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Roadkills



Dear List Members:

Just thought I'd breach an arguable subject, perhaps to stir the pot
abit and engender some thoughtful conversation.

As some of you know already, I've been able to see and identify a number
of previously unseen and unidentified bits and pieces from various
crushed but articulated nonvolant prolacertiform and pterosaur
specimens. And I did so without seeing the fossils first-hand.

The Chinese anurognathid, Jeholopterus, is a case in point. Originally
Wang, et al. pretty much just drew a rough outline around the perimeter
of the skull, illustrated a V-shaped element and a few teeth. They
apparently gave up trying to decipher the rest of it. Others have
suggested that the skull was only partially present because it appeared
to be wider than long.

>From a photograph published on the cover of Chinese Science Bulletin I
was able to pick out ,with the aid of my Mac, all the bones of the skull
and mandible, plus the jugal and a complete palate, which had slipped
off to the side previously unnoticed in a tangle of ptero-hair. A
surprising manual digit and two sclerotic rings were found on the skull
roof. The specimen turned out to be complete. It wasn't easy and I
didn't get it right the first three times.

Here's the problem:

If one wishes to publish new data on old fossils, traditionally one must
"see the specimen" or suffer rejection during the referee stage of
publication.  But if traditional observation of the specimen fails to
reveal characters that can only be revealed by photography > scanning >
mouse tracing and coloring, what good is "seeing the specimen"? What if
you _need_ a computer to see such details?

The problem with deciphering "roadkills" is apparently not a lack of
observation, but lack of recognition. What the computer appears to do,
that the eyeball cannot do aided or alone, is to delineate and segregate
data so that it can be mentally digested in palatable chunks. Without
this ability, the eyeball, at least my eyeball, is bewildered by the
mass of detail.

It's perhaps akin to astronomers using the old Blink Microscope in
finding moving objects in space. Two pictures are taken of the same
slice of the sky, which are subsequently layered and "flipped" back and
forth. All the fixed stars from the two images remain fixed, but the
moving objects are animated and so reveal themselves. In similar
fashion, the layers of tracings and colorings one applies to scanned
images of fossils reveals bones under bones and other wonders in stained
and impressed matrix that the eye or microscope appears to miss or
ignore.

For the present, I continue to make discoveries on my screen and confirm
them by making personal visits or sending emissaries armed with new
"roadkill roadmaps". My question to the group is this:

Has anyone else discovered something important in a photograph that was
not obvious to the naked eye or microscope?

David Peters