Sunday, March 10, 2013

I've made a perfect Yesterday's piece according to some...

Well I've hit a lot of flak, for my position on SVPoW that this otherwise beautiful picture by  Brian Engh (click for his website). I love this piece... but it is too much of a stretch for me to be humoured as scientific restoration.

I want it made clear I'm not attacking Brian or this piece. Again I think it is a fantastic piece of art, and please go check out the rest of his portfolio. This post is in response to the comments I've received from the scientists and others on this post.

Brian has stated himself this piece was meant as an exploration of what we don't know about Dinosaurs. That is a totally fair. I understand where he is coming with this. I too have been known to take people on for saying we don't know everything about Dinosaurs. Brian has also stated we need to inject imagination into our palaeo-art. I don't disagree. Again one of my favourite palaeo-artists of all time, and personal heroes draws Trilobites with wings.

Brian has also stated he is not deliberately trying to be part of the Yesterdays movement, and that he has always been into speculative art. There are parts of this piece I love on the front. The spine whiskers and such. What I worry about is how the animals AND the setting are very extreme speculation. There isn't any of this grounded on evidence. I could honestly add some of Glendon's wings to these and this piece would fit in with the Trilobites.

So again I'm not saying this to attack Brian. I in fact really want to be fair to him, and get his exact motivations about his work out there. I'm paraphrasing, and you can read his more detailed comments again here.

Where my concern arises has been the response his piece has received from the scientific side of SVPoW. Initially they said they really liked the piece, but as it fits in with the Yesterday's movement they've started supporting it as though it was a very viable piece of scientific palaeo-art. Many of the responses I've received have me incredibly concerned with where this Yesterday's stuff could take the science...

I'm cherry-picking with these quotes, and please do be sure to read all the comments to get the full story. My mission here is to (literally) illustrate the message these people have said (as I've interpreted them... again read the whole thing for the unbiased version... you may not agree with my take)... 

So I basically questioned how elephants going into caves is sufficient evidence to say Sauropods might have gone into caves. Sure they might of, but is this the type of behaviour we want our palaeo-art to be emphasising. Given it is essentially complete speculation with not one piece of fossil evidence. These are some of the answers I got.

"First, it depends on what you mean by “scientifically accurate”. If you mean “demonstrated by evidence”, then no, but there’s tons of important stuff in science that isn’t demonstrated by evidence (yet). If you mean, “plausible given what we know about how animals behave”, then yes..."
"Most of the time when someone says, “that’s unrealistic”, they’re just farting through their larynx, because they’re poorly acquainted with what real animals actually do today."  
"Behaviour doesn’t (directly) fossilise, so we are extremely limited in the behaviours that we can know any extinct animal manifested. Will future palaeontologists in 100 million years recognise how distinctly different the lifestyles of social lions and solitary tigers are? I very much doubt it. (I don’t think they’d even recognise they were dealing with more than one taxon.) But “all Anthropocene big cats had the same behaviour” will, for them, be just one more not-directly-supported-by-evidence hypothesis..." 
“ 'sauropod mooching around on plain” is just as much an unsupported hypothesis as “sauropod harvesting minerals in cave'... ”
"Craig seems, like many non-scientist fans of science, to have confused science with certainty, and plausibility with accuracy. A scientist must be comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity, so as to avoid the temptation of false certainty. Yes, we know some things. And there are some things we may never know. Science has to work in the gap. If it only ever stays on the side of certainty and accuracy, it can never advance..."
Okay. So what they've said is we can't prove or disprove any behaviour. Therefore so long as I have a modern analogue of an animal doing something it is viable behaviour to slap on a prehistoric animal.


So there is this one primate that plays with spheroid shaped objects to help increase their social bonds. Now maniraptorid hands were perfectly shaped to hold a spheroid, and they might have lived in social groups.


By Craig Dylke

I've made perfect Yesterday's art by the statements made to me.


Hadiaz said...

Hooray for basketball-playing dromaeosaurs! Reminds me of the following quote AWA this commercial:

Quoting Bakker ( ): "If Deinonychus was a kick-boxer, then it should have been built for jumping and dodging. Ostrom showed that it was. The raptor was so light, and its hind legs so strong, it could jump higher than a basketball player! And it could turn in midair."

Matthew Martyniuk said...

I get the point, but as long as we're being sticklers, isn't your response a classic example of the logical fallacy of false analogy? We know caves and glow worms existed alongside sauropods. We have good reason to suspect basketballs did not exist alongside dromaeosaurs.

Craig Dylke said...

