Thursday, 30 July 2009

The Burgess Shale

Once the Canadian Rocky Mountains were opened to exploration, tourism and mountaineering by the Canadian Pacific Railway, they became a magnet for geologists looking to better understand the earth and her history. One of the CPR's most troublesome spots through the mountains was the Kicking Horse Pass in today's Yoho National Park. To get over the pass and back down required an unforgiving 4.5% grade of track that dashed many steam engines at its base. To make it over "The Big Hill", dining cars would have to be detached and an extra engine attached to the front. It was also the pass that provided some of the most fruitful places for palaeontological discovery, not only for Canada but for the world.


The Big Hill


The first was a find by R.G. McConnell of the Geological Survey of Canada on the slopes of Mt. Stephen. Coming through in 1886 - a year after the completion of the railway - he found a remarkable bed of trilobite fossils that are still a valued resource. It was this which led Smithsonian Institution geologist Charles Doolittle Walcott to the Kicking Horse Pass area in 1907. He published his study of the Mt. Stephen Trilobite Beds in 1908 while the CPR were working on a solution to the problem of the Big Hill.

That solution came in 1909 with the engineering feat known as the Spiral Tunnels, which reduced the grade to a manageable 2.2% by cutting a figure eight of tunnels clear through the mountains. At the end of that same season, Walcott was continuing his survey of the surrounding talus slopes when his horse was halted by a large stone blocking the scant trail. Dismounting, Walcott inspected the boulder and saw it encrusted with a myriad of heretofore unknown types of fossil invertebrates. Promising to return, he resumed excavations on the ridge above the fall and spent the next 14 years unravelling its mysteries.


Walcott at the quarry that bears his name.


What he found was a site beyond significance. It has also taken the century since its discovery to understand what it means. The short form of the work of numerous scientists including Walcott, Harry Blackmore Whittington, Derek Briggs, Simon Conway Morris, Desmond Collins and Stephen Jay Gould is that the Burgess Shale represents one of the earliest stages in the great radiation of multicellular life. It is a window in stone onto that distant period a half-billion years ago when simple organisms evolved into every phylum of animal life known today and many classes that have left no modern descendants.

A unique trick of preservation allowed for this unparalleled site. Though today the quarries of the Burgess Shale sit high above the treeline overlooking the magnificent valley of Emerald Lake and Emerald Glacier, 500 million years ago it sat at the base of an ocean reef. As parts of the reef broke off, they cascaded to the bottom of the shelf along with the creatures luckless enough to be on it at the time. There, the waters were so deep as to be devoid of oxygen and scavengers, permitting the soft-bodied organisms to be gently covered by the silts that became the Burgess Shale.

Those creatures are a druggist's menagerie of the weirdest things ever to populate the earth. For a time it was thought that several represented completely new types that had no correlates in the known world. Further research has suggested otherwise, but has not diminished their oddity. The most dramatic example are the class of very primitive arthropods known as the Dinocaridida. The first one described and presented in the late 1970's reappraisal of the Burgess Shale was the Opabinia, which was received with howls of laughter by the academic symposium. A diminutive segmented arthropod, it was distinguished by its five stalked eyes and claw-bearing proboscis.

The most famous of the Dinocarids is the true monster of the Cambrian Era: Anomalocaris. At a metre long it was frightening animal by any standard, but moreso in its own time when the average creature was only an inch or a half. Unlike the Opabinia, Anomalocaris only had two stalked eyes and made up for that by having two sets of claw appendages shovelling food into its crushing, plate-like jaws. When first discovered by McConnell, the claws of Anomalocaris were originally thought to be shrimp. The length of its body was fringed by lobes or fins which propelled it through the water and pushed water through its gills.


Anomalocaris and its prey.


Some of the Burgess Shale's creatures are still mysteries. Hallucigenia, a thing that looks as its name implies, continues to cause headaches, even in something as simple as trying to figure out whether its ridge of paired spines are pointed up for protection or down for walking on. Others are like looking on our own family tree. The first chordate, Pikaia, the ancestor to vertebrates and to human beings, is known from here.

