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Do you or someone that you know love ancient history, Roman history, or military history? Then you should buy a copy of The Great Illyrian Revolt and Four Days in September: The Battle of Teutoburg. These two histories are just the thing to satisfy your ancient warfare addiction! Both books have received numerous positive reviews on Amazon and elsewhere and have been praised by professional historians. Both books are also on sale just in time for the holiday season, so order your copies today before they run out! You can find these books on Amazon, Barnes, and Noble, Pen & Sword Books, and numerous other book retailer websites.
The days are starting to get a bit cooler, with chilly mornings and soft crisp breezes throughout the day. The leaves are changing color and dropping to the ground, and animals are busily stockpiling food for their long Winter dormancy.
In ancient Rome, the changing seasons would, of course, be marked by a social festival. October 11 was the date of the Meditrinalia. The name has been subject to several interpretations, but all of them agree that on this day wine was the main focus of the festivities. The ancient Roman author Marcus Terentius Varro says the following about it:
“In the month of October, the Meditrinalia ‘Festival of Meditrina’ was named for mederi ‘to be healed,’ because Flaccus the special priest of Mars used to say that on this day it was the practice to pour an offering of new and old wine to the god, and to taste of the same, for the purpose of being healed; which many are accustomed to do even now, when they say: Wine new and old I drink, of illness new and old I’m cured” (1).
Roland G. Kent, who translated Varro’s above-mentioned work, states in a footnote for 6:21 that the Meditrinalia took place on October 3, not October 11, and that it was named in reference to Meditrina, who was a goddess of healing. The Fasti Amiternini states that the festival originally honored Jupiter, not Meditrina, who may have been invented by the Romans in later years (2).
The festival might, in fact, have much simpler origins and purposes. The name Meditrinalia means “the festival of the middle of the three” in Latin, meaning that it takes place in the middle of the three months of Autumn. By this time in Italy, the grape harvest has been taken in and will soon be bottled and casked to ferment over the winter. In commemoration of the end of the grape harvest, a wine tasting festival was held to sample the various vintages. At the commencement, an offering of the previous harvest’s vintage as well as some freshly pressed juices were offered to the Roman gods, notably the gods and goddesses of health healing, so that the people could be cured of ailments and to preserve their bodily constitutions over Winter. The cooler temperatures and a lack of fresh food made people in ancient times especially susceptible to sickness during Winter. This was a time before antibiotics, when a simple cough or a case of the sniffles might turn into something serious, like pneumonia. Therefore, calling upon the gods to be free of sickness before Winter properly set in would have been seen as a sensible precaution (3).
So on this day, gather your friends together and cheerfully lift a glass with a toast of “To your health!”
“Autumn Vintage Festival”, painted by Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1877)
Behold! the tender Autumn flower
Is purpling on the hill,
The roses wither on the bower,
And vanished is the dill.
The morning air is keen and bright,
The afternoon is full of light,
And Hesper ushers in the night
With breezes damp and chill.
The purple harvest of the vine
Is bleeding in the press,
And Bacchus comes to taste the wine
And all our labours bless.
Then bring a golden bowl immense,
And mix enough to drown your sense,
And care not if you soon commence
Your secrets to confess.
For wine a mirror is, to show
The image that is fair,
The friend of lightsome mirth, the foe
Of shadow-haunting care.
So fill your Teian goblet up,
And scatter jewels from the cup,
And drink until the last hiccup
Shall drown your latest woe.
– Alcaeus of Mytilene
- Marcus Terentius Varro, On the Latin Language, book 6, verse 21. Translated by Roland G. Kent. London: W. Heinemann, 1938. Page 195.
- Marcus Terentius Varro, On the Latin Language, book 6, verse 21, footnote. Translated by Roland G. Kent. London: W. Heinemann, 1938. Page 194; “Libation for the Meditrinalia on October 11”.
- “Major Holidays of Rome: October”.
- Marcus Terentius Varro, On the Latin Language, book 6, verse 21. Translated by Roland G. Kent. London: W. Heinemann, 1938.
- Nova Roma. “Libation for the Meditrinalia on October 11”. http://www.novaroma.org/religio_romana/Meditrinalia.html.
- ADF. “Major Holidays of Rome: October”. https://www.adf.org/rituals/roman/roman-holidays3.html.
The sauropods are the definitive image of the dinosaur. Almost always, whenever one hears the word “dinosaur”, the image of the long-necked long-tailed four-legged behemoth is what immediately springs to mind. The sauropods were the dominant land herbivores during the Jurassic Period of the Mesozoic Era, and some of our best specimens come from western North America.
In the Rocky Mountains, in the states of Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado lies a massive swath of Jurassic-age rock known as the Morrison Formation. Here are found fossils of some of the most well-known and iconic dinosaur species, names that everyone knows, like Allosaurus, Ceratosaurus, Apatosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Stegosaurus, and Diplodocus. The Morrison Formation was home to a myriad of different species, and not just dinosaurs either. Other prehistoric creatures that have been found in this rock layer include pterosaurs, crocodiles, turtles, lizards, frogs, fish, mammals, and even insects.
While there are a few dinosaur names that stick in people’s memories, the Morrison Formation was home to many dinosaur species. One of them, which is largely unknown by the general public, was a sauropod called Haplocanthosaurus. Part of the reason why this animal doesn’t have the same caché to its name as other Jurassic giants is because it is known from only partial remains, its fossils are extremely rare, and because it is found in the oldest layers of the Morrison Formation, far below the fossil-rich layers of the middle and late strata that have yielded thousands of finds. This article will be an overview of this mysterious and curious, but not quite forgotten, sauropod of the Late Jurassic.
Discovery, Localities, and Dating
In the very early 20th Century, the remains of a sauropod dinosaur were found about eight miles north of Cañon City, Colorado, and they were discovered and excavated by one Mr. W. H. Utterback. In early 1903, John Bell Hatcher gave these bones the identification of Haplocanthus priscus, “the ancient simple spine” (1).
However, Hatcher soon learned that the name was already used for a prehistoric fish, and so later that year, he re-classified the dinosaur as Haplocanthosaurus, “simple-spined lizard”:
“Dr. C. R. Eastman has very courteously called my attention to the fact that the generic name Haplocanthus recently proposed by me for a new Sauropod dinosaur from the Jurassic deposits near Canyon City, Colorado, is essentially preoccupied, Agassiz having employed the name Haplocanthus for a genus of fishes. I would therefore propose the name Haplocanthosaurus for this genus of dinosaurs with simple median spines on the anterior dorsals and posterior cervicals” (2).
Later that same year, Hatcher published a lengthy and detailed description of all of the bones assigned to this new genus (3).