Matt- I don't disagree. I am engaged in a fallacy of false analogy, and on purpose...

I personally feel the defenses I've received for Sauropods in the HEART of a glowworm cave, and especially being adapted for this lifestyle are equally false, and silly.

I could totally buy a Sauropod sticking its neck into a cave for a lick. If it was a very large boring cave maybe wandering in a little way.

There is NO way a sauropod could have wandered into a modern glowworm cave (having been to 5 in New Zealand myself... 3 of those were the big tourist ones... aka caves just big enough in places for people to squeeze/duck into them... and I do mean JUST in a few spots).

As I said over there modern New Zealand and prehistoric Zealandia were totally different places topographically and geologically... However we have no analogues for Zealandia or its glowworms. So if you're only defense is because we don't know what Zealandia's caves were like, you are basically saying it's okay to make stuff up, and pretend it is scientifical plausible.

Again given everything I've seen and read about glowworm caves vs. Sauropod size and proportions the two don't mix... Especially given the two wild caves I went into I nearly got stuck at just my size (one of these would have been bad had I not had a buddy with me to help pry me out!). The tourist caves all have narrow entrances, and even the big sauropod capable chambers deeper in bottleneck OR have big cliffs up or down into the next section. The glowworms aren't found in high abundance till deep inside any of the five I've been too (and I gurantee if there were a cave were the worms were easier to get at someone would have developed into an attraction... tourism is NZ's biggest economic sector these days).

I'm sure maniraptorids could have picked up spherical shaped things. They MIGHT have even played with them. They couldn't have played basketball.

Similarly, I'm sure Sauropods could have gone into caves (if even with their really long necks). They MIGHT have even wandered into a few. They couldn't have gone deep into the dangerous, pitch black, slippery, and radically uneven HEART of any (known) glowworm caves. That alone enough to adapt special whiskers and such for the sole purpose of licking the interior of these places...

Historian said...

They're not deep down in the heart of a cave - that is a bold assumption for you to make about my work.

Here is the pencil drawing before I colored it. See the entrance in the background?

I made the entrance dark when I colored the piece because i liked how the strait-up glow-worm lighting looked better.

Also, what you're depicting in your slam dunk dinosaur picture is impossible based on everything we know about dromeosaur brain size and the brain function of extant vertebrates (although it would make an awesome video game). Nothing in my illustration is fundamentally impossible according to what we know about living animals and our current knowledge of the paleoecology of the southern continental mass that was comprised of Australia, Antarctica, New Zealand and New Caledonia. And remember, we're talking about a vast geographic area over a vast amount of time. Not New Zealand in the past few moments that humans have been on the planet.

Limiting our imaginations of prehistoric ecosystems to YOUR life experience of 5 caves on a tourist vacation is just silly. And comparing my work (which a lot of research went into), to your image of dinosaurs playing basketball is dismissive and histrionic.

Rather than attacking the credibility of other people's hard work, maybe you should just stick to making your puppet videos...

Craig Dylke said...

Historian (I'm assuming Brian)-

LOL I love how everyone immediately brings up my puppet in arguments as though it means something (all it reflect is I work with kids on a daily basis). Next time you should remind me to do more lectures at world class institutions on New Zealand palaeontology though . I do those more these days than the puppet ;P

Well let's get into this then

For the record I LIVED in New Zealand for 3 years. So this is not just causal sight seeing I'm invoking. This is long term exposure (especially since wandering around natural areas is one of the only things to do in NZ).

I've seen glowworms in over 30 places. Only 5 of them were caves (the majority live in deep trenched waterfalls and streams. Of those 30 places only 2 or 3 (all streams) would have allowed a Sauropod to walk to and from. This is due to glowworm biology (I'll get to that in a minute).

So if you're going to defend your glowworms as scientific speculation, rather than than just awesome imaginary speculation (which I have no problem with. Again I work around kids. Imagination is one of my favourite things in the world.. I'm just taking issue at the word science and plausible being invoked with this piece) you have to make one of two distinctions right from the get go.

Either your glowworms are similar to modern ones, therefore a legitimate analogue and therefore science and data to call on OR you are claiming they are not like modern glowworms, which means you are left with nothing but your imagination. Which is the same as saying you're making them up...

Now I agree with you the safe option is to take the they weren't the same as today. Modern mountainous narrow islanded New Zealand is completely different than flat low land vast Zealandia. Most of Gondwanaland would have been different indeed.

The problem if you're invoking this is you surrender all rights to claiming reality and science. You are basically saying "they could have" which ever way you want. However they could have been ANYTHING. You are just making them up to suit your needs. Which is just making them, and therefore everything else around and about them up!

