Friday, December 27, 2013

So this is Christmas, and what have you done?...

...asked John Lennon and Yoko Ono, in November 1972, before most of the crew were even born.

This particular song is guaranteed to make me grind my teeth as I elbow my way through Aldi with a basket full of mince pies and a wet umbrella tucked under my arm. Yes, there's a bit of 'Bah Humbug' in me, I won't deny that, but that's not the whole reason. You will find other seasonal novelty songs on my iPod all year round, so why, I hear you ask, do I hate Happy Xmas (War is Over) with all my heart?

It's the opening lines really. So this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over, a new one just begun.

Groan. As if we need to be reminded that another year has shot by, and we haven't done half of the things that we wanted to. It's like being told off by your parents for dossing around in your pyjamas all day, instead of doing something useful.

But we haven't been dossing around in our pyjamas in the NHMUK pterosaur collection, contrary to any stories that you might have heard. It's been a busy year, as usual. I'd like to tell you how many collection visitors have been this year, but I don't have access to the stats right now, as I'm writing from the debris-strewn dining table at the Steel / Hume residence. Instead, let's go through the diary, and see what the NHMUK pterosaurs got up to in 2013.

The snout of the 'cookie-cutter' pterosaur Istiodactylus was CT scanned for a PhD project. At this stage I have no further information on what, if anything, this showed. The same project was to include SEM work on a single tooth. Several researchers are interested in this specimen, so I'm sure that this data will be useful to someone. Sadly, the student has decided not to continue with this project, making this the second time that a PhD project on Istiodactylus has stalled (if you'll pardon the pun). Perhaps it was cursed by the collector, Hooley, all those years ago.

Speaking of collectors, Heather Middleton kindly loaned her collection of Kimmeridge Clay pterosaur bones and teeth so that they could be photographed by those lovely chaps in the NHMUK photo studio. Some of Heather's specimens might feature in the pterosaur chapter of the forthcoming field guide to the Kimmeridge Clay (available in all good bookshops), which is edited by none other than Dangerous Dave Martill. He is also solely responsible for the pterosaur chapter, I believe. Heather's collection is far superior to the NHMUK material, and includes quite a few nice teeth.

The latest Isle of Wight pterosaur, Vectidraco, was described and named early this year.  For those that missed it, the specimen is a small pelvis that was found by a young girl about two years ago, and donated to NHMUK by her. News reached the ears of 'The One Show', a popular tea-time television programme, and to cut a long story short, I had about 24 hours notice to prepare the specimen and myself for live TV on April 11th. The museum's Head of Conservation made a mount and a box so that the specimen could travel safely to the studio without being handled. Daisy, the girl who found the specimen, was there too, with her whole family, but was a bit overwhelmed by the whole live TV thing, and went all shy. I was too busy trying to hold my tummy in, and worrying that I would forget the name Vectidraco.

I didn't make it to the Pterosaur Symposium in Rio de Janeiro this year, as it wasn't as heavily subsidised as the one in Beijing in 2010. But several people were kind enough to send me copies of the abstracts volume. Much appreciated. I have a couple of spares, if anyone missed out.

One of the Solnhofen pterosaurs travelled to Southampton University for a session in their big CT scanner. Unfortunately this didn't go as well as hoped. The images showed bedding in the matrix, but no contrast between it and the bones. Later in the year, I was back at Southampton again for the Wealden symposium, which was very well-attended. Dave Martill spoke about Istiodactylus. And the Great Wall of China.

One of the last big events of the year was 'Blast From the Past' at Dinosaur Isle. This is an open day at the museum in Sandown, Isle of Wight, with local collectors, palaeontologists, archaeologists and artists all showing their work and collections to the many visitors. For me it was a chance to see old friends and hear about some recent finds. I was expecting to meet up with Nick Chase to pick up a couple of Pholidosaurus skulls that he'd collected in Dorset in the late 1980s, but to my surprise he also donated a few other specimens from the Island. These include a few bits of small pterosaurs, and a theropod humerus. I also saw Mick Green for the first time in ages, and he brought along most of his pterosaur collection.

Finally, a painted cast of Dimorphodon has been exchanged with AMNH (for some casts of Mongolian dinosaur bones) and a cast of the snout of Istiodactylus will probably be exchanged with Dinosaur Isle for a cast of their new small croc. 

That's not all, of course. I won't bore you with all the croc-collection comings and goings, as presumably you came here to read about pterosaurs. So I will stop here, put on my pyjamas and watch my new DVD that I got for Christmas. It's called 'Flying Monsters' and it should be really good, because Sir David Attenborough is in it, and it has a blood-stained Dimorphodon on the front cover...