Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is already considered to be his magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

Dr Karl Shuker's Official Website - http://www.karlshuker.com/index.htm

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Saturday, 4 November 2017

THE GIANT ANT GODS OF KLUMPOK, AND THE SPIDER MONSTER OF SUNDRA STRAIT - THEY REALLY WERE 'STRANGER THAN PEOPLE' !


Stunning artwork from 'Klumpok' in Stranger Than People (© YWP – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial, educational Fair Use basis for review purposes only)

It is always fascinating and often truly eye-opening to learn about and reflect upon books read by a person during their childhood that had such an impact upon them that these volumes subsequently influenced that person's entire future career. In my case, I owe a great deal to two very different but equally influential books, one of which is much better known than the other. The former is Dr Bernard Heuvelmans's classic cryptozoology tome On the Track of Unknown Animals, whose seismic impact upon my life I have already blogged about on ShukerNature (click here to read my account of how this came to be).

The second book, conversely, is a no-less-wonderful but sadly long-since-forgotten one. It is a compendium of famous true-life and fictitious mysteries entitled Stranger Than People – and here is what I wrote about it in the introduction to one of my own compendia of mysteries, Dr Shuker’s Casebook (2008):

It is well known that my passion for cryptozoology was ignited by the 1972 Paladin paperback reprint of Dr Bernard Heuvelmans’s classic tome On the Track of Unknown Animals, bought for me as a birthday present by my mother when I was around 13 years old. However, my interest in mysterious phenomena as a whole stemmed from an even earlier present – a copy of Stranger Than People, an enthralling compendium of mysteries from fact and fiction, published in 1968 by YWP, and aimed at older children and teenagers, which I saw one day in the Walsall branch of W.H. Smith when I was 8 or 9 years old, and was duly purchased for me as usual by my mother.

Within its informative, beautifully-illustrated pages I read with fascination – and fear – about Nessie and the kraken, vampires and werewolves, the Colossus of Rhodes and Von Kempelen’s mechanical chess player, dinosaurs and the minotaur, witches and zombies, yetis and mermaids, leprechauns and trolls, Herne the Hunter and Moby Dick, giants and the cyclops, feral children, the psychic powers of Edgar Cayce, and lots more. It even included two original – and quite superb - sci-fi short stories: ‘Klumpok’, about giant ant-like statues found on Mars and what happened when one of them was brought back to Earth; and ‘The Yellow Monster of Sundra Strait’, in which a giant transparent globe containing an enormous spider-like entity rises up out of the ocean; plus a thrilling (and chilling) fantasy tale, ‘Devil Tiger’, featuring a royal but malevolent weretiger that could only be killed with a golden bullet.

Needless to say, I re-read the poor book so many times that it quite literally fell apart, and was eventually discarded by my parents. After I discovered its loss, I spent many years scouring every bookshop for another copy, but none could be found. Not even Hay-on-Wye – world-famous as ‘The Town of Books’ with over 40 secondhand bookshops – could oblige. A few years ago, however, the Library Angel was clearly at work, because one Tuesday, walking into the bric-a-brac market held on that day each week in my home town of Wednesbury, on the very first stall that I approached I saw a near-pristine copy of Stranger Than People! Needless to say, I bought it, and to this day it remains the only copy that I have ever seen since my original one.

Holding the two books that sparked my lifelong interest in cryptozoology and other subjects of mystery – Stranger Than People, on the right, and the Paladin paperback edition of Dr Bernard Heuvelmans's On the Track of Unknown Animals, on the left (© Dr Karl Shuker)

Tragically, however, this superb book did not appear to have had a very large print run, was never reprinted, and as noted earlier it is nowadays long-forgotten and very scarce. Indeed, due to this book’s great rarity today, it occurred to me that few people will have been fortunate enough to have ever read those marvellous, original short science-fiction stories from it that I mentioned above, yet which remain among my own personal favourites within that genre.