Such a site of significance also spurred on philosophical debate. In his work Wonderful Life, eminent late scientist Stephen Jay Gloud stated that it supported the conclusions of his philosophical thought experiment of "contingency", which asserts that human evolution is a product of random forces that could not be repeated were time to be replayed. By contrast, Burgess Shale describer Simon Conway Morris as emerged as one of the prominent "middle road" scientists like Francis Collins who are critical of both Creationism and Materialism, asserting in Crucible of Creation that evolution demonstrates a predictability that may be evidence of purpose.

Celebrating its centennial in 2009, the Burgess Shale continues to astonish as one of the best and most important views onto those lost and distant ages of long, long ago.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Extinct Animals (1905)

One of Conan Doyle's primary sources for The Lost World was Edwin Ray Lankester's 1905 text Extinct Animals. It was the only reference cited in the novel itself: in order to confirm Maple White's illustration of a stegosaurus to an incredulous Malone, Challenger hands a copy of the book by his "gifted friend, Ray Lankester!" Over the course of The Lost World's serialization, Lankester and Conan Doyle carried on a correspondence. The former would even suggest prehistoric animals to populate the lost plateau.

The online archives of the Universities of Strasbourg has a digital copy of Extinct Animals available for perusal. Click on the cover below to examine it.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Felix the Cat: Felix Trifles with Time (1925)

A cat gets no respect in the 20th century. It used to be that the world was their oyster... In those halcyon days of old, they were even worshipped as gods!

Luckily for Felix - greatest cartoon star of the silent screen - Father Time happens by and is easily bribed. However, the manic feline discovers that the prehistoric past isn't much easier on him or his hide.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Gertie the Dinosaur (1914)



Sometime in 1911 or 1912, Winsor McCay, the cartoonist famous for Rarebit Fiends and Little Nemo in Slumberland, George McManus, creator of Let George do it, and several of their cartoonist friends took a automobile trip around New York. On event of flat tire, the group ventured into the American Museum of Natural History and pondered the life and habits of the dinosaurian beasts whose skeletons the museum housed. It was at this point that McCay bet McManus that he could restore the "Dinosaurus" to life... A bet McManus took up, sure that McCay was full of nonsense. Whether or not these events actually happened, the product of McCay's imagination was the first lady of dinosaur cinema, Gertie the Dinosaur.

Like cinema itself two-dimensional animation was in its infancy, and McCay became one of its pioneers. Though often cited as the first ever animated cartoon, Gertie the Dinosaur actually falls a little short. The first was most likely Humorous Phases of Funny Faces in 1906. Winsor McCay himself created two previous animations in 1911's Little Nemo and 1912's How a Mosquito Operates. But Gertie does go down in history as the first animated character, preceeding the illustrious likes of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat, Betty Boop and Bugs Bunny.

To bring their charming creation to life, McCay and his assistant John A. Fitzsimmons drew over 10,000 individual illustrations... completely redrawing each picture for each new frame, including the static backgrounds. It wasn't long before animation hit upon the technique of painting a single background for a scene and then illustrating the characters on clear celluloid. Not so in 1912. McCay and Fitzsimmons used rice paper to trace the background for each individual drawing, and then mounted that rice paper on sheets of carboard for filming.

The finished Gertie was originally part of a Vaudville stage show in which McCay directed his dinosaur from stage right. In the 1912 Vaudville circuit of New York City, there would be regular programmes called "chalk talks" in which cartoonists would draw on stage from the suggestions of the audience. Deciding to up the proverbial ante on his peers, McCay introduced an illustration which could not only move and dance, but which would obey (or comically disobey) her artist. Not only could he command Gertie to hop from one foot to the other, or watch helplessly as she toyed with the small mammoth Jumbo, but he even did the amazing by throwing her food and then entering the picture himself! Of course, this was accomplished through careful timing, wherin McCay would throw a pumpkin behind the screen and as he did so, its animated counterpart would appear onscreen. The same applied for himself.

The film promoted itself as the "Greatest Animal Act in the World", and included tag-lines like "Gertie: she's a scream. She eats, drinks and breathes! She laughs and cries. Dances the tango, answers questions and obeys every command! Yet, she lived millions of years before man inhabited this earth and has never been seen since!!" By 1914, the demand to see this novel film increased to the point where McCay created a version that included a live action segment that book-ended the cartoon. It was this segment that told the story of the bet and McCay's triumph over McManus. It also featured McCay's original Vaudville instructions to Gertie as intertitle cards.

