Sunday, November 29, 2009

When Crocs Ate Dinosaurs


National Geographic announced the discovery of five ancient crocs, including one with teeth like boar tusks and another with a snout like a duck’s bill.

This discovery was made by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Paul Sereno and recently featured on the National Geographic Channel as part of the "Expedition Week" series - click here for more info.

Even though the episode aired already, we just could not pass the opportunity to share with you exclusive pictures of these incredible croc monsters walking on the face of the Earth several hundred millions years ago and eating... dinosaurs for breakfast:

(Boar Croc roaring. It went after larger prey and its head was outfitted with even more impressive weaponry. It had over-sized triple set of canines and a massively armored nose that it could have used for butting prey. So it was battering as well as shredding dinosaurs that crossed its path.)

Back when crocodiles were the ruling T. Rexes of the waters.

They galloped on land, ambushed prey at the river’s edge … even terrorized dinosaurs. And more, these swift predators evolved through the ages into the modern crocs we know today:

(A saltwater crocodile jumps out of the water for bait. The largest living crocodilians on earth are saltwater crocodiles, which can grow up to 20 feet long and weigh over 200 pounds.)

Now, armed with newly discovered prehistoric crocodile bones, Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Paul Sereno is determined to bring the ancient creatures to life — and tell their fantastic untold story. Learn about a croc that pursued prey across land, a supercroc that locked its jaws around dinos, with a startlingly canine face. Blending art, forensics and biology, a team reanimates a lost world of strange Cretaceous crocs that paleontology forgot.

Even relatively small "duck" crocodiles were the "stuff of nightmares":

(A model of prehistoric "duck" crocodile - all images are courtesy and copyright by National Geographic)

And yet somehow... cute, in a perverse way:

Duck Croc had an exaggerated forebrain; its flat-billed, pinnochio-nosed head and long, sleek leg bones more suited to something upright and fleet of foot:

Monsters on the prowl (pursuing their prey across land):

Dog Croc had a very large forebrain: the thinking, sensing part of the brain. Its brain indicates that it not only looked like a dog, it probably lived like one as well:

Pancake Croc mouth open. At 20 feet long, as big as the largest crocs alive today Pancake Croc looked dangerous. It had a 3-foot long set of jaws that were actually thin, fragile and underpowered. Its jaws were only designed to open and shut and not to tussle with big prey:

Rat Croc digging for food in a rotting log. It was a little buck-toothed, snub-nose creature, that was maybe two feet long:

Strange fossils give us evidence that ancient crocodilian behemoths lived beside the dinosaurs...and ate them as snacks!

Here is a CGI rendition of a duel between a Super Croc and a Suchomimus. The Sarcosuchus imperator, or flesh crocodile emperor was so enormous that Explorer in Residence Paul Sereno nicknamed the beast Super Croc. Scientists speculate that this reptilian terror possessed enough force and bulk to take down large dinosaurs:

(A boar croc bites Nigersaurus - all images are courtesy and copyright by National Geographic)

This is truly spectacular video: an unforgettable encounter between a dinosaur and a monstrous crocodile springing from the depths...


For more info and visual material click the episode's site here.


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Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Art of Science, the Science of Art

Link - article by M. Christian and A. Abrams

Mixing the staggering beauty of pure art with a precision and dedication of great science.

It reads contradictory and conflicted: the art of science/science of art – the mixture of the logical and methodical with the imaginative and emotional.

But science and art – or, if you’d prefer, art and science – have held hands, if not as close friends, for a very long time. Greek and Roman artists followed often strict guidelines considering the correct mathematical proportions of the figures in their frescoes and sculptures, Japanese woodblocks were as much about mechanical precision as they were about the subject being printed, the Renaissance was all about using science to bring a literal new dimension to painting, and then you have the work of Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka.

Everything you see below is made from glass...

(images credit: William Warmus, Wales Museum)

No, you haven’t heard of Leopold or Rudolf Blaschka – but you certainly should have. Unlike the Greeks and the Romans, the Japanese Ukiyo-e artists, Michangelo and Leonardo, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka aren’t well-known outside of either esoteric or scientific circles.

Which is what makes them so remarkable: they mixed the staggering beauty of pure art with a precision and dedication worthy of great scientists.

Recreating Nature in Glass - Looking Through a Glass, Darkly

Leopold and Rudolf were glass artisans – possibly some of the greatest, ever. They weren’t concerned with platters and goblets, lampshades and windows. Nope, Leopold and Rudolf created nature.

