My Favorite Recent Hominin Reconstruction

I suspect “WE”– call us Modern or in Europe Cro- Magnon– thought that our recently extinct  fellow “hominins'”,  to use the latest correct term–  looked odd, as we did to them,  even though we did mix genes.  Most reconstructions are so steeped in reflexive egalitarianism– wrong word, but I’m looking for a synonym for sappy “everything is beautiful”- ism– that all depictions look like that mythical Neandertal on the train mentioned so often in the fifties (TRAIN? Did we all live in New York or London??),  who just looked a bit uncomfortable in his Mad Men commuter suit. Which is why I do love these Denisovans, who would give any Modern kid proper nightmares; I suspect their (and our) western kin, the Neandertals, would have too…

Passenger Pigeons Again…

Another little sample from my evolving proposal:
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After the Ice
… I will draw on contemporary scholarship from Pielou to Paul Martin to
paint a picture of the late glacial world – one with little place
for the passenger pigeon
as a major ecological actor. One keystone
will be Australian ecologist Tim Flannery’s (The Eternal
) hypothesis that the North American continent, by virtue
of its shape, weather, and geology, has never had a stable
environment, especially since the last glaciation.

“Homotherium is perhaps my favorite felid…”

… says Nathaniel below. I agreed, then laughed at the oddity of a blog where readers could make that statement with a straight face, though there are a couple of others on the blogroll…

Here is my favorite image of Homotherium serum, a frightening predator, in life bigger than an African lion and possibly cursorial like a hyena, by Mauricio Anton for The Big Cats and their Fossil Relatives. The paperweight is a young mammoth’s tooth found by Joe Hutto in Florida; young mammoths were the major prey of a species of Homotherium at one European site.

And a mother and cubs of another color morph:

Weekend Links

… good, bad, & strange. Bear with my light blogging for a couple more weeks please! First, good:

Tazi pix! Right from the source, Almaty & environs– the bearded ethnic Russian guy is Konstantin Plakhov, who bred our Ataika, seen here as a pup at Kostya’s there and as a matron, here, below.

Libby with Kostya and Zhendet the tobet, in 2004:

Very Bad: you are not paranoid when they are after you. I particularly like this quote: ““They can get rid of hounding and deal with a segment of their community that is not well respected. Or they can potentially lose all bear and bobcat hunting.” Us. The oldest Paleolithic partnership. “First they came..” Fill in your favorite. Are you listening David Peterson? Think they’ll keep bowhunting?

Weird but probably true paleo- science. A bad time for megafauna! HT Walter H.

Fat Horses

Large- mammal and Pleistocene maven Valerius Geist thinks more is going on with the spotted horse cave paintings below than just realism– be cites their exaggerated fatness as well:

“Horses in top condition thus have a large gut-fill, expanded further by storage fat about intestines and omentum. Consequently, the belly bulges downward. Simultaneously, the fat stored on the rump and haunches generates rounded rump and haunch contours. Because of the hanging belly, at a distance, fat animals appear short-legged. To signal the wish for a fat horse the artist sketches or paints horses with very large haunches, bulging bellies and very short legs. To this may be added atlatl darts or throwing spear arching towards or stuck in the horses vitals. The image is totally non-representational. No artist ever saw a horse like the one painted in Lascaux Cave, illustrating Rosner’s article. However, the artists skillful exaggerations generated meaningful symbolism: may spears kill for you a fat mare.”

This struck fire with me as Mongolian artists STILL portray even ridden horses as fat. Two examples from my own collection (one with dog a present from Andrew Campbell) below:

Of course the actual horses are chunky too: an “Appy” from Olgii:

Val wrote back:
“Wow! thank you so much for this note and images. Indeed the horses look “delectable”. I am still investigating, but it appears horse fat has a multiple of the omega-3 content of ruminant fats. That’s brain-building fat! Nice to see the spotted coats. As to leg-placement, it’s wrong- alas!”

Headline of the Week

From Arthur Wilderson: “Swedish flamingoes massacred in frenzied anteater attack”.

It is actually true if a bit breathless…

Prompted by this and perhaps the recent Zoo posts, Arthur added some thoughts on a distant relative, the ground-dwelling late- Pleistocene monster Megatherium:

“I saw a mounted megatherium skeleton in Chicago’s Field Museum. I was pretty impressed, and then thought, “yep, that’s what they invented atlatls for.” Trees, people, bears… I could readily imagine it backhanding any serious problem across the room with little difficulty.

“The notion of gutting and butchering a beast with such enormously robust bones and such a deep, massive torso with just little hand axes was fairly daunting too. Definitely a job for all the men, women and children in the band, well, those that aren’t standing guard to discourage the attention that all that blood and offal would inevitably attract.”

Speaking of which, the new crash- of- the- megafauna book, Once and Future Giants by Sharon Levy, is good– much on the late great Paul Martin, though it goes well beyond his original thoughts and refines them. Apparently his fascination with the late Pleistocene started when a mentor put a ball of giant sloth dung in his hand– as he did to me.


Busy– just finished an assignment for Shooting Sportsman, starting two pieces on spec for Double Gun Journal, taking notes for my forthcoming Living Bird review, reading galleys of Pete Dunne’s new installment in his seasonal birding series, Arctic Autumn (outspokenly pro- hunting, among other virtues, and yes, he gets a blurb!)…

But need to thank whoever got Levy’s new “Pleistocene Overkill” book Once & Future Giants from my Wish List, and whoever thought of and sent The Horse, the Wheel, and Language, which also looks close to my heart’s obsessions.

Re Overkill: I am aware Paul Martin, who first conceived of the Pleistocene Blitz: an inspiration to multidisciplinary researchers and to me personally though I only met him once, when he handed me a 12,000 year- old chunk of giant sloth dung; Libby’s brother’s PhD advisor; brave survivor of polio’s effects for over 50 years; controversial proponent of “re- wilding”, and of, in Michael McClure’s and Grayal Farr’s phrase, of Bringing Back the Pleistocene, is dead at 82. I hope I can convince busy Reid to put him in some proper paleontological- archaeological context (he crossed boundaries– Libby’s brother was a palynologist!) But meanwhile: Paul Martin, RIP.

Science Links

A BBC news article seems to point to the “Overkill Hypothesis” as the major cause of the extinction of the American megafauna.

Studies of dung preserved in a Wisconsin lake suggest

“… a slow decline in megafauna that began about 15,000 years ago and appeared to last for about 1,000 years.

“This discovery rules out one idea that the extinction might have been caused by an extraterrestrial object striking Earth 13,000 years ago.


“This study is exciting because we’re getting some solid data about the ecological consequences of the removal of these animals,” said Ms Gill.

“After their decline we see an increase in the more warm-adapted deciduous trees, and an increase in charcoal [which means there was] an increase in the number of forest fires.”

The last may have some bearing on my Passenger Pigeon project, A Feathered Tempest.

The Eleanora’s falcon already leads a weird life, nesting on Mediterranean islands in the fall to intercept the songbird migration. Now it appears to also make one of the most amazing migrations.

“In total, the bird flies more than 9,500 kilometres across the African continent from the Balearic and Columbretes Islands before reaching the island of Madagascar. Some of the previously-obscure secrets now revealed by the scientists show that these falcons migrate by both day and night, and cross supposed ecological barriers such as the Sahara Desert.” (HT Laura Niven).

A gallery of the wild apple forests of the Tian Shan. I have been there let’s hope they don’t all fall to villas for rich Kazakh businessmen. (HT David Williamson).