In fact, Hatcher was mistaken – the name Haplocanthus wasn’t already occupied after all. According to the rules of the ICZN, the original name would have been the correct one to use, except that nobody had called this creature by that name since its discovery. A proposal was submitted in 1989 to have Haplocanthosaurus as the accepted name of this creature due to its common use and the fact that Haplocanthus was not acknowledged by the paleontological community. The request was approved in 1991, and Haplocanthosaurus became the definite name of this dinosaur genus (4).
In 1954, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History really wanted a large grand dinosaur skeleton to put on display, just like the ones that were on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh. So an expedition was sent out west to bring back an attention-grabbing huge dinosaur skeleton. The expedition was led, surprisingly enough, by a college undergraduate student named Edwin Delfs (5).
Their first destination was Dinosaur National Monument, located near the Utah-Colorado border, and they hunted for fossils around that area. Unfortunately, they didn’t find anything. However, the team received a tip from some geology students from Louisiana State University that they ought to check out a site in Garden Park, located near Cañon City, Colorado. (6).
Delfs and his teammates relocated to the suggested location, and on the eastern bank of Four Mile Creek, they hit paydirt. Here were the grandiose fossils that the Cleveland Museum was looking for. However, they couldn’t dig anything up yet. The United States had entered the Atomic Age, and due to the Red Scare of the 1950s, the country was manufacturing hundreds of atomic bombs every year. In order to fuel this doomsday machine, the military needed massive amounts of uranium. Many of the fossils that had been discovered out west during the post-WWII years had been discovered accidentally by people who were prospecting for uranium deposits. Due to all of the uranium deposits in the area, Edwin Delfs first had to file a mining claim on the site before he could dig up any fossils (7).
Over the course of three digging seasons, Delfs and his team chipped away at the stone. Part of the reason why it took so long was due to the extremely hard consistency of the rock that the bones were found in. Another reason was that sudden flash floods would completely flood the excavation site, and unfortunately some of the bones were washed away before they could be saved and prepared. After three years of on-off excavations, the team uncovered a large number of vertebrae and parts of the hip. The specimen, which was substantially bigger than Haplocanthosaurus priscus, was named Haplocanthosaurus delfsi by Dr. Jack McIntosh (who is widely regarded as the greatest sauropod expert EVER) and Dr. Michael Williams who served as the curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The jacketed bones were brought back to the Cleveland Museum to be prepared. The skeleton was put on display, and it remains one of the main attractions at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, where it is affectionately known by the nickname “Happy” (8).
There are currently two species of Haplocanthosaurus known to science: H. priscus and H. delfsi. Both of them are known from comparatively few remains in relation to other late Jurassic sauropods. No complete skeleton has ever been found, and there are numerous bones missing from all known specimens, including the skull; no Haplocanthosaurus skull has ever been found, which makes it difficult to precisely place this species within the dinosaur family tree. So far, we have large chunks of the neck and backbones, a shoulder blade, a few vertebrae from the base of the tail, the hip bones, a few leg bones, and that’s it. Most fossils of this animal have been found in Colorado, but one specimen was found in Montana and was nicknamed “Big Monty”. However, this specimen was found on private property, and it is in the hands of a professional fossil collector and dealer (9).
Fossils of both species of Haplocanthosaurus are found in the early and middle levels of the Morrison Formation, although it is rare within both of those levels. It is completely absent from the late Morrison. It is possible that Haplocanthosaurus lived during the latest part of the Middle Jurassic and therefore straddled the boundary between the Middle and Late divisions. However, there are so few places within North America where Middle Jurassic rocks are exposed, and the number of fossils from those rocks has been aggravatingly miniscule. So, the question of whether or not Haplocanthosaurus was a Middle Jurassic leftover that survived into the earliest parts of the Late Jurassic cannot be answered yet (10).
Haplocanthosaurus is distinctive for vertebrae that have only a single dorsal neural spine as opposed to the double-pronged V-shaped dorsal neural spines found in the diplodocid sauropods like Apatosaurus and Diplodocus. It is this anatomical feature that earned it its name “simple-spined lizard”. The neck vertebrae of Haplocanthosaurus have proportionally small centrum disks, high neural arches, a tall dorsal neural spine, and transverse spines that stick out directly sideways. Haplocanthosaurus is also noted for having femur bones that are substantially longer than the shin bones. This hints that Haplocanthosaurus was a very slow-moving animal (11).
Size measurements are difficult to pin down, because paleontologists currently recognize two species of Haplocanthosautrus: H. delfsi and H. priscus. It appears that Haplocanthosaurus priscus measured only 50 feet long, making it the smallest sauropod yet found in North America, while Haplocanthosaurus delfsi measured 70 feet long. This distinction was not known until 1988. John Foster states that H. priscus likely weighed around 23,000 pounds (10,500 kilograms) while H. delfsi weighed 46,200 pounds (21,000 kilograms). The aforementioned size measurements mean that Haplocanthosaurus priscus was one of the smallest – if not the smallest – sauropod found within the Morrison Formation (12).
Haplocanthosaurus is a bit of an oddball as far as sauropods go because paleontologists haven’t quite made up their minds as to how to classify it. Because Haplocanthosaurus is known only from partial skeletons, deciding where it fits within the sauropod cladogram has proved problematic and aggravating, and paleontologists have repeatedly shuffled this genus around according to their own perceptions.
Due to the shape of its vertebrae, which were unlike those of more advanced sauropods, John Bell Hatcher surmised that Haplocanthosaurus must be a quite primitive. In his initial research paper, he described Haplocanthosaurus as most closely resembling Morosaurus, a name that is now recognized as a junior synonym of Camarasaurus. Since we now classify Camarasaurus as a member of the sauropod group Macronaria, a group which contains species known for having boxy heads and large nostrils, it can be inferred that Hatcher would have placed Haplocanthosaurus in that group as well (13).
Except that Haplocanthosaurus wasn’t included in Macronaria alongside Camarasaurus and Brachiosaurus. It was, instead, included in the family Cetiosauridae. The cetiosaurs were a group of sauropods that are associated with the Middle Jurassic, especially in England, India, and China. One reason why Haplocanthosaurus’ designation as a cetiosaur stuck around for so long was because of the shape and size of the leg bones. Cetiosaurs are characteristic for having femurs that are noticeably longer than their fibulae and tibiae. However, some members of other sauropod groups also have unusually long femurs, so this anatomical feature is not 100% diagnostic towards cetiosaurs (14).
