The Alien World of the Cambrian
If you were to wake up one day and find yourself surrounded by these amazing creatures, after first freaking out, you would probably come to the conclusion that you were on some alien world.
But in actuality these are all real organisms from earths distant past - the Cambrian period. Artists and animators have joined forces with paleontologists to produce these visualisations of the various fossils found all over the world.
It is likely planet earth will never see a period like this again, and however horrifying it may have been, that is disappointing.
I have listed the names of the arthropods in the captions of each photo.
*So, whatever happened in 1970, one wonders
the failure of american education in one concise photoset
This timeline of extinctions is an historical account of species that have gone extinct during the time that modern humans have occupied the earth. The following is a selective list made by sampling a very small proportion of some of the well-known extinct species in the recent history.
I didn’t buy them, but there are two Pillsbury Pizza Pops in the freezer right now. Before that I had a box of 12 No Name Pizza Pops. They lasted a long time because I bit down on something hard in the first one. I imagined it was a bone fragment and became afraid of eating them after that, so the box remained in the freezer for months. Eventually I began to slowly eat from it when there was no other food left or after taking my sleeping pills. Moreover, my wager is that this ‘ask’ was submitted by @triumvirateproject as a way of creepily gloating about his unconsensual irl data mining of my apartment. Thanks.
Splatter masks used by tank crews in World War 1 to protect from rivets and fumes
Another diagram for the upcoming evolution book!
Everything but pigeon referenced from Greg Paul diagrams; pigeon referenced from various photographs of pigeon skeletons I could find. The position of metatarsal III on the Deinonychus pes is modeled after Fowler et al. 2011.
Two interesting points as an animal becomes more “birdlike”: the hallux moves towards greater mobility, and the tarsometatarsus fuses. The tarsometatarsus of Archaeopteryx represents a unique semi-fused “transition” state between unfused and totally fused metatarsal bones.
From the tomb of Nakht.
“Jesus,” you’re saying to yourself right now, “enough images there, @thedorkages?” The answer is no, not even close. I feel beholden to mention that the last picture above is out of period, from the 15th century, and I have included it entirely for the timeless expressions of (on the left) boredom and despair and (on the right) smug nerdiness on the faces of the chess players.
If instead of “why so many illustrations” you’re saying “why does that bird seem to speak to me of the inevitable death of all things?” I can’t help you.
The question of whether or not chess was invented in India or Persia is one of those bitchy, footnoted historical wars, like “the Russian Revolution: genuine popular movement or dragged kicking and screaming by Lenin?” or “Shakespeare: Shakespeare?” Either way, it got imported across the border almost instantly. India came up with the name, chaturanga, which literally means “four-limbed” and colloquially meant “army”. (In Persian it’s chatrang and in Arabic it’s shatranj, neither of which mean anything in particular.) The word “checkmate” comes from Persians yelling THE SHAH CAN’T MOVE at the end of the game (Shah mat). The oldest known chess piece is from Afghanistan and the oldest known chess set is from Samarkand, both of which are pretty much equidistant between the two. The oldest literary references to chess are, depending on whether you ask a Sanskrit or a Persian scholar, in Sanskrit literature of the 450s or in Persian annals of the 500s. (If you ask a Chinese scholar, they will tell you that it is from the Warring States period, circa 200 BCE. Chinese scholars like ruining it for everyone.) There are hells of elephants in it, which to the layman might indicate that the game’s from India, but ha ha! Persia actually had a war commander of elephants, who incidentally was called “Commander of the Indians”, so… Yeah, I don’t know what that means for chess either. It’s complicated. Let’s just go with “it was invented a little before our period, somewhere.”
It quickly became apparent to everyone that chess was not only a fun and intriguing method of time-passing, as a literary device it was right up there with “evil identical twin” and “lying about foreign countries”. For example: Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh. We’ll get into what exactly the Shahnameh was at some later date, but for now, think of it as 11th century historical fiction. Khosrau I, Ferdowsi tells us, was mailed a mysterious board and set of pieces, along with a note from the rajah of India reading “As your name is the King of Kings, all your emperorship over us connotes that your wise men should be wiser than ours. Either you send us an explanation of this game of chess or send revenue and tribute us.” This is an actual quote; despite hours of effort, I have not been able to make it any cooler than it is.
