Thursday, February 16, 2017

Dark•Heritage as... Mongo?!

On a whim, I cast the dice with my nostalgia and got some old cartoons that I used to like as a kid.  Now, sure—I recognize that cartoons are kids' shows, and that was certainly 100% true in the late 70s and early 80s, which means probably trite dialogue, poor plotting, and cardboard characters for the most part.  It also means cheap animation, lots of repeated sequences, etc.  Even before I started this, I didn't have high expectations of the shows that I was planning on revisiting.  What I was hoping to find was that at least the high concept and some of the ideas were worthwhile to mine again... and maybe to find that what I used to like as a little kid wasn't quite as dumb as I was afraid it might turn out to be looking at it now as a grown man of 45 years.  My wife walked up and saw what I was doing, and certainly took a pessimistic approach—that I was certainly wasting my time and setting myself up for disappointment.  However...

I wasn't actually disappointed.  The expectations I had for the animation and plots and whatnot were mostly true.  Repeated sequences got old only five episodes in.  But the story and the setting, and the feel, behind what I was watching was still worth it.

Now granted; it's not like I was watching The Smurfs or something like that.  I'm talking about shows that are topical for this blog.  I identified four that I could potentially try out.  I may not watch all of them, and certainly not every episode for all of them, but I want to at least explore them a bit.

Three of the four shows I identified were by Filmation, and the fourth by Ruby-Spears.  The first one I dived into (five episodes last night) was Flash Gordon, often later retroactively titled The New Adventures of Flash Gordon to distinguish it from other efforts. Originally a season of sixteen episodes broadcast in 1979, this first season was well-received as remarkably faithful to the original Flash Gordon subject matter and the whole planetary romance genre overall, and one of Filmation's best shows.  It was hoped that it could capitalize on post-Star Wars space opera demand, which I think it did quite well.  The second season, on the other hand, was poorly received, as a number of structural and other elements were dictated by committee, who wanted more episodic rather than serial story-telling, and a cute pet side-kick.  I may skip this second season entirely... but I'll probably finish watching the first season before I stop.

Parts of it are really quite remarkable.  Not only is the story and setting very faithful to the whole original Barsoom-rip-off Flash Gordon and Mongo (curiously, when Flash Gordon was created, to compete with the very successful comic strip Buck Rogers, they wanted to buy the rights to John Carter of Mars first, but couldn't get Burroughs to cooperate.  Which explains why they got someone to basically "borrow" the entire concept.)  I've actually had quite a bit of fun just watching the interplay of sword-fighting with robots, dog-fighting in space-ships with giant hawk-riding warriors, slave pits full of degenerate beast-men, Ming's scantily clad harem that makes Leia's slave girl outfit look rather modest, and a band of bald Robin Hood lookalikes who shoot arrows that freeze whatever they hit, flying cities, and for that matter, an entire flying planet that is approaching Earth to screw it over with gravitational weirdness and then conquer it.

The men are quite masculine, and the women are extremely feminine.  In spite of the format and the short time frame, I wasn't rolling my eyes at the idea that Ming's saucy daughter Aura was immediately infatuated with Flash, or that she basically betrayed her father several times to rescue him.  I was amused to see Flash negging Dale Arden by joking that she seemed jealous around Aura, and Dale merely turning up her nose in faux offense, but mostly being mad at Aura, not Flash.


Thun the Lionman king is kind of like Flash's Chewbacca, except with a real Debbie Downer whiny attitude, that Flash counters with a plucky, American can-do saying and a bunch of good luck.  Dr. Hans Zartov is kind of hapless; he is immediately imprisoned and put to work my Ming as a scientist, although he seems to have the run of the palace when he needs to.  Dale is a pretty classic damsel in distress, and it really begs the question why she came along on this trip to begin with (in the classic planetary romance storyline, our hero falls for a local princess usually.)  Ming himself is quite the dastardly fellow, and true to his original incarnation, he has all of the appearances of a Yellow Peril despot, which rings much more true than the politically correct attempts since then to either make him more alien or worse: a white peril.

So... first attempt at exploring this stuff: success.  What's next?  Finish off the first season of Flash, then have a look at Filmation's Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle (which aired before Star Wars even came out) and which is also considered one of the most faithful adaptations of its source material, including a lot of the real weirdness of Tarzan: lost cities of jungle Vikings, the Lost Cities of Ivory and Gold respectively, which have a very Opar-like feel, lost cities of knights, a robot duplicate of Tarzan, UFOs, yetis, woolly mammoths, Pellucidar, and more.  Then on to Thundarr the Barbarian, a post-apocalyptic sword & sorcery series that's famous as much as anything for highlighting locations that are obviously famous places that have fallen into disrepair and been occupied by mutants or weird sorcerers or something like that in the meantime.  Meanwhile, a guy who's pretty much Conan the Cimmerian but with a light-saber, a hot sorceress chick sidekick who has the hots for him (but who he friendzones hard) and a fake Chewbacca sidekick ride around on horses across fallen North America saving good old fashioned, melancholy and hapless salt of the earth peasants from the depredations of wizards, pirates, and monsters.  The last show I targeted was Filmation's Blackstar, but I might have a harder time getting my hands on episodes of that show, so it might not end up happening.

(As an aside, you can probably see that since I was eagerly devouring Flash Gordon, Tarzan, and Thundarr the Barbarian at ages 7-9 or so, it's hardly any surprise that I was just as eagerly devouring the actual works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard when I discovered them in the public library at about age 11-12 or so—when I moved pretty much permanently from the upstairs kids section of the library to the downstairs adult science fiction shelves.)

In the meantime, watching Flash Gordon and its intriguing storyline of Mongo approaching Earth (and Flash and Zarkov and Arden all flying in a rocket to somehow stop it from crashing into Earth—not quite sure what they thought they were going to do, but whatever) I think I may well have solved an ongoing problem with my DARK•HERITAGE Mk. V.  I was never completely happy with thinking that my British Dark Ages Crusader states or colonist kingdoms, or whatever you want to call them, transplanted to the New World from the historical Old World—except that the New World was a fantasy analog, not the real thing.  And I wasn't sure exactly how or why there couldn't be continued commerce back and forth from the Old and New Worlds.  But... what if instead of a new continent, they actually literally went to a new planet; one that came flying out of space, threw the moon out of whack and then replaced it and then sat there like a new double planet from then on out?  And what if some kind of bridge, a Bifrost of some kind, were established up in the north near Britain or Scandinavia that connected them?

The chaos, both social and otherwise that this would cause is sufficient reason, I think for the Pope to call a Crusade for any to cross and go deal with the New World and its interruption of their peace—and because of the location and the social events going on in the late 1060s and early 1070s, it explains why I would especially have displaced Anglo-Saxons and Celts and Vikings who made up the majority of this Crusade—and who therefore founded the colonist kingdoms with their own culture and peoples.

And then the Bifrost broke, or otherwise failed.  Two generations after the establishment of Crusader state colonies on the new world, they've emerged as independent (by necessity) since the only contact that they can have with the Old World is to look up at it in the sky and remember that their grandfathers came from there.

I won't get into the super-science of typical planetary romance stories here—if there are any flying ships or rayguns or anything like that, they'll be extremely rare and unique, but it does give me a great excuse for being a little bit more free to be gonzo in what I put out there in DARK•HERITAGE after all, rather than almost alternate history.  That said, my concept of this is that it's a kind of mirror-earth—it has similar geography, for instance, and is otherwise quite similar to the real earth, which explains why they're on the eastern seaboard of a pseudo-North America.



As an aside, my favorite #lolwut moment so far came when Flash Gordon defeated a robot trooper by throwing a big tub of water on it.  Not sure how good these robot troopers will be if a little water causes them to short, spark and basically catch on fire... and I'm also not sure where that tub of water came from—one moment it was nowhere to be seen, the next moment it was in his hands and he was dumping it on the robot to save hawkman king Vultan's life... but it did make me chuckle.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Middle-earth Remixed with serial numbers rubbed out

What if I wanted—someday—to do something with MIDDLE-EARTH REMIXED other than play around with it here on my blog, or potentially as an RPG campaign for my friends and or family?  Well, I'd be a bit out of luck.  The Hyborian Age is now public domain, but Middle-earth is not, and the Tolkien Estate is relatively diligent in protecting the intellectual legacy of J. R. R.

Now, this isn't exactly true for some characters of Middle-earth, since some of them were literally based on ancient names; the name Gandalf comes from the Dvergatal of the Völuspá, a portion of the Prose Edda.  Eärendil comes from Anglo-Saxon mythology, etc.  But most of them are.  I'd have to distort the map so that it's not so obviously a blatant copy.  I'd have to change a bunch of names.  I'd probably do away with hobbits altogether (gasp!) and just replace them with some rural yeomen and rustic landed gentry that have the same personality as a culture.  Just to make the lines a bit harder to draw in case it ever were to be done by a legal team.  I'd want to make sure that MIDDLE-EARTH REMIXED in this scenario would pass muster as legal scènes à faire that are common to the genre.

