Sunday, 25 November 2012

In the garden

 I've been asked to give a talk on fossils to accompany an art exhibition currently running at the Botanic Gardens. It's by the artist Andy Hope 1930, and called When Dinosaurs Become Modernists. He is fond of superheroes, dinosaurs and the collision of cultural iconography. I went to have a look a couple of weekends ago.

I have to tailor the talk to echo the themes of the exhibition somehow, which means I can't very easily rework talks I've given in the past on the fossil trade, and fossils in general. I thought maybe a way in would be to look at how dinosaurs are effectively the pop stars of palaeontology, and how perhaps that draw can be used to engage people with the less spectacular aspects of the science. There's no denying the appeal of dinosaurs. The artist is happy to place them in the same frame of reference as superheroes - though dinosaurs have the added benefit of having actually lived. Their reality is at the comfortable distance of tens of millions of years, but these icons once walked the same planet we do.

Our perception of dinosaurs is undeniably influenced by popular culture, and probably more than popular culture is influenced by scientific discovery. It'd be nice to have the bulk of our information a little more first-hand, but realistically that's not likely to happen, despite the success of such series as Walking with Dinosaurs and Planet Dinosaur. There's a celebrity pecking order of dinosauria which has changed a little over the years. The hall of fame of twenty years ago - Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops et al - that informed the production of plastic toys and the cast of movies has lost Brontosaurus to the rigours of scientific nomenclature, but gained (a heavily made-over) Velociraptor and Spinosaurus. Entry to the hall of fame requires a prominent role in a blockbuster, not an 80% percent complete spinal column or well-preserved dentition.

Moving away from dinosaurs I think I'll be able to drift into the role of fossils in mythology and folklore. There are plenty of stories there - ammonites as snakestones, belemnites as thunderbolts, the origins of dragons, Nessie, and so on. I'll see what I can find by way of physical example to illustrate a few points. That always helps. Anyway. The talk is at Inverleith House in the Royal Botanic Garden, on Saturday the 15th of December. By then, hopefully, I'll have worked out what I'm going to say.

1 comment:

Ticking Boy said...

Been meaning to check out that exhibition. Sounds like you'll give a great talk, wish I could make it. Your comments made me think of this chap
I saw him give a talk at the Comics Forum conference in Leeds the other week on the use of comics in archeology, very interesting and a very nice bloke too.