Tag Archives: Dinosaurs

Fossils from the Mountains of Madness (Part 2)

Greg Onychuk The Fowler Imprint_www.propnomicon.blogspot.com                                  The Fowler Imprint (Greg Onychuk; http://www.propnomicon.blogspot.com)

Of all of the fossils collected during the Miskatonic expedition to Antarctica, the most intriguing specimens were those of the footprints of the Elder Things.  As previously mentioned, a variety of fossils including ferns, seaweeds, trilobites, and a number of living marine invertebrates were discovered near Queen Alexandra Range.  However, also discovered in the sandstones were strange triangular striated marking, about a foot in diameter at their widest point. While Lake, the lead biologist on the expedition found these triangular fossils interesting and curious, Dyer who was the expedition’s lead geologist saw them as nothing more than ripple effects, which are common in sedimentary rock.  Such ripple marks form perpendicular to the direction of the wind or water (current or waves).  In this case, the fossilized ripple marks (see below) are indicative of agitation by water and were symmetrical, so they were probably formed by gentle waves or fast flow water.  In any event, based on the description of the triangular fossils, it is difficult to see how they could be mistaken for ripple marks. However, this was probably just an attempt by Dyer to explain the strange markings.

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After flying over the South Pole and conducting some additional aerial surveying, Lake insisted that the new base be established in a westward direction, instead of the planned northwestward direction. This change in direction was sparked by Lake’s obsession with the strange “triangular striated marking in the slate.” Lake was convinced that these marking were not ripple marks but instead of some large, unknown organism, in spite of it being dated to be Cambrian, if not Precambrian.

In Lovecraft’s time, the Precambrian (recognized as the period of time from the formation of the Earth about 4.6 billion years ago to the beginning of the Cambrian about 541 million years ago) was generally thought to be dominated by unicellular life.  It was not until 1950’s when radiometric carbon dating was developed, that it was confirmed that multicellular life existed in the Precambrian. Indeed, the earliest multicellular forms of life are found in rock as old as 1.2 to 1.5 billion years ago. These ancient multicellular forms were a form of filamentous red algae named Bangiomorpha pubescens and were discovered in the 1990s (M.J. Benton; The History of Life: A Very Short Introduction; 2008).

funsia                                                                    Fossilized imprint of the red alga Bangiomorpha, one of the first multicellular organisms

The first recognized ecosystem dominated by multicellular species was during the Ediacara Period (between 635 and 542 million year ago). To be fair, when Lovecraft first suggested that the fossil footprints were of the Elder Things and dated somewhere between the Cambrian / Precambrian, very little was known about multicellular life in the Precambrian. The strange organisms of the Ediacara were discovered in the Ediacara Hills, north of Adelaide, Australia in 1946 by a young mining geologist named Reginald Sprigg (The History of Life: A Very Short Introduction by Michael J. Benton; 2008).  Many of these Ediacaran fossils looked like jellyfish, branching fronds and worms.  Some say the Ediacara species are the direct ancestors of many of existing marine fauna, while other state these species were so unlike most living forms that the majority of the Ediacaran died out approximately 540 million years ago (Benton, 2008).

Precambrian_p7angelinai-gts.weebly.com        The Ediacaran ecosystem in the Precambrian

Additional support for the hypothesis that the Ediacaran species represent some of the earliest known multicellular, animals on Earth was very recently presented.  Specifically, fossil fat molecules (cholesterol) were collected and measured off of a fossil of a species known and Dickinsonia.  These species lived 558 million years ago placing it firmly in the Precambrian.  So why did most, if not all, of the Ediacaran species, die out? Maybe the Ediacarans were an experiment of the Elder Things and for some reason decided to abandon and/or start over with a new “stock” of eukaryotic cells.

1024px-DickinsoniaCostata Fossil of Dickinsonia

Getting back to the fossilized Elder Thing footprints, initially one may ask why they would not be mistaken for another Ediacaran species.  The shape and appearance of the footprints may indicate that they were another flat, soft-bodied, bottom feeder, similar to Dickinsonia.  So why did Lake suspect that these fossils were footprints of some large animal and not a group of bottom-feeding species? It must have been the pattern of the fossils.  One or two fossil imprints would look like a few organisms.  However, a number of the same fossil imprint laid out in a linear arrangement, such as the dinosaur tracks shown below, is definitely an indication of the movement of some larger animal.

