Enable 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 completely 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 truth 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 novice palaeontologist. In truth, seeing as Arda (the Tolkien identify for Earth) is written as solely being a couple of tens of 1000’s of years previous, it might 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 have now fossils going spare, and a seemingly countless provide of latest species of extinct creatures being found, and our have to categorise every thing into neat little orders implies that these new discoveries want names. Normally the animals are named after some descriptive options of their anatomy (take our personal Thecodontosaurus, which implies ‘Socket-toothed Lizard’ for instance). Nonetheless, typically scientists prefer 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 appeared to be a big theropod dinosaur. Particularly, this bone was the frontal, which is positioned simply above the attention socket.
It might not appear to be a lot (as a result of it isn’t actually) however palaeontology is a science that frequently has little to go on however essentially 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 historical terror, having misplaced most of its bodily type and now identified 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 realm is most famed for is undoubtedly Spinosaurus, the biggest (and doubtless most controversial) theropod dinosaur ever discovered.
Sauroniops was a Carcharodontosaur, one other group of huge 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 decreased arms of T. rex).
Based mostly on the scale of the lone fossil, Sauroniops exhibits the over-engineered forehead you’d anticipate from this dinosaur group. It additionally provides us an estimate in dimension of as much as about 10m in size, although that is clearly largely hypothesis based mostly on related species.
Although not a Spinosaur, Sauroniops has nonetheless loved its justifiable share of palaeo controversy. Being identified from solely a single bone will all the time imply doubts shall be made about whether or not there’s sufficient proof to assert it as a novel species. The primary arguments towards it state that it’s doubtless only a youthful particular person of Carcharodontosaurus, which can be present in the identical location.
It’s a affordable argument, as ontogenetic variation (how animals seem completely different as they age) is definitely neglected in a science the place we continuously 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 evaluation of Kem Kem Carcharadontosaur materials in 2022 retained Sauroniops’ place as a legitimate taxon, so it as a species stays secure 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. In recent times our resident scientists have named an historical lizard-like animal after a spell from Harry Potter (Clevosaurus sectumsempra), and a vicious bobbit worm after the bassist from the loss of life steel 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 continuously discuss with a gene-coded protein by its real official identify; Sonic Hedgehog.
Sauroniops represents what I suppose you could possibly name essentially 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 shaped 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.
Enable me to introduce you to Dr Karl Lykos. In contrast to different docs we’ve talked about on this weblog previously, Dr Lykos is just not 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 chew 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 type Dr Lykos takes is supposedly half human, so I suppose you’ll be able to forgive a number of 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’ll be able to in all probability write off any actual Pteranodon having the spectacular washboard abs Sauron (the non-Tolkien one) frequently places on show.
Likewise the wings of Pteranodon, as for all pterosaurs, are supported by a extremely developed 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 characteristic on the actual 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 frequently proven as having a protracted tail too, a characteristic which had been lengthy since misplaced by Pteranodons and different massive pterosaurs as they developed.
So palaeontological accuracy might not be the strongpoint of this different fictional Sauron, however at the least it did give us one of many biggest memes to have come out of the graphic novel world.
In case you’re nonetheless following me down this obscure rabbit gap, permit 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 every 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 sport, ‘Primal Rage’. This can be a Mortal Kombat-esque combating sport 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 unsure Sauron would sing in a circle with me in any respect). He stands upright, propped up by his tail, in an identical 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 suppose). It’s a pose we now know to be horribly improper, and so much much less horizontal than can be superb.
Identical to Tolkien’s non-dinosaur model, this Sauron is immortal to be untouched by the consequences of passing years, although the price of that is that he’s all the time hungry for people, who view him as a god… and wish to get eaten… Look, the plot of this sport is slightly odd. The continents are inexplicably rearranged to appear to be a fire-breathing dinosaur cranium, scientific accuracy or sanity is just not it’s robust level.
I may go into extra particulars about how this online game character is much like the literary Sauron and the way it all connects to palaeontology, however I’ve suppose we’ve all reached our restrict of persistence with this area of interest deep dive of an article, and as an alternative I’m going to chop it quick with a fifteen-minute playthrough video I discovered on YouTube of somebody finishing the arcade model of the sport as Sauron. I feel all of us knew the article was all the time 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 Mission 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 large 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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