My much-treasured second copy of Stranger Than People (© YWP/Dr Karl Shuker – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial, educational Fair Use basis for review purposes only)

Consequently, after almost 50 years and for the very first time anywhere on the internet, utilising the Fair Dealing/Fair Use convention I was delighted to be able to rectify this sad situation a while ago by presenting two of them on ShukerNature's sister blog, The Eclectarium of Doctor Shuker, in the context of review.

The Contents page from Stranger Than People, revealing the wonderfully diverse and fascinating array of subjects documented within this amazing book - please click to enlarge for reading purposes (© YWP – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial, educational Fair Use basis for review purposes only)

So for any of you reading this article of mine here on ShukerNature but for some inexplicable reason have never visited my Eclectarium before (shame on you, shame, I say!), just click here to access scans in the form of readily-readable enlargements of the original pages from Stranger Than People for 'Klumpok', and here for those for 'The Yellow Monster of Sundra Strait' (and yes, it is spelled 'Sundra', not 'Sunda', in the story, although whether by accident or design I cannot say).

I hope that you enjoy encountering the giant ant gods of Klumpok and the Sundra Strait's globe-encapsulated spider monster just as much as I did – and still do.

The deadly globe-encapsulated yellow monster of Sundra Strait as depicted in spectacular artwork from Stranger Than People (© YWP – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial, educational Fair Use basis for review purposes only)





Thursday, 2 November 2017

MORE PICTURES OF MONKEY BUSINESS? - DOES AT LEAST ONE OF THE 'LOST' AMERANTHROPOIDES LOYSI PHOTOGRAPHS EXIST?


Could there be a 'lost' Ameranthropoides loysi photograph out there somewhere, awaiting rediscovery and looking something like this? (original photograph © Attilio Gatti, utilised here on a strictly non-commercial, educational Fair Use basis only; photo-manipulation © Dr Karl Shuker)

Earlier this year, I posted here on ShukerNature an extensive two-part article of mine concerning Ameranthropoides loysi, the supposed bipedal, tailless ape encountered and shot dead in the Venezuelan jungle in 1920 by a team of geologists led by Dr François de Loys, but whose carcase was subsequently propped upright on a crate in a sitting position and photographed – the resulting picture becoming one of the most iconic but contentious images in the entire annals of cryptozoology, and which was finally, conclusively exposed as a blatant hoax earlier this present century. To read my article on ShukerNature, please click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.

One of the many curious aspects of this case that had already raised suspicions among its more sceptical investigators several decades before the true nature of the creature in the photograph was finally exposed, however, was why only a single photograph existed of such an ostensibly momentous zoological discovery as a South American ape. In particular, critics queried why no photos had been snapped of the creature's back view, in order to confirm that it was naturally (not artificially) tailless, as claimed by de Loys, and as seen in all Old World apes.

In response, as noted in my earlier article, de Loys had explained away this anomalous situation by alleging that there had indeed been more photographs but that only the famous one known today had survived a subsequent capsizing of the boat that had been carrying them and its crew down a river – the other photos had all been lost. How convenient.

The familiar background-cropped version of the only known photograph of de Loys's supposed 'ape' – in reality nothing more than the deftly-posed body of his pet marimonda spider monkey that had died recently at the team's camp and whose tail had earlier been amputated after it had become infected (public domain)

In view of how de Loys had hoaxed the world for so long with that single photograph, it is not surprising that today few people believe that any other photos had ever even been taken, let alone lost. Yet if some additional pictures had indeed existed and had actually survived, especially any that portrayed some of de Loys's party standing alongside the carcase, that would have provided a much clearer guide to the creature's size. True, it would still have been only a marimonda spider monkey, but who knows, it might have been an unusually large specimen and therefore worthy of note in its own right.

In fact, as I discovered to my great surprise while researching the complicated case of Ameranthropoides, and in flagrant disregard of de Loys's claim to the contrary, at least one such photo might truly have survived. Not only that, in a fascinating scenario readily recalling the equally tantalising case of the supposedly missing thunderbird photograph, it may actually have been published - judging from the fact that I have on file the testimonies of several wholly independent but highly qualified eyewitnesses who all claim to have seen it! First made public by me in a series of accounts published in Strange Magazine and Fortean Times, read them all here now, and then judge for yourself.