La-Rioja-dinosaur-footprints-protected-under-Cultural-Heritage-Law Dinosaur footprints at the La Rioja Cultural Heritage site

It was generally thought that animals did not start colonizing the land until the Silurian, between 440 and 410 million years ago.  However, in 2002 older fossilized footprints of a lobster-sized, centipede-like animal were discovered in some sandstone (see below).  These footprints are approximately 530 million years old (https://www.nature.com/news/1998/020429/full/news020429-2.html).  Thus, it appears that some animals were wading out of the shallow seas and onto the land during the Precambrian.  Thus, these creatures were around the same time the Elder Things were moving over the Earth.  Were the lobster-sized, centipede-like animals special pet projects of the Elder Things or were they just another discarded and abandoned biological experiment, cast out to be subjugated to the forces of evolutionary natural selection?

footprints_160                                                                                                                         Some of the earliest fossil footprints of a terrestrial organism on Earth

Next time we discuss the actual discovery of the “fossilized” Elder Thing specimens.  Thank you – Fred.

img_31131.jpg           Illustration of Elder Thing footprints by Pete Von Sholly

Lovecraft’s Use of Dinosaurs

With the opening of Jurassic Park: Forbidden Kingdom a few weeks ago I thought I would review Lovecraft’s thoughts on dinosaurs and his use of these ancient organisms in his tales.  In S.T. Joshi’s biography of H.P. Lovecraft, I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft (2013), Joshi did note that in his diary Lovecraft mentioned that on 6 October 1925 he went to see the film The Lost World, which is based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel of the same name. The film features some stunning stop motion special effects that were amazing for its time and actually hold up even today. These special effects were achieved through the efforts of Willis O’Brien who also worked on King Kong (1933) and Might Joe Young (1949). O’ Brien was also the mentor to special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen. It would have been interesting to hear Lovecraft’s opinion of the film The Lost World. However, Lovecraft did mention seeing King Kong and only stated that it had “good mechanical effects” (Joshi, 2013).

kingkong King Kong vs. a T. rex in the original 1933 film.

Additionally, Lovecraft recorded in his Common Place Book in 1919 the statement, “As dinosaurs were once surpassed by mammals, so will man-mammal be surpassed by insect or bird – fall of man before new race.” (Collected Essays: Volume 5: Philosophy, Autobiography and Miscellany – H.P. Lovecraft, edited by S.T. Joshi; 2006). In the revision of Zealia Bishop’s tale “The Mound,” Lovecraft cites that an “altered” George E. Lawton emerged from the mound and was muttering a variety of things including, “…always down there, before there were any living things – older than the dinosaurs…” In both instances Lovecraft is using the dinosaurs as some type of indicator organisms to exemplify the extremely large spans of geologic time associated with rise and fall of species or civilizations.

yith2.jpg A member of the Great Race with a Velociraptor.

Our species (modern humans), Homo sapiens, is said to be at least 200,000 years old, although some studies that came out in 2017 indicate that, based on fossils recovered in Ethiopia, that modern humans may be as old as 350,000 years old. Our genus, Homo, is estimated to be a little over two million years old. In sharp contrast, dinosaurs are said to have been around from 250 to 65 million years ago (Dinosaurs: A Very Short Introduction by David Norman, 2005); essentially the Mesozoic Era. Thus, while our genus has been around for a little more than 2 million years, dinosaurs as a group were around for approximately 177 million years ago. While we consider ourselves to be the dominant organism on Earth as this time, from a geologic perspective, dinosaurs were far more successful. No wonder that Lovecraft used the dinosaurs as a sort of “geologic time stamp.”

Lovecraft used dinosaurs as a means of conveying cosmic horror not associated with outer space but with geologic time; in other words, our time being in existence is but a fleeting second in the grand scheme of the history of Earth and the universe. Carl Sagan put this within a context that we could understand – a calendar year. If the history of the Universe was scaled into a calendar year, where the Big Bang occurred on the first second of midnight on the 1st of January and the end of the year was the present, our cosmic insignificance from a temporal perspective is demonstrated. For example, in the history of the Universe all of human history would be limited to within the last minute of the last day of the year, the 31st of December. Again, within the temporal scale of the Cosmos humans are literally just a minor blip.