Gertie returned to the silver screen in 1921's Gertie on Tour, where she ran amok in the modern world. Travelling around the world, she had run-ins with various contraptions like trains and creatures like the modern small toad (you see, in her day, toads were huge, so the small ones frighten her). It ends with Gertie falling asleep and dreaming of the day when she was the life of the party, dancing amongst a group of brontosaurs. Unfortunately, this film is only known in fragments today, a good portion having been lost.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

The Lost World (1925)



The story of The Lost World on the silver screen begins not with the 1925 silent film produced by First National Pictures, but rather, with an unrealized version first developed by early film magnate William Selig, whose most well-known contributions to film were Rosco “Fatty” Arbuckle and Los Angeles' first zoo. All that remains of the version of The Lost World that Selig intended to make is a synopsis, a scenario up to the end of the first reel, a potential cast list, and a handful of storyboards, all of which are housed within the archives of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Selig's version never was made, as his company liquidated its assets in 1918.

Those assets, however, fell into the hands of Watterson R. Rothacker. Their echo can still be heard in the version that was made. It was Selig who first introduced the idea of adding a love interest to Conan Doyle's seminal tale of prehistoric adventure. Several cast members on Selig's proposed list were eventually approached by Rothacker as well, including Lewis Stone as Lord John Roxton and Bull Montana as the Ape Man. Most implausible were the storyboards, which showed scenes of menacing saurian monstrosities, some of which look like they could have been drawn right from the finished film. The expertise to accomplish that feat lay with the discovery of Willis O'Brien.

Fresh from his string of stop-motion comedies for Thomas Edison and The Ghost of Slumber Mountain, Rothacker hired O'Brien to do the animation for this ambitious project. In those previous films, O'Brien's dinosaur models were built largely out of clay and cloth on wooden armatures. When hired to undertake animation work on The Lost World, he realized that what he had been doing up to that point was inadequate for a motion picture spectacular such as this. Furthermore, the sheer number of models required was too ambitious for him to accomplish alone.

The solution to this dilemma came in the person of a young grocery clerk and aspiring sculptor O'Brien met named Marcel Delgado. For inspiration, Delgado went to the paintings of Charles R. Knight, the father of modern palaeontological restoration who worked out of the American Museum of Natural History. By virtue of this relationship with the palaeontologists of his time, Knight's paintings were as accurate as science could make them at the time, and this worked it's way into The Lost World. Delgado's models, 49 or 50 in total, were exact three-dimensional representations of Knight's paintings, and inherited their accuracy. The dinosaurs of The Lost World remain to this day the most accurate ever seen in a movie based on what science knew at the time.

The models Delgado crafted were carried by ball-and-socket dual armatures, upon which foam musculature and detailed latex skins were applied. Many of them included an air bladder for breathing effects. Numerous scale sets had to be built for the dinosaurs to stomp around in as well. Most ambitious was the massive 150 feet long plateau landscape used in the climactic dinosaur stampede sequence. Months upon months and years upon years of work went into every minute action that brought these ancient monsters to life on the screen. And extremely convincing they were!

In 1922, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was on a lecture series in America, trumpeting the cause of Spiritualism that he picked up in the years following WWI and the death of his son, Kingsley. During the course of this tour, Conan Doyle's good friend Harry Houdini invited him to the annual meeting of the Society of American Magicians. But despite being close, their friendship was frequently tested by Houndini's deep-seated skepticism of Spiritualist claims. He and his fellow magicians spoke out a great deal against "psychic" frauds by replicating their phenomenon by stage conjuring. Anticipating more of the same at the Society’s meeting, Conan Doyle prepared a little trick of his own. Bringing in a movie projector, he offered no explanation of what the magicians were about to see except the following:
These pictures are not occult… this is psychic because everything that emanates from the human spirit or human brain is psychic. It is not supernatural. Nothing is. It is preternatural in the sense that it isn’t known to our ordinary senses. It is the effect of the joining on the one hand of imagination, and on the other hand of some power of materialization. The imagination, I may say, comes to me. The materializing power comes from elsewhere.

The "materializing power" came from the hand of Willis O’Brien. The following day, the New York Times ran the headline:
DINOSAURS CAVORT IN FILM FOR DOYLE
SPIRITIST MYSTIFIES WORLD-FAMED MAGICIANS WITH PICTURES OF PREHISTORIC BEASTS
KEEPS ORIGIN A SECRET
MONSTERS OF OTHER AGES SHOWN,
SOME FIGHTING, SOME AT PLAY,
IN THEIR NATIVE JUNGLES
...