Of course... if I do this, at some point, it becomes self-defeating.  If the attraction is that it's Middle-earth with a twist, the more it becomes just a pastiche fantasy setting clone instead of actually being Middle-earth with a twist, the more one is forced to ask: why bother?

But, nonetheless, I think I'm going to draw up a quick n dirty alternate "Middangeard" map and create some alternate names.  Just because, it gives me something else to do with this tag for a little while longer,

And just for fun, here's some more Angus McBride Celts that can be rather ostentatious Eriadorian mayors.  Heck; maybe even some landed gentry from Bree-country.  Below that is some more humble Eriadoran scouts wondering who's occupying lonely hill forts in Rhudaur, and if they represent the men allied with Angmar.



Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Indo-European spread

Found this Creative Commons gif by Joshua Jonathan which I've unpacked into individual images so I can discuss each in kind.  This seems to be the latest and best understanding of the Kurgan Hypothesis for Indo-European, which has now pretty much eliminated any credible vestiges of dissent.  Not that the Anatolian Hypothesis doesn't still have its adherents, and other (less serious) theories don't still surface from time to time, but they aren't really credible anymore.  Mallory in 1989, Anthony in 2007 and subsequent archaeogenetic research have pretty much wrapped the theory up nicely.  So here, I present, the prehistoric spread of the Indo-European languages, as best as we understand them.  I deleted a few of the images because they were either unnecessary or redundant.


The first image in the gif is actually a bit misnamed.  It says Yamna (or Yamnaya) culture, but this predates the Yamna culture, and would refer to the Sredni Stog and other neighboring cultures instead like Dnieper-Donets II, Khvalynsk, Samara, etc.  and not extend as far to the east as it does.  The time depth here is roughly 4,500-4,000 BC.  This is the earliest period of common Proto-Indo-European.


At the end of the fifth millennium, there was a minor climate change; becoming a bit cooler and drier.  The farming communities of the early Balkans, which bordered on the steppes and which are not considered to have been Indo-European, were significantly depleted in the Danube valley, and some archaic Proto-Indo-Europeans moved into the area, spreading a more mobile economy with the domesticated horse, and (presumably) early Indo-European culture, including language.  This would have happened roughly 4,000 BC, but probably took a few hundred years to come to full fruition.  Anthony and Gimbutas have interpreted this as both the presence of a fair number of steppe intruders to the region, but also their establishment as an economic (and probably political) elite among the remainder of the "Old European" inhabitants in the region, who became "Kurganized"—i.e., they adopted much if not most of the steppe culture, including the language—but it was a far cry from complete population (i.e. genetic) replacement.  Anthony calls this new culture the Suvorovo-Novodanilovka complex, and it persists in the Danube for some time.

Although the timing is not clear, it's believed that this group (or at least some of them) eventually made their way southward into Anatolia and are the source of the archaic Anatolian language family; the most "primitive" or "archaic" of the Indo-European families, and thus the one that had to have left the common Proto-Indo-European sphere the earliest.  The Anatolian-speaking Hittite Empire was established in 1,600 BC, but clearly the Anatolian speakers had been in Anatolia for quite some time by then, and diversified into a variety of related languages (Luwian, Palaic, Lycian, Hittite, Mycian, etc.)  This move is believed to have happened by at least 3,000 BC.  Of course, if the proto-Anatolian branch of archaic I-E separated itself from the main body of the steppes and came into the Danube around 4,000 BC and didn't end up in Anatolia until 3,000 BC, obviously they spent some time in the Balkans and eastern Anatolia before ending up where they ended up.  Plenty of time for them to have swallowed up substrates, both genetic and linguistic, and been influenced by new linguistic and cultural neighbors in various ways.


The Yamna cultural horizon, from 3,300 to 2,500 BC, is usually considered the "classic" period of Indo-European unity (although the Anatolians had already split off by then.)  On the eve of the Yamna horizon, a wide variety of clearly closely related cultures spread throughout the region, and the farthest eastward of these, the Repin culture, is believed to have been both the source of the classic Yamna cultural tropes, and the source for the far-flung Afanasevo culture, which appears at the same dates as the Yamna horizon.  Despite the vast distance, archaeologists have long been fascinated with the almost identical material culture between Afanasevo and Yamna, and more recent research suggests that the burials include individuals who are indistinguishable genetically between the two cultures as well—they were clearly a completely transplanted eastern wing of the Yamna horizon.  This also partly explains the relative archaism of the Tocharian languages, in spite of their late attestation, although it needs to be pointed out that the Tocharian languages do not actually appear in the same place as the Afanesevo culture—although it's widely believed that they must have been derived from it, because there aren't any other candidates that can be taken seriously.

Further cooling and drying of the steppes may have been partly responsible, but the development of full blown nomadic pastoralism, including mobile homes (on wagons) and the invention of the chariot seems to have been what set the Yamna apart from the less committed type of pastoral nomadism that preceded it.  It allowed for more freedom, economic opportunity (greater ability to take advantage of ecologically marginal terrain) and as a result, probably resulted in a prestige social system as well, which swept up all of the steppe cultures into a remarkably unified horizon.  It may well have displayed the advance of a prestige dialect too—nobody ever believed that the entire unified Indo-European language was the same through this phase, and marked dialectical differences may well have existed, but the Yamna horizon might have sanded many of those differences down; up until the languages started spreading geographically shortly afterward.

Long-term settlements of mixed agriculture and hunter-gatherers that had existed on the steppes in river basins for centuries, if not millennia, finally are left behind as the culture becomes firmly "committed" to pastoral nomadism; although there is an east-west cline to many of these developments, with the east being the most nomadic and mobile, least agricultural, and most patriarchal (based on burials, at least).

Between 3,300 and 3,100 BC, the Usatovo culture developed further to the west; Anthony interprets this as local Balkan and Old European peoples developing a client-hybrid relationship with "overlords" from the steppes, who were themselves moving more and more into their territory, and therefore importing more and more of their culture.  Kurgans spread westward into Hungary and elsewhere.  To my knowledge, at least, there isn't really any good archaeogenetic research on the Balkans and the potential spread of Yamna genes into the area like there are for some other regions, but because the Balkans were relatively heavily populated (compared to areas north and east, for example) it seems unlikely that total population replacement was going on.


On the other hand, the Corded Ware horizon, which spreads like wildfire across northern Europe (2,900-2,400 BC), has been shown to have been at least 75% genetically Yamna, so it does represent a very definite migration of steppe populations into another area, where they largely replace or swamp the genetics of whomever was there before.  Exactly how the Corded Ware developed from the Yamna horizon is still somewhat unknown, although it's clear based on genetics (as well as numerous cultural traits) that it did.  Likely the new pastoral economy was so productive and efficient that it led to significant population growth in the steppes and new territory (lebensraum) was needed.  Because northern Europe was relatively lightly populated, it was easy territory for the new Indo-European dialects, including the Indo-European peoples and cultures to take over.  There is some evidence that there is a Uralic substrate in at least some of this territory, which makes sense as Estonian, Finnish, Lapplander and other Uralic languages appear historically on the northern fringe of Indo-European.  And there may well have been any number of anonymous substrates—we know of at least some non-Indo-European languages that appear to be vestiges from pre-Indo-European days (Etruscan, Basque, Tyrsenian, etc.) and there's long been suggestions that you can see evidence of substrate influence in the languages themselves; some of the dramatic sound changes that led to the development of Germanic, for example, have been proposed as what you'd get if non-native speakers attempted to speak "broken" Indo-European.

In addition to the Corded Ware, the Balkan Area seems to have thrown off its first branches; proto-Greeks are estimated to have arrived in Greece by late in the 3rd millennium BC.  By 1600 BC, they have evolved into the Mycenaean palace civilization that lasts until the Bronze Age collapse.  The Armenians also traditionally have been historically believed to have crossed Anatolia at some point in here to arrive in their historical seats fairly early.  The connections of Armenian are confused—it was initially believed to be a very eccentric form of Iranian, but was later shown to be an independent language stock that was heavily influenced by prolonged contact with Persians and Parthians and other Iranian languages and peoples.  It's now captivated linguists with possible early unity with Greek, suggesting that the two languages developed together apart from the rest of the I-E family for at least some time.  Although Armenian and Greek are both presumed to have relatively early migrated out of the Balkan area, to be honest, the paleo-Balkan linguistic situation is very poorly known, and while all kinds of Indo-European languages clearly resided there (Thracian, Dacian, Illyrian, proto-Greek, proto-Phrygian, proto-Armenian, etc.) the relationships (if any) between these is poorly understood.  Just about the only thing that is known is that the Thracians, Dacians and Illyrians were known peoples from the historical period who fought against both Greeks and Romans before being linguistically subsumed, and somehow out of that mess the Albanian language appeared.

