Looks like the Pember Museum in Granville, New York has a lovely new exhibit on the passenger pigeon. The museum, located near the Vermont border, has two mounted passenger pigeons and a clutch of eggs (a third specimen is on loan to the Adirondack Museum).
University of Florida scientists have name a newly discovered extinct crocodile Anthracosuchus balrogus, after the Tolkien’s Balrog, defeated by Gandalf in the Mines of Moria.
Name one new species after a character from the Lord of the Rings? Big deal. For Leigh Van Valen, evolutionary biologist, longtime University of Chicago professor, and intellectual eccentric, Tolkien was the inspiration for over two dozen species named after people, places, and things in Middle Earth.
In 1978, long before the Peter Jackson movies, Van Valen described 26 newly recognized early mammal species based on fossils (almost exclusively teeth) from Montana and Wyoming belonging to a group known as condylarths, considered the ancestors of ungulates, the hoofed mammals. They date from the Paleocene epoch (as does A. balrogus), the time just after the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Van Valen put some serious thought into these names. For example, the name Thangorodrim thalion was derived from “Thangorodrim, the mountainous triple fortress of Morgoth in The Silmarillion. Reference is to Purgatory Hill.” [the site where the fossil was collected]. Species name “Sindarin (Elvish) thalion, strong. Reference is to the massive morphology and the generic name.”
Here are all of them. Can you identify the references? The first one is easy, but they get harder. Better have your Elvish dictionary on hand. Coming soon will be the answers, as provided by Van Valen himself in the original article [Edit: Find the answers here]:
L. M. Van Valen. 1978. The beginning of the Age of Mammals. Evolutionary Theory 4:45-80
Thangorodrim thalion (synonym of Oxyclaenus Cope 1884)
Arctocyonides [Claenodon] mumak
Platymastus [Aletodon] mellon
Bomburia (New genus, later reassigned)
Protoselene bombadili [reassigned to Bubogonia bombadili Williamson 1996]
Litomylus (?) alphamon
Fimbrethil ambaronae (Oxyacodon agapetillus (Cope 1884))
Mithrandir (New subgenus of Anisonchus)
Ancalagon (New genus later renamed Ankalagon Van Valen, 1980 because the original genus name was preoccupied a Cambrian priapulid, Ancalagon Conway Morris, 1977. No, Van Valen was not the first scientist to have read the Lord of the Rings.)
Niphredil radagasti (an insectivoran now in the genus Paleotomus)
Incidentally, Tolkien wasn’t the only fantasy author he read. Van Valen is most famous for the Red Queen hypothesis, which helps explain why evolution occurs. Its name comes from the character in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.
For more on Leigh Van Valen, read his obituary in the New York Times.
Still want to read about giant extinct crocodiles? See the Anthracosuchus article here:
CNEHA, the Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology, has recently made most articles in their journal, Northeast Historical Archaeology, freely available. The most recent articles (2010 and newer) are still restricted to members, but that leaves almost forty years of articles available for download.
From the first issue, you can read Dick Pin Hsu’s “The Joys of Urban Archaeology” on the excavation of the Revolutionary War period Fort Stanwix in New York. There’s also Rebecca Yamin’s early article on Raritan Landing in New Jersey and a personal favorite, a guide to agricultural drainage systems by Sherene Baugher, from which the following figure is taken.
A few new links to archaeological blogs have been added to the Wandering the Archaic page, with more to come.
A new PLOS One article documents the carcasses of a whale shark and three rays found at a depths over 1,200 meter, providing a rare opportunity to learn about deep water taphonomic processes and the biotic communities that live off of these food falls.
No collections or measurements could be made, but they have photos and videos.
Higgs ND, Gates AR, Jones DOB (2014) Fish Food in the Deep Sea: Revisiting the Role of Large Food-Falls. PLoS ONE 9(5): e96016. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0096016
See a summary of the article at Live Science.
Here’s a photo showing part of the interior of the house in the Lamoka diorama at the New York State Museum. The lodge itself is based on Ritchie’s interpretation of the numerous post molds and features he described as floors at the site, as detailed in his book The Archaeology of New York State. The contents of the interior of the lodge are more speculative. Some items are based on actual artifacts found at the site, like the antlers seen hanging from one of the wooden supports. Others are undoubtedly inferred from more recent Native Americans, ethnographic hunter-gatherers, and other archaeological evidence. The textiles in particular are beautifully done.
Especially interesting is the bow seen hanging on the left side of the photo. Most archaeologists would probably doubt that bows and arrows were used during the Late Archaic in New York. Instead, atlatls (spear throwers) are considered the primary projectile weapon of the time (although bannerstones/atlatl weights are rare to nonexistent at Lamoka). The issue is unresolved however, and several archaeologists have argued for the presence of bows and arrows by this time period (see, for example, Evidence for Bow and Arrow Use in the Small Point Late Archaic of Southwestern Ontario
by Kristen Snarey and Christopher Ellis).
Always love seeing the life-size diorama of the Lamoka Lake site, representing the Archaic Period, at the New York State Museum in Albany. Based, of course, on Ritchie’s excavations at the site, the man in the center is wearing one of the enigmatic antler pendants from the site as, yes, a pendant. He also has a bone-handled knife at his waist, is carrying a fishing net with netsinkers, and wears a shell bead necklace (Ritchie actually thought the shell beads found at the site were associated with the later Woodland occupation). In the background, you can see a fish weir across the narrow channel between the two lakes (there is no direct evidence for weirs at the site) and fish drying racks (some post molds from the site were interpreted this way).
The always fascinating Mark Raymond Harrington, archaeologist, anthropologist, and #jazzageadventurer modeling his exploring outfit for Museum Service, the bulletin of the Rochester Municipal Museum.
Mr. Harrington, soon after his academic work at Ann Arbor and Columbia began to explore the out-of-the-way places of America and has been remarkably successful.
Ed Curtin has posted a brief summary of some of the papers presented at the recent NYSAA meeting on his Fieldnotes blog.
The journal Assemblage has just published the Proceedings of the Postgraduate Zooarchaeology Forum held at the University of Sheffield in 2012. All eight papers can be freely downloaded at the Assemblage website.
All but one of the papers deal with Old World assemblages. The exception is Sofia Tecce’s analysis of animal bones from Estancia Pueyrredón 2 in Argentina. This hunter-gatherer site dates to between 4,900-3,500 BP (yes, roughly the same time period as the Lamoka Lake site). The faunal assemblage is dominated by guanaco (although there are also a lot of unidentified rodents) and Tecce present a pretty comprehensive taphonomic analysis of the guanaco bones.
Publication of these papers is notable for another reason. As the editors, Lizzie Wright and Angela Trentacoste point out, the organizers
…had no funding for this conference, but charged our participants just £10, in the knowledge that many postgraduates are limited by financial constraints. The Sheffield Zooarchaeology team hosted (sometimes multiple) participants in their homes. It is worth mentioning the real lack of opportunities for funding an event such as this – postgraduate conference funding was cut by the Arts and Humanties Research Council in recent years, and The University of Sheffield had no appropriate money that we could apply for. This is a real problem when postgraduates often have little funding themselves.