The 110 million-year-old fossil of a nodosaur preserves the animal’s armor, skin, and what may have been its final meal.
On the afternoon of March 21, 2011, a heavy-equipment operator named Shawn Funk was carving his way through the earth, unaware that he would soon meet a dragon.
That Monday had started like any other at the Millennium Mine, a vast pit some 17 miles north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, operated by energy company Suncor. Hour after hour Funk’s towering excavator gobbled its way down to sands laced with bitumen—the transmogrified remains of marine plants and creatures that lived and died more than 110 million years ago. It was the only ancient life he regularly saw. In 12 years of digging he had stumbled across fossilized wood and the occasional petrified tree stump, but never the remains of an animal—and certainly no dinosaurs.
But around 1:30, Funk’s bucket clipped something much harder than the surrounding rock. Oddly colored lumps tumbled out of the till, sliding down onto the bank below. Within minutes Funk and his supervisor, Mike Gratton, began puzzling over the walnut brown rocks. Were they strips of fossilized wood, or were they ribs? And then they turned over one of the lumps and revealed a bizarre pattern: row after row of sandy brown disks, each ringed in gunmetal gray stone.
“Right away, Mike was like, ‘We gotta get this checked out,’ ” Funk said in a 2011 interview. “It was definitely nothing we had ever seen before.”
llustrating long-extinct creatures is difficult, but important work. With no living specimens to observe, it’s up to “paleoartists” who draw, paint, or otherwise illustrate the creatures of prehistory as we think they might’ve been. Their work is the reason that when we talk about velociraptors, stegosaurs, or even woolly mammoths, we have some idea of what they looked like.
But since all we have to go on are fossils, deciding how a dinosaur would have looked is as much art as it is science. And there’s at least one paleoartist who thinks we might be getting things wrong…
Here are three ideas I’ve had for movies recently. If only the movie studios would stop making pap like Dredd 3D (or as I call it, Judge Dreddful) and take on some of my ideas, perhaps I’d find myself at the cinema more often.
So here are my three pitches:
Knights of the Living Dead
A twist on the Arthurian legends. With zombies.
King Arthur’s trusted White Knight (Lancelot) on a “routine” quest to oust Brandin, a corrupt ruler of a nearby township, who is accused of evil sorcery. Lancelot rallies the townpeople but Brandin escapes to his lair in a cursed cemetery. Lancelot slays Brandin, but – an an effort to decode a riddle Brandin made about the source of his power – lifts an enormous metal plate over a mysterious tomb, exposing the world to a dangerous plague that turns those affected into monstrous zombies.
Under instruction from the Church, Arthur and his knights set out to find the Holy Grail, which has the power to defeat the curse, questing through zombie-infected lands. There’s lots of hacking and slashing and eating of brains, Lancelot shags Guinevere, Arthur dies a heroic death to let the others escape (hinting at the time that he knows about the affair and wants them to be happy together), and ultimately the knights use the Grail to save the world from the zombie plague.
My Daughter’s Hand
A tale of love, homophobia, and the meaning of family, inspired by a true story.
My first thought when I heard this news story was that she should find a man who’s willing to “marry” her, and split the money between the two of them. Hell: for £20M, I’d fly to Hong Kong and marry her for a fortnight. Where’s my plane ticket.
But then I thought of an even better variant on the story. In my version, a (disowned, unless she recants and marries a man) lesbian daughter has her partner dress as a man and pretend to be a suitor. There are slight overtones of the story of Hua Mulan, a legendary Chinese heroine who pretended to be a man in order to take her aged father’s place in the army, during a conscription drive.
In any case, the partner, disguised as a man, succeeds in impressing the father, and the father eventually comes to admire this young “man” and gives his blessing to marry his daugher. But as the wedding approaches, their secret is exposed when they’re caught having sex. However: after much soul-searching the father sees that he liked his daughter’s partner as a person when he believed that she was a man, and so he agrees to accept her into his family as a woman, too.
It’s a story about combating homophobia with deception, I guess.
These gentlemen were in such a rush to get the fame of collecting the most dinosaur bones, that they resorted to ludicrous (and somewhat shocking) measures: using dynamite to blow away hillsides (probably destroying many fossils as they went), spying on one another (to such an extent that they would sometimes operate through fake companies to try to evade each other’s spies), and bribing people to keep quiet about the locations of big finds.
I have a vision for a film in the style of A Dangerous Method, which I enjoyed earlier this year, telling the dramatised story of these men and their rivalry. There’s already been a comic book and even a board game about them: isn’t it time for a movie, too?