In the east, on the other hand, and this diagram simplifies a bit, the Andronovo horizon is in some ways equivalent to the Corded Ware—a broad horizon that encompasses a number of regional variations—although it's a bit more recent than the Corded Ware, flourishing from about 2,000 BC to 900 BC, and supposed to have been a development of the Sintashta culture which preceded it (2,100-1,800 BC) which was a development of the Poltavka culture (2,700-2,100 BC) which is so similar to the Yamna horizon which preceded it that it's clearly just a temporal extension of it.

Andronovo does account for the spread of the Indo-Iranian branch, although exactly how Indo-Iranian split into Indic and Iranian is still anyone's guess.  It also suggests why Indo-Iranian is one of the "youngest" Indo-European language; it was among the last to develop from PIE, in the same environment both culturally and literally as PIE itself developed. Some of these late isoglosses suggest that a late PIE community that had shed Anatolian, Tocharian, and much of the European languages still influenced, to some degree, Indo-Iranian, Graeco-Armenian, possibly Thraco-Daco-Phrygian and even the Baltic and Slavic languages before they all finished going their own ways.

By the end of the period covered on this map, the break-up of Proto-Indo-European is complete—although we're still a pretty far cry from developing into the recognizable pattern of Indo-European families that we know.


BMAC, or the Bactria-Margiana Archeological Complex, sometimes called the Oxus civilization, is an urban settled farming community of the neolithic (2,300-1,700 BC) that has its roots to the southwest in the Near East.  It had contacts with the Harappan civilization, and the historical Elamites, and the BMAC people are presumed to have been the inhabitants of a cosmopolitan trade nexus of sorts.  Described by Soviet archaeologists and not really well-known in the west until the collapse of the Soviet Empire, BMAC has a complicated history with regards to Indo-European studies.  Although the base population is not to be derived from the neighboring Andronovo culture, and the original inhabitants are not believed to be Indo-European, contacts with the steppe are well known and appear to intensify around 2,000 BC.  In fact, the related Tazabagyab culture appear to be steppe Andronovans who settled down and adopted some BMAC cultural traits, including irrigation agriculture.  By 1,800 BC the BMAC cities shrink in size, steppe pottery appears more frequently, and kurgan burials appear in the highlands outside of the urban centers in larger numbers.  It appears as if the Andronovo presence becomes more concentrated, and they gradually kind of overwhelm the BMAC centers, although not without picking up a fair bit of BMAC culture (and presumably genetics) along the way.  Mallory states the implied mainstream position, that the BMAC was a Central Asian urban membrane through which Indo-Iranian, or at least Indic pass before appearing on the other side as some of the proto-Indic cultures such as Swat, Cemetery H and Painted Grey Ware.  Iranian is more complicated.  Iranian plateau cultures speaking Iranian languages certainly appear on the southern side of BMAC in later years such as the Medes, Parthians and Persians, but the steppe Iranians such as the Saka, Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans, etc. certainly remained on the steppes longer and couldn't possibly be part of the same wave that later emerged as Indic.

Parpola interprets these various archaeological complexes and cultures with linguistics as follows, although this is only one interpretation and does include (by necessity) some just-so stories:
  • Catacomb and Poltavka cultures (2,800-2,000 BC) (followed Yamnaya culture)—late PIE on their way to becoming Proto-Indo-Iranian.
  • Srubna and Abashevo cultures (2,000-1,800 BC) (followed Catacomb and Poltavka)—proto-Iranian—the historically attested Cimmerians are suggested to derive from this horizon.  Given that the Thracians are often associated with the Cimmerians, and Herodotus himself seems to suggest that the Thracians originally came from the northern Black Sea region, this would lend credence to some theories that Thracian was more closely related to Iranian than to other Balkan languages that originated in the Balkans as the result of earlier waves of "kurganization"—but given that Thracian is so poorly known, this remains a tantalizingly speculative discussion.  However, it's worth pointing out that many of the Balkan languages, including languages that are believed to have originated in the Balkans like Greek and Phrygian, are often considered to be late separators from PIE, and therefore have more in common with Indo-Iranian than other western European languages would.
  • Petrovka and Sintashta cultures (2,000-1,800 BC) (sub-units of Andronovo)—proto-Indic
    • This is a bit at odds with the mainstream, who does not see Andronovo as differentiated Indic yet, but most likely still both Indic and Iranian before they split from each other.  It also gives the Iranians a somewhat more vague and anonymous position from which to later emerge, but there are some precedents for accepting it.  Zoroastrianism is often interpreted as a new cult, interpreted as a wave of Iranian Avestan speaking peoples swarming over a territory previously occupied by early Indic speaking peoples with whom they then recognized a cultural distinction.
  • BMAC and Cemetery H (1,900-1,400 BC)—Dasas, i.e., non-Indo-Europeans who were swarmed and defeated militarily or culturally by the early Rigvedic civilization.  
  • Alakul-Federovo (Andronovo variants), early Swat, and late BMAC cultures (1,800-c. 1,400 or so BC)—hybrid "proto-Sauma-Aryan", i.e., practitioners of the soma cult, which was common to both Indic and Iranian peoples, but which was almost certainly picked up from the non-IE BMAC peoples, at least partly.    Interpreted as largely culturally Indo-Iranian or Indic, yet with some genetics and traditions picked up locally.
  • Early West Iranian Grey Ware (1,500-1,000 BC) the source of the Indic element among the Mitanni—a non-Indo-European Hurrian kingdom that was a neighbor and rival to the Hittites during much of the Bronze Age, but which has recognizable Indic linguistic influences.  Identified as an advanced wave of Indic speaking chariot warrior aristocracy that established themselves as a superstrate over an indigenous Near Eastern population.
  • Late Swat, Punjab and Painted Grey Ware cultures (1,400-800 BC)—Classical Rigvedic Indian culture, and the eventual "conquerors" of the subcontinent who brought Sanskrit to India, where it displaced languages of presumably Dravidian and possibly even Munda affinity which were previously spoken there.
  • Yaz, Seistan (1,400-1,100 BC)—proto-Avestan, i.e. early Eastern Iranian; so similar to Sanskrit that it might still have been mutually intelligible.
  • Gurgan Buff Ware and West Iranian Buff Ware (1,100-1,000 BC)—proto-Persian and proto-Median.
Regardless of whether this identification is correct, in some way or other, Andronovan filtered through BMAC to emerge on the other side as the languages of the Iranian and Indic families—even the Iranian languages that remained on the steppes (Scythian, Saka, Sarmatian, etc.) were influenced by it.  One notable item of interest is the possibility that the Andronovo hybridized or creolized to some degree with Uralic peoples who lived to the north of them.  There is both linguistic and maybe even some genetic and archaeological evidence brought to bear to support this story, but it remains unproven, yet interesting.

The last region covered here is the Tarim basin.  Archaeologically represented by a striking set of burials occupied by corpses that naturally mummified in the dry, salty environment, the oldest of which date to about 1,800 BC (but which stretch for the better part of 2,000 years) it's unclear exactly what all of them were, but they clearly represent peoples from a variety of extractions.  The most interesting, of course, are those who have a very pronounced European physical type, including red, brown and blond hair, tallness, blue and green eyes, woven tartans that look like they could have come straight off of proto-Celtic looms in prehistoric Austria, and presumably their languages—many centuries later two groups of Indo-European languages emerge in the area, Tocharian, an independent family with a number of very archaic features that cannot be derived from the Andronovo/Indo-Iranian group in any fashion, and eastern Iranian languages, particularly Khotanese Saka and some Indic religious texts.

Physically, the Tarim mummies (those that aren't clearly Asian in physical features, that is) come in what appear to be two clusters, a "primitive" and robust proto-Europoid physical type, especially to the farthest east and the oldest mummies, and a more gracile "Mediterranean" physical type, interpreted as the bearers of the Saka language.  The Chinese also referred to a number of barbarian tribes that lived here as well as to the area north of them that appear to have European physical features, including the Wu-sun and the Yuezhi.  Lacking any other candidates, the Afanasevo and Pazyryk cultures are presumed to have been the vector by which the Tocharian languages entered the Tarim Basin, and the late Andronovo cultures are presumed to be the bearers of Saka and other Iranian languages.  As with how the Andronovo turned into the historically attested Indic and Iranian groups, though, or what languages the barbarian tribes referred to by the Chinese spoke—we don't really know.


Of course, if by spending all of that time talking about the development of the East I've implied by omission that we understand how the Corded Ware and other Balkan cultures turned into recognizable European Indo-European groups, I have to make sure and disabuse you of that notion.  Very little is known about the dispersal of any of these cultures either, and their ties to various linguistic groups that later appear.  We don't even know (again, to the best of my knowledge) of any studies of archaeogenetics of the Balkan groups.  Somehow, though, the Balkan groups turn into Dacians, Thracians, Illyrians, and almost certainly the linguistic forebears of the Greeks, Armenians and Phrygians.  And somehow the Corded Ware culture turned into the Baltic, Slavic and Germanic groups (at least we presume so, since they covered the same physical area.)  And somehow, the Italic and Celtic speaking peoples, and maybe some other languages who's affinities are unclear, appear out of that mess too.