(images credit: Hillel Burger, Harvard Museum of Natural History, see more here)

Simplified, here’s the story: Harvard Professor George Lincoln Goodale wanted examples to help teach botany, but the problem was plants have a tendency to … well, die. Sure, you could preserve some specimens but lots of species just don’t look the same after being dried – the plant version of stuffed and mounted. Yes, you could try using paintings or even photography but plants are – and here’s a surprise -- three dimensional. So what Professor Goodale did was ask the Blaschkas to create detailed glass plants to help him teach his students about real ones.

(images via Curious Expeditions)

What the Blaschkas did, was more than just recreate plants: they created astounding works of not only scientific accuracy but pure, brilliant, art. Even the simplest of their efforts is deceptively unencumbered… a sign of their genius as their reproductions don't resemble the botanical model – they look EXACTLY like them, created by hand, in fickle and fragile glass, and all in the period 1887 to 1936.

(images credit: Hillel Burger, Harvard Museum of Natural History, see more here)

What’s even more impressive is how many they created - more than 3,000 models of some 850 species – many of which can be seen on display at Harvard while many others are being painstakingly restored. But the Blaschkas didn’t stop at mere plants. Plants are relatively simple subjects and there are much deeper challenges out there - creatures so rare and fragile that very few men have ever seen them in their delicate flesh (even more frail than the glass the Blaschkas used to recreate them).

When the reproductions below were conjured in the late 19th century only a few marine explorers and a few lucky seaman had seen any of them. Octopi, urchins, sea cucumbers, anemones, jellyfish, cuttlefish – they were too rare, too fragile, to be seen outside of their briny homes. That is until the Blaschkas.

(see the catalog of all Blaschkas' work here, and the exhibition here, images via 1, 2)

I wish there was some way to request a moment of silence. I wish there was some way to ask you to stop reading this and look at the pictures here and at other places of the web. I wish there was some way for you to have a nice glass of wine, put on some nice music – maybe Bach, who also mixed science and art – and just admire the care, the craft, and the pure art the Blaschkas created.

Other Astonishing Amalgams of Science and Art

The Blaschka brothers left an inspirational legacy. Josiah McElheny – a recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant – is a kindred spirit to the Blaschkas, another mind-blowing artist who works in the whimsical and temperamental medium of glass … and the disciplined domain of science.

McElheny’s works -- like that of the Blaschka brothers -- take inspiration from the universe around us, and there is no better example than the key moment seen below. In many ways this is a perfect place to stop: the Blaschka brothers created perfect artistic reproductions of nature to teach science, and McElheny created a sculptural interpretation of the ultimate act of creation, as discovered by science: the Big Bang.

(images credit: Josiah McElheny, via)

Dale Chihuly also makes incredible glass sculptures, but these are more surreal than scientifically correct:

(images credit: Dale Chihuly)

Physics Fusion With Art?

When physics get too complicated (or obscure) the whole exercise may start to resemble abstract art patterns:

(original unknown)

Fabric Brain Art: This is Your Brain on Wool

Neuroscience and art mix beautifully at "The Museum of Scientifically Accurate Fabric Brain Art" - click here. Some examples are somewhat unnerving, and others are plainly tongue-in-cheek:

(image credit: Margot, via)

Fabric MRI - slices, slices everywhere:

(fragment, see the whole image here)

Street art can be educational too: here is a lesson in anatomy and graffiti skill, seen somewhere in Russia:

The Dark Side of the Moon is Buried in the Wall - and Mystery... for Another 70 Years

Perhaps one the most striking examples of astronomy science visualisation is this humongous model of the Moon from 1908, almost a surreal doorway to another world, a snapshot of bizarre art/science history:

(image via)


Also Read: Apocalyptic Scientific Experiments!

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Friday, November 20, 2009

The Extraordinary World of Ex Libris Art

Link - article by Simon Rose and Avi Abrams

Sometimes ex libris is more valuable than the book containing it

Ex libris, meaning ‘from the library of’, or ‘from the books of’ is a Latin expression concerning the artform of bookplates - stamps or labels inside books that identify the owner. Ex libris bookplates range from the simple to the decorative and elaborate, the obscure or even bizarre and surreal.

Noble families often used a personal coat of arms or crest, frequently featuring a family motto in their native language or Latin. Naturally, the styling of bookplates changed over time, but most reflected the decorative styles of the day.

 A vast array of illustrations feature on bookplates - dragons, angels, trophies, animals, birds, children, musical instruments, weapons, floral displays, trees, plants, landscapes and much more.

(images credit: Pratt Libraries, via)

The modern study and collection of bookplates began around 1860. They are very often of high interest, exceeding that of the book in which they are placed. They are valued for their historical interest as examples of art from a particular time period, but also if they belonged to famous people.