Monsters of several million years ago, mostly of the dinosaur species, made love and killed each other in Sir Arthur's pictures. Prehistoric brutes that resembled rhinoceroses magnified many times, equipped with enormous horns that pointed forward like those of the unicorn, drove dinosaurs away from feasts on one another. One monster, like a horned toad of monumental proportions, presented an impenetrable surface of armor plate to attacking reptiles and moved along in safety.

Whether these pictures were intended by the famous author and champion of spiritism as a joke on the magicians or as a genuine picture like his photographs of fairies was not revealed. Sir Arthur said they were "psychic" and also that they were "imaginative" and announced in a firm tone, before they were shown, that he would submit to no questions on the subject of their origin.

Overnight, Conan Doyle made the film adaptation of his novel the most anticipated movie in America!

A cast for the Challenger Expedition were found in Wallace Beery as the irascible professor, Lloyd Hughes as reporter Ed Malone, Bessie Love as the love interest and daughter of the Lost World's discoverer, Lewis Stone and Bull Montana. Animal actors found lucrative work in The Lost World, earning incredibly high salaries. Among these were a python, an alligator, spiders and termites and other assorted insects, a sloth, two bear cubs masquerading as "full grown" spectacle bears and Jocko the ring-tailed monkey. Beery, Hughes and Stone were all insured by the producers against python bites, in anticipation of filming a scene that has since been lost.

Joining the main cast and the animals were, reportedly, an additional 2000 extras, 200 automobiles and six omnibuses for the grand finale in the streets of London. The London sets themselves sprawled an eighth of a mile, while the jungle scenes included a shallow pool that housed the sleepy Amazonian village and the crocodiles and alligators swimming beneath it. Principle filming was done on First National's patch of the Brunton Studios, a Hollywood establishment renting soundstages and space for smaller studios without their own property. Extra filming of the steaming waterways of the Amazon was done on the steaming waterways of Los Angeles' open sewer, which marked the border of MGM’s studio in nearby Culver City.

Nevertheless, filming was completed after three years of tests and production. The Lost World ended up with a price-tag of $1 million compared to $200,000 or less for the average silent movie. Adjusting for inflation, The Lost World would now cost some $10.8 million (for comparison Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park cost an estimated $63 million). Appropriately, the gala premiere was held at Sid Grauman’s Million Dollar Theater in downtown Los Angeles. Ten days later, The Lost World was reported breaking attendance records at the theatre. The film was both a critical and a box-office success.

Life intersected with art as well. The newly renovated New Gallery Theatre in London hosted a matinee performance in aid of the British Museum Fund for Exploration of South Africa on June 19th 1925. Sir Sidney Harmer preceded the showing with a lecture on W.E. Cutler’s attempts to find fossil dinosaurs in the Tanganyika territory of East Africa. Today, Tanganyika is part of Tanzania, which is bordered by the Congo and the reputed home of a legendary ‘dinosaur-like’ animal named Mokele-mbembe. In its November 1930 issue, National Geographic recounted an expedition "Through Brazil to the Summit of Mount Roraima" and there were a few words spared to the doubtful possibility of finding dinosaurs upon it. Back in 1925, Katharine MacGregor – the first woman to cross the Andes from Peru to Paraguay – embarked on an expedition into Columbia to find a real life lost world. While MacGregor was heading to Columbia, Roy Chapman Andrews was preparing to depart for his second Mongolian expedition on behalf of the American Museum of Natural History. The first expedition, which got underway in 1922, had created a stir by the discovery of the first dinosaur eggs. The 1925 expedition, beginning in April, was expected to return more wonders. Adding to the furor over the whole thing, 1925 was also the year of the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial.

The Lost World also received another important distinction - one of the first movies to be screened in an aeroplane. This historic showing was on Monday, April 6th, 1925 during a half-hour Imperial Airways flight from London to Paris. It was also shown the following day to a special party of 12 persons during an hour circle flight around Croydon, England. Not to be outdone, the German Air Service Company premiered the film on Feb. 4th, 1926 during a flight over Berlin. The very first aeroplane in-flight movie had been shown as an exhibit during the 1921 Chicago Pageant of Progress. A Santa Maria hydroplane circled the Windy City as it showed the promotional film Howdy Chicago! which had also been produced by Watterson R. Rothacker.