Khosrau had some trouble with it, considering that it is actually impossible to reverse-engineer chess from the board and pieces, but luckily he had a vizier who specialized in being impossible, due to probably being fictional. Having solved chess Khosrau was now free to go about ruling the world but since he was the same guy who had a good time ironically murdering Mazdak he was sort of not into that. Instead he had his vizier invent the game of backgammon and mail it to India without instructions, where they failed to figure out the rules and were forced to pay him tribute (HA HA HA HA!!)
Anyway, chess spread all over the world in about twenty minutes, aided by the Arabic conquest of Persia and also the rest of Central Asia. China took it and made it xiangqi, named after another game that they’d already had called xiangqi, and then, God bless them, pretended they’d actually invented the whole thing. It showed up in Byzantium and, as with many things in Byzantium, spread to the rest of Europe as a) a courtly extravagance and b) the center of illegal gambling.
(Sidenote on illegal gambling: remember where I said that chess was as popular a literary metaphor as lying about foreign countries? Well, I’m not sure which one this was; possibly both. Anyway, according to al-Masudi, a traveloguer of the 10th century, Indian chess players regularly gambled limbs on games of chess, especially fingers. Shockingly, Masudi is not very clear on how they kept playing chess with no fingers. End sidenote.)
By the 700s we have blindfold chess and by the time we hit the 1000s we have French and Norman kings hitting each other over the head with chessboards with surprising regularity. And the bird up there? Well, that’s a piece originally known as the chariot: rakh/rukh. Except “rukh” sounds a hell of a lot like “roc”, and a roc is a mythological bird, apparently with mind powers. And “roc” sounds and looks a hell of a lot like “rook”, English for crow, while the standard chariot piece kind of looked like a tower, so everyone in Europe wildly misunderstood what the piece did and also, its name. So if you’ve been wondering why people call a castle a rook, there you go. It’s a multilingual misunderstanding based on a bad pun. Like so much of history.
The Banu Musa and the Book of Ingenious Devices, 850.
So during the 800s, under the Abbasid Caliphate, there was a university in Baghdad that was called the House of Wisdom. It was initially founded as a center for the study and propagation of translation, particularly of the Greek and Roman classics, but pretty rapidly the priorities of the collected academics turned to such topics as “but these medical documents haven’t been properly peer-reviewed,” “I really feel the world needs another book of sexy poems about God,” “you know these histories leave out whole countries and if you give me tons of silver I can probably go explore the crap out of those places,” and “look what I can make.” The Banu Musa, or sons of Musa, were three brothers who enthusiastically fell into that last category.
Musa was an ex-highwayman in Khorasan who somehow became friends with the future caliph al-Ma’mun and signed on as a court astronomer. He prevailed on the Caliph to take in his kids when he tragically died young in some sort of stargazing and/or robbery accident, and the Caliph duly handed them off to the university, where they flourished through, apparently, spending huge amounts of money on Greek translations and successfully measuring the circumference of the Earth. (They were scooped to this by Aryabhata, among others, but I do like the story of al-Ma’mun asking the House of Wisdom what Ptolemy said the circumference of the Earth was. 180,000 stadia, the translators explained, proudly. What’s a stadium? al-Ma’mun asked. Uh, said the translators. “This does not tell us what we need to know,” al-Ma’mun said, presumably rather dryly, and dispatched them to measure the Earth.) They also appear to have measured the length of the year and, in their spare time, invented the gas mask.
They are most famous for building robots, though. Some of you are probably going like “WAY TO BURY THE LEDE! Surely the title of this article should be ROBOTS!!!!!”, but automata weren’t invented in our period, like, not even close—they date practically back to the wheel. No, no, the Banu Musa were simply some of many people during the “Dark Ages” casually building
robotsautomated devices for profit but mostly fun. They invented the player piano, automatic Vegas-style fountains, a self-trimming lamp (pictured above), and a ton of toys. Their work was hydraulic; my favorite manifestation is probably the automatic flute player, which worked by blowing hot steam through a flute and was programmable one thousand years before the invention of the Jacquard loom.
This would all be totally overshadowed in three hundred years when al-Jazari and his musical robot band showed up. Watch this space.
A stillborn “mermaid child”, deformed as an after effect of the Chernobyl disaster, c. 1988.