while in Cuba.  Our tour guide took us to a place where that fateful layer was exposed.  I got to put my hands on it, iridium, shocked quartz, and tektites included!  After a bit of searching, I found my photo of it.  Guys, its a seriously boring photo, but here it is:



Wish I had posed by it now, but what can you do?


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text 2018-11-22 15:15
Reading progress update: I've read 309 out of 416 pages.
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte

Okay, feathered dinosaurs, y'all.  I remember when these were being found and debated and I have been to a LOT of lectures about those early feathered finds.


And I've heard Phil Currie tell the story, so I have it from the horse's mouth.  What Brusatte says about local Chinese farmers is absolutely true--they are educated individuals who have returned to the farms in Liaoning Province and they supplement their income by prospecting for fossils.


What Brusatte neglects to mention is that the Jehol Group (the geological formation in Liaoning) is a Laggerstatten, a sedimentary formation which preserves extraordinary fossils, often including soft tissues.  These fossils can be found by splitting sedimentary layers and you will often find a fossil by splitting it, leaving part on the top layer, part on the bottom layer, part and counterpart.


A very savvy farmer found Sinosauropteryx and he sold it's part and counterpart to two separate museums.  Double the income.  Yay farmer!  However, the heads of the two museums loathed one another.  Neither would give up their portion of the significant fossil and neither would allow their portion to travel to where the other piece was.



Enter Dr. Currie, who was a neutral person and a diplomat, to visit both museums, examine both part and counterpart, confirm that they were parts of the same fossil and examine those fuzzy bits that you see coming down the spine.


Oh the huffing and the puffing of experts, many of whom had never seen the fossil, about whether that fluff was feathers or not.  Much the same as when Archaeopteryx was found and the fuss over whether its feathers were real or not (and those were obviously flight feathers, unlike the fuzz on Sinosauropteryx.)


In 1999, feathered fossils came to Alberta, specifically to Drumheller's Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology, where Dr. Currie was the head of  Dinosaur fossils at the time.  I made a pilgrimage and I hauled out my exhibition catalogue the other night to reminisce a bit:



(Sorry, nothing that I've tried can make this image display in the right direction.)  I believe that the cover depicts Caudipteryx, not mentioned by Brusatte, but a fossil from Liaoning which featured obvious feathers, including those wonderful tail feathers.



I'm thrilled that it seems that the vast majority of paleontologists now agree that dinosaurs (at least the theropods) had feathers and that birds are indeed dinosaurs.  This combines two of my own obsessions:  Dinosaurs and bird watching.



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text 2018-11-20 15:56
Reading progress update: I've read 269 out of 416 pages.
The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs: A New History of a Lost World - Stephen Brusatte


On page 242, the author briefly mentions a Centrosaurus bone-bed in Alberta.  I've been there multiple times and it is a great place to visit.


It is in Dinosaur Provincial Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located close to the town of Brooks, Alberta.  It's a popular camping site, although because of the paleontological value of the landscape, campers are somewhat restricted in where they can go.


The site also holds the cabin of John Ware, the best known Black cowboy & rancher in Alberta's history. 



It's also a fabulous birding location.  The look-out at the park entrance is one of the best places that I know locally to see Lark Sparrow.



There is a field station of the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology and there used to be guided tours of some of the dig sites.  The last one I went on was over 20 years ago, so I'm not sure if they still run those, but I wouldn't be surprised if they do.  The tours were ultra-popular.


There is an exposed portion of the bone-bed along a public hiking/driving path--the bones are coated in preservative and have a shelter over them to protect them from the worst of the Albertan weather.


All in all, it is a wonderful location to visit.  I haven't been out there for a year or two and this is making me want to go back.  I must plan a trip for next spring.





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