(images via 1, 2)

The idea of mass ownership of books (and hence the need for bookplates denoting ownership) appeared shortly after the first printed books in the fifteenth century. The earliest known examples are from Germany, where they were made in large numbers before the concept spread internationally. Consequently, these examples are often of the deepest aesthetic interest for collectors and art historians. The oldest recorded bookplate dates from around 1450.

(This angelic design from Germany, known as the ‘Gift-plate of Hildebrand Brandenburg of Biberach to the Monastery of Buxheim’, dates from around 1480 - via)

In France the oldest ex libris yet discovered is that of one Jean Bertaud de la Tour-Blanche from 1529, while the oldest example from England belonged to Sir Nicholas Bacon, a politician during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and Francis Bacon's father. It served as a gift plate for books he presented to the University of Cambridge before his death in 1579.

The earliest plates from Holland and Italy are dated to 1597 and 1622 respectively. Examples were common in many parts of Europe in the seventeenth century, and the earliest known American example is the plain printed label of John Williams from 1679.

Bookplates appeared in other parts of the world as well. Below is an example attributed to Shah Jahan of the Mughal dynasty era in India in 1645:

(fragments, see the whole art here)

The image below left was also clearly inspired by the culture and prevailing iconography of the Indian subcontinent, while the ex-libris below right shows a great executioner design which served as a warning to respect the book’s ownership or face drastic consequences:

Heraldic designs were commonly used for decoration, as shown in this plate from England:

(image via)

The plate below left was produced in America in 1905; it has some heraldic elements, but also incorporates a house in an elegant frame. The example in the right is none other than George Bancroft’s bookplate complete with a signature, taking inspiration from Ancient Greece. “Eis phaos” translates as “Towards the light.”

Samuel Hollyer made his own bookplate in 1896 (below left), but mentions Hogarth and is in the style of the eighteenth century. On the right is the great design for Jane Patterson, from 1890:

(images via)

Artist Amy Sacker designed many bookplates for her clients in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries:

(images via)

The specimen below right dates from 1953, and features a monk at the foot of a tree which bears books as well as leaves on the branches. Right image is a wonderful depiction of a skeleton playing the cello, from 1909:

(images via 1, 2)

These excellent examples of bookplates all date from the first half of the twentieth century:

(images credit: Pratt Libraries, via)

Historical personalities and celebrities, politicians, movie stars, athletes and even some of the more infamous figures of history have all used bookplates as well.

Former French president Charles de Gaulle’s bookplate proudly displays the Cross of Lorraine, a symbol of the Free French Forces during World War Two (below left). Edward Heath, former British Prime Minister, used a bookplate that reflected his passion for sailing (middle), and Ramsay MacDonald, Britain’s first Labour Prime Minister in the inter war period (right):

This one on the left, dating from around 1907, belonged to the last Czar of Russia, the unfortunate Nicholas II. Upper right shows Queen Victoria’s bookplate looking suitably regal with a coat of arms while lower right shows the bookplate of the Swedish and Norwegian King Oscar II -

George Washington’s bookplate incorporates his familial coat of arms, and was engraved in London to his specifications in 1792 (below left). Paul Revere, hero of the American Revolution, was also a renowned engraver and a designer of silverware, and had his own unique artwork for use with his book collection (below right):

(images via 1, 2)

Charles Dickens, well-known of course as a writer of books, had his own bookplates for the volumes in his personal collection (left image). Jack London’s bookplate looks ideal for placing inside his own novels, such as Call of the Wild or White Fang (on the right):

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, had a suitably grand design pasted into his book collection:

(Ex-libris on the right is dated 1909, via)

The bookplate belonging to Sigmund Freud contains a nude figure (below left). Jack Dempsey, world champion heavyweight boxer in the 1920s, enter the fray on the right:

Benito Mussolini, the infamous Italian dictator, needs no introduction and these are two of the bookplates that he commissioned in the mid '30s:

(images via)

Greta Garbo famously declared that she just wanted to be alone... probably with plenty of books for company, all displaying her own distinctive label (left image). Douglas Fairbanks Jr, was born in New York, but had a very aristocratic British style to his bookplate (right image):

The bookplate of Harpo Marx features a caricature of himself (top left). Charles Chaplin used this bookplate in his personal library (middle). Other Hollywood celebrities who had their own bookplates include Cecil B. de Mille, and Bing Crosby:

Wonderful sets of ex libris art can be found here and here.

Some vintage ex libris art had an amazing amount of detail, comparable with paintings and engravings of the period:

(Bookplate circa 1814, 1907, designed for Franz James Mankiewicz - image via)


Simon Rose is the author of science fiction and fantasy novels for children, including The Alchemist's Portrait, The Sorcerer's Letterbox, The Clone Conspiracy, The Emerald Curse, The Heretic's Tomb and The Doomsday Mask.

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