From its discovery until the middle 1990s, the established convention was that Haplocanthosaurus was a cetiosaurid. And then, things began to change. During the middle 1990s, paleontologists began to take a new look at sauropod phylogeny, and many felt that Haplocanthosaurus had been misplaced on the sauropod tree. In 1998, Jeffrey Wilson and Paul Sereno proposed that Haplocanthosaurus might indeed be a primitive member of Macronaria, which is closer to what John B. Hatcher was hinting at in 1903. In 1999, Jose Bonaparte proposed that Haplocanthosaurus was unique enough to warrant a family of its own, which he named Haplocanthosauridae, but this idea was not accepted by the majority of paleontologists. In the early 2000s, it was suspected that Haplocanthosaurus might actually be a very primitive member of the super family Diplodocoidea. A survey conducted in 2005 by Mike Taylor and Darren Naish failed to definitely establish where this genus ought to be placed. John Foster, the author of Jurassic West, postulated in his 2007 book that Haplocanthosaurus was either a cetiosaur or a primitive macronarian. As the 2000s transitioned to the 2010s, the idea that Haplocanthosaurus was likely a primitive diplodocoidean began to gain acceptance within the paleontological community, and this is what most paleontologists now consider Haplocanthosaurus to be (15).
Because Haplocanthosaurus possesses anatomical features found in both sauropod families, it’s possible that it is a transitional species, a “missing link”, between the cetiosaurs of the middle Jurassic and the diplodocids of the late Jurassic. However, proving such a statement is problematic because of the rarity of finds attributed to this genus. Haplocanthosaurus is known from several partial skeletons, but no skull has ever been found. That’s too bad, because a complete skull would probably settle the argument of where this genus fits on the sauropod tree.
Below is a drawing that I made of Haplocanthosaurus. Because no skull has ever been found, I decided to make a sort of half-cetiosaur half-diplodocid design. The short keratinous scutes that run along the middle of its spine are a reference to such spines (longer ones at that) being found in association with diplodocid sauropods; if this was a primitive member of that family, I’m guessing that such spines would be shorter, if it possessed any at all. The tail is somewhat shorter than what you might expect, more in keeping with a cetiosaurid than a diplodocid. The drawing was made on printer paper with a No. 2 pencil.
Haplocanthosaurus delfsi. © Jason R. Abdale. June 21, 2020.
Due to the scarcity of remains, theories about Haplocanthosaurus’ appearance and phylogenic relationship to other sauropods are largely conjectural. Museum mounts depicting Haplocanthosaurus, such as the one in Cleveland, are composites of known finds and educated guesswork. In terms of cladistics, the in-vogue assessment is that Haplocanthosaurus is a very archaic member of the super family Diplodocoidea. However, this might change in the future depending on any new finds that are uncovered. All that we can hope for is that we keep looking, and hopefully we’ll be able to uncover some more specimens of this mysterious and intriguing North American dinosaur in the years to come.
- John Bell Hatcher (February 21, 1903). “A New Sauropod Dinosaur from the Jurassic of Colorado”. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 16 (1): 1-2).
- John Bell Hatcher (1903). “A new name for the dinosaur Haplocanthus Hatcher”. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 16 (1): 100).
- John Bell Hatcher (1903). “Osteology of Haplocanthosaurus, with description of a new species, and remarks on the probable habits of the Sauropoda and the age and origin of the Atlantosaurus beds. Memoirs of the Carnegie Museum, 2: 1–72).
- John R. Foster and Mathew J. Wedel (2014). “Haplocanthosaurus (Saurischia: Sauropoda) from the lower Morrison Formation (Upper Jurassic) near Snowmass, Colorado”. Volumina Jurassica, 12 (2): 197).
- “Haplocanthosaurus: The Ghost of the Morrison Formation by Dr. Cary Woodruff CMNH Dinofest 2017”.
- “Haplocanthosaurus: The Ghost of the Morrison Formation by Dr. Cary Woodruff CMNH Dinofest 2017”.
- “Haplocanthosaurus: The Ghost of the Morrison Formation by Dr. Cary Woodruff CMNH Dinofest 2017”.
- “Haplocanthosaurus: The Ghost of the Morrison Formation by Dr. Cary Woodruff CMNH Dinofest 2017”.
- “Haplocanthosaurus: The Ghost of the Morrison Formation by Dr. Cary Woodruff CMNH Dinofest 2017”; “Is Nate Murphy Holding a Dinosaur for Ransom?”.
- John Foster, Jurassic West: The Dinosaurs of the Morrison Formation and their World. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2007. Page 200.
- John Bell Hatcher (February 21, 1903). “A New Sauropod Dinosaur from the Jurassic of Colorado”. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 16 (1): 1-2; John Foster, Jurassic West: The Dinosaurs of the Morrison Formation and their World. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2007. Page 200; “Haplocanthosaurus: The Ghost of the Morrison Formation by Dr. Cary Woodruff CMNH Dinofest 2017”.
- John Foster, Jurassic West: The Dinosaurs of the Morrison Formation and their World. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2007. Pages 200-201.
- John Bell Hatcher (February 21, 1903). “A New Sauropod Dinosaur from the Jurassic of Colorado”. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 16 (1): 2.
- David Lambert, The Dinosaur Data Book: Facts and Fictions about the World’s Largest Creatures. New York: Avon Books, 1990. Page 65; Don Lessem and Donald F. Glut, The Dinosaur Society Dinosaur Encyclopedia. New York: Random House, Inc., 1993. Page 208; Gregory S. Paul, The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs, 1st Edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010. Pages 173-177.
- Jeffrey A. Wilson and Paul C. Sereno (June 15, 1998). “Early Evolution and Higher-Level Phylogeny of Sauropod Dinosaurs”. Memoir (Society of Vertebrate Paleontology), 5: 1-68; Jose F. Bonaparte (1999). “An armoured sauropod from the Aptian of northern Patagonia, Argentina”. In Proceedings of the Second Gondwanan Dinosaur Symposium, National Science Museum Monographs #15. Y. Tomida, T. H. Rich, and P. Vickers-Rich, eds. Tokyo. Pages 1-12; Mike P. Taylor and Darren Naish (2005). “The phylogenetic taxonomy of Diplodocoidea (Dinosauria: Sauropoda)”. PaleoBios, 25 (2): 1–7; John Foster, Jurassic West: The Dinosaurs of the Morrison Formation and their World. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2007. Page 188; John A. Whitlock (April 2011). “A phylogenetic analysis of Diplodocoidea (Saurischia: Sauropoda)”. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 161 (4): 872–915; Emanuel Tschopp, Octávio Mateus, and Roger B. J. Benson (2015). “A specimen-level phylogenetic analysis and taxonomic revision of Diplodocidae (Dinosauria, Sauropoda)”. PeerJ. 2015; 3: e857; “Haplocanthosaurus: The Ghost of the Morrison Formation by Dr. Cary Woodruff CMNH Dinofest 2017”.
Bonaparte Jose F. (1999). “An armoured sauropod from the Aptian of northern Patagonia, Argentina”. In Proceedings of the Second Gondwanan Dinosaur Symposium, National Science Museum Monographs #15. Y. Tomida, T. H. Rich, and P. Vickers-Rich, eds. Tokyo: 1-12.