The Single-Grave culture, a variant of the Corded Ware found in Scandinavia, northern Germany and the Low Countries is proposed to be ancestral to the Bell Beaker culture (2,800-1,800 BC), a culture that spread to various places over much of western Europe, including the British Isles, has been proposed as both proto-Celtic as well as proto-Celtic/Italic/Germanic/Balto-Slavic.  Its connections to cultures that later are recognizably Celtic or Germanic (such as Hallstatt and Jastorf) is unclear, though.

Most likely the Bell Beaker culture represents European language groups that were on their way to differentiating.  This process is very poorly understood, as the various Bronze Age cultures of Europe are not easily derived from each other, and linguistically lots of connections between the European languages are presumed to still have existed.  The Italic languages (best known by Latin and the subsequent Romance languages, but which earlier were more diverse) are often believed to have maintained a period of unity specifically with the Celtic languages, as the Indic and Iranian languages did, perhaps.  The Baltic and Slavic languages are presumed to have done so too.  Germanic is harder to place, with some commonalities with the Balto-Slavic group, but some with Italo-Celtic too.  There's even a serious proposal that a completely anonymous Indo-European family existed which has since disappeared without a trace other than its influence on the sounds and grammar of Germanic and Celtic, called Nordwestblock in the Belgian region which separated Germanic and Celtic development zones.  And languages that are attested but very poorly known, like Venetic, Rhaetic, Ligurian, Lepontic, North Picene, Messapic, Illyrian, Thracian, and Dacian are anyone's guess as to their closest relatives.  Some may pass muster as Illyrian, Italic or Celtic languages—some may not even be Indo-European at all.

The problem in Europe is a little different than that in Asia—there are plenty of cultures and plenty of languages, but making a sensible matching of one to the other eludes us.  Big horizons like the Nordic Bronze Age, the Urnfield horizon, or the Atlantic Bronze Age defy geographical matching to later linguistic groups; where we have sharply defined lines linguistically when they first emerge in the historical record, we do not see anything like them in the archaeological horizons, which means that all kinds of linguistic groups are thrust uncomfortably into the same archaeological horizons and cultures.  On top of this, there remain a dizzying array of European language groups that are difficult to classify, and may belong to many or even none of the well-known Indo-European groups.  And contacts between Baltic, Slavic, and probably Thracian, Greek and Armenian with the developing Indo-Iranian languages appear to have happened too.

This dispersal of the Corded Ware and Indo-Europeanized Balkans into something recognizable from historical seats of known language families remains one of the bigger unresolved and possibly unsolvable problems of Indo-European research.  And most likely it can't be accurately resolved, really—although we can certainly hope to understand it better than we do now.  Today we have no choice but to try and locate the differentiated late Western PIE languages—proto-proto-Celtic or Italic or Germanic, etc. more or less where they emerge when we first have historical data to place them.  But most likely these proto-proto-languages; differentiating PIE stocks, jostled each other around and ended up covering different areas when they appear than they did when the start.  We see plenty of this in the historical record: Celtic has swept across most of Western and Central Europe and into the Balkans and even Anatolia when they first appear in the historical record, and can be pretty reliably tied to the Iron Age La Téne culture.  But the Romans conquer their provinces of Hispania and Gaul and even Brittania, replacing the Celtic languages there with vulgar Latin.  Later, Germanic invaders cover much of the same territory; Brittania (minus Wales) speaks Germanic English now, and Austria, the proposed homeland of the Celts, speaks Austrian German.

And that's just one example.  The spread of Romance, Germanic, and Slavic languages across much of Europe that formerly spoke some other Indo-European language in the historical period should give us pause and make us suspect that the same probably happened in prehistoric times as well, and because its prehistoric, it's probably unrecoverable, at least with any real confidence.  

Monday, February 13, 2017

What do the characters do?

OK, so if you click on the MIDDLE-EARTH REMIXED tag that I've created (see below, or off to the side), you'll get up to speed; the tl;dr version can be summarized with a few bullet points.  You'll need to be at least passingly familiar with Norse and Irish mythology and some Classical and Dark Ages history to make some of the references.
  • What if Lord of the Rings was sword & sorcery instead of high fantasy?
    • There would be much more swashbuckling action.
    • There wouldn't be PC elves and dwarves—they'd be scary, fairy, otherworldly villains a la Dunsany, Goethe, etc..
    • Orcs would be man-apes.  This is more cosmetic rather than substantial, but it gives you that savage Burroughs/Howard feel.  Uruks can be like chimpanzees, regular Moria orcs or snagas like baboons.  Maybe the gorillas take the place of cave trolls, even.
    • There would be a patina of darker, almost horror elements with regards to the elves and dwarves—Tolkien already does a remarkably good job of doing horror elements for the actual villains, though.
    • I've got an Eriador in decline, Rivendell is a Dunedain stronghold with a captive Elrond providing advice a la Mímir, I've got Lothlorien and Mirkwood that are dangerous fey places where, if you return at all, you return a la Oisín.  It's not as empty as it is in the books, but it's very much in decline.  Even the rump-states of Arthedain, Cardolan and Rhudaur are probably too advanced and well-organized for what I see in Eriador.  
  • Looking at Tolkien's own very brief (it's only a sentence or two in the Forward added to later printings of Fellowship) alt.LoTR I've got a Middle-earth where Gandalf took the ring from Bilbo and conquered Mordor and enslaved Sauron (although he's got his hands full trying to keep on top of such an unruly conquest.) 
    • Saruman has filled in the holes of his own ring-lore and created a rival One Ring (so I guess now there's Two Rings.) Orthanc and Barad-dur are at war.  
    • Gondor is falling into chaos in the meantime, but is a little bit outside of the immediate cross-hairs, at least.
    • The Witch-King has reestablished Angmar and is loyal still to Sauron, or at least the concept of Sauron freed and in possession of the Ring again.  This creates a Cold War between three Dark Lord poles—Mordor, Isengard and Angmar.  The peoples of Gondor and Eriador in the meantime struggle to maintain their independence while these dark lords as yet ignore them as lesser threats than their own Dark Lord rivals.
  • There are more independent and smallish communities than the Lord of the Rings posits; i.e., the Shire wasn't necessarily so singular as all that.  Local Eriadorans and even Gondorans, especially from further away than the core regions near Minas Tirith and Osgiliath, are relatively plentiful. Minhiriath and Enedwaith aren't abandoned, for example, and Tharbad still thrives, although perhaps as a provincial city-state—to give just a few examples.
  • If the Rohirrim are to be seen as similar to the Anglo-Saxons, and the men of Dale and other Northmen of Wilderland are to be seen as various other Germanic peoples (Norsemen, Franks, etc.) as Tolkien envisioned, what "cultural calques" can be used as short-hands for the other groups?
  • Native Eriadorans patrolling their turf.
    • Easterlings come in more than one flavor.  Pseudo-Scythians and Huns are the ones I'd prefer to see.
    • Gondor should be seen as similar to waning Imperial Rome.  The Dunedain in Eriador can be seen as even more waned; not unlike the Romano-British trying to hold on to a hybrid Roman/Celtic High Culture in the wake of Anglo-Saxon invasions, and the abandonment of central authority.
    • The natives of Eriador, Minhiriath, etc. can be seen—as Tolkien kind of hinted at with some of his details on Bree—as Celtic.  You may want them to be more swashbuckling Gaulish warriors prior to Julius Caesar's conquest ("Vae victis!"), or more like the  melancholy rump-states of medieval Wales, Cornwall, Powys, etc.; either works for me.
    • I see this as a "protagonist culture" however, whereas the Dunlendings, which also had some Celtic influences hinted at are very definitely the "bad guys."  I think here, going for an early native Hispanic feel; i.e. the Hispania that Rome conquered as part of the Second Punic War—a mixture of native Iberian peoples and Carthaginians.
    • Speaking of which, Umbar can definitively be seen as similar to Carthage or the Semitic Levant (i.e. Palmyra and Herod, etc.), and near Harad should be seen as North African with maybe a nomadic Semitic population.  Full-blown Arabized Haradrim is not what I'm looking for, though.  There's nothing quite like Islam in Middle-earth (save maybe the cult of Sauron.)  Something more like Roman-era Berbers would be the right speed.
So, that's MIDDLE-EARTH REMIXED in a nutshell.  It begs a few questions—what in the world do characters actually do in such a setting?  I've got a few ideas.  The best games probably intertwine several of them to varying degrees, as the players take interest and pursue (hopefully of their own initiative) any and/or all of these potential concepts:
  • Just because there's a Cold War brewing between Angmar, Isengard and Mordor doesn't mean that characters need to be involved in it directly. Wandering around Middle-earth looking for fame and fortune in the time-honored RPG fashion is still acceptable.  Many of these small communities are under threat from troops that are passing through, or setting up their own domains, or just evil and fell things displaced by the general chaos.
  • The original concept of the rangers (of Middle-earth) wandering guerilla warriors of sorts who protect the peaceful communities of Eriador, can be expanded into Gondor, the Wild, and elsewhere.  There's lots to do here, much of it paramilitary in nature, where opposing the actual foot-soldiers of Angmar, Isengard and Mordor is probably day-to-day work, and raids on hostile strongholds might be common.
  • Just because the Dark Lords are obviously bad, this doesn't follow that everyone else is on the same page with each other.  Is Rohan engaged in political back and forth with Minas Tirith?  Is Rivendell looking to more fully integrate and demand tribute from The Shire? Or Tharbad?  Are enemy agents from Dunland infiltrating these kingdoms and needing to be dealt with? Are there shortages of goods that open up black markets that need to be met? You can rarely go wrong with intrigue and skulduggery.
  • In a truly heroic game, toppling one or more of the Dark Lords can be seen as a legitimate goal, of course.  This may even imply siding (at least temporarily in an "enemy of my enemy is my friend alliance not unlike Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin) with one of the Dark Lords against another only to be (most likely) stabbed in the back by deceit when your usefulness is at an end.  Of course—this could be part of the fun, and canny players will expect that and (hopefully) do something to prepare for it.
  • For some groups, openly and loyally allying with one of the Dark Lords might even be an option.  It's obviously not heroic—but that doesn't mean that it might not be wildly entertaining.  Or maybe they want the rings for themselves to set themselves up as rival Dark Lords in turn!