Back in the late 1990s, Dr Susan M. Ford was an Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at Southern Illinois University's Department of Anthropology. During correspondence in November 1997 concerning Ameranthropoides, Dr Ford informed me that sometime in the early 1980s a student had shown her a popular-format wildlife book that included a spread containing an Ameranthropoides photograph - but not the famous one reproduced by me in this present article in both cropped and uncropped form, and which, as already noted here, is the only such photo presently known to cryptozoologists. According to her recollection of the photo, it was:

…a black and white photo of the animal (looking a lot like a big spider monkey), dead, propped between two native males who were standing. They appeared to be adult but of possibly short stature; I recall no scale in the picture or reference in the text to the height of the humans. It was a chapter specifically dealing with this animal, in a book about unusual animal discoveries. I seem to recall it being hard bound with a dark cover, and not a large or thick book. It was small [in a separate communication she suggested that it was possibly 100 pages long, probably had an 8" x 6" format, and was a rather old book], the size perhaps of an average journal today. I recall neither title nor author of the book...I can visualize the picture quite clearly, however, and there were two males on either side of the dead monkey.

The native men were presumably two of the geological expedition's local Indian helpers. As for the student who showed Dr Ford the book, she could no longer remember who this was.

A marimonda spider monkey, the true identity of Loy's 'ape' (© Ewa-Flickr/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)

Moving from one side of the Atlantic to the other, I also learned in 1997 from Scottish-born zoo keeper Alan Pringle that one of his colleagues, education officer Jon Flynn at Cricket St Thomas Wildlife Park in Somerset, was convinced that several years previously, he too had seen a photograph of de Loys's ape that included some men standing on either side of it. Unfortunately, however, he could not recall any details of the publication containing this picture.

Furthermore, in a letter to me of 15 January 1998, Steven Shipp, who was at that time the proprietor of the Sidmouth-based mail order book service Midnight Books, wrote:

I am certain that I too have seen a picture of this monkey flanked by two people! My first thought when I saw the photograph [the familiar cropped version] (before reading the text) was why has it been cropped, leaving out the people either side? Then I read the article and realised it was a different photograph! I believe that I saw the picture in one of those mysteries anthologies covering all aspects of the unexplained - probably during the time I would have been buying books for the catalogue [Steven's own mail order catalogue of books for sale] - so that pins it down to the last nine years! It may have been in an older book as Susan Ford says but I am sure it was in a big format, well illustrated book. Of course I cannot remember which. But I will certainly keep an eye out for it again and let you know immediately if I locate it. I don't believe this is a case of my memory deceiving me as I can clearly see the image in my mind's eye.

Several months after receiving Steven Shipp's communication, I received a letter on this same subject from Lawrence Brennan, hailing from Liverpool, which (curiously) was dated 31 June 1998! (I am assuming that he meant 30 June.) Anyway: in his letter, Lawrence was adamant that he too had seen such a photograph - so much so that until reading my account on this subject, he had no idea that there was any mystery surrounding it. According to his testimony, he saw it in a book when he was aged around 13-15; and as he was 30 at the time of his letter to me, this means that the book had been published no later than the early 1980s.

The photo depicted de Loys's 'ape' sitting upright on a crate, flanked by at least two humans - who were also sitting, one on either side of it, and likewise presumably on crates, as they seemed to be of comparable height to the ape. At least one of the humans may have been dressed in what Lawrence referred to as "full 'Great White Hunter' garb", with a rifle resting in his hands, but he was not absolutely certain of this because, as he pointed out: "The ape is obviously the thing you tend to concentrate on and remember!". He went on to say that there were possibly other persons, probably natives, standing behind, and he reiterated that the creature was of similar size to the humans.

As for the book that contained this photo: Lawrence claimed that his father had obtained it for him from the local library, and that its subject was man-beasts from around the world. He believed that the book was entitled something like "Giants Walk the Earth", or "There are Giants Among Us", and was certain that the word 'Giants' featured in it somewhere.