That is NOT real. That is not even an analogue. Therefore it NO defence of any concept or idea being plausible.

Possible yes, but so is almost anything else I could list. Baleen oceanic Sauropods for example. You can't prove they weren't real, because the world was different back then. I'm not actually claiming this, but it is just an logical extension of this argument type

Craig Dylke said...

I highly suspect glowworms weren't glowing in Gondwanaian times, or if they were they were stuck in the mountainous or limestoned areas. The reason is their glowing biology is highly reliant on the environments they live in.

Glowworms operate completely and utterly on insects coming to them. This is the reason they glow. On mass they mimic resemble the night sky. Fooling lost insects to fly into sticky threads the worms suspend underneath them

Now in times or areas where they do not have sufficient insects to feed on the glowworms will eat EACH OTHER. Meaning in most places they don't reach the population density of your Sauropod piece (immediately why this why I can safely say based on real glowworms, and not made up unknown ones, your piece would be in the heart of a cave... read on)

The only places this works for glowworms are areas that attract or accumlate insects and force them to fly at the worms. This means somewhere with limited or completely blocked sky access.

They typical do this by heavily overgrown deep walled streams. They fasten themselves to the rock walls, and to an insect they appear to be breaks in the foliage above. It is a neat trick, very very very pretty to look at, but means the glowworms don't achieve the spectacular population accumulation in your drawing.

This is where most glowworms live. This is where I have also seen them the most. Since my experiences are being called into question. Had you drawn one here I'd not have taken much issue.

However the walls of the stream typically have to be incredibly narrow, otherwise the insects wouldn't fly at the wall. Sauropods would be able to walk down these, but not be able to turn around to walk back out.

Craig Dylke said...

Then we come to the caves.

Now here is why I don't find your elephant cave compelling in anyway for your piece above, and where you have to be precious when combining analogues. The cave the elephants were in would be way way too open and dry for glowworms to attract or catch prey.

The modern limestone caves of New Zealand are perfect for glowworms as the majority of all these cave systems are narrow and bottlenecking. This is due to the caves been water drainage systems. Every now and then though the water would hit a spot it couldn't immediate drain out of and erode giant caverns. This would be what you've essentially drawn in your piece. The rest of the cave is much narrower, and only erodes heightwise in a meanful manner. Meaning even after thousands of years erosion a Sauropod might be able to wander in, but it wouldn't be able to turn around to walk back out again. Neglecting that every cave I've been too had either extreme bottlenecks I couldn't get through OR huge changes in the floors height like 5-6 metres which not even a Sauropod could have overcome.

Glowworms will certainly live anywhere in a cave system. However due to the rapid moving water discouraging insect egg laying, they live in lower density in entrances and tunnels due to that cannibalism again.

Cave entrances are incredibly problematic for glowworms as the fresh air from the outside attracts the insects to just escape rather than get trapped in the worm's strings. If the entrance were as big as your picture NO insects would get caught by glowworms. You'd be stuck with a single glowworm every foot or so (which two of the caves had, but it isn't exactly awe inspring, and won't show up in a Sauropod scaled drawing).

The only place Glowworm populations can get really dense in a cave due to sufficient food is in the deep deep deep heart of a cave that has a chamber filled with still water. Here insect hatchlings don't get access to fresh air to direct them out. The illusion of the glowworm starfield is particularly compelling, and the still water allows the parent insects to lay their eggs in the first place. Again the majority of glowworm caves is full or actively moving high energy draining water.

All that is why I am calling your piece (very beautiful, well crafted, composed, and executed) imaginary Dinosaurs. The glowworms are implying a great deal, because they are glowworms! The problem is Sauropods of all Dinosaurs don't mix with those things.

I again love the piece. However there is nothing realistic about it when you compare it to a real glowworm cave, and more to the point how and why glowworms glow in the first place. Especially in a cave...

I could then go on about how glowworm caves being made of consistent limestone would trump the need to go in further than the glowwormless entrance. I think you're elephants were going into a geologically varied cave were the nutrients were being washed further into the cave...

I know how this sort of "attack" feels. I've had a few. I once was working on a survival guide to Cretaceous, only to have two of the big experts in the field tear apart my analogues and assumptions.

It taught me to be more careful with speculation and analogues, and I like to think a better "scientist". That is the only reason I raise this.

I admit my Dromaeosaurs are completely stupid. I was reacting due to my dislike of Matt outright dismissal of everything I said on SVPoW. That is not in the scientific spirit of discourse.