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Crusader States in Dark•Heritage

I've always been interested in the Crusader States.  Most of what we've been taught about the Crusades in our middle school history classes is not true (although it would have been true for the Northern Crusades, actually—but not for the Middle Eastern Crusades that most people think of when they think of the Crusades.)  It's not that the history of the Crusades is some secret; it's just that we're exposed to a narrative, and most people are relatively incurious, so they don't ever learn anything beyond the narrative.

The Crusades were a mercy mission (to use Darth Vader's term)—the advance of the Muslim savages had conquered vast swaths of Christendom, and many Christians were killed, enslaved, or otherwise oppressed.  You can see the end result of this today where there are effectively hardly any Christians at all left in Anatolia, the Levant, or North Africa—all of which were part of Christianized Rome at one point.

The Byzantine Empire actually plead with the Pope for aid, and the First Crusade was called by Pope Urban in the year 1095.  Although it probably wasn't what Greek Emperor Alexios I Komnenos really hoped for, although he did save and rejuvenate his Empire; a process known as the Komnenian Restoration—but because of the schism between the eastern and western churches which dated to 1054, the Crusaders did not turn their territory regained back to the Byzantines, but rather set up their own Crusader states, which lasted for several centuries before succession crises, civil war, and neglect from Western Europe set in and they gradually faded away to be captured again by the Mamluks.

In addition to the Kingdoms of Jerusalem or Cyprus, the Principalities of Antioch and Cilicia, or the Counties of Edessa and Tripoli, etc. there were Crusader states in the Balkans as the result of later Crusades—attempts to roll back the advances of the Ottomans over what had been the Byzantine Empire.  And there were northern Baltic Crusader states, established up north where the last heathens in Europe still resisted assimilation into Christendom.

In part, they eventually failed due to simple greed.  Had the original purpose of providing aid to struggling Christians and the recovery of their lands that had fallen to the paynim been maintained, it would have been one thing—but later Popes saw the Crusades as an opportunity to militarily repair the schism of the Eastern church by forcing them to rejoin the West.  It was largely probably responsible for the eventual fall of the Byzantines, and possibly for the fact that the paynim were later able to roll up through the Balkans to threaten even Vienna itself before they were finally halted and pushed back—although not as far as they had been.  The Northern Crusades didn't even have that flimsy of a justification—the Church wanted to impose Christianity at the end of a sword on the Lithuanians, Old Prussians, Livonians, and Estonians, etc.—plus give ambitious knights and rulers a chance to establish conquered fiefdoms in new lands.

For nearly 400 years the Crusades were an on again off-again proposition.  At the same time a few other interesting things were happening in Europe.  Although not a declared Crusade per se, the Iberian Christians had been rolling back the Muslim conquest there in the process called the Reconquista for almost 400 years in a similar manner; and this was finally completed officially in 1492—only five years after the end of the last official Crusade.

Also; Anglo-Saxon England was conquered by the Normans just a few years prior to the start of the First Crusade.  It was almost conquered by the Vikings, who were really just starting their own Christianization at the time and although their kings had been Christians for a few generations, many of their people still were not.  Harald Hardrada was, before being a claimant to the English throne, a claimant to the throne of Norway, he had spent considerable time in Kievan Rus (also only recently officially Christianized) and served as a Varangian captain in Constantinople.  After the conquest of England by the Normans, many Anglo-Saxons fled the country and even served as Varangians to such a degree that in the time of Alexios I Komnenos it was perceived as an English unit.

After the Crusades and Reconquista were over, the rules of Europe could turn to other matters.  Columbus set sail only five years after the last Crusade and literally the same year that the Reconquista ended.  There's a fair bit of evidence to suggest that knowledge of Vinland and the Viking settlements and the idea that there were lands out there on the other side of the Atlantic wasn't exactly in as short supply as many would have you believe, and that Columbus may well have been familiar with exactly these tales.  Now, no doubt he never suspected an entire hemisphere with two continents and tons of islands... but he already knew that the world was round, and he already knew that there was land out there within sailing distance.  Most likely.  Otherwise, he would never have made the attempt.

But what if... the Muslim conquest was never really as big a deal as all that to begin with?  What if... instead of Crusades to liberate the Holy Land and relieve the suffering of Christians in what was once the Roman provinces of the Levant, north Africa, Anatolia and the Balkans were able to successfully fight off the Muslim conquest, and remained independent Christian kingdoms?

What if this led to earlier exploration of the New World?  If Anglo-Saxons displaced by the Norman conquest fled West across the Atlantic instead of south to Constantinople?  If Vikings settled more thoroughly there following in the wake of the Anglo-Saxons?  If Crusader States were established in the New World by around 1100 AD?

And what if they were then cut off and were unable to return to the Old World, and those in the Old World were unable to reach the New World in turn?  After a generation or two, what would these Crusader states look like?  And what if it wasn't the actual New World, but a fantasy analog of it?


And that... is what DARK•HERITAGE Mk. V is.

I should probably stop talking about it at the High Concept level and start getting some details going.  Maybe next time.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Meet the Carnosaurs, Part III: Carcharodontosaurs

I've organized these posts so that each is more or less the same size, but the unfortunate side effect is that other equally (or maybe even more) sensible arrangements are not done.  Ideally, I'd have done basal forms, sinraptors, allosaurids, carcharadontosaurids and neovenatorids in that order, because that's how they appear chronologically in the fossil record, more or less (with some overlap, of course.)

After the basal forms, which are all poorly known and their antecedents are also unclear, we get the sinraptors, mostly in China in the late Middle and earlier part of the Late Jurassic.  The actual allosaurids are next, but seem to be a group lacking in much diversity, from North America and Portugal and (possibly) Africa at the end of the Jurassic, overlapping with later sinraptors.

During the earliest Cretaceous, we have only scanty remains and poorly researched formations that don't tell us much about the apex predators, but by the "middle" Cretaceous, carcharodontosaurs seem to have emerged as the dominant predators globally, with similar forms from Africa, North America, South America and even Asia.  Then near the end of the period of carcharodontosaurid dominance, the neovenators take over for a time, although by now there is no longer a "global fauna" and tyrannosaurs and abelisaurs are starting to become more dominant in most regions.  During the last 15-20 million years of the Cretaceous, there don't seem to be any carnosaurs left, with the possible exception of some poorly dated and controversial remains here and there (Orkoraptor was long held out as a Maastrichtian carnosaur, but it appears to have been earlier in time after all.)

The carnosaurs also appear somewhat ex nihilo; or rather, we don't have much to go on with basal forms, so we have little to no understanding of where they came from exactly.  Although they are part of the avetherapods, and therefore sister group to the coelurosaurs (avetherapods are themselves the sister group to the megalosaurs... which I guess are "cousin" group to the carnosaurs, then?) this lack of early forms is difficult.  In addition to that, as the neovenators replaced the carcharodontosaurs who replaced the allosaurs and sinraptors... well, none of these groups derives from within the other, so there are long ghost lineages somewhere that may yet throw our understanding of these animals and their relationships off considerably.  There is in fact a fair bit of controversy already, although this mostly seems to come from South American paleontologists who make proposals that otherwise seem to be outside of the mainstream, i.e., that maybe carcharodontosaurs are closely related to abelisaurs and/or tyrannosaurs, for instance, or that megaraptors aren't actually neovenators at all, but are instead tyrannosauroids.  The establishment of some specimens that fill in, even if just a bit, this ghost lineage will help to clarify considerably.