There are Giants in the Earth, by Michael Grumley (© Michael Grumley/Panther Books – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial, educational Fair Use basis only)

Needless to say, as soon as I read this, I immediately thought of the book by Michael Grumley entitled There are Giants in the Earth, first published in 1975, which is indeed a book surveying man-beasts worldwide, including de Loys's 'ape'. I lost no time in seizing my own copy of this volume from my cryptozoology bookshelves, and painstakingly going through it - how ironic (and embarrassing!) it would be if the 'missing' photo proved to be in a book that I actually owned!

Consequently, it was with somewhat mixed feelings that I ascertained that it was not present in the book. True, the familiar photo of Ameranthropoides was included, but far from showing anyone standing alongside the ape, it had been so extensively cropped for publication in this particular book that the creature's hands, feet, and even the top of its head had been cut off! Another dead end.

Rough mock-up of what a photograph snapped at the same time as the familiar one but featuring a western 'big game' hunter and some smaller, native hunters alongside Loys's 'ape' sitting upright on a crate might look like (original photograph © Attilio Gatti, utilised here on a strictly non-commercial, educational Fair Use basis only; photo-manipulation © Dr Karl Shuker)

In October 1998, I received a letter from Robert Hill of Cardiff, Wales, who claimed to have seen a photograph of de Loys's ape with two persons alongside it when he was younger than twelve, i.e. before November 1976. He was sure of this because he remembered seeing it while he was on one of his childhood holidays in Porthcawl, South Wales. He looked at it while inside a newsagent's shop or bookstore, and, interestingly, he went on to say: "It sticks in my mind because I had just bought (or had bought for me) a copy of There are Giants in the Earth by Michael Grumley (which I still have!)".

Robert's statement is important, demonstrating independently of my own search through it that Grumley's book and the book containing the mystery photograph are indeed different, notwithstanding Lawrence Brennan's thoughts regarding the latter's title. It also pinpoints Robert's sighting of the mystery photo to the years 1975-76 (1975 being the publication date of Grumley's book, which he had received before seeing the mystery book; and 1976 being the last year in which, until November, he was still less than 12 years old).

Robert believed that the publication in which he saw it was a wildlife book of some sort. Moreover, since seeing it he had always assumed (until reading one of my afore-mentioned magazine accounts) that the familiar photograph depicting the ape by itself was simply a cropped version of the picture that he had seen in the mysterious wildlife book encountered by him all those years ago in Wales.

Echoing comments by Steven Shipp and Robert Hill, when I first began investigating the mystery of the 'lost' Ameranthropoides photograph(s) I too had initially speculated that perhaps the explanation was simply that the familiar Ameranthropoides photo was indeed a cropped image, which had originally contained people standing on either side of the animal, i.e. that the 'lost' photo was merely the original, uncropped version of the familiar one.

However, I subsequently recalled having seen a copy of the familiar picture in its rarely reproduced, uncropped form – it appeared in the 1995 reprint of Heuvelmans's On the Track of Unknown Animals, which contains several pictures not present in the original edition from 1958. It is also reproduced below – and as can readily be seen, there are no people in it.

The uncropped version of de Loys's famous Ameranthropoides loysi photograph (public domain)

In view of the above-quoted testimonies, I feel that there really could be a second 'missing' Ameranthropoides photograph somewhere out there, inconspicuously residing amid the vast worldwide library of wildlife literature - and also, I would assume, held (apparently without knowledge of its cryptozoological value) in one or two picture libraries. Who knows - there may even have been others too.

De Loys's own account of encountering the creature and its mate first appeared as an article in the Illustrated London News on 15 June 1929, with the famous photograph as its illustration. One plausible scenario that comes to mind is that when de Loys sent in his article to the ILN, he submitted with it not just one but a selection of photos from which the magazine's picture editor could select the most eyecatching example with which to illustrate it - a common enough occurrence in publishing. Judging from Dr Ford's account, the second, 'lost' photo, depicting the creature's dead carcase supported between two men, would be less dramatic, and certainly less photogenic, than the famous photo, depicting the creature by itself, deftly propped upright in quite a life-like pose by the long slender pole.