Foster, John. Jurassic West: The Dinosaurs of the Morrison Formation and their World. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2007.
John R. Foster and Mathew J. Wedel (2014). “Haplocanthosaurus (Saurischia: Sauropoda) from the lower Morrison
Formation (Upper Jurassic) near Snowmass, Colorado”. Volumina Jurassica, 12 (2): 197–210. https://sauroposeidon.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/foster-and-wedel-2014-haplocanthosaurus-from-snowmass-colorado.pdf.
Hatcher, John Bell (February 21, 1903). “A New Sauropod Dinosaur from the Jurassic of Colorado”. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 16 (1): 1-2. https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/2345230#page/118/mode/1up.
Hatcher, John Bell (February 21, 1903). “A new name for the dinosaur Haplocanthus Hatcher”. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, 16: 100. https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/2345230#page/118/mode/1up.
Lambert, David. The Dinosaur Data Book: Facts and Fictions about the World’s Largest Creatures. New York: Avon Books, 1990.
Lessem Don; Glut, Donald F. The Dinosaur Society Dinosaur Encyclopedia. New York: Random House, Inc., 1993.
Paul, Gregory S. The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs, 1st Edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010.
Taylor Mike P.; Naish, Darren (2005). “The phylogenetic taxonomy of Diplodocoidea (Dinosauria: Sauropoda)”. PaleoBios, 25 (2): 1–7
Tschopp, Emanuel; Mateus, Octávio; Benson, Roger B. J. (2015). “A specimen-level phylogenetic analysis and taxonomic revision of Diplodocidae (Dinosauria, Sauropoda)”. PeerJ. 2015; 3: e857. Published online on April 7, 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4393826/.
Whitlock, John A. (April 2011). “A phylogenetic analysis of Diplodocoidea (Saurischia: Sauropoda)”. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 161 (4): 872–915. Published online on January 12, 2011. https://academic.oup.com/zoolinnean/article/161/4/872/2732063
Wilson Jeffrey A.; Sereno Paul C. (June 15, 1998). “Early Evolution and Higher-Level Phylogeny of Sauropod Dinosaurs”. Memoir (Society of Vertebrate Paleontology), 5: 1-68.
Inverse. “Is Nate Murphy Holding a Dinosaur for Ransom?”, by Jacqueline Ronson (July 5, 2016). https://www.inverse.com/article/17806-sauropod-dinosaur-discovery-montana-fossil-hunter-paleontology-nate-murphy.
YouTube. ExtermCentral. “Haplocanthosaurus: The Ghost of the Morrison Formation by Dr. Cary Woodruff CMNH Dinofest 2017” (November 12, 2017). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NWL7pjrPbI.
Many people, usually un-informed talking heads that appear on populist nature documentaries who want to make claims that will grab your attention, will say that sharks have remained unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs. It’s wrong. The Mesozoic Era, the age of the dinosaurs, was a time of great transition for sharks. Sharks had existed on Earth for millions of years before the first dinosaurs appeared, ever since the Devonian Period when creatures like Cladoselache swam in the oceans around 370 million years ago. However, these were very primitive sharks that bore only a slight resemblance to most of the sharks that are found in the oceans today. The closest visual comparisons that we have for many prehistoric species are those that are found in very deep water, even though these sharks are still thoroughly modern in their genetics and evolutionary history. Sharks that are described as “modern” by biologists and paleontologists appeared towards the end of the Mesozoic Era during the late Cretaceous Period. Examples of prehistoric “modern sharks” are Cretoxyrhina and Squalicorax, both of which look like many shark species that are alive today.
During the Mesozoic Era, new shark forms emerged that could be described as transitional, a sort of in-between stage between the primitive sharks of the Paleozoic Era and the modern sharks of the very late Mesozoic. The most recognizable of these transitional species were a group of sharks called the “hybodonts”. Part of the reason why the hybodonts are regarded by many as THE shark group of the dinosaur age is because they lasted for such a long time. The hybodonts first emerged during the Carboniferous Period and they stuck around until the very end of the Cretaceous – that’s a LONG time! The hybodonts, therefore, existed throughout the entire duration of the Mesozoic Era. No wonder that they are considered the archetypal Mesozoic shark. Another reason for their status as the sharks that most people think of as dinosaur-age sharks is that they were widespread. Hybodont sharks existed all over the world during the Mesozoic, and they appeared to have existed in every aquatic niche: freshwater, brackish, and saltwater. Perhaps, like modern-day Bull Sharks, they had the ability to migrate in and out of water with different salinity levels without suffering adverse effects.
The most well-known of all of the hybodont sharks is its eponymous member Hybodus, a genus composed of several species which survived and thrived during the dinosaur age. It measured 6 feet long, and it occupied marine habitats around the world, although it is especially known from fossils found in Europe. Below is a drawing that I made of it based upon numerous fossils and scientific articles that I found. I noticed that the profile of the creature looked remarkably similar to a modern-day Blunt-Nosed Six-Gill Shark (Hexanchus griseus), with its rounded blunt nose and the characteristic humped back. Hybodus’ pectoral fins were surprisingly small and convex along the posterior edge, looking similar to the pectoral fins on numerous species of bottom-dwelling sharks. I get the impression that Hybodus was somewhat lethargic and spent much of its time cruising near the sea bottom, but that’s just my guess. The drawing was made with No. 2 pencil.
Keep your pencils sharp.
Othnielia rex was a small ornithopod dinosaur found in the Morrison Formation, a famous geological formation spanning a large chunk of the western United States which is dated to the late Jurassic Period, 155-145 million years ago. It is here that famous dinosaurs like Allosaurus, Stegosaurus, and Diplodocus once lived. Othnielia is named after the famous 19th Century paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh, who named many of those iconic dinosaur species during the “Bone Wars” of the 19th Century.
Othnielia is known from only fragmentary remains, but based upon the size and shape of the bones, it likely measured 5 feet long and weighed less than 150 pounds. It is believed that Othnielia was a member of a group of somewhat primitive ornithopods called the “hypsilophodonts”. Unlike other ornithopod plant-eaters which had a toothless beak, the hypsilophodonts still had small peg-like teeth in the front of their mouths, which was a relic from an earlier lineage. The hypsilophodonts also had small leaf-shaped teeth lining the sides of both the upper and lower jaws. Although these were not technically molars, since they were not used for grinding, they did help to chop up leaves into tiny pieces, which made digestion faster.
Because of their teeth, some paleontologists suspect that the hypsilophodonts were omnivores, and were not strictly herbivorous. If this is true, then Othnielia and its kind would have eaten a variety of foods, such as plants, insects, eggs, and possibly small animals like frogs, lizards, and primitive mammals. This diverse diet would help it survive in the harsh environment of the Morrison Formation by taking advantage of as many food sources as possible.
