Permit me a brief digression into one thing nerdy. It’s area of interest and bizarre however I slipped in some science alongside the best way. While doing a little bit of studying for an additional challenge the opposite day I stumbled throughout a curious hyperlink between two very totally different worlds; the science of Palaeontology, and the fictional antagonist of Center-Earth. I subsequently went on to find that hyperlink once more, after which once more. All of which led me to ask; why does Sauron maintain popping up in palaeo?
For these unaware, Sauron is a personality created by JRR Tolkien, he’s in actual fact the eponymous Lord within the Lord of the Rings, and in all the in depth writings of character lore for Sauron, not as soon as is there any point out that he’s a eager newbie palaeontologist. In actual fact, seeing as Arda (the Tolkien identify for Earth) is written as solely being just a few tens of 1000’s of years outdated, it may very well be argued that palaeontology doesn’t even exist in Center Earth. I suppose they don’t want dinosaurs seeing as they’ve precise dragons.
In our actuality although, we’ve fossils going spare, and a seemingly infinite provide of recent species of extinct creatures being found, and our must categorise all the pieces into neat little orders implies that these new discoveries want names. Often the animals are named after some descriptive options of their anatomy (take our personal Thecodontosaurus, which suggests ‘Socket-toothed Lizard’ for instance). Nonetheless, generally scientists wish to get a bit extra fantastical and ingenious with names.
This was the case when a peculiar fossil resurfaced for description in 2012. The specimen was a single bone from a cranium of what gave the impression to be a big theropod dinosaur. Particularly, this bone was the frontal, which is positioned simply above the attention socket.
It might not look like a lot (as a result of it isn’t actually) however palaeontology is a science that commonly has little to go on however probably the most fragmentary proof, and on this case the researchers deemed that there have been sufficient distinctive options to declare the fragment as coming from a hitherto unknown species. An historic terror, having misplaced most of its bodily kind and now recognized solely from a chunk of eye socket, it was dubbed Sauroniops, actually which means ‘The Eye of Sauron’. The identify does have a pleasant ring to it.
The one Sauroniops bone originated from the famed Kem Kem beds of Morocco. This formation is well-known for its assemblage of Cretaceous fossils, together with fish, crocodiles, dinosaurs, and pterosaurs. The fossil the world is most famed for is undoubtedly Spinosaurus, the biggest (and possibly most controversial) theropod dinosaur ever discovered.
Sauroniops was a Carcharodontosaur, one other group of enormous theropods, named for his or her shark-like enamel. Different members of this group have distinctive forehead ridges, slender snouted skulls, and sharp claws (which look to have been simpler than the diminished arms of T. rex).
Based mostly on the scale of the lone fossil, Sauroniops reveals the over-engineered forehead you’d count on from this dinosaur group. It additionally offers us an estimate in measurement of as much as about 10m in size, although that is clearly largely hypothesis based mostly on comparable species.
Although not a Spinosaur, Sauroniops has nonetheless loved its fair proportion of palaeo controversy. Being recognized from solely a single bone will at all times imply doubts will probably be made about whether or not there may be sufficient proof to assert it as a novel species. The primary arguments in opposition to it state that it’s seemingly only a youthful particular person of Carcharodontosaurus, which can be present in the identical location.
It’s a cheap argument, as ontogenetic variation (how animals seem totally different as they age) is definitely ignored in a science the place we often don’t have anything to go on however skeletal fragments. It’s even becoming for Sauron, who too has a historical past of not being recognised as his true self (I’m on to you Annatar). Although a overview of Kem Kem Carcharadontosaur materials in 2022 retained Sauroniops’ place as a legitimate taxon, so it as a species stays protected for now at the least.
Naming discoveries after popular culture figures is hardly uncommon, and it’s one thing that our personal palaeo group at Bristol is responsible of indulging in. Lately our resident scientists have named an historic lizard-like animal after a spell from Harry Potter (Clevosaurus sectumsempra), and a vicious bobbit worm after the bassist from the loss of life metallic band Cannibal Corpse (Websteroprion).
It’s not simply palaeontology both, geneticists get in on this act too. Within the scientific literature, researchers discussing the mysteries of developmental biology often seek advice from a gene-coded protein by its real official identify; Sonic Hedgehog.
Sauroniops represents what I suppose you can name probably the most ‘official’ hyperlink between Tolkien’s Darkish Lord of Mordor, and the science of palaeontology. However it’s removed from the one time these two seemingly disparate worlds have mixed.
Way back to 1969, simply fifteen years after the publishing of the Lord of the Rings, this union was first fashioned within the Marvel Comedian E book universe. That’s proper, palaeontology, Tolkien, and Marvel; we actually are venturing into some type of holy trinity of nerdom.