Consequently, if both of these images were indeed submitted (and perhaps others, too, maybe even depicting the geologists alongside it in similar poses to those adopted by the native men, and also showing the creature from the back as well as the front?), it can be readily appreciated why the now-famous photograph would have been the one selected for reproduction. The other(s) would normally have been returned to de Loys, but what if they were mislaid somehow, going astray, and were therefore never returned? Where might they be now?

There is, of course, another, decidedly different interpretation of this tantalising case, one with which devotees of the long-running saga of the missing thunderbird photograph will be only too familiar. For, just as with that latter 'lost' crypto-image, sceptics will no doubt claim that such a photo never existed - that it is merely a figment of the imagination, or is a half-remembered, distorted memory of some superficially similar picture.

Might some early photograph such as this one, from 1912, depicting two native hunters holding upright a very large dead chimpanzee (now known to be one of the elusive Bili apes), have elicited false memories of a comparable but non-existent photo featuring Ameranthropoides loysi? (public domain)

Certainly, just as there are many early pictures in existence of large birds with their wings outstretched that mirror the alleged thunderbird photograph, so too are there numerous early pictures of hunters standing alongside carcases or stuffed specimens of gorillas and other large primates that might conceivably be capable of generating false memories of Ameranthropoides images with some eyewitnesses.

Moreover, in a letter to me of 12 January 1998, Alan Gardiner of West Sussex, England, even nominated, as a possible false-memory trigger, a famous hoax photograph consisting of a photomontage that depicts a supposed alien bipedal entity flanked by two government agents (in reality, this picture was part of a satirical section making fun of UFO/aliens hysteria that was published by the German photo-magazine Neue Illustrierte in its 1 April 1950 issue).

The above-mentioned hoax 'alien' photograph published on 1 April 1950 by Neue IllustrierteNeue Illustrierte – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial, educational Fair Use basis only)

Could a distant, confused or mis-remembered memory of one such photograph explain why my correspondents believe that they have seen a second, currently unknown photo of Ameranthropoides? An intriguing variation on this theme was proffered by Argentinian biologist Mariano Moldes in a letter to me of 2 February 1998. Discounting the false memory scenario, he suggested that what may have happened is as follows:

The book alluded to by them [the eyewitnesses of the missing photograph] probably existed and had a chapter on Ameranthropoides loysi - illustrated with a wrong photograph. It's quite common that laypeople in charge of editorial technical tasks mistake similar illustrations on a subject, and the frequency of such an event increases with decreasing general quality of the publication. Dr Ford says that it was a "rather old" book with forgettable author and title. It's true that the witnesses couldn't have mistaken an allusion to a well-known simian...But what if they saw a bad photograph of, say, a bonobo chimp (Pan paniscus) or a siamang (genus Symphalangus) surrounded by misleading text?

All of the above-proposed explanations undeniably have merit, but in this particular instance I consider them unsatisfactory. After all, the missing photograph's eyewitnesses whose vocations are known to me include a wildlife education officer, a highly-qualified university anthropologist, and a dealer in cryptozoology books - hardly the kinds of eyewitness likely to suffer problems in distinguishing (or subsequently remembering) photos of gorillas and other extremely familiar primates from that of a highly distinctive, wholly unfamiliar beast resembling an exceptionally large ape-like spider monkey.

Mariano Moldes's suggestion has more merit - I am certainly aware of many instances, especially in older wildlife books, in which photos have been wrongly identified, or a section of text concerning a particular species has been accompanied by a photo of the wrong species. Even so, I still consider it unlikely that those eyewitnesses with zoology-related expertise would fail to spot such a mistake.

Consequently, I am currently willing to believe that a second Ameranthropoides photo may indeed exist, concealed somewhere amid the world's vast archives of wildlife literature. Perhaps there is someone reading this present ShukerNature blog article of mine who has seen a 'lost' Ameranthropoides photo, or knows where such an image has been published. If so, I would greatly welcome any information that you may wish to send to me – many thanks indeed! Clearly, even though the history of Ameranthropoides loysi is nowadays totally discredited as a hoax, it may still be capable of offering up some genuine surprises.