Nothing is known about the social habits of Othnielia and its kind, but many suspect that it was a herding animal and might have lived in social groups. One might be able to imagine these animals living on the Jurassic savanna like modern-day gazelles or possibly even like African meerkats. I personally rather like the idea of Othnielia living as a prehistoric meerkat analog, living in colonies with a tight social structure, but all of that is imaginative conjecture.
The drawing below depicts an Othnielia rex. Due to the dry nature of the Morrison Formation, I gave this animal a desert-themed color pattern along with a black eye stripe to cut out the glare from the sun, gradually spreading into spots and blotches which covered the body. This drawing was made with No. 2 pencil, Crayola and Prismacolor colored pencils, and a substantial amount of touch-up work on the computer. The blacks especially needed to be re-done because my scanner dulled their appearance.
Hope you enjoy. Please like this page, subscribe to my blog, and leave your comments below.
The Morrison Formation of the western United States is one of the most famous deposits of late Jurassic strata anywhere in the world. It is here that dinosaur fossils from famous species like Allosaurus, Stegosaurus, Apatosaurus, and others were discovered and continue to be uncovered by paleontologists to this day. While the Morrison Formation is world-renowned for its superb dinosaur fossils, this landscape was home to many other species that dwelt here 150 million years ago. In addition to dinosaurs, fossils of pterosaurs, crocodiles, lizards, turtles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates have also been uncovered.
As you can see from the above list, there are many aquatic or semi-aquatic animals that are mentioned. This may sound bizarre because, as anyone who has even a vague knowledge of the Morrison Formation knows, this landscape was arid and dry for much of the year during the late Jurassic; click here for a video that talks about this. However, since fossilization is most likely to occur in areas that are prone to flooding, it would make sense that many of the fossils that we find come from creatures that made their homes in and around the water.
One of those creatures was Morrolepis, one of the fish species that lived in western North America during the Late Jurassic. Morrolepis belonged to a group of primitive fish called the palaeoniscoids, which superficially resemble something that you’d find in the deep ocean – very large eyes, short snout, big mouth, big snaggly teeth, and a general appearance that can be best described as “prehistoric”. The creature was officially named Morrolepis schaefferi in 1998 by Jim Kirkland, although there are other species of this genus that have been found elsewhere, notably in Europe. This creature only measured eight inches long, far larger than its contemporary, the minnow-sized Hulettia, but at the same time it was far smaller than its other major contemporary, the three-foot-long lungfish Ceratodus. By the way, lungfish were the most common fish found in the Morrison Formation. Being able to breathe when you’re out of water is very helpful if you live in a landscape that has a long dry season and is prone to droughts.
We know quite a bit about Morrolepis’ anatomy based upon the fossils that have been uncovered, but how would it have lived? We know from geology that Morrolepis’ remains were found inland. Therefore, it was not a marine species, but was instead a freshwater species. The Morrison Formation was, as said before, a largely dry area, but there were a few places where there were permanent sources of fresh water. The landscape was mostly flat, and rivers that flow through flat terrain usually flow very slowly because the incline of the land is barely noticeable. Moreover, flat-land rivers tend to be very wide but very shallow, unless they happen to be cutting through a gorge or ravine. So, it appears that Morrolepis was at home in standing or slow-moving water, such as ponds, lakes, and slow-moving rivers. Water bodies that are standing or slow-moving usually have a lot of aquatic vegetation. This is because seeds and spores of aquatic plants have a better chance of taking root and growing because the current won’t sweep them away, like in faster-moving streams and rivers. Therefore, in water bodies such as this, there is a sufficient amount of aquatic plants and algae. In some circumstances, the water might appear to be green due to the heavy concentration of algae (visit Kissena Park in Queens, New York if you don’t believe me; the lake there looks like pea soup). So, what we have so far is a slow-moving river that is wide but shallow, and probably has a fair amount of aquatic vegetation in it – ambush country.
Predatory fish that live in this type of environment are almost exclusively ambush predators, waiting under cover for prey to pass by too close, and then suddenly lunging forward and gobbling them up. Morrolepis had large eyes set close to the front of the head, ideal for spotting its prey. Also, if the water was indeed so thick with algae that it appeared to be dyed green, visibility would be very low. Large eyes would compensate for the murky water. A large mouth lined with noticeably long spiky teeth would seem to be a good go-to method for swallowing down small prey in water that had low visibility. With a gaping maw like that, even if your aim was not 100% accurate, you still stood a fair chance of catching your victim anyway. Unlike other palaeoniscoid fish, Morrolepis is distinctive for having large fins (most palaeoniscoids have small fins in proportion to body size), with the dorsal fin and the anal fin set back much closer towards the tail than in its relatives. Morrolepis’ tail was asymmetrical, resembling the tail of a sturgeon or a shark. In fact, the whole animal sort of resembles a modern deep sea shark in terms of its general body plan. Morrolepis appears to have had the body plan of a hoverer or a slow cruiser, being able to use its large tail for a powerful forward thrust. This is a feature of ambush predators like pikes and gars.
Due to the environment that it lived in, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to imagine that Morrolepis was patterned in blotches or wavy stripes, and presumably would have been colored in various shades of tan, brown, and green to camouflage it in the murky muddy water and match the surrounding submerged vegetation.
I like to imagine Morrolepis as an ambush predator with good eyesight, and was likely covered in stripy or blotchy brown/green camouflage, which inhabited standing or slow-moving bodies of water. Below is a drawing that I have made of this creature. This illustration was made after consulting numerous photographs and scientific illustrations of Morrolepis fossils and comparing them with fossils of other palaeoniscoid fish. The drawing was made with a fine-tip black marker and colored pencils. Please provide any commentary or feedback below.
This is Harpactognathus, a rhamphorhynchid pterosaur from the Morrison Formation of the late Jurassic Period. It was one of the largest, if not THE largest, pterosaurs that called the Morrison Formation home. Although it is only known from fragmentary remains, including a large chunk of its upper jaw, paleontologists believe that Harpactognathus had an 8-foot wingspan, making it the size of an eagle. As to how long it would be, that’s uncertain. Rhamphorhynchids are known for having long tails, often ending in diamond-shaped or kite-shaped fins, which were likely brightly colored. Unfortunately, no remains of Harpactongathus’ tail have been found yet. Based upon the appearance of its skull, with long interlocking teeth resembling a Venus fly trap, it is almost certain that Harpactognathus was a fish-eater.
There have been numerous comparisons made over the years between Late Jurassic North America and the modern-day African savanna. Therefore, I decided to portray Harpactognathus with a color scheme similar to the African Fishing Eagle. This drawing was made with a combination of No. 2 pencil, No. 3 pencil, colored pencils, and markers.
