before you ask:
The header (that’s the pic above all pages and posts on this blog) is – obviously – a dinosaur skeleton. But not just any dinosaur, and not just any skeleton. And certainly not just a photo I took long ago and forgot about until I needed an eye-catcher. It is – better get used to that name – Plateosaurus engelharti! Specifically, it is the nearly complete individual cataloged as GPIT/RE/7288 in the collection of the Institute for Geosciences of Tübingen University (IFGT). The “GPIT” short stems from Geological-Palaeontological Institute Tübingen, a thing of the past – and two weeks ago I learned that the IFGT is no more; it is now the Department of Geosciences of the Faculty of Science (Yay! Finally someone has realized that theology and economics etc. aren’t science! But I guess it’s just a typo: the German version of the home page calls it the Faculty of Natural Sciences). The one constant thing there is change, but sadly nothing changed for ages with the palaeontological collection. I can’t say it any other way: the collection and especially those parts on exhibit decayed unhindered!
Now, things have taken a drastic turn for the better not too long ago, and I will shortly write a nice post about that, giving credit where it is due. For now let me just show you what the specimen looks like in the Tübingen exhibit.
GPIT/RE/7288 is on the right, mounted by famous palaeontologist Friedrich Freiherr von Huene (I know, preciously little info at that link, it is on my to-do list) as if the animal was drinking or feeding on the ground. On the left is a composite mount made from two 50%-complete individuals. All three stem from the quarry in Trossingen and were dug out under von Huene’s lead. The mounts are unchanged, but the room has been prettied up a lot, and finally there is a barrier that keeps the notoriously sticky fingers of the visitors away from the bones most likely to ‘accidentally’ slip into pockets and handbags.
“OK”, you’ll go, “but that header looks nothing like the dinosaur in Tübingen!” That’s because I didn’t use the real bones for my research, as it would have involved a terrible amount of handling them. And fossils bones, especially those from clay-dominated sediments, tend to be surprisingly fragile, so handling them often is a baaaaad idea. Instead, I handled them once, to get them CT scanned, then used 3D files extracted from the scans for all my research that required more than looking at them. Some of the results finally saw the light of day outside the ‘grey literature’ in 2010 in two papers that included some pretty neat figures. I blogged about on of them at the PEBlog, because it was published in that journal, and you can find a closer shot of the skeletal mount in that post.
But not all the posing and motion studies made it into print, including the one shown above: Plateosaurus laying eggs! I mainly did this to see how far I would have to flex the hind limbs, and where the center of mass would fall. Unsurprisingly, the pose is not that different from the resting position in which one of the nicest specimens of Plateosaurus was found (today sadly no longer with us, it was bombed in WWII). The hind limb pose is kind of a regular feature in Plateosaurus finds; highly flexed ankles and knees can be seen in many individuals that sank into mud, got stuck and died. Such find are known from Frick in Switzerland, and from Trossingen and Halberstadt (both Germany). I already posted a pic of the nicest one here.
So I had this file of the crouching, egg-laying Plateo skeleton on my HDD for a long time, and never did anything with it – until a very esteemed colleague emailed me because he wanted to use some of my figures in a book on dinosaurs. And instead of re-using old stuff I suggested something new, including the egg-laying mount. He was delighted, and I spiced up my old file a bit, added eggs, found a nice image for a texture for the ground, and the 3D file from which the image above was rendered was created.
Mallison, H. (2010). The digital Plateosaurus I: body mass, mass distribution and posture assessed using CAD and CAE on a digitally mounted complete skeleton. Palaeontologia Electronica 13.2.8A
Mallison, H. (2010). The digital Plateosaurus II: an assessment of the range of motion of the limbs and vertebral column and of previous reconstructions using a digital skeletal mount. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 55(3): 433-458; doi:10.4202/app.2009.0075