Unfortunately, time was not kind to The Lost World. First National Pictures was bought up by Warner Brothers in 1929, who licenced the film to Kodascope Libraries, who in turn excised 30 minutes of dramatic footage from it. Clips were used in the 1931 film Mystery of Life, co-narrated by the Scopes Trial's Clarence Darrow. The whole film, and Willis O'Brien's career, was overshadowed by a certain 1933 film involving dinosaurs and a gigantic ape. At least the film inspired a boy named Bob Clampett, who drew upon that inspiration to create the beloved cartoon characters Beanie and Cecil. Now an inductee into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, recent restorations making use of recovered footage have put some of the lustre back onto "the greatest entertainment the brains of man have ever achieved".

Thursday, 9 July 2009

The Ghost of Slumber Mountain (1919)



On the strength of the short films and other educational films that Willis O'Brien created for Thomas Edison, a producer named Herbert Dawley hired him to animate a full length dinosaur film entitled The Ghost of Slumber Mountain in 1919. The story revolved around an uncle telling his nephew and friends about the time he was out in the woods and came across a cabin in the woods occupied by the ghost of a palaeontologist. Exhorting him to look through his spyglass, the narrator sees magnificent prehistoric scenes unfold before him.

A fanciful story that certainly hearkens to Scientific Romances in a folksy way, Slumber Mountain is an early point of development in O'Brien's craft. He graduated from the charicatures of the Mannikin comedies into accurately constructed and moodily photographed models. These were built of clay and wood under the consultation of the famous palaeontologist Barnum Brown, discoverer of T-rex. The effect of the Triceratops, T-rex and Diatryma are fantastic for a film of its vintage. Rumour has it that O'Brien also played the mad, ghostly palaeontologist.

Unfortunately, the film was less than a success for him. The original 45 minutes were trimed down to 16 minutes, and though it made $100,000 dollars, O'Bie's paycheck stayed at a relatively meager sum. On top of that, Dawley tried to take credit for the animation. Years later, in a suit against O'Brien over the stop-motion animation in another, greater film, he would claim that:
An employee of mine who learned the process by working in my office has been claiming, as employees sometimes do, that he did all the work and that the idea belongs to him and that sort of thing.

In the hands of Dawley (who, among other things, even claimed that many of the dinosaur models were life sized), the leftover footage from Slumber Mountain made its way into Along the Moonbeam Trail in 1920 and the documentary Evolution in 1923. Prospects were looking down, but this film was the best thing to ever happen to O'Brien.

By 1922, Dawley's attempts at noteriety had come and gone while O'Brien was working studiously on another picture. Hollywood knew who did The Ghost of Slumber Mountain, and producer Watterson R. Rothacker hired O'Brien to do the animation for the first film adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novel The Lost World, one of the great epic adventures of the silent screen.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

The Dinosaur and the Missing Link (1915)



Willis O'Brien is a name that goes down, rightly, in the annals of cinema history as a true special-effects pioneer. O'Bie, as he liked to be called by his friends, made many films, but is most remebered for his work in The Ghost of Slumber Mountain and his successes The Lost World, King Kong, and Mighty Joe Young.

Born in California in 1886, O'Bie held a variety of jobs and hobbies during his formative years. Two of these would stand out and foreshadow his later career: serving as a guide to palaeontologists in Creater Lake region and sculpting and illustrating. One day, while making models with his friend, an idea was born. Young O'bie recognized that he could animate the models on the same principle that cartoonists used to animate drawings: by building a model and then moving it's parts one frame of film at a time, he could give the models cinematic life. Though this process of stop-motion animation had been invented and used already - including work by the grandfather of trick photography, Georges Melies - O'Bie invented it for himself and would go on to essentially perfect the artform.

O'Bie was so certain that this art form would take off, that he went about creating a test reel to sell the idea to producers. In determining a concept for this test reel, O'Bie hit back upon his other love: prehistoric creatures and palaeontology. This crude film he produced about a fight between a cave man and a dinosaur was fraught with problems - it was less and a minute and a half long, the movements were jerky, and the models began to melt under the light - but it worked. A producer was sold on the idea and gave O'Bie $5000 dollars to make another short film. Returning to the theme of dinosaurs and cave men, he created Dinosaur and the Missing Link (1915), the comedic story of Neandertal pre-nuptual dilemas. This film was later seen by Thomas Edison, who promtly bought the rights to it and hired O'bie to produce more shorts.