The middle to late 19th Century can arguably be seen as the glory days of paleontology. While this time frame is often associated with the discovery of dinosaurs and the so-called “Bone Wars” of the American West, discoveries were also being made elsewhere during this time and concerning the remains of prehistoric life other than those creatures that inhabit every child’s fantasies.
Europeans had known about the fossilized remains of prehistoric marine life ever since the Middle Ages. In the superstitious societies of those times, shells of prehistoric mollusks were often believed to be the nails and horns of devils. During the late 18th Century, grander discoveries were made, notably by the English paleontologist Mary Anning. Due to the impressive finds made by her and others, creatures like ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, and mosasaurs made their entrance into our collective knowledge of life.
During the middle 1800s, some isolated teeth were discovered in northern France. In 1873, these teeth were ascribed the name Liopleurodon, meaning “smooth-sided tooth” by the French paleontologist and biologist Henri Émile Sauvage. It was evident that the teeth belonged to a large prehistoric marine reptile, and it was established that this creature belonged to a group known as the pliosaurs, which had been named by Sir Richard Owen in the 1840s. The pliosaurs were close relatives of their more famous long-necked plesiosaur cousins; in fact, pliosaurs are sometimes referred to as “short-necked plesiosaurs”. The pliosaurs had the same general body plan as their plesiosaur relatives – a rounded stocky body with four large flippers and a short tail – but they had short muscular necks and long crocodile-like heads which were very large in proportion with their bodies. The pliosaurs seem to have emerged during the early Jurassic Period, and quickly rose to be apex predators of their environment. Some species, such as the eponymous Pliosaurus and its cousin Kronosaurus grew to be some of the largest marine reptiles in Earth’s history, with their size commonly stated to be 40 feet long, just as big as Tyrannosaurus rex.
The remains of Liopleurodon have been found in Britain, France, and Germany within rocks dated to the middle Jurassic/late Jurassic boundary, approximately 165-155 million years ago. Phylogenic analysis suggests that it was an advanced member of the pliosaur family. However, it was only half the size of its gargantuan relatives. Only partial remains of this animal have been discovered so far, so it is difficult to gauge an accurate size. However, the most common size estimates for Liopleurodon are between 20 to 25 feet in length. Even though it wasn’t as big as Pliosaurus or Kronosaurus, Liopleurodon was likely the top predator in the shallow sea that once covered Europe during the Jurassic Period.
Liopleurodon first came to my attention in 1994 when it was featured in issue #85 of Dinosaurs! magazine. In the article, it was mistakenly stated that it grew to be 39 feet (12 meters) long, a much larger size than the one it was likely in life. It was also portrayed, remarkably, as being mostly toothless except for a crescent of curved fangs extending from the front of both jaws.
Liopleurodon afterwards came to mass public attention in 1999 when it was featured in Episode 3 of the BBC series Walking With Dinosaurs. In this TV show, the creature bears only a general resemblance to the real animal. Firstly, there was a drastic difference in size. As said earlier, many paleontologists think that Liopleurodon had a maximum size of 25 feet. However, in Walking With Dinosaurs, Liopleurodon was portrayed as being three times larger, measuring 80 feet long, a truly gargantuan size indeed! This inflated size estimate was based upon a single fragmentary specimen uncovered in Mexico which was attributed to Liopleurodon and was believed to represent a gigantic individual. Although the evidence was flimsy, the producers took this as a cue and exaggerated Liopleurodon’s size to absurd proportions, claiming that it was the largest marine reptile that ever lived – it wasn’t. Secondly, the head was the wrong shape, with it being given a much more curvaceous high-arched skull. In reality, the skull was much lower and flatter. Thirdly, the body proportions were incorrect. It was stated in the episode that Liopleurodon’s head measured one-fourth the total length of its body. However, an article from 2003 stated that it was likely that the head measured one-fifth the total length of its body. This would have made its head seem somewhat smaller in relation to its body.
A reconstructed Liopleurodon skeleton can be seen in the Museum of Paleontology in Tübingen, Germany – you can see a photo of it here. Granted, much of the skeleton is fictitious, since only partial remains of Liopleurodon have been found in Europe, so the blank spaces were filled in with reconstructions based upon what we know about pliosaur anatomy. The first thing that one is struck by is that it is obviously much, much smaller than the size given in Walking With Dinosaurs. The skull is also much flatter than you would expect. This might be due to compression caused by the fossilization process rather than being an accurate portrayal of its natural appearance. However, there are other pliosaur species that have flat crocodilian-like skulls, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. The front teeth in both jaws are enormous, while the majority of teeth that line its mouth were only one-half or one-third the size of the front teeth, and most of them are missing. This is probably the reason why Liopleurodon was portrayed as having only front teeth in a largely toothless mouth in the Dinosaurs! article. The front end of the lower jaw is noticeably spoon or scoop-shaped – it is pronounced in relation to the rest of the dentary bone, and it has an obvious upward swoop. Like the 2003 article states, the head isn’t as large in proportion with the rest of the body as the BBC series showed. The neck is longer, and it has a much more pot-bellied barrel chest. All in all, this looks very little like its representation in Walking With Dinosaurs. Given the character’s well-known imagery from that show, you might be forgiven in thinking that the specimen on display in the museum was actually a completely different species.
Finally comes the issue of color. Ever since its appearance on Walking With Dinosaurs, reconstructions of Liopleurodon, either two-dimensional images or rendered into three-dimensional sculptures and toys, have portrayed it with a piebald black-and-white color pattern. While the repeated use of this color scheme may seem to be becoming over-used to the point of being trite, there may be scientific foundation to it, since it was claimed in a scientific study that prehistoric marine reptiles were probably darkly-colored in order to absorb as much heat as possible. Furthermore, this color pattern has become widely recognizable as the most identifiable and therefore definitive Liopleurodon appearance, and this motif is unlikely to go away anytime soon.
Seeing this reconstructed skeleton left an impression on me, and I decided to make a series of illustrations of what Liopleurodon would have looked like in real life. In contrast to my usual style, which is highly detailed and would take me weeks or even months to finish, I decided to knock out a few quick black-and-white line drawings made with an ordinary black ballpoint pen.
First is a basic line drawing showing how Liopleurodon would look as it swam through the Jurassic ocean.
Second is another line drawing showing the iconic Walking With Dinosaurs color pattern, rendered to look like something that you’d see in a coloring book.
Finally is a colorized portrayal showing the classic black-and-white piebald color pattern.
I realize that these pictures may not be what you’d expect, especially given our engrained perceptions of what we think Liopleurodon ought to look like based upon its appearance in WWD, but holy heck, look at the size of those front choppers!!! It looks like something out of a nightmarish Wayne Barlowe painting! I hope you enjoy these pictures. Please like and leave any comments below.