In any case, I'm ignoring these non-mainstream opinions for the most part, with the expectation that as we gradually find more specimens and start to close the gaps in some of those long ghost lineages, that the mainstream opinion will be proven correct after all.  In doing so, well—we find that the carcharodontosaurs are a surprisingly successful group of carnosaurs; the earliest ones were found in the late Kimmeridgean (150 or so million years ago) and they stretch easily to the Turonian of the Late Cretaceous (89 million years ago) with their greatest extent of success ramping up in the Barremian (127 million years ago).  Although keep in mind that the earliest Cretaceous periods are not well known and exactly what large predators dominated their ecosystems is unknown at this time.  Some form of carnosaur—allosaurid or early carcharodontosaurid—seem likely for most regions.  As with most carnosaurs, they seem to have dominated in ecosystems in which very large sauropods were the largest herbivore as well, and some thyreophorans, along with ornithopods, usually of the iguanodont grade.  They are nowhere known in areas where ceratopsians and hadrosaurs make up the dominant herbivores, nor do they seem to be common during the ages when more modest sauropods lived among abelisaurs.  Although this may, of course, be a preservational artifact; we never know for sure what we don't know about formations and time periods about which our evidence is poor.  Some isolated teeth from Brazil may suggest that carcharodontosaurs lived on almost to the very end of the Cretaceous; they are found from the Campanian or maybe even Maastrichtian age rocks.  But this evidence is dubious; they might well be something else entirely, or the dating may be off.  As with the tyrannosaurs—even moreso, in fact—there are a lot of questions to be answered.

Another curious fact—not really very important, but one that gets lots of attention nonetheless—is that there are a number of quite large specimens here, including no less than four that are at least as big as T. rex if not larger.  Of course, our sample sizes being what they are, this doesn't really mean much.  But it does mean that the carcharodontosaurs, in spite of their jaw-cracker names and relatively recent vintage, are quite well known to the general public.  Even if all they know of them is their name and the fact that they're so big.

Acrocanthosaurus atokensis.  This quite large early carcharodontosaur lacks a number of features peculiar to the group.  Before the carcharodontosaurs were defined in the later 90s, it was assumed to be a close relative of Allosaurus and some researchers continue to prefer putting it there rather than with the rest of the shark-teeth.  Most phylogenies recover it as a primitive carcharodontosaur, however.  It was found in at least three formations: the Twin Mountains of north Texas, the Antler Formation of southern Oklahoma and the Cloverly Formation of Wyoming's Bighorn Basin.  None of these have been radiometrically dated, but appear to be entirely within the Aptian Stage; 112-125 million years ago.  It is also believed to be present in the Glen Rose Formation of Texas that lies over top of the Twin Mountains rocks, so it may have been relatively long-lived as a taxon and crossed into the Albian stage as well.

Acrocanthosaurus may have also been found in Maryland and Florida, and elsewhere in North America, but this is based on teeth and other rather non-diagnostic remains, so that's not for sure.  For much of its range, the environment was a coastal floodplain next to the epicontinental sea that would later expand and become the Niobrara Sea (or Western Interior Seaway) splitting North America into island continents Laramidia and Appalachia.  All of the formations in which it is found are somewhat poorly known in terms of what the complete faunal assemblage was like, but all of them also feature, in addition to Acrocanthosaurus itself, Deinonychus, Tenontosaurus and either Astrodon or Sauroposeidon or both.  Small hypsilophodonts are known in Cloverly, as are a few early nodosaurs.  A few other small therapods, some titanosaur backbone, and a Psittacosaurus-grade ceratopsian are also known from the Cloverly, while the Glen Rose adds yet another sauropod.  All in all, it would have still maintained a rather Morrison-like aspect, although less dry.
Some significant work has been done on Acrocanthosaurus systematics, including detailed CAT scans of its braincase (determining that it had a crocodile rather than avian style brain with a good sense of smell), fairly light, long and narrow head with huge antorbital fenestrae, and rather limited forearm movement.  And of course, it's very famous for its tall neural spines, which were not nearly as dramatic as that of Spinosaurus, but which would have been unmistakable nonetheless.  It was unlikely that it had a low sail, but it is believed to have been a "buffalo hump" type feature that ran the length of the animal's back.

Concavenator corcovatus. Another early (and basal) member of the shark-teeth is Concavenator from Barremian Spain (130 million years or so ago.)  Much more modestly sized (about 20 feet long, compared to nearly 40 for Acrocanthosaurus) this guy is famous for having what may be quill nodes on its foresarms as well as a very odd structure on its lower back that would have appeared as a very short yet tall triangle over its hips.  No other therapod has a similar structure, so nobody is quite sure what to make of it; although some kind of back adornment supported by neural spines on the vertebrae seems to be a feature of many of these basal carcharodontosaurs.

The La Hoya fossil site that it comes from is an inland lacustrine environment, and most of the fossils are beautifully preserved freshwater fish, worms, arthropods, molluscs and many crocodilians.  Some early birds are also found at the site, and the basal ornithomimosaur Pelecanimimus.

Eocarcharia dinops. The "dawn shark" a reference to it being a relatively early member of the shark-tooth-saurs is not actually all that early appearing.  Eocarcharia is from the Erlhaz Formation of Niger of the Albian-Aptian border (about 112 million years ago) which puts it smack dab in the center of the heyday of the carcharodontosaurs, in spite of its basal position in phylogenies.  It was a more modest sized animal, about 26 feet long, without much in the way of distinguishing physical features.  Its co-Formation inhabitants include Kryptops, an early abelisaur, and Suchimimus, a very large spinosaurid (Spinosaurus itself was from the formation over top of this one, so later in time), a rebbachisaurid sauropod (Nigersaurus), two large iguanodonts, both with unique features—Ouranosaurus with its large back sail and Lurdusaurus with its especially thick and robust skeletal build and extra long neck, and the dryosaur Elrhazosaurus.

Kelmayisaurus petrolicus. A formerly poorly known (well, it still is—some jaw fragments is all we've got) specimen from the Lianmuqin Formation somewhere between the Valangian and Albian stages (140-125 million years ago) of Cretaceous Chinese Turkestan, Kelmayisaurus was recently found to actually be diagnostic, and that it does nest as a basal carcharodontosaur.  Everything in the Lianmuqin Formation is very poorly known, but it seems that Kelmayisaurus may have passed some basal coelurosaurs on its morning commute, as well as Psittacosaurus, some sauropods, and the latest known surviving stegosaur in the world.

Sauroniops pachytholus.  Named to literally be "The Eye of Sauron" this somewhat primitive carcharodontosaurid, and a relatively large one over 30 feet long, was curiously found in the same time and place as Carcharodontosaurus itself; Cenomian Morocco (93-99 million years ago.)  It's only known from a skull roof, but it differs substantially from Carcharodontosaurus.  In fact, the rugose and extremely bumpy skull roof has really captivated the imagination of researchers, some of whom imagine it banging heads like mountain goats.  From the Kem Kem Beds, its neighbors would have been, in addition to Carcharodontosaurus, a wide variety of predators: Deltadromeus, Elaphrosaurus, Majungasaurus and Spinosaurus, the largest and most famous of the spinosaurids.  Lots of crocodylomorphs here as well, and several fishes; the Kem Kem beds are described as representing a former wide river delta environment that was in the process of shrinking and thus bringing together a number of animals that might otherwise have preferred different habitats and wider separation (it's also not clear that everything found in the Kem Kem beds is really from the same time period, and they may have been spread out in time.)  I'm not sure exactly what all these predators would have hunted, as Rebbachisaurus is the only known herbivorous dinosaur, although ornithopod footprints have also been found.

Shaochilong maortuensis. A small (16-20 ft) found in the Turonian (89-93 million years ago) of Mongolia is interesting, in part because it's among the latest found carnosaurs in Laurasia (later even than Siats of the megaraptors—although plenty of late appearing megaraptors are found in Gondwana) suggesting that the dominance of tyrannosaurs in the north was really quite late.  Chilantaisaurus is also found in the same formation, which is poorly known.  It also has an ankylosaur, an ornithopod of some kind, and an ornithomimid.  It's also one of only two Asian carcharodontosaurs known, which is unusual, because Asia is also the cradle of tyrannosaurs (although they also developed in parallel to a great degree in North America.)

Veterupristisaurus milneri.  Another jaw-cracker name, which means "old shark lizard", Veterupristisaurus is the oldest known carcharodontosaurid, from the Tendaguru beds of late Kimmeridgian and early Tithonian (155-150 million years ago) Tanzania.  This was often compared to the Morrison, and many of the species were believed to be the same as the Morrison, but further discoveries and further review have shown that it was not as clean-cut as it was once thought.  Veterupristisaurus was about Allosaurus-sized and probably played its role in the fauna.  It was originally thought to be a large local variant of Ceratosaurus.  The African Brachiosaurus was also renamed as a different animal, Giraffatitan, the African Diplodocus was renamed Tornieria, etc.  It was still a very similar faunal assemblage to that of the Morrison, or the Porto Novo of Portugal, but the differences are just enough to make it interesting.

