Meeting Hydrarchos in Person(s)

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Most of what remains of “Hydrarchos”. All images © courtesy of the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin.

As you might have guessed from the title of this blog, I have a bit of a ‘thing’ going for Albert Koch’s Hydrarchos harlani. Last week, we were lucky enough to meet up with Hydrarchos (or part of her) in person, in the basement of the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin. Continue reading “Meeting Hydrarchos in Person(s)” »

Rhetoric vs. reality

Smith et al. vs. Feduccia in The Auk (paywall alert!):

“As scientists in the 21st century, we cannot ignore or discard data that are inconvenient or do not fit into a preconceived notion.”

Written in letters of blood.

From Diplodocus to Dust

A somewhat older ad, but considering my connection with its most prominent (and certainly largest) subject I thought it worthwile to post.

To be honest, from the insurer’s point of view, its implications seem to be somewhat disturbing…

Why a historian of science needs to remain a tiger outside of the zoo

From Hans Schouwenburg’s ‘emotional call to arms’ for a more activist history of science, on the Shells and Pebbles blog:

I think that we, PhD candidates in the history of science, should help our colleagues in the labs. For too long we have passively described science in action, without answering the climate scientist’s call for practical action. Even worse, as Latour observed, our critical apparatus of cultural deconstruction is now being used by the ‘worst possible fellows’ to deny global warming. We are scholars who try to describe the political, ideological and social aspects of science, but we are also humans who care about the future of our planet and humanity. Because of climate change, and because of ‘bad guys’ who refer to us to trivialize the problem, our very future is at stake! We can no longer observe these developments from a distance. It is about time to draw a firm line and come into action.

I can hardly express how much I believe we should remain passive. Or at least, if we choose to get active as concerned citizens, we should seriously doubt whether we can still function as historians. Continue reading “Why a historian of science needs to remain a tiger outside of the zoo” »

Phylogeny as a Leitmotiv in Fossil Exhibits

Part III of a great series on the organization of paleontology exhibtions by Ben Miller.  Recommended. Also because I largely agree with it.

Not so Jurassic a World as We Might Prefer

A big-budget film about dinosaurs will always make the headlines, particularly if it is the follow-up of Steven Spielberg’s wildly successful Jurassic Park, from 1991. Dinosaurs, at least those visible to us on cinema and TV screens, were never the same after that. But not all is well in the land of blockbuster dinosaurs. Paleontologists, science bloggers and JP fans have been riled by the filmmakers’ decision to leave the dinosaurs in the upcoming sequel – Jurassic World (2015) – without feathers.

Read more at Shells and Pebbles

The book behind Gustav Tornier

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A bit of a panic yesterday. We’re in the middle of moving house at the moment, from a rather large apartment without a garden to a large garden with a smaller house. Unfortunately, that calls for a significant culling of our book collection or, if you will, a fortunate separation of the chaff from the corn. I had brought a few boxes of books to a nearby second-hand bookseller’s when I noticed I missed one particular volume – and one of those spine-freezing sensations set in. Continue reading “The book behind Gustav Tornier” »

Le monstre de l’ère secondaire

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Why are all those people up there?

The Paris Diplodocus in 1908, which hasn’t changed much since those days. The (second-floor) gallery with the cast is deserted, but look at the multitudes on the third floor. This leads me to suspect that it must be taken shortly after the mounting of the cast had been finished, perhaps even on the eve of the unveiling (June 15, 1908) by the French President, Edmond Fallières.

(From the Lost Spendor Tumblr.)

Wildfahrt’s snorkeling Iguanodons

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… but otherwise surprisingly modern-looking.

The predominant image of dinosaurs as water-going creatures did not limit itself to sauropods; hadrosaurs were also considered to be pond dwellers for a long time. However, the idea of Iguanodon as an aquatic animal was not quite so common. This German work from the late 1940s is testimony to the fact that German paleontology had some pretty idiosyncratic ideas of its own.1)Martin Wildfahrt, Die Lebensweise der Dinosaurier (Stuttgart: Schweizerbart, 1949).

(Illustration taken from P. Bultynck, Bernissart en de Iguanodons (Brussels: Royal Belgian Institute for Natural Sciences, 1987), p. 74.)

References   [ + ]

1. Martin Wildfahrt, Die Lebensweise der Dinosaurier (Stuttgart: Schweizerbart, 1949).

About Hydrarchos

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Hydrarchos harlani, contemporary etching (ca. 1845)

This isn’t so much a blog as a place for me to reflect on the history of paleontology. Don’t expect academic, article-sized contributions here. Instead, it’s a place to comment about publications in paleontology, the history of science and things related to either that seem relevant to me.

Why Hydrarchos?

Hydrarchos harlani was a creative amalgam consisting of several skeletal parts originally belonging to the fossil whale Basilosaurus (Zeuglodon). ‘Dr.’ Albert Karl Koch, a German who had emigrated to the United States, handily played into the then current interest in sea snakes, and toured the United States, and later Europe, with his invention in the 1840s. Eventually, the first Hydrarchos was bought by the Prussian royal zoological cabinet in 1848.

We’ll get back to the details of the Hydrarchos story at length, but I chose it as the name for this site because it symbolizes the crossroads of science, popular culture, and history – and of course not because of my intention to deceive you as a reader. I hope.