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Re: Beautiful Fossils

> beauty is in
>the eye of the beholder.

Scientific beauty can be just as breathtaking as the aesthetic variety.  I
once held a wonderfully-prepared braincase of Diplocynodon ratelii in
Paris; the layperson would not have been impressed, but I could thread wire
from foramen ovale to the other, could gaze through the foramen magnum
right between the laterosphenoids, and make out inner ear details
previously seen only in recent skulls.  It gave me chills.  Not the kind of
thing for display, but what a storyteller.

On the other hand, those magnificent Messel fossils - which are
aesthetically very beautiful - were scientifically frustrating.  Most are
prepared as articulated plaque mounts.  Disarticulation can be a
systematist's best friend - if it falls apart, we see more.  The osteoderms
were in place, so I found it hard to see the vertebral column; the jaws
were usually in articulation, so I never got a close look at the braincase
lateral wall or palate.  I had Diplocynodon darwinii fossils complete to
the last caudal vertebra, but I think D. ratelii and D. hantoniensis were
coded as more complete for the simple reason that they had fallen apart
and, perhaps, were not as beautiful.

Speaking of beautiful fossils - Paul Willis gave me something of a personal
tour of the Riversleigh croc fossils a couple of weeks ago.  Magnificent.
I thought preservation in the Mongolian material was good until I saw them.


Christopher Brochu

Postdoctoral Research Scientist
Department of Geology
Field Museum of Natural History
Lake Shore Drive at Roosevelt Road
Chicago, IL  60605  USA

phone:  312-922-9410, ext. 469
fax:  312-922-9566