On August 3, 390 BC, the unthinkable happened – the city of Rome fell to the barbarians. But first, some background information…
After a ten year long civil war, the Roman Republic was officially created in 499 BC. Ever since then, the Romans had been fighting a series of wars in central Italy against their Latin, Italic, and Etruscan neighbors. However, in the summer of 390 BC, they faced off against an enemy that they had never encountered before – the Celts.
The Celts were a collection of tribes that appear to have originated in what is now Austria. By the early 4th Century BC, they had spread and had become the dominant culture throughout much of western and central Europe. They had even crossed the Alps and had occupied all of the territory north of the Po River.
The Etruscan city-state of Clusium, which lay a hundred miles north of Rome, was under threat from the Celts. Although the Etruscans and Romans had been enemies for many years, the Etruscans feared these northern newcomers far more than the Romans, and so they decided to send a message to Rome asking for help.
However, the Republic was wary. They were still very conscious that they had formerly been under Etruscan rule and that the Etruscans had a century earlier assisted the monarchist forces during Rome’s civil war to overthrow the Tarquin Dynasty. Furthermore, Rome had been fighting wars against the various Etruscan city-states for many years, and had only recently emerged victorious in one such conflict. They were not going to suddenly change direction and extend the hand of friendship to their enemy. However, the officials in Rome were curious about who these strange northerners were, so they sent a delegation to Clusium to see if a peaceful settlement could be brokered between the warring sides, and also to gather as much intelligence on these foreigners as they could.
When the Roman envoys arrived, it soon became clear that the Celts had no interest in negotiating. Scarcely had the meeting began when they demanded to the Romans that land in central Italy should be handed over to them or else face the consequences. The emissaries were taken aback by this – nobody made demands to the Roman Republic. Things quickly turned ugly. An argument ensued which rapidly became heated, and in a flush of rage, one of the Roman envoys struck one of the Celtic warriors with a blow so hard that it killed him. Realizing that their own lives were now in danger, the envoys raced back to Rome.
Chief Brennus, the leader of the Celts, sent a message to the Senate demanding that the murderer should be delivered up to them to be punished, but the Senate refused. Fueled by anger and indignation, the Celts raced southwards with the cry “To Rome! To Rome!”
The Republic hastily cobbled together an army with the goal of intercepting and defeating the Celtic horde before it got close to the city. However, the majority of the troops that were called up were not professionally-trained veteran soldiers, but were instead hastily-trained draftees. Some of them hadn’t even done weapon drills yet when they marched out.
On July 18, 390 BC, the two sides met just eleven miles north of Rome along the banks of the Allia River. The Celtic and Roman forces were more-or-less evenly matched in size, but the Romans force was mostly made of new poorly-trained recruits while the Celtic force was made up of battle-hardened warriors. The Romans took up a defensive position, but they didn’t bother to build defensive barricades, and they also spread their forces out in a long thin line to protect against being out-flanked. However, this made them very susceptible to a heavy-scale head-on charge, especially if such a frontal attack was directed at just one spot on that thin line of men.
At the Battle of the Allia River, the Romans fought their first battle against the Celts and lost. The battle itself was a chaotic mess, and the army of the Roman Republic was thoroughly crushed and routed by Chief Brennus’ Gallic warriors. Some of the survivors fled back to Rome, others fled to the nearby town of Veii, while the remainder of the survivors hunkered down in a nearby forest for the next three days. The Celts eventually gave up hunting for the refugees and turned their full attention upon Rome itself.
When the fleeing troops that returned to Rome reported the disaster, the people were gripped with panic and terror. The Celts were following them, and they would be arriving outside the city within a matter of hours. They realized that they did not have enough strength to adequately defend the whole city, so it was decided to make a stand at the city’s central defensive position – the citadel located atop the Capitoline Hill. Other people simply abandoned Rome entirely and fled elsewhere, believing that the city was doomed to fall to the barbarians regardless of whatever defenses may be mustered against them.
By the evening of the 18th, the Celts arrived outside the city. However, the decided to wait until the following morning to launch their attack. On the 19th, the Celts advanced. The gate was open and unguarded, and they cautiously advanced through the city’s wards. Resistance was miniscule, and the Celts went on a looting rampage, plundering the people’s houses and then setting them on fire. Still, the Celts did not attack the fortified center of the city. For the next two weeks, the Celts besieged the citadel with little success.
Meanwhile, the Roman troops who had fled to Veii after the disaster at the Allia River began to rally together to form a counter-attack. However, this force was delayed in striking the Celtic rear because they had to contend with the Etruscans once again. Veii had once been an Etruscan town, and now that the Romans were weakened, the Etruscans saw this as an opportunity to strike and take the town back. This attack failed, but it did delay the Roman reinforcements. A messenger was dispatched to Rome to let the Senate know that reinforcements were coming. This person knew a secret way to scale up the steep cliffs that formed one side of the Capitoline’s citadel. Unfortunately, this method of accessing the citadel was discovered soon afterwards by the Celts.
On August 3, after laying siege to the citadel for two weeks, the Celts ascended the cliff under the cover of darkness. The guards who had been posted did not notice their approach, and the watch dogs were all asleep. However, a flock of geese which were present sounded the alarm by loudly honking, and this is what alerted the Romans to the enemy presence. The defenders rushed to repel the attackers, who were driven off with great force.
However, this last-minute victory was short-lived. By now, people on both sides were suffering from hunger, disease, and heat sickness, and a ceasefire was called. Representatives from the two sides met to discuss the surrender terms for the city’s defenses. Chief Brennus demanded that the Romans pay him 2,000 pounds-weight of gold in order to encourage his warriors to leave. A set of giant scales was set up in the open, but the Gauls cheated by using heavier weights. When the Romans protested at this, saying that he was violating the terms of the agreement by making the Romans pay more money than what they had agreed to, he answered this simply by adding even more weight onto the scale, in this case by dropping his own sword onto the balance. With this, Chief Brennus uttered the Latin words “Vae victis”, which means “Woe to the vanquished”.
It would turn out that Brennus could not bask in his glory for long. Word soon arrived that his lands were under attack by neighboring tribes, and his warriors had to return home. To the Romans, the fall of their city was a crushing gut-check moment, and it would be forever scared not only onto their history but also onto their psyche. From that moment on, the northern barbarian was their most hated and feared enemy.
In later years, the events which occurred on the night of August 3 were marked by a macabre ritual enacted by the Romans on the third of August for years afterwards: the Supplicia Canum, which means “the Begging of the Dogs”. As a punishment for allowing the Gauls to enter the city because they were not being attentive enough, the Romans would take all of the stray dogs that they found in the city, crucify them alive, and carry them in a solemn procession through the streets. The name refers to the idea that as the unfortunate animals howled and shrieked in pain as they were cursed at by the Roman people lining the sides of the roads, they were actually begging for forgiveness for falling asleep on guard duty rather than protecting their masters. Perhaps the unearthly sound also conjured up something of the melancholy wailing of the souls in the Underworld who perished at the Gauls’ hands. Meanwhile, the holy geese who did raise the alarm cry were carried around on a golden litter draped with purple, and were praised and honored by all who saw them.
