[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index][Subject Index][Author Index]

Arthur Conan Doyle’s contribution to popularity of pterodactyls

From: Ben Creisler

A recent paper not yet mentioned on the DML:

David M. Martill and Tony Pointon (2013)
Dr Arthur Conan Doyle’s contribution to the popularity of pterodactyls.
Geological Society Special Publication 375: A History of Geology and
Medicine (advance online publication)
doi: 10.1144/SP375.19

Pterodactyls or pterosaurs, well-known flying reptiles of the
Mesozoic, were already compared with dragons and vampires well before
the discovery of the spectacularly large species from North America
with wing spans of over 6 m. First described in 1784, they were not
recognized as flying reptiles until 1801, when Baron Cuvier described
a specimen that a few years later he called Ptero Dactyle which later
became Pterodactylus. The name Pterodactylus is technically invalid –
it is a junior synonym of Ornithocephalus Soemmerring 1812 – but it
has stuck in the psyche of both palaeontologists and public alike. By
the end of the nineteenth century numerous workers had compared
pterosaurs with demons, dragons and vampires and life restorations had
appeared in books, magazines and as gargoyles on the external
architecture of the Natural History Museum, London. Sir Arthur Conan
Doyle, famously the creator of Sherlock Holmes, was a polymath, with
interests in science, sport, politics, travel, the occult and of
course writing. He trained as, and became, a physician, with an
eventually thriving general practice in Southsea, Hampshire from 1882
to 1890. In 1912, first as a series in Sunday magazines in the USA and
in Strand Magazine in the UK, and shortly after as a hardback, he
published The Lost World, an adventure story about the exploration of
a South American tableland with prehistoric creatures that had
persisted to the present. Although dinosaurs existed in this
anachronistic fictional ecosystem, the ‘star’ animals were
pterodactyls. Here we discuss the notoriety of pterodactyls generated
by The Lost World, and hold Conan Doyle responsible for the widespread
popularity of these iconic prehistoric reptiles right up to the
present day.