It is not meant as a direct commentary on your piece.

Craig Dylke said...

In conclusion, I have NO problem with pieces of imagination and possibility. I just worry if they are defended as scientific or plausible when there isn't a shread of fossil or geologic evidence to back it up (and more to the point it has prominent palaeontologists backing up as such)

I love most of the Dino documentaries that show possible (some plausible) speculative behaviour. However I do hit in my students where that can be problematic.

Often kids (or those with less science literacy) see images and equate this as fact (ironic that Matt bashed me over the head with swamp Dinos being an example of this, when I cautioned against the very problem... yes it is a meme, but every art meme started with one picture).

The reason I think these days we don't need as much pure speculative palaeo-art is there is tons of interesting stuff that has been found or implied at in the fossil record that has NEVER been depicted in artform.

Historian said...

First of all the fact that you're lecturing me about glowworm biology in the face of images that show concentrations of glow worms similar to what I drew in large caves near large entrances is sort of amazing to me. Also, your argument about elephants doesn't apply, because the cave in my illustration IS (very obviously both visually and as stated on my site and SV-POW) a limestone cave. I wasn't using elephant behavior as a direct analogue, rather referencing it as a possible behavioral theme among large animals with high mineral needs.

what I am reacting to is your strongly implied assertion that you consider a cave LIKE ANY OF THESE large glow worm infested caves,
existing in the cretaceous and being used by JUVENILE sauropods...

to be JUST AS UNLIKELY as dromeosaurs playing basketball.

That is the implication of your post. And to later say "It is not meant as a direct commentary on your piece" is some evasive dodgy bullshit. The title of YOUR POST is "I've made a perfect yesterday's piece according to some" then you use my illustration (without asking permission, btw) and compare it to some highly ridiculous bullshit. That's is fucked up dude.

I'm done here.

Craig Dylke said...


First of all seriously chill. When I say it is not commentary about your piece I'm serious.

The "some" would be all the people I quoted in this post. You will notice not a single one of them is you. I didn't go into names, as I'm not picking fights with the people, but their ideas.

The idea being if I have some modern analogue for extreme and exceptional behaviour THAT is apparently all I need for a [b]plausible picture[/b]. Not possible apparently, but scientifically plausible.

So no I'm sorry my basketball Dromaeosaurs are still just as possible as your glowworm Sauropods in that [b]we don't know[/b] what every single Dromaeosaur looked like. We don't know what ever single Dromaeosaurs brain was like... so there COULD have been ones that did.

I am NOT saying I actually believe this. I really don't. It was just the quickest thing I could throw together (I'd have much rather done the aforementioned oceanic krill eating Sauropod)

I'm demonstrating the extreme this logic could be taken too should speculation without geologic or fossil evidence become a norm in scientific palaeontologic illustration.

WHY I'm "picking" on your picture is it is one of the few where I have an extensive background of both reading and contact with the animals in question (glowworm).

If you were to goto New Zealand and go into a single cave (or stream) with glowworm you'd understand why your piece is highly unplausible.

As unfortunently your last set of pictures betrays the weakness of virtual safaring on the web. If you didn't take the picture, you can't know how or why it got made.

You've fallen into tourism New Zealands clever traps. EVERY one of those photos you have grabbed is one of theirs. They WANT you to think glowworms grow in every cave, and they are easy to get at. It makes New Zealand seem more magical and special. However they aren't real!

Let Glowworm biology supplemental begin...

Craig Dylke said...

So why I can easily prove your photo set is doctored, photoshop, or out right fabricated... Not that I'd expect someone who hasn't been to know. However this is why I say my experience shouldn't be scoffed at or dismissed.

Remember how glowworms glow to mimic starlight.

Well that first picture is a COMPLETE fake.

Those glowworms would never waste the energy to glow when the sun is out. No insect is going to fly into the star lite night sky when they can see the sun.

More to the point how do you take that photo without manipulation? The theme of this bio supplement is glowworms aren't THAT bright.

Your thread picture shows you what they look like in daylight (with some nice dew for asthetic effect) point.

Yeah you can see glowworm THREADS in the daytime (early morning or rainy days are when you get the nice dew if you ever go to see them in the daylight) but where are the glowing glowworms? Answer plenty of them should be on the rock face suspended in their silk hammocks. Instead all you see is their silk hunting lines... because it is daytime!

In real life their glow isn't THAT strong. You need to turn off all artificial light sources to see them vividly with the naked eye.