1280px-Cosmic_Calendar A graphical view of Carl Sagan’s Cosmic Calendar

To get back to the dinosaurs, Lovecraft continues to use these organism as geologic indicators several times in At the Mountains of Madness, where the Elder Things cities were said to have existed at the time of the dinosaurs, during the Mesozoic Era. Additionally, compared to the Elder Things the dinosaurs were described as “…almost brainless objects…”. Indeed, in Lovecraft’s time dinosaurs were considered large but stupid ancient reptiles. While investigating what was known about dinosaurs in Lovecraft’s time, it was revealed that unlike most fields of science and technology (e.g. integrating genetics with evolution; the theory of relativity; quantum mechanics, etc.) in the early 20th century, paleontology was a fairly stagnant field. Bones and fossils were still being discovered but very little was being done to further this type of science (Norman, 2005). It would not be until the later part of the 20th century (the 1960’s and 1970’s), when paleontology would reveal that instead of being mindless brutes, dinosaurs were highly intelligent, many being social creatures who in a sense are still with us today as birds.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Out of Time,” while being in the body of a member of the Great Race in the distant past, Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee remembers recognizing “…dinosaurs, pterodactyls, ichthyosaurs, labyrinthodonts, plesiosaurs…”. The one group I was not familiar with on this list was the labyrinthodonts, which is an extinct subclass of amphibians that evolved from lobe-finned fishes in the Devonian and is a key ancestor to all extant land-living vertebrates. Again, the reference to dinosaurs and other animals helps to put Lovecraft’s story into the proper perspective relative to geologic time.

8SDM-Labyrinthodont A labyrinthodont (http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~imw/Sidmouth-Devon.htm)

To summarize, while dinosaurs were never the primary focus of any of Lovecraft’s stories, he would occasionally use them as indicator organisms of immense spans of geologic time; unlike labyrinthodonts, dinosaurs are recognized by most people. However, what a dinosaur was thought to be in the Lovecraft’s day, in the early 20th century, is very different than what we know about these extinct organisms today. I’m sure Lovecraft would be absolutely amazed what we know about dinosaurs today. It makes you wonder what humans will know and understand about dinosaurs in 50 to 100 years from now. Will there truly be a Jurassic Park someday?

B00003CXXS_JurassicParkIII_UXNB1__V142727186_RI_SX940_.jpg A scene from Jurassic Park III

Next time I will go back to reviewing some of Stephen Hawking’s ideas on multiple universes. Thank you – Fred.

Ghroth, the Harbinger

Ghroth.png

The Outer God Ghroth

Before we wrap up our discussion on the Insects of Shaggai, I wanted spent a little more time on the “Outer god” known as Ghroth the Harbinger. As previously noted the destruction of the planet Shaggai was hypothesized to be the “crimson radiation” generated by this Outer god. While Ghroth is described it is not explicitly named as the mechanism of Shaggai’s destruction; however, it is specifically named and described in “The Tugging,” another account of this Outer god documented by Mr. Ramsey Campbell. In this tale Ghroth was identified by amateur astronomers in the 1960’s to be wandering dangerously close to Earth.  The name “Ghroth” originates from some text found in Revelations of Glaaki. Here Ghroth is described as a “the Harbinger and Maker.”

Similar to ancient thought on the appearance of comets, Ghroth is identified as being a harbinger of doom, specifically the destruction of the endemic life on a planet. Is Ghroth a comet in an extremely large elliptical orbit that occasionally wanders close to Earth? Since descriptions of Ghroth do not include a glow that is easily seen by the naked eye or the presence of a tail (which is a concentrated stream of dust and gas being release from the weak atmosphere, the coma, that surrounds the comet itself), it is highly unlikely that Ghroth is a comet.

ghroth

Ghroth

Over the last few years and publicly reported in early 2016, evidence has been accumulating on the presence of a planet beyond the orbit of Yuggoth (Pluto). If Ghroth is not an undocumented comet, an alternative hypothesis is that this planetary body is this unknown world. Based on preliminary findings, this ninth planet would be at least 10 times larger in mass relative to the Earth with an orbit around the Sun being between 10,000 and 20,000 years. Such a massive celestial body passing close enough to Earth could have devastating impacts on our planet’s ecosystems. In fact it has been hypothesized that Ghroth occasionally passing near Earth is responsible for at least some of the five documented large mass extinctions, which include the Ordovician, Devonian, Permian, Triassic and Cretaceous-Tertiary. The last mass extinction, the Cretaceous-Tertiary, occurred approximately 65 million years ago and is suspected of killing off the dinosaurs.

