Archive for the ‘Ex Cathedra’ Category

Rare sea croc fossil found in Denmark

Friday, May 10th, 2019

The white chalk cliffs of Stevns Klint on the Danish island of Zealand are geological marvels, one of the best exposed Cretaceous-Tertiary boundaries in the world, complete with a visible record of the ash cloud created when the Chicxulub meteorite crashed off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula 65 million years ago and caused the greatest mass extinction of all time. A thin grey line of clay divides the white chalk at the bottom from the line above it; it is a literal boundary line marking the end of the Cretaceous.

The cliffs are replete with fossils documenting plant and animal life before the meteorite and their recovery afterwards. Many are embedded in the cliff face and the constant erosion makes it a very productive site for fossil hunters.

Amateur geologist Peter Bennicke has made several important finds there, most recently two teeth and two armour plates from a 66-million-year-old crocodilian. The plates, also known as osteoderms, are sheets of bone under the skin of crocodiles that are coated with horn-like material. They’re what give crocodiles that armor-like plating down their back and sides.

“The patterns in the armour plates vary among different types of crocodiles, but along with the two long and slender teeth we can confidently deduce that the crocodile is of the Thoracosaurus genus, which was the most prevalent sea crocodile of the time – just about the end of the Cretaceous period and the beginning of the Tertiary period,” said Jesper Milan, a museum curator with Geomuseum Faxe.

Thoracosaurus survived the mass extinction rather well, living long into the Danian era. They had long, slender jaws with curved teeth which worked with deadly efficiency at catching fish. Their fossils have been found far from the coastlines of their era, indicating that they were strong swimmers who hunted their prey far from land.

Jesper Milan notes that only a few loose Thoracosaurus teeth from the end of the Cretaceous have been found in Denmark before. The discovery of teeth and plates from a specimen on the other side of the boundary is of greater importance than their modest dimensions might suggest because they fill an important gap in the fossil record.

The fossils will go on display at the Geomuseum Faxe later this year.

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Leonardo’s St Jerome coming to US

Tuesday, April 30th, 2019

St. Jerome Praying in the Wilderness by Leonardo da Vinci is coming to the US in July. It will go on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the master’s death. The  painting is part of the Vatican Museum’s collection, which, inconceivably vast though it is, only has this one painting by Leonardo da Vinci. As a matter of fact, it is the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in Rome. It is also one of maybe a half-dozen paintings whose attribution to Leonardo da Vinci has never been in doubt.

Four of the 15 or so surviving Leonardo paintings are incomplete, and St. Jerome is one of the four. The lion is still a drawn outline, as are Jerome’s foot, his robe draped on the ground, left hand, outstretched right arm holding a stone, one of his attributes, with which he will beat his chest. A church in the upper right of the panel is also a rough outline.

The painting represents Jerome (A.D. 347–420), a major saint and theologian of the Christian Church. The scene is based on the story of his later life, which he spent as a hermit in the desert, according to the 13th-century Golden Legend. The penitent Jerome—aged, gaunt, and nearly toothless—kneels in prayerful meditation before a cave in a rocky landscape. Reclining before Jerome is the tame lion, his companion in the desert and a central figure in the story of Jerome’s life. The saint’s face and gestures convey Leonardo’s theories on human physiognomy and the psychology of expression.

In its unfinished state, the painting shows us that Leonardo did not proceed in a wholly disciplined way. He was particularly interested in creating a detailed, anatomically correct under drawing for the saint’s ascetic body. The elegant silhouette of the reclining lion seems now especially powerful, because there is almost no modeling beyond the outlines. A close examination of the paint surface reveals the presence of Leonardo’s fingerprints, especially in the upper-left portion of the composition. Leonardo used his fingers to distribute the pigments and create a soft-focus effect in the sky and landscape.

Leonardo was painfully slow at painting, which is one of the reasons his oeuvre is so miniscule. He started this panel around 1483 when he was in Milan. When he died in Amboise, France, in 1519, it was still far from finished. We don’t know who commissioned it or why Leonardo kept altering it and working on it nigh onto 40 years.

