“What Everyone Should Know About Paleontology” by Thomas R. Holtz Jr.

While browsing the Dinosaur Mailing List and the various paleoblogs out there recently I stumbled upon this gem of an article by Dr. Thomas Holtz Jr. in regards to what everyone should know about paleontology. I’ve been an aspiring paleontologist for years and it’s nice to see something that could be used a point-by-point done by one of the professionals out there. Personally, he’s one of my favorite paleontologists out there around and actually worked on the Jurassic Park Institute Dinosaur Field Guide a while back. The question was posed by Roberto Takata from the Dinosaur Mailing List. Project Dryptosaurus even posted a copy of this on their site.

“What Should Everyone Know About Paleontology?” 
by Thomas R. Holtz, Jr.

I think that is a good question. What really are the most important elements of paleontology that the general public should understand? I took a shot at coming up with a list of key concepts, based on experiences with teaching paleontology and historical geology and with less-formally structured outreach to the public. I have offered this list (cross posted at the Sauropod Vertebrae Picture of the Week, Dave Hone’s Archosaur Musings, and Superoceras blogs) as a way for it to reach a wider audience. That this is Darwin Week makes it even more appropriate, as we should use this occasion to encourage a better understanding of the changes of Earth and Life through Time for the public at large.
Much as I might like to think otherwise, the specific details of the hindlimb function of Tyrannosaurus rex or the pneumatic features of brachiosaurid vertebrae really are not the most important elements of the field. Understanding and appreciating the nitty gritty details of the phylogeny and anatomy of any particular branch of the Tree of Life are not really necessary for everyone to know, any more than we would regard detailed knowledge of bacterial biochemistry or the partitioning of minerals in a magma chamber to be significant general knowledge. (Indeed, these latter two items are actually far more critical for human society than any specific aspect of paleontology, and so from a certain point of view really more important for people to know than the History of Life.)
That said, all human societies and many individuals have wondered about where we have come from and how the world came to be the way it is. This is, in my opinion, the greatest contribution of paleontology: it gives us the Story of Earth and Life, and especially our own story.
I have divided this list into two sections. The first is a list of general topics of paleontology, touching on the main elements of geology that someone would need to know for fossils to make any sense. The second is the more specific list of key points in the history of life.
(NOTE: as the idea of this list is that it should be aimed at the general public, I have tried to avoid technical terminology where possible.)

GENERAL:

  • That rocks are produced by various factors (erosion à sedimentation; metamorphism; volcanic activity; etc.)
  • That rocks did not form at a single moment in time, but instead have been and continue to be generated throughout the history of the planet.
  • That fossils are remains of organisms or traces of their behavior recorded in those rocks.
  • That rocks (and the organisms that made the fossils) can be thousands, millions, or even billions of years old.
  • That the species discovered as fossils, and the communities of organisms at each place and time, are different from the same in the modern world and from each other.
  • That despite these differences that there is continuity between life in the past and life in the present: this continuity is a record of the evolution of life.
  • That we can use fossils, in conjunction with anatomical, molecular, and developmental data of living forms, to reconstruct the evolutionary pattern of life through time.
  • That fossils are incomplete remains of once-living things, and that in order to reconstruct how the organisms that produced them actually lived, we can:
    • Document their anatomy (both gross external and with the use of CT scanning internal), and compare them to the anatomy of living creatures in order to estimate their function;
    • Examine their chemical composition, which can reveal aspects of their biochemistry;
    • Examine their microstructure to estimate patterns of growth;
    • Model their biomechanical functions using computers and other engineering techniques;
    • Investigate their footprints, burrows, and other traces to reveal the motion and other actions of the species while they were alive;
    • And collect information of the various species that lived together in order to reconstruct past communities.
  • However, with all that, fossils are necessarily incomplete, and there will always be information about past life which we might very much want to know, but which has been forever lost. Accepting this is very important when working with paleontology.
  • That environments of the past were different from the present.
  • That there have been episodes of time when major fractions of the living world were extinguished in a very short period of time: such data could not be known without the fossil record.
  • That entire branches of the tree of life have perished (sometimes in these mass extinction events, sometimes more gradually).
  • That certain modes of life (reef formers, fast-swimming marine predators, large-bodied terrestrial browsers, etc.) have been occupied by very different groups of organisms at different periods of Earth History.
  • That every living species, and every living individual, has a common ancestor with all other species and individuals at some point in the History of Life.

SPECIFIC:
Honestly, despite the fact the specific issues about specific parts of the Tree of Life are the ones that paleontologists, the news media, the average citizen, etc., are more concerned with, they really are much less significant for the general public to know than the points above. Sadly, documentary companies and the like keep on forgetting that, and keep on forgetting that a lot of the public does not know the above points.
Really, in the big picture, the distinction between dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and crurotarsans are trivialities compared to a basic understanding that the fossil record is our document of Life’s history and Earth’s changes.
Summarizing the key points of the history of life over nearly 4 billion years of evolutionary history is a big task. After all, there is a tendency to focus on the spectacular and sensationalized rather than the ordinary and humdrum. As Stephen Jay Gould and others often remarked, from a purely objective external standpoint we have always lived in the Age of Bacteria, and the changing panoply of animals and plants during the last half-billion years have only been superficial changes.
But the question wasn’t “what should a dispassionate outsider regard as the modal aspect of the History of Life?”; it was “What should everyone know about paleontology?” Since we are terrestrial mammals of the latest Cenozoic, we have a natural interest in events on the land and during the most recent parts of Earth History. That is a fair bias: it does focus on who WE are and where WE come from.

That said, here is a list of key concepts in the history of life. Other researchers might pick other moments, and not include some that I have here. Still, I believe most such lists would have many of the same