Carcharodontosaurus saharicus. At this point, Carcharodontosauridae develops the more specialized node, Carcharodontosaurinae, which contains Carcharodontosaurus itself, plus the Giganotosaurini subfamily, which contains the large South American forms.  Although named before WW2 by German paleontologists working in North Africa, the remains were lost and had to be rediscovered in the form of new specimens by Paul Sereno in the 1990s.  When combined with the exciting finds coming out of South America, the Carcharodontosaurid family was finally recognized.  Carcharodontosaurus probably had two species, both of them quite large, rivaling T. rex in size.  I already described the environment in which he lived in the Sauroniops entry, so I won't repeat it here.

Carcharodontosaurus was pretty typical for the family; large sized, narrow but long snout, three-fingered relatively powerful (but somewhat inflexible) forearms, robust design that does not indicate a particularly fast animal (although with its stride length, that probably doesn't really matter too much. Plus, if these guys really did specialize in hunting large sauropods, as believed, then they probably didn't need to be super fast anyway.)  It's also famous for, of course, it's shark-like teeth, which gave the animal and the entire family its name.  Unlike the powerful robust teeth of the late appearing tyrannosaurs, they didn't allow for a particularly powerful bite, and presumably the carcharodontosaurs (and for that matter, most large dinosaurian predators) had teeth designed to slash flesh rather than puncture or crush bone.  Many researchers have even proposed that they didn't have to kill their prey; if they just "snacked" on the flesh of sauropods, they probably could survive and even heal to a great degree from those kinds of woulds, and keep on going to be snacked on later.  Otherwise, they probably dealt massive wounds that removed large chunks of flesh and then let shock and blood loss weaken its prey enough for it to continue attacking at its leisure and with less risk.

There is some evidence, mainly from the South American forms, that it may have hunted in packs as well.

Tyrannotitan chubutensis. This is one of the earlier carcharodontosaurids from the Aptian aged rocks; so about the same as Acrocanthosaurus.  It's much more derived, though—nested well within Giganotosaurini, although at the base of that clade.  Not much is known of it's environment other than it's been interpreted as a return to rather arid conditions after moister floodplain environments which preceded it.  Large titanosaur Chubutisaurus was probable prey for Tyrannotitan.  As the name implies, there were a number of features that somewhat superficially resembled tyrannosaurs, and which captivated some early researchers into proposing a link between carcharodontosaurs and tyrannosaurs.  Sigh.  Everyone wants to tie everyone to the tyrannosaurs.  I prefer, obviously, the carnosaur interpretation as much more robust and well established for both carcharodontosaurs and megaraptors.

Giganotosaurus carolinii. The largest and first discovered of the South American carcharodontosaurs, Giganotosaurus has been rather famous.  It appeared in the rather excellent Chased by Dinosaurs pseudo-documentary with Nigel Marvin, where it's hunting Argentinasaurus, the largest known sauropod.  This isn't exactly accurate, as they are not from the same formation—but Giganotosaurus would no doubt have chased Andesaurus instead; another very large basal titanosaur from South America.  It's curious that the basal titanosaurs are quite large; but later they were replaced in South America by much more modestly sized derived saltasaurs.  This seems to have coincided with the end of the large carnosaurs as well.

Giganotosaurus also had iguanodonts, dromaeosaurs, smaller rebbachisaurid sauropods, and relatively large abelisaurids.  It comes from the Cenomian age (same as Carcharodontosaurus 100-97 million years ago) Candeleros Formation of Neuquen, formerly called the Rio Limay Formation.  It is overlaid by the Huincul Formation (which includes Argentinasaurus and Mapusaurus) which is in turn overlain by the Lisandro Formation which does not (at least so far) have any carnosaurs in it.

Mapusaurus roseae. The last appearing carcharodontosaur of the South American procession, Mapusaurus may also have been the largest, according to some fragmentary remains.  It's also known from a bone-bed with several individuals of various age and size—which is always breathlessly held out by many as evidence of packing behavior, although it isn't really.  At least not necessarily.  It could also be mobbing, which is gregarious, but not cooperative exactly.

Mapusaurus was also found in a riparian depositional environment in what was otherwise determined to be a rather arid climate.  Not terribly unlike the Morrison in that regard, curiously.  Argentinsaurus was the large sauropod; the largest sauropod, or at least a credible contender for that title.  The Huincul is otherwise not a very good depositional environment for fossil bones, actually, so it's rather poorly known.  A study of the various individuals also determined that Mapusaurus displayed heterochrony; a condition in which ancestral conditions are present at one age stage but later go away.  This is significant, because it means that it's not hard to think you're seeing more diversity in the fossil record than you actually are.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Meet the Carnosaurs, Part II: Allosaurids and Neovenatorids

There are three families left within the carnosaurs; the allosaurids (the most famous and well-known group, although it's actually a very small one), the carcharodontosaurs (a large family of animals that have become increasingly famous because some of them are allegedly "bigger than T. rex") and the neovenators (an another interesting family that includes the megaraptors, and which has become increasingly interesting just in the last few years.)

At the next node beyond the sinraptors, the tree splits into the allosaurids and the carcharodontosaurians; the carcharodontosaurians then split into the carcharodontosaurids and the neovenatorids.  For today, partly as a function the number of specimens that need to be described, I'm going to do the small allosaurid family and the medium sized neovenators.  The carcharodontosaurs are such a large group that they need to be treated separately in the next (and last) post in this series.

Allosaurus fragilis.  This is the really famous Allosaurus known from big quarries in Utah and Colorado at Dinosaur National Monument and the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry—both of which are national monuments.  Allosaurus is well-known from at least 60 excavated skeletons, of all ages and sizes.  The average sized Allosaurus seems to be about 30 feet long (maybe a tiny bit less) and the largest was nearly T. rex sized at over 40 feet.  In fact, this largest specimen is so large that its describers were enchanted by the size and gave it a new name; Epanterias amplexus, but most studies have suggested that at most it's a new species, and probably not even that.


Allosaurus has probably got a number of species and a nearly global distribution, although other than the Morrison Formation allosaurs from the American West they're not well known, and their remains are a bit scrappy, which makes determining exactly how they're all related a bit difficult to determine.  The formal and then informal species A. lucasi and "A. jimmadseni" are both from a bit later than A. fragilis; above it in the later Morrison Formation from the very late Kimmeridgian and Tithonian (A. fragilis is more from earlier in the Kimmeridgian.)  Like the rest of the Morrison fauna, as time passed and one species within a genus was replaced by another, in general they became somewhat larger.  There's also a European species, although there's some doubt that it truly is a different species—in spite of the rather large geographical separation (which was admittedly less at the time) found in Portugal.  There was an allosaur in the Tendaguru Formation of Tanzania, although subsequent analysis suggests that these poor remains might actually be carcharodontosaurian.  And allosaurs have been reported from Siberia and Australia, although there are—again—serious doubts that they've been properly identified.  Allosaurus also has swallowed up a rather large number of names that were applied to animals once thought to be something else but later determined to merely be specimens of Allosaurus: Creosaurus, Antrodemus, Labrosaurus, Epanterias.

Allosaurus is best known from the Morrison, of course, and the environment of the Morrison and the other animals that lived around it are interesting.  While I've pointed out before that the environment in which many of the sinraptors lived was similar, including similar types of animals, this is even more true for the Lourinhã and Tendaguru Formations.  Rather than describe them all, the Morrison can stand in for all of them.  Allosaurus was surrounded by sauropods.  So many varieties, in fact, that scientists are at a bit of a loss trying to explain how they all coexisted without competing head to head.  There are several varieties of rather slim diplodocids (Diplodocus, Barosaurus, Supersaurus and a bewildering variety of many more dubious names), the more stout apatasaurines (Apatasaurus  and now even the name Brontosaurus has been revived) dicraesaurs, haplocanthosaurs, and the future of sauropoda—macronarians come in a few varieties including Brachiosaurus, the largest of the sauropods of the Morrison (unless Amphocoelias turns out someday to be verified) and the more modestly size and apparently by far the most common, Camarasaurus.  Stegosaurus and a few other stegosaurs are also well-known from the Morrison, and there's an also incredibly diverse array of ornithopods; many of them rather small and presumably fleet-flooted hypsilophodonts, but some of them nearing Iguanadon in size and evolutionary grade.  These include (not comprehensively) Dryosaurus, Camptosaurus, Uteodon, Drinker, Othnielosaurus and Othnielia.  There are two early ankylosaurs.  There are many smaller therapods, like Ornitholestes and Coelurus (and others).  There's an early tyrannosauroid.  Curiously, there are also other larger therapods.  Ceratosaurus was roughly half to two thirds the size of Allosaurus but had much more robust teeth and apparently a different hunting style.  There are large megalosaurs—Marshosaurus and Torvosaurus (which includes the nearly T. rex-sized Edmarka rex).  As an aside; both Torvosaurus and Ceratosaurus have also been found in the same formation as the Portuguese Allosaurus.  The lower, thinner bodies of the other two predators has sometimes been interpreted to mean that they preferred hunting in the more overgrown lowlands, while Allosaurus preferred the higher, drier, and certainly more open floodplains.