Finally: When deciding to prepare the mock-up photograph of Ameranthropoides with people that I have included here, and knowing all too well how effectively the internet works when it comes to disseminating fake news, it occurred to me that my mock-up may subsequently be reproduced on other websites and be erroneously claimed on at least some of them as a genuine, hitherto-lost de Loys photograph of Ameranthropoides! Consequently, in order to defeat any such claims, not only have I painstakingly captioned it here with full details of its nature and origin, but also, when creating it, I deliberately used as my original image a photograph that featured recognisably African native hunters (two Congolese pygmies) rather than South American ones, plus a readily-identifiable western hunter (Attilio Gatti), who, moreover, had no links whatsoever to South America. So please bear all of that in mind if you should indeed see this photo turning up elsewhere online, which no doubt it will, sooner or later...

A different time, a different outlook: the original vintage photograph – featuring Italian explorer Attilio Gatti, two Congolese pygmies, and a hunting-trophy gorilla – that I photo-manipulated to create the mock-up photo of Ameranthropoides loysi with people alongside it (original photograph © Attilio Gatti, utilised here on a strictly non-commercial, educational Fair Use basis only; photo-manipulation © Dr Karl Shuker)




Monday, 2 October 2017

HOW TO MEET A MEGATHERIUM ON A STREET IN ENGLAND


The Iguanodon and Megatherium acting as supporters to the University of Cambridge's coat of arms, as carved above the archway of one of the entrances leading into the university's Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences (© Keith Edkins/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

It's not every day that you can meet up with a Megatherium – one of South America's giant prehistoric ground sloths – on a street in England, or anywhere else, for that matter, unless that street just so happens to be Downing Street (no, not that one!), in the English university city of Cambridge. For if it is, you can walk along it and gaze up at a Megatherium as often and for as long as you want to. And not just at a Megatherium either, as it will always be in the company of another palaeontological stalwart, the famous ornithischian dinosaur known as Iguanodon. Bemused? Allow me to explain.

Front view of the Sedgwick Museum, situated directly above the university's Department of Earth Sciences (© Sebastian Ballard/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

The Megatherium and Iguanodon in question are a pair of large, ornamental carvings flanking (or supporting, to use the correct heraldic term) the university's coat of arms present above the archway of one of the entrances to the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences. Also referred to as the Sedgwick Memorial Museum, it is based in Downing Street, Cambridge, and constitutes the oldest of this university's eight academic museums.

Bronze statue of the Rev. Prof. Adam Sedgwick, created by eminent British sculptor Onslow Ford in 1901, which is on permanent display inside the museum at the junction of its two wings (© Sebastian Ballard/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 2.0 licence)

This museum is named in honour of one of England's most celebrated geologists, the Reverend Prof. Adam Sedgwick (1785-1873), who spent his academic life working at the University of Cambridge, and it was built to honour him and to contain his very sizeable collections of geological and palaeontological specimens, as well as those of English naturalist Dr John Woodward (1665-1728). Woodward was a fellow geologist who had bequeathed to the university half of his collection of over 9,000 specimens amassed by him over 35 years (the university subsequently purchased the other half), together with funds to establish the Woodwardian Professorship of Geology there (and to which Sedgwick was in due course appointed).

Engravings of Dr John Woodward (left) and the Rev. Prof. Adam Sedgwick (right) (public domain)

These collections were all held at that time in what was then the university's Woodwardian Museum, established in 1728, but which would require a much greater capacity if it were to accommodate further additions. Hence the building of a bigger museum, honouring Sedgwick, was duly proposed. After several delays and false starts, the Sedgwick Museum's construction was finally approved on 16 February 1899, under Prof. Thomas Graham Jackson as architect, and was officially opened on 1 March 1904. Built at what was back then a notably expensive cost of £40,000, it now contains the collections of Woodward, Sedgwick, and countless other specimens too, currently totalling around 2 million rocks, minerals, and fossils.