The work is currently on display in a new location, the Braccio Di Carlo Magno on the left side of St. Peter’s Square, instead of in its usual spot in the Pinacoteca Vaticana. Access is free and the location is much more conducive to quiet contemplation than the frenetic mob scene in the Vatican Museum.

The Met’s exhibition runs through October 6th, 2019, after which St. Jerome will head back across the Atlantic the Paris where it will join other masterpieces by Leonardo at the Louvre’s quincentenary Leonardo exhibition.

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Programming Note

Sunday, April 14th, 2019

I’ve belatedly upgraded to the current version of WordPress and things are a little hinky. Nothing huge, but some hiccups need ironing out. Hold tight!

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Almost Back

Wednesday, January 9th, 2019

Thank you all for your well-wishes and kind words yesterday. I think they were the virtual equivalent of a cortisone shot because I’m feeling better already. JINX JINX WINGED PHALLUS WARD OFF ALL EVIL EYES PLEASE AND THANK YOU

Assuming the fascinus does its job, I’ll be back with an on-topic post tomorrow.

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Programming Note

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

Pardon the radio silence, but I have been waylaid by what I am choosing almost euphemistically to call an athletic injury. Okay, I did too deep a squat and it laid me flat.

Please hold until I can type again.

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Happy New Year!

Tuesday, January 1st, 2019

I’ve had such a deliriously busy holiday season that I haven’t had the time to do a Year in History Blog History retrospective. To make up for that shameful oversight I offer you a preview of an attraction coming up in 2019: a new multi-part post. It’s been more than two years since I tackled the Harrison Horror series for Halloween so it’s high time I took on another one. It won’t be a Halloween story this time. It might not even be thematically linked to any specific holiday or date, which is odd for me because I love a theme show beyond the point of decency. It all depends on when I can get it all together.

I leave you with that tantalizing sliver of a glimpse into the future and the fondest wish that all your parties be joyous and your trips home safe from inebriated fools.

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Departure

Saturday, October 27th, 2018

Roman Idyll 2: The Rhino Gets His is officially at an end and in a few hours I will be on my way across the Atlantic. There is much more to post about, so the Rome reports will continue upon my return. For now I must sign off with the deepest of sighs. A week could never be enough.

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Programming Note of Awesomeness

Friday, October 19th, 2018

Guess who speaks fluent French and is flying to Rome today? THIS MOI! Yes, I am heading back to the motherland for the second year in a row. My aim for this trip is to walk the ancient city. I mean, like, all of it. I have exactly two site visits booked, but otherwise the week will be dedicated to exploring the greatest open-air museum in the world without schedule or expectation. I will walk the pomerium, tracking every extant snippet of the ancient walls and gates I can find. I will criss-cross the center. I will go back and forth over the Tiber whenever the spirit moves me.

If all goes well, there will be some posts that refer back to earlier stories I’ve written. If not, then you’ll receive the full benefit of my dubious pictorial skills documenting my adventures in the Capital of the World. Rest assured, I will relay all your best wishes to the cats.

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Programming note/quickie

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2018

You may have noticed there was a bit of technology hiccup earlier today which disabled the site for a few hours. It was an IP address problem which has now been corrected. Regular programming will resume tomorrow.

Because I hate to leave y’all jonesing for your daily history fix, here’s a quick shot in the arm courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces. After a long period of neglect and decay left it closed to the public for decades, the Great Pagoda at Kew Gardens has been fully restored to as close to its original 18th century splendor as possible. The holes cut through its roofs for bomb testing during World War II have been repaired. The 80 dragons that have been lost for two centuries are back, a product of the efforts of 3D printing technology and fine wood carving craftsmanship. The results leave nothing to be desired, and visitors can now drink in two spectacular views: the top-notch revival of a sadly forlorn monument and London from on high.

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Programming Note

Monday, August 6th, 2018

Our server will be getting a MySQL and PHP upgrade this evening between 9:00PM and 3:00AM Mountain Standard Time. There could be some down time. If all goes well it’ll be no more than 15 minutes, so start burning them offerings to the faceless numen that regulate the dark forces of server upgrades.

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