Monday, 1 December 2014

All I want for Christmas

Card by Martin Davey don't all rush
out and buy it at once...
Christmas is coming, the crown-group avian dinosaur is getting fat. Our thoughts turn to gifts: giving and receiving. I love trying to find items that make people happy. My family like to make wish lists to provide one another with ideas, but I can be pretty sure that, regardless of what is on my list, one idea will permeate and overwhelm the gifts I'm given: dinosaurs. I say this because palaeobiology means two things to the non-palaeos who know me...

Dr. Herridge bringing palaeobiology
to a wider audience @ToriHerridge
 Firstly, palaeobiologist is synonymous with palaeontologist, because no matter how I try to explain, the two are indistinguishable (also, there are palaeontologists in Hollywood movies, so people have heard of them. Hopefully the recent Mammoth Autopsy featuring NHM's Dr. Tori Herridge may start raising the profile of the under-appreciated palaeobiologists of the world).

Secondly, it means dinosaurs.

You don't only study dinosaurs?
Although I make a point to say "I study extinct life", when people ask me what I do, invariably I cave in and add "like dinosaurs" at the end, because I can't stand seeing those worried looks as people try to hide their uncertainty over what constitutes "extinct life". Tell them dinosaurs, and their eyes light up; how exciting! That must be amazing! "Yes it is", I say. But afterwards I kick myself for reinforcing the stereotype. There is so much more to palaeobiology than the dinosaurs - just a glance at a geological time scale puts their reign into the perspective of deep time. From squishy Ediacaran biotas to giant carboniferous insect-lords, fish, fish and more fish, to sabre-toothed Permian monsters. Giant marine reptiles, tiny aquatic stem-mammals, elegant membranous pterosaurs, proto-whales - and this is a only the fauna. What about the ecosystems, the climate, the extinctions and the infections... the breadth is breathtaking.

Don't get me wrong though, I still appreciate a dino-themed gift. I own a decent selection of life-like 'models' (that's take-me-seriously code for 'toys'). The problem is that there are so few good dino-themed gifts out there, especially if you are over eight-years old or have any appreciation of aesthetics. There are natural history themed gifts galore that are elegant, especially botanical ones or, weirdly, anything with British game animals on them (this seems to indicate refinement, which is somewhat oxymoronic). But as soon as the featured creature is extinct, manufacturers replace Victorian lithographs with infantile pictographs. The colours flick to the neon spectrum and themes plunge unfailingly down the sister paths of cutesy anthropomorphism, or cringing adolescent fang-mare.

They are either puking rainbows, or ripping the world to shreds with oversized claws. Some examples:

Google search: You want dinosaurs? You are clearly a child.
Google search: Oh, you want adult dinos? Then you are still a child.


Caudy and I both love crimbo.
I want a little refinement in my raptors, some tasteful Tricerotops, even an elegant Elasmosaurus. Please, manufacturers and artists, could you cater to people born before the turn of the millennium, who like things that are not made of primary coloured plastic? Also, enough T-shirts already (I'm from Scotland, there are only so many T-shirts I can realistically wear in a year).

I don't look any gift horse in the mouth though. Rant as I may, the truth is I'm still always delighted to see what the season brings, and even if it's cheesier than a pair of Emmenthal socks. I just appreciate that someone thought of me and remembered (more or less) what I like to do with my time.

What more can we ask?







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