The Morrison itself is semi-arid, on the shores of the Sundance Sea.  Further to the south it starts to become actually desert-like, but more to the north it's got a strongly riparian flavor, with drier savanas separating the river valleys.  It's often believed that many of the dinosaurs favored the gallery forests along the rivers to the floodplains, but adult sauropods and possibly Allosaurus himself may have preferred the open.

Saurophaganax maximus. Closely related to Allosaurus (there are still a few workers who refuse to recognize it as a valid, separate genus, although most do now, especially after the recent Brusatte, Carrano and Benson phylogeny) but fairly large—again, up to nearly T. rex sized, this guy appears to have appeared fairly late in the Morrison.  Some studies even suggest that it may have replaced the megalosaurs like Torvosaurus as the "predator larger than Allosaurus" role.  It's also better known from not only the latest Brushy Basin member of the Morrison, but also the southern range—finds have been in Oklahoma, New Mexico.  This may suggest that it lived and hunted in a different environment than the other Morrison predators; one that was less conducive to preservation. Or, it may mean that it was simply rather rare and late-appearing compared to Allosaurus.


Datanglong guanxiensis. This is known from only a bit of backbone, hip and ribs from the Xinlong Formation in the Early Cretaceous.  Not much is known about either the formation or the animal, but it appears to be a very basal carcharodontosaurian.  Or, it may be a carcharodontosaurid or neovenatorid. We don't really know.

Chilantaisaurus tashuikouensis.  Another poorly known critter from the Ulansuhai Formation of Inner Mongolia which appears to be from the Turonian period of the Cretaceous—rather late, actually.  It was once thought to be Albian-Aptian due to faunal similarity, which suggests that the "Morrison pattern" of fauna (speaking very broadly—also called the "Jurassic aspect" when referred to some Cretaceous fauna that had broadly similar animals by Thomas Lehman) was more common and lasted longer than many thought.  Chilantaisaurus does appear to be a "good" neovenator, which are the latest appearing family of carnosaurs, for the most part, and which seem to have prolonged the presence of carnosaurs, possibly all the way to the end of the dinosaur era.

Neovenator salerii.  Known from the Isle of Wight, Neovenator was a modest-sized 25 feet or so long and rather gracile in build.  The fossils are very fragmentary, and like many British fossils, exactly what it was and what environment it lived in is hard to determine.  Neovenator is probably more famous for bouncing around a ton in various family trees than it is for anything else.  It was from the Barremian (125 million years ago) and probably lived alongside Iguanadon, Baryonix, and Polacanthus.


Within Neovenatoridae we have the family Megaraptora.  There are a few folks who are captivated by some similarities to the tyrannosauroids and believe Megaraptorans to be related to them, but the mainstream and most likely view is that they are a family of carnosaurs, nested within Carcharodontosauria (but not Carcharodontosauidae) and therefore most closely related to them (the phylogenies by Novas and Porfiri that recovers them as coelurosaurs close to the tyrannosaurs also recovers carcharodontosaurs there as well.  It's not a very trustworthy result.  Wikipedia seems to suggest that nesting with with the tyrants is the last word, but it isn't.)  The interesting thing about them, of course, is also their temporal placement; they seem to start right about the time that the carcharodontosaurs are running out the clock, and the earliest one seems to be a specimen from Australia at about 110 million years ago.  This suggests that that's where the family evolved from somewhere within Neovenatoridae and spread from there.

Fukuiraptor kitadaniensis. One of the few dinosaur fossils from Japan, Fukuiraptor is a modest-sized and slender animal.  Although the type specimen is supposed to not be fully grown, it was found with some other individuals, all of whom were even smaller.  From the Cretaceous Barremian (129-125 million years ago).  It's about 16 feet long, and is known from mostly leg bones, a few arm, jaw and teeth fragments.  Little is known about dinosaurs in Japan in general; needless to say volcanic islands are not super ideal for preservation of fossils for millions of years.

Siats meekorum.  Found in the Mussentuchit Member of the Cedar Mountain Formation (Cenomian Late Cretaceous; about 98 million years ago) Siats is interesting for a number of reasons.  The skeletal remains are a bit on the scanty side, but by using other neovenatorian specimens to scale up what we have, they suggest that Siats was already in the same ballpark as the biggest therapods, in spite of the fact that several features of the skeleton suggest it was not fully grown.  It's also late appearing, at a time when it was thought that carnosaurs had abandoned North America in favor of early tyrannosauroids.  Exactly what a megaraptoran was doing in North America at the time is unsure.  It would have replaced Acrocanthosaurus (a carcharodontosaurid and apex predator of the earlier members of the Cedar Mountain Formation) and preceded the dominance of tyrants.  Indeed; the upper Cedar Mountain is much more "Asian" in character than the earlier Cedar Mountain, which had a more traditional Gondwanan assemblage; or perhaps as Lehman calls it, they retained a "Jurassic aspect" well into the Cretaceous.

Siats lived alongside some early ankylosaurs (Animantarx, Cedarpelta, Peloroplites) some indeterminate neoceratopsian and pachycephalosaur remains, ornithopods like the iguanodont Eolambia, the medium-sized Tenontosaurus might still have survived that long, and the advanced hypsilophodont Zephyrosaurus, a brachiosaur (Abydosaurus), and of course the famous Deinonychus that is the specimen most responsible for launching the Dinosaur Revolution.

The whole Cedar Mountain formation is only recently described; it's only been known since the 90s, really.  There's no doubt still much to be learned about it and the gap between the passing of the torch from the "Jurassic aspect" faunal assemblages and the "Asian Cretaceous aspect" faunal assemblages is poorly understood.  The upper Cedar Mountain, and middle Cedar Mountain assemblages are probably the answer there, but we need to know more about them first.

Aerosteon riocoloradense. "Bird bone" was a medium-sized (about 30 foot) megaraptor from Argentina's Anacleto Formation; Santonian (84 million years ago) of the Late Cretaceous.  Again; the remains are somewhat scrappy and may not represent a fully mature individual; and they were discovered before the existence of the megaraptoran clan was understood, so it was a bit of a mystery for some time, as it didn't fit into any of the known therapod families at the time in South America (spinosaurs, carcharodontosaurs, abelisaurs.)  The faunal assemblage of the Anacleto formation is not super well-known; a small ornithopod, some titanosaurs, and abelisaurs are known, along with a few lizards and crocodylians.

Australovenator
Australovenator wintonensis.  An Australian megaraptor (as you can probably guess by the name) from the latest Aptian (95 million years ago) from a site that tells us little about the faunal assemblage that it occupies other than that a sauropod lived there too.  It was only about 20 feet long and relatively lightweight, and has been informally described as "the cheetah of its time.)  It's very similar to the earlier appearing (Albian 105 million years ago) therapod Rapator and the two may be synonymous, or it may be a descendant of the latter.

Rapator ornitholestoides.  Speaking of which, Rapator is known from very poor remains; only a few bones.  In fact, it took the discover of Australovenator and some of the other megaraptors to make sense of Rapator's remains.  If Rapator were built like Australovenator, then it would probably have been bigger; about Allosaurus sized.  It comes from the Griman Creek Formation, as mentioned above, quite a bit earlier than Australovenator, and it's not really known what was in the Griman Creek formation other than some kind of sauropod, some small ornithopods, and the large iguanodont Muttaburrasauus.

Megaraptor namunhuaiquii.  From the Turonian to Coniacian (somwhere between 93 to 86 million years ago) of Patagonia, Megaraptor is what started the journey of the neovenatorids.  For a long time, it really confused paleontologists.  It's large hand claw was interpreted as a dromaeosaur-like foot claw, then a spinosaur-like feature, and finally it was recognized as a defining feature of the megaraptorans themselves.  A good 26 feet long, it was a decent-sized carnivore.  A juvenile specimen is being used specifically to advance the tyrannosauroid claim.  I'd like to see that go away—unless of course, I'm wrong and it turns out to be the correct interpretation after all.  But I seriously doubt it.  There's no explanation for a radiation of tyrannosauroids in Gondwana that are significantly disparate from what happened in Laurasia.  And if they are tyrannosauroids, they still have some pretty amazing similarities to the carcharodontosaurs and even the spinosaurs, dromaeosaurs and abelisaurs.  I think the real story here is how extraordinarily conservative the bauplan of therapods was that it remains so very difficult to classify them with confidence.

Orkoraptor burkei.  Another South American animal, Orkoraptor was a rather late appearing megaraptoran from the Pari Aike Formation in very southern Patagonia.  Initially believed to be from the Maastrichtian, that would have extended the carnosaurs (unless of course the megaraptors aren't carnosaurs at all) considerably.  Actually, it still does, but it's now believed to be from the Cenomian from about 95 million years ago.  Not much is known about this formation other than a few ornithopods and the giant titanosaur Puertosaurus are found here.