Permit me to introduce you to Dr Karl Lykos. Not like different docs we’ve talked about on this weblog previously, Dr Lykos isn’t a palaeontologist, he’s a hypnotherapist who, while nonetheless solely a younger boy, travelled to Tierra del Fuego, the archipelago on the southernmost tip of South America. It was right here that Lykos was attacked by a residing Pteranodon, which had travelled up from deep within the primal Savage Lands of Antarctica to show him right into a vampire.
In case that final sentence didn’t make it clear, Dr Karl Lykos a fictional resident of what comedian e-book followers name Earth-616. That vampiric pterosaur chunk transforms him into some human-pterosaur hybrid, resulting in the inevitable flip to evil and embracing of a supervillain identify; Sauron.
Canonically he chooses the identify Sauron right here particularly in honour of Tolkien’s creation, as a reputation match for his new evil state. However any parallels to the precise character appear to start and finish there. As for the connections to precise palaeontology, they’re simply as tenuous.
The Pteranodon kind Dr Lykos takes is supposedly half human, so I suppose you may forgive among the inaccuracies, although I’m nonetheless going to level them out. Beginning with the truth that Pteranodons had particular musculature to permit them to fly successfully which, while strongly constructed, doesn’t actually line up with the human preparations. So you may most likely write off any actual Pteranodon having the spectacular washboard abs Sauron (the non-Tolkien one) commonly places on show.
Likewise the wings of Pteranodon, as for all pterosaurs, are supported by a extremely advanced and modified finger (the generally used colloquial moniker of pterodactyl actually means ‘Wing Finger’). This meant that the completely free to maneuver fingers of Sauron (with opposable thumbs and all) wouldn’t have been a function on the true factor.
Additionally Pteranodons didn’t have a mouthful of razor-sharp enamel; they’d toothless beaks, which is a typical adaptation of flying animals to assist them saved their physique weight down (see: all residing birds). The fictional Sauron is commonly proven as having an extended tail too, a function which had been lengthy since misplaced by Pteranodons and different massive pterosaurs as they advanced.
So palaeontological accuracy is probably not the strongpoint of this different fictional Sauron, however at the least it did give us one of many best memes to have come out of the graphic novel world.
For those who’re nonetheless following me down this obscure rabbit gap, enable me to set the scene for the third hyperlink I stumbled upon. It’s 1994, you’ve simply completed re-watching your VHS copy of Jurassic Park now overdue from Blockbuster, BoyzIIMen is on the radio, and also you’re assured that each one dinosaurs had scales and also you’d by no means be confirmed improper on that reality.
To have fun life being this good you’re going to take your change to the closest Video Arcade to play your favorite new recreation, ‘Primal Rage’. It is a Mortal Kombat-esque preventing recreation the place you tackle the persona of what can loosely be described as prehistoric fauna. You attain the character choose display screen and choose your go-to MVP, his identify, is Sauron.
Sauron is a yellow T. rex with purple stripes, marking the second time that Tyrannosaurus has been reconstructed with these two colors (although Sauron is a bit much less kid-friendly than Barney – I’m undecided Sauron would sing in a circle with me in any respect). He stands upright, propped up by his tail, in an analogous pose to how dinosaurs have been reconstructed round 100 years in the past when the primary skeletal mounts have been debuted (and kinda Barney once more I assume). It’s a pose we now know to be horribly improper, and lots much less horizontal than can be superb.
Similar to Tolkien’s non-dinosaur model, this Sauron is immortal to be untouched by the results of passing years, although the price of that is that he’s at all times hungry for people, who view him as a god… and need to get eaten… Look, the plot of this recreation is a little bit odd. The continents are inexplicably rearranged to appear to be a fire-breathing dinosaur cranium, scientific accuracy or sanity isn’t it’s sturdy level.
I may go into extra particulars about how this online game character is just like the literary Sauron and the way it all connects to palaeontology, however I’ve suppose we’ve all reached our restrict of endurance with this area of interest deep dive of an article, and as a substitute I’m going to chop it brief with a fifteen-minute playthrough video I discovered on YouTube of somebody finishing the arcade model of the sport as Sauron. I believe all of us knew the article was at all times going to finish like this.
Rhys Charles is the Engagement Officer for the Earth Sciences division of the College of Bristol, and has headed the Bristol Dinosaur Undertaking since 2016. (@tweetodontosaur)
Article edited by Ben Griffin.
Cau, A., Vecchia, F.M.D., & Fabbri, M. (2012) Proof of a brand new carcharodontosaurid from the Higher Cretaceous of Morocco. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica. 57: 661 – 665
Paterna, A., & Cau, A. (2022) New big theropod materials from the Kem Kem Compound Assemblage (Morocco) with implications on the variety of the mid-Cretaceous carcharodontosaurids from North Africa. Historic Biology. 1 – 9
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