Morpheus Mike, another 1915 offering, used relatively crude animation to tell the story of a hobo who dreams of himself as a caveman in a prehistoric restaurant. Missing Link and Morpheus Mike, like those "Mannikin Comedies" that came after, derived their humour from largely the same source as The Flintstones. O'Bie transplanted modern tribulations and aristocratic mannerisms onto cavemen for high anachronistic effect. The following year saw Prehistoric Poultry: The Dinornis or Great Roaring Whiffenpoof, about the ecology and habits of giant primodrial fowl, and the second best of the series, R.F.D., 10,000 B.C., in which a romantic youth has his love letter switched for a crude charicature by his rival, the postman.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Palaeontologists at the Creation Museum

We can't have a Darwin Bicentennial without a brief nod to the impact of evolution and the ongoing public debate. In particular, AFP reported that Paleontologists brought to tears, laughter by Creation Museum at the close to the North American Paleontological Convention at the University of Cincinatti.

What was most interesting about this piece, and atypical for the media, is that they primarily consulted the practicing scientists in the group who were also practicing Christians. It's a nice change of pace from the way that fellows like Answers in Genesis and Richard Dawkins together exploit the media and trump up their logical fallacy of a false dilemma. False Dilemmas, which conveniently reduce our options to a mere dialectic where none may exist - for example, the statement "There are two ways of looking at the world, through faith and superstition or through the rigours of logic, observation and evidence, in other words, through reason" by Richard Dawkins from his partisan-titled series Enemies of Reason - only work in the interests of self-promoting ideologues.

Of the Creation Museum, the article states:
Its presents a literal interpretation of the Bible and argues that believing otherwise leads to moral relativism and the destruction of social values.

Creationism is a theory not supported by most mainstream Christian churches.

Lisa Park of the University of Akron cried at one point as she walked a hallway full of flashing images of war, famine and natural disasters which the museum blames on belief in evolution.

"I think it's very bad science and even worse theology -- and the theology is far more offensive to me," said Park, a professor of paleontology who is an elder in the Presbyterian Church.

"I think there's a lot of focus on fear, and I don't think that's a very Christian message... I find it a malicious manipulation of the public."

And again:
Daryl Domning, professor of anatomy at Howard University, held his chin and shook his head at several points during the tour.

"This bothers me as a scientist and as a Christian, because it's just as much a distortion and misrepresentation of Christianity as it is of science," he said.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

The Darwin Bicentennial

2009 marks several great anniversaries in the annals of palaeontology. This is the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. Festivities have been planned throughout the year, some of which are in conjunction with the Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature's Lost World Read 2009, as 2009 also marks the 150th anniversary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's birth. It was also 100 years ago that Charles Dolittle Walcott discovered the famous Burgess Shale fossils, which shed so much light on the sudden diversification of multicellular life in the Cambrian period.

As if on queue, this past February saw the publication of an astounding find: the world's oldest fossils. Identified by traces of their cell membranes, fossil demosponges from Oman have pushed back life on our planet to more than 635 million years ago. LiveScience.com, AFP and Reuters all covered the story. A missing link between land mammals and their oceanic kin was announced in April. An important missing link amongst the dinosaurs was also uncovered. While the link between dinosaurs and birds is the most popular field of study, there have been other questions, like how a lineage of carnivorous dinosaurs became herbivores and grew to become some of the largest animals ever to walk the earth. That missing link was found in Argentina. Back to dinosaurs and birds, the March unveiling of a new dinosaur species from China suggests that feathers evolved earlier than previously thought. LiveScience took a new look at transitional fossils. Meanwhile, back at the Burgess Shale, a birthday present was given to it when the Smithsonian discovered a new species hiding out in its warehouses, which had been collected 100 years ago but not fully prepared and described until now: Hurdia victoria.

The origins of life weren't quite Darwin's forte: his was on the origin of the species. However, origins of a sort are ours. Through this edition of Deepest Darkest Jungle month, we will be going back in time to the origins of dinosaur cinema, in honor of Darwin and Conan Doyle, with a few other tidbits thrown in here and there.