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Re: Running around like an Ornitholestes with his head cut off...

Hi Jerry,

I was referencing some books I have on European history, but due to
concern that some of the stories may be apocryphal they went light on
the specifics.  I can send you the citations if you want (or try to
dig out their citations) but while reformatting this for my blog I
found what may be a more relevant discussion online here:


Granted it's only a discussion with neurosurgeons and a (much) more
recent set of anecdotes, but I'm afraid the technical literature is
largely devoid of help on this subject.


On Fri, Sep 16, 2011 at 7:46 AM, Jerrold Alpern <vjalp@mindspring.com> wrote:
> Scott,
> Do you have the sources for those medieval reports of lip readers at
> beheadings? Were they ever successful? Did any of them record any words they
> had lip read? In England, beheadings were reserved for the aristocracy, who
> usually got the chop because of treason. Was this an attempt to learn the
> names of unindicted co-conspirators?
> Thanks.
> Jerry Alpern
> vjalp@mindspring.com
> 917-623-1446
> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Scott Hartman"
> <skeletaldrawing@gmail.com>
> To: "Dino List" <dinosaur@usc.edu>
> Sent: Thursday, September 15, 2011 1:52 PM
> Subject: Running around like an Ornitholestes with his head cut off...
>> Since I'm briefly coming out of list retirement today I wanted to
>> address the issue of headless chicken running a bit. While the idea
>> to put it in the show was not mine, David certainly mentioned it to me
>> and I did not shoot it down (and still wouldn't). I'll grant you that
>> there isn't much in the professional literature on the subject, but I
>> think people are thinking of this from the wrong way (i.e., wondering
>> about the distribution of "headless-running" in birds like it's a
>> derived condition).
>> Vertebrates as a group have one of the more centralized nervous
>> systems among animals (with some arthropods and especially some
>> cephalopods as the other contestants in the "flexibility over
>> redundancy sweepstakes"), but tetrapod nervous system evolution in
>> general is a story of progressive centralization that (so far)
>> culminates in mammals.  Even in humans, with our gobs of ridiculously
>> calorie-hungry centralized gray matter, we still have autonomous
>> reactions that don't require the brain to be involved (as anyone knows
>> who's burned themselves and jerked their hand away before they felt
>> the pain).  That said, we have gone a long way down the path of
>> nervous system centralization, and if you cut a mammal's head off you
>> may get some twitching but it won't run around; our limbs literally
>> cannot coordinate themselves without the brain's involvement (although
>> morbidly it does appear that the head itself retains some
>> coordination, if medieval reports are true that people were employed
>> to read lips for up to a minute after a beheading).
>> This degree of centralization is the derived condition, not the
>> primitive one.  So I doubt chickens are special here, except in as
>> much as they more frequently get clean beheadings in the presence of
>> human observers than most other birds (a quick Google search shows
>> that turkey's exhibit this as well).  This should be true of lizards,
>> crocs, etc too (diapsids as a whole).  With enough experimental trials
>> I'd fully expect an Ornnitholestes to do a good headless chicken
>> impression.  Now, I'll grant you that this would require a pretty
>> clean bite on the allosaur's part, and the odds of observing it in the
>> wild would not be very high.  But the sequence was created to be a
>> surprising bit of humor in a scenario that was possible, not probable.
>> Given those parameters it seems reasonable enough to me.
>> -Scott
>> --
>> Scott Hartman
>> Scientific Advisor/Technical Illustrator
>> (307) 921-9750
>> website: www.skeletaldrawing.com
>> blog: http://skeletaldrawing.blogspot.com/

Scott Hartman
Scientific Advisor/Technical Illustrator
(307) 921-9750
website: www.skeletaldrawing.com
blog: http://skeletaldrawing.blogspot.com/