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Sam Welles and the history of an idea
I suspect many of you will be surprised (since I was) to find that the
following paragraph was written in 1959:
Most paleontologists believed then as they do now, that birds
descended from some line of small, light dinosaurs. These dinosaurs
might have found it convenient to live in the trees. (Why not?
There are tree lizards, tree toads and tree snakes.) It is thought
that they learned to glide a little in jumping from branch to
branch. In time they could have learned to fly from tree to tree.
At the same time, their scales may have become lighter, gradually
fraying around the edges and finally developing into feathers. No
one knows whether it happened that way. That is simply the most
reasonable explanation suggested so far.
Underneath that paragraph is a drawing of a reconstructed skeleton of
_Compsognathus_ with an outline of the body and tail (no pelage,
though). The figure caption reads:
_Compsognathus_, a small, light dinosaur with hollow limb bones, may
have been the ancestor of all birds.
I don't recall specifically, but I suspect I got this book from my
Uncle who was a school teacher on Long Island; the title page is
stamped "West Hempstead Junior Senior High School Library". Given the
text I'd say it was aimed at late junior/early senior high school
students, but that doesn't detract from the fact that the authors'
statements flatly contradict statements to the effect that Heilmann's
ideas on bird origins were more or less unquestioned until 1970. Lest
you think that the authors were out of touch with paleontology and
just happened to misattribute to their contemporaries ideas which we
seem to think were not widely shared at the time I give you complete
Fox, W. and Welles, S. (1959). _From Bones to Bodies A Story of
Paleontology_, Henry Z. Walck, Inc., New York.
Library of Congress catalog number 59-12959.
For those of you that don't recognize the name, Welles, S. would be
Samuel Welles, the man who discovered (among other things)
_Dilophosaurus_. If you haven't already been there, you might want to
Oh the things I can find in my closet...
Mickey Rowe (email@example.com)