June is the month of Juno, the goddess of women, marriage, and women’s health. Most weddings in ancient Rome took place in June to honor Juno. Even today, there is a tradition of “June weddings”.
The poet Ovid states that the origins of this month’s name are uncertain, although naming the month after the goddess Juno is the most common explanation. Ovid in fact claims that the goddess herself came to him in a vision and told him straightly that June is named after herself. Juno was the queen of the gods, the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Hera. She was both Jupiter’s bride as well as being his sister – in ancient pantheons, marriage between brother and sister deities was somewhat common. She was the eldest child of the primordial god Saturn (the Roman version of the titan Kronos) (Ovid, Fasti, book 6, introduction).
The reason why June is the month that’s associated with marriages comes from early Roman legends. When Rome was first founded by Romulus and Remus, a system was needed to organize their society. Romulus purportedly divided the entire male population in half based upon age: the elders would provide council and run the affairs of state while the young, being more energetic and quick to action, would compose its military. However, these two broad divisions often quarreled with each other, especially regarding war. In its early days, Rome was in constant war with neighboring settlements. While the elders advocated for peaceful negotiations and diplomacy, the fitful youth wanted to fight in order to assert their manliness. Finally, the arrival of the goddess Concord, the goddess of peace and calm, put a stop to this. She said that Romulus and Chief Tatius had come into an agreement and they had agreed to merge their two settlements together, and so too should both bodies of the Roman men come together as well. For this reason, Ovid explains, June is associated with both the union (iunctus) of these two villages to form a larger and stronger village, as well as the uniting of both divisions of Roman male society to form a stronger state. Thus, June is associated with unions, and what better example than a union of two people to form one family? That’s why June is the month of marriages (Ovid, Fasti, book 6, introduction).
Another reason why June is associated with weddings is because the ancient Romans considered it to be VERY bad luck to get married in May, and they encouraged couples in love to postpone their nuptials until the following month. This is because of a festival called the Lemuria, which you can read about here.
June 1st was the day that a shrine to Juno Moneta, meaning “Juno the Adviser/Counsellor”, was dedicated. She gets this particular appellation because she gave advice to couples who were about to get married. A group of sacred geese was housed in this temple, and in 390 BC, their honking warned the people of Rome that the Celtic barbarians were trying to break into the city (Ovid, Fasti, book 6, June 1; Ovid: Fasti – Index D-J – “Juno”).
June 1st is also the day of the Feast of Carna. An unusual goddess whose name is hardly mentioned in the same breath with Jupiter, Mars, and Venus, Carna was the patron goddess of hinges. Yep, that’s right, I said it. I don’t believe that we are meant to take this description of her literally. The ancient Romans associated her with openings and closings. She was likely viewed as a goddess of one’s phases in life (childhood, adolescence, adulthood, etc), life opportunities (one door closes and another one opens), as well as people beginning or ending a certain chapter of their lives. She was a nymph, a forest being, who was lusted after by the Roman god Janus. One day, he caught her and raped her. Being the god of new beginnings as well as being the patron god of windows and doors, he promised her that in exchange for taking her virginity, he would make all hinges sacred to her (Ovid, Fasti, book 6, June 1). Sounds like a very poor exchange to me.
June 1st is also the day when mothers should be especially careful of their children. On this day, evil spirits disguised as owls swoop into people’s homes at night and devour new-born babies while their mothers or babysitters are either absent or distracted. Be attentive mothers! Do not ignore your children’s safety, or else the demon owls will get them! The story goes that one day, a mother went into the nursery and saw her five-day old baby’s face and chest being ripped apart by these creatures. Horrified and panicked, and not knowing what else to do, she called upon Carna (also spelled Cranae) to save her baby. Instantly, the divine being appeared. Carrying a handful of arbutus leaves, she touched each of the doorposts to the nursery room three times with them. Afterwards, she sprinkled a bottle of holy water around the entranceway with one hand, while in the other hand she held the intestines of a baby female pig. Where she suddenly got these items, I don’t know – did she just conjure them up, or did the frantic mother have to go out to the barn and kill one of her pigs and hand the bloody guts to the nymph? Then, the nymph Carna commanded “Birds of night, spare his entrails. A small victim is offered in place of this small child. Take a heart for a heart, I beg, flesh for flesh. This life we give you for a dearer life”. Carna carried the recently slaughtered pig outside, which attracted the demon owls’ attention, and laid it out on the ground. The birds took the meat and completely forgot about the child that they were about to kill. Carna healed the baby, and to make certain that the demon owls never returned, Carna placed a sprig of white-thorn on the windowsill. Like garlic to vampires, this plant made all such demonic entities shrink away and go elsewhere (Ovid, Fasti, book 6, June 1).
To all mothers who have recently given birth and who want to protect your newborn child, bless your baby’s nursery and the cradle. Bless the doorway of your child’s room three times with sacred arbutus leaves, and sprinkle holy water in the entranceway to deter any demons that might come by. Lay a twig of white-thorn on the window, because the demon owls are repelled by the sight of it. However, to make sure that they don’t go away unappeased, sacrifice a young female piglet and offer it as a sacrifice to the birds. Lay it out in the open air so that the nocturnal birds of the night may feast upon it (Ovid, Fasti, book 6, June 1). Now that I think about it, the name “Carna” and the sacrifice of meat might be connected to each other.
June 1st was marked also by the eating of certain foods (by humans, not demon owls), as Ovid states:
“You ask why we eat greasy bacon-fat on the Kalends [of June], and why we mix beans with parched grain? She’s an ancient goddess, nourished by familiar food, no epicure to seek out alien dainties. In ancient times the fish still swam unharmed, and the oysters were safe in their shells. Italy was unaware of Ionian heath-cocks, and the cranes that enjoy Pigmy blood: only the feathers of the peacock pleased, and the nations didn’t send us captive creatures. Pigs were prized: men feasted on slaughtered swine. The earth only yielded beans and hard grains. They say that whoever eats these two foods together at the Kalends, in this sixth month, will have sweet digestion” (Ovid, Fasti, book 6, June 1).
- Ovid, Fasti, book 6, introduction. https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/OvidFastiBkSix.php.
- Ovid, Fasti, book 6, June 1. https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/OvidFastiBkSix.php.
- Ovid: Fasti – Index D-J – “Juno”. https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/OvFastIndexDEFGHIJ.php#Juno.