Cameras aren't the naked eye though. So your last example is tourism New Zealand playing with light exposures and multiple shots. Or just outright adding their own lighting to some of the exposures.

Note the lovely blue green lighting. Again glowworms aren't that bright! They not supposed to be. Their mimicking stars. Do stars illuminate your exposed photos like that? You have to crack the exposure up JUST to get the stars in a photo.

Why I can safely say these are from New Zealand tourism?

All the biggest caves have already been developed into tourist attractions. If there were one with that big a population in the mouth it'd have been developed too.

You are NOT allowed to take pictures in the commercial caves. Meaning the only pictures that are out there are either really old or those released by the tourism boards. They have doctored and photoshopped any and all of them with visible cave walls/people/boat/walkways AND glowing worms. You seriously can't see them much if there is any light at all.

Craig Dylke said...

My favourite example is this one supposedly showing the Te Anau cave (which I've been to 6 times)

Looks big enough for a Sauropod right?

Well take a close look along the edge of the water and the people on the walkway above. See the photoshop splice line? It is an outright fake. The way I can also prove it is you walk UP to the te anau boat and glowworm pool. Not down to it like that photo. (and actually based on the ceiling height that has to be Waitomo cave IF it is the real ceiling above the boat)

IF I'd been allowed to take photos of the commercial caves, I guarantee I'd have a great photo map of such cave systems so you could see. I went to Te Anau and the Cantebury caves multiple times just for the caves in all honesty. If I wanted to see glowworms there was an easy to access stream 15 minutes from where I lived.

This is what a cave REALLY looks like when you light it artificially (though the few worms you can see in the corner were probably doctored, as they lose they vibrant green in other light)

While they are too green (they just look like little faint LED lights if illuminated) it gives you an idea how many of them are too weak to even be seen in outside light.

You'd see the threads if you looked up close (but without the nice dew of your earlier picture they are not that obvious except up close... exactly like a spider web)

This is what you see when you're looking in the cave without the lights (they have lights to board you on the boat).,r:27,s:0,i:168&iact=rc&dur=773&page=2&tbnh=176&tbnw=268&start=18&ndsp=23&tx=105&ty=83

This is super packed density for glowworms. This is probably right at the beginning of their main breeding season. Unless there was an exceptional insect load.

As the brood ages more and more of them will disappear as the larger worms eat all the smaller weaker worms around them. This is partially to supplement diet, but also reduces competition in their patch.

Craig Dylke said...

Here are the photos I have of a cave in Kepler.

This is what you're average limestone cave is like. The glowworm caves at Te Anau and Waitomo are the exceptions not the rule (thus why they've been full on developed for tourists!). The cave in Canterbury is closer to this, but doesn't have the extreme bottlenecking.

There were about 10-20 glowworms scattered throughout the two chambers (but they were loners). Apparently was a bigger population another chamber or two in. However me and my friends are not experienced cavers and didn't have the equipment or know how to risk the manhole diameter tunnels to get any deeper than here.

These are what most if not all glow worm caves are like. Te Anau and Waitomo have sections like this (just you'd be walking on scaffolding above the cave floor unlike us here.

YES a Sauropod could have walked into here (assuming the cave was like Canterbury and didn't bottleneck like this one did). HOWEVER it would not be able to maneuver that alone turn around.

Which is my only real final point on your piece. None of the glowworm chambers in any of the caves would have been big enough for two fully grown Sauropods to wander around in at the SAME time!

Craig Dylke said...

Whether you accept my criticisms or not is up to you Brian.

When I think about speculation and conjecture in palaeo-art I think it is a glass half empty half full type situation.

The cup can either be half empty, and to these people we will never know enough about prehistory to fill the cup so nothing was impossible. There is nothing we can't depict.

To others the glass is half full. We know some really neat and cool things, but alas we will never know it all. That said we should stick to what we know in reconstructions.

I think at the end of the day we're just on the different ends of this spectrum.

I don't think there is anything wrong with that. If anything it keeps both sides honest.

I endeavour to see more evidence translate into imagery. You endeavour to keep the imagery more exciting and engaging.

These aren't mutually exclusive goals. We both keep the other end honest.

So that is in the spirit I speak to you.

The Dromaeosaurs were aimed at the wall of essentially "shut up you non PHD" I was getting from Matt on the others on SVPoW.

I was enjoying your comments over there (note again you were not quoted here).

However please do consider the actual science of glowworms (and remember they are frustrating to visual research on the web due to the tourism industry in NZ essentially holding a monopoly on the caved ones... for example the stipulation here on the Te Anau cave site as proof.