Vintage engraving depicting how the interior of the then Woodwardian Museum once looked, with the skeleton of a giant deer (aka Irish elk) Megaloceros giganteus prominently displayed; it is still on display today in the Sedgwick Museum (public domain)

One of the Sedgwick Museum's most celebrated specimens on display is the very imposing replica cast of a complete skeleton of an Iguanodon bernissartensis, which was donated to the University of Cambridge by Brussels-based palaeontologist Louis Dollo during the late 1880s via King Leopold II of Belgium. At least 38 complete or near-complete Iguanodon skeletons had been recovered from a coal mine at the Belgian town of Bernissart in 1878. Nine of them were subsequently assembled as upright-standing mount specimens for display at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels (a total of 30 Iguanodon specimens can be seen in its Museum of Natural Sciences today), and it was from one of these that the cast prominently on display at the Sedgwick Museum was taken. This famous exhibit in turn explains the choice of an Iguanodon as one of the two supporters carved above its Iguanodon/Megatherium archway.

Vintage illustration of a Bernissart Iguanodon skeleton assembled in upright stance (public domain)

True, the skeleton cast's upright, rearing stance is now deemed to be incorrect (modern-day palaeontological belief holds that Iguanodon adopted a more horizontal stance), but back then this was how science assumed that this very sizeable dinosaur form stood in life, and explains why the archway's Iguanodon carving is also depicted in upright stance (note too the dragonesque series of dorsal triangular spines running down the carving's back – another now-rejected morphological feature). Moreover, being directly inspired by this cast, the museum's logo has always been an upright bipedal Iguanodon as well (it would be too costly and troublesome to change it now, especially as the logo is so well known).

Modern-day artistic reconstruction of an Iguanodon in a more horizontal stance (public domain)

As for the Megatherium: the Sedgwick Museum's collection includes a partial Megatherium skeleton (and also a historic cast of it) that formed part of Sedgwick's original (1840) Woodwardian Museum collection. Moreover, the Sedgwick Museum is closely associated with Charles Darwin, as it houses a number of his scientifically-priceless specimens, and he famously discovered a Megatherium skeleton during his South American voyages, so the choice of this mega-mammal as the second supporter carved over the archway serves as a very apposite visual representation of this museum's Darwin links. In 2009, it curated a major public exhibition entitled Darwin the Geologist, to coincide with the Darwin bicentenary celebrations (Darwin was born in 1809). This exhibition focused upon his early geological research, and it displayed many of the specimens collected during his famous Beagle voyage.

Artistic reconstruction of the likely appearance in life of the Megatherium or giant ground sloth (public domain)

Incidentally, the Iguanodon and Megatherium are not the only prehistoric beasts depicted externally at the Sedgwick Museum. So too is the woolly mammoth Mammuthus primigenius, courtesy of the following detailed relief – present just to the left of the museum entrance whose archway bears the above-noted dinosaur and ground sloth carvings:

Woolly mammoth relief on the outer wall situated just to the left of the Iguanodon/Megatherium archway (© Vysotsky/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)

The Sedgwick Museum is open six days a week (closed on Sundays and some Bank Holidays), has free entry, and contains countless fascinating geological and palaeontological specimens on public display – click here to visit its official website for full details. So why not wander down Downing Street, introduce yourself to the Iguanodon and meet up with the Megatherium as they stand tall in stately support, before entering the wonderful world of our planet's distant past as encapsulated within this celebrated museum's spectacular array of exhibits and displays?

Side view of Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences showing woolly mammoth wall relief and entrance door bearing Iguanodon/Megatherium archway (© Google Earth Maps 2016 – reproduced here on a strictly educational, non-commercial Fair Use basis for review purposes only)

And if anyone can tell me the name of the sculptor who produced the Iguanodon and Megatherium carvings (and presumably the woolly mammoth relief too), I'd be extremely grateful, because I have so far been unable to discover this – many thanks indeed!

Close-up of the Sedgewick Museum's Iguanodon/Megatherium archway, revealing the exquisite detail of its two prehistoric supporters (© Vysotsky/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 4.0 licence)




Friday, 29 September 2017

CUTTING A PHONEY MEGA-PYTHON DOWN TO SIZE - OR, EXPOSING ANOTHER FAKE SNAKE


Photo-manipulated fake photograph of an ostensibly mega-sized reticulated python (creator of this fake photograph currently unknown to me)

When investigating the numerous online fake anaconda photographs exposed by me in my previous ShukerNature blog article (click here to access it), I frequently encountered various permutations of another fake snake image – the most abundant example of which opens this present ShukerNature article.

Here two some more of these python-portraying permutations, which again appear on countless sites online:

Two additional fake photographs utilising the same python image (their creator(s) is/are presently unknown to me)

Moreover, I soon discovered that they also frequently featured as video-thumbnail photographs for various YouTube videos concerning giant snakes, but invariably they were conspicuous only by their absence within the videos themselves. In short, they were simply being used as clickbait (just like the fake anaconda ones), enticing potential viewers to access the videos.

The snake portrayed in these fake photos is readily recognisable as a reticulated python Python reticulatus. Now, I am well aware that this species is the world's longest species of modern-day snake, with specimens regularly exceeding 20.5 ft, but even the current confirmed record-holder – a truly astonishing individual 32 ft 9.5 in long that was shot in 1912 on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi (=Celebes) – would not measure up in any sense of those words to the monstrous mega-python in the photographs under consideration here. Moreover, even forced perspective would be sorely challenged to yield a size-based visual illusion anywhere near as spectacular as the serpent depicted in them.

(Above) A genuine photograph of a wild-type reticulated python (public domain); (Below) A genuine photograph of Lemondrop, a lavender albino reticulated python housed at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California, USA (© Maya Visvanathan/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA3.0 licence)

Clearly, therefore, these photos were fakes, produced by adding small images of humans into some original, genuine photograph of a reticulated python in order to make the latter snake appear immense, but the only way to verify this was to trace that original, genuine photo. Happily, however, unlike the search for the original anaconda image, finding this python precursor was much easier to accomplish. I soon discovered a version that was identical with the others relative to the python itself but lacked any people in it, only depicting the snake, so this was obviously the original, genuine photo whose image had been appropriated by the hoaxer(s). It was present on many sites dealing with snakes, and not surprisingly it was especially popular on southeast Asian sites, because the reticulated python is native to southeast Asia. But none of these sites provided any source for it, so where had this photograph originated?

Fortunately, within a very short time I succeeded in tracing it back to the website RFUK, or Reptile Forums UK in full, and specifically to a post by a RFUK member with the user name Mikee. On 15 September 2009, Mikee had posted on this site a number of photographs of some of his pet snakes, past and present, and one of these pictures was the sought-after original, genuine python photo lacking people in it (click here to access this particular RFUK page and scroll down it until you come to Mikee's post and photos). Here is that photograph (#3 as posted by Mikee):

The original, genuine photograph of a pet reticulated python that has since been utilised by hoaxer(s) unknown to create fake mega-python images (© Mike Andrews – reproduced here on a strictly educational, non-commercial Fair Use basis for review purposes only)

By clicking Mikee's name alongside his post, I was able to access his public profile on RFUK, and I discovered that his real identity was Michael Andrews, from Essex, England. His RFUK profile also included links to his Facebook page, and when I accessed this I found the same python photograph in one of his FB photo albums too (it is publicly accessible, so click here to view this python photo in it). The album in question is entitled 'My Passion', and is devoted to photographs of various of Michael's pet reticulated pythons. The specific python photograph under investigation by me here had been uploaded into this FB album by Michael on 17 May 2010.

Consequently, the mystery of the mega-python image is a mystery no longer – Michael's original, genuine photograph of one of his pet reticulated pythons has simply been photo-manipulated by creator(s) unknown, and without Michael's knowledge, to produce a range of fake pictures of purportedly gargantuan pythons that have flooded the internet and are proving particular popular as clickbait images for uploaded videos there. Interestingly, however, using TinEye's Reverse Image Search the earliest fake version that I was able to track down online had been uploaded on 16 May 2016, so unlike the fake anaconda photos these python equivalents seem to have been created only fairly recently.

Close-up of a spectacular life-sized statue of a reticulated python on display inside the Reptile House at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia, when I visited it in 2006 (© Dr Karl Shuker)