Dinosaur extinction
Was the destruction of the dinosaurs caused by Ghroth passing too close to Earth? (www.nationalgeographic.com)

The idea that Earth has experienced periodic mass extinctions has been suggested and discussed in the field of geology for decades and debate over this was particularly high from 1800 to 1860. Specifically, the debate centered on uniformitarianism (slow and steady evolution) versus catastrophism (sudden geologic stops and start of evolution due to some global catastrophe). Eventually, as a result of more detailed geologic investigations and no evidence for Noah’s flood, by the early 20th century the idea of mass extinctions was thought of as crackpot science (A New History of Life by Peter Ward and Joe Kirschvink, 2015).

By the 1980’s the concept of catastrophism influencing the evolution of life on Earth was re-assessed by Luis Alvarez and his team.  Specifically, Alvarez hypothesized that a large body of extraterrestrial origin hit the Earth resulting in global fires and an extended global blackout due to dust and soot in the atmosphere, destroying most plant life. This also resulted in a global cooling and all of these conditions resulted in the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs. In turn, this allowed the surviving mammals to become the dominant megafauna on the planet.

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“Nemesis Looms Large” by The Apostle Green, looking very similar to Ghroth (www.deivantart.com)

Evidence for the Alvarez hypothesis includes a global layer of fine particles of soot at the Cretaceous-Tertiary layer (called the K-T boundary) as well as the discovery of a large impact crater in the Yucatan region of Mexico (the Chicxulub crater) of precisely the right geologic age (Ward and Kirschvink, 2015). The identified soot comes only from the burning of vegetation associated with forest and brush fires. However, the keystone data that supports the Alvarez hypothesis is the elevated layer of iridium found in the K-T boundary as well as the abundance of associated “shocked quartz.”

Iridium is a brittle, silvery-white transition metal of the platinum group on the periodic chart of elements and is one of the nine least abundant stable elements in Earth’s crust. While pure iridium is rare on Earth, concentrations of this element tend to be much higher in most asteroids, meteors and comets.  Thus, the high concentration of iridium in the K-T boundary, found all over the world, provides supporting evidence that an extraterrestrial body slammed into Earth approximately 65 million years ago.

Tclay

The K-T Boundary (www.formontana.net)

As previously described, Ghroth passing by Shaggai destroyed that world by emitting a “crimson radiation.” As the Insects on Shaggai died this crimson radiation changed in color from red to orange to yellow and then into a bright white light. Is it possible that this observed color change on in the atmosphere of Shaggai was due to large-scale chemical reaction associated with iridium? When metallic iridium reacts with various halogens under high temperatures the resulting compounds can be yellow, red, red-brown or dark brown in color. Additionally, light shown through iridium complexes result in high intensities of emittance of the colors orange and then yellow, with red having one of the lowest levels of emittance. The data shown below is at room temperature so the shift in the color spectrum may be somewhat different under intense levels of heat and/or pressure. However, it is interesting to note that the increasing levels of emittance – from red to yellow to orange – is the same progression as described by the Insects of Shaggai when they documented the destruction of their world by Ghorth.

irdium_www.nature.com

Light emittance from an iridium complex (www.nature.com)

In conclusion, the unknown ninth planet beyond the edge of our solar system may be Ghroth and may be at least partially responsible for “re-adjusting” the evolution of life on Earth through periodic mass extinctions. However, whether Ghroth is an actual sentient entity or just an unknown physical prosperity of our universe is unknown. Maybe Terran astronomers will feel “the tugging” of Ghroth sometime in the future as it makes it 10,000 to 20,000 year orbit around our Sun. Next time we finish our discussion on the Insects of Shaggai. Thank you – Fred.

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“The Sleeper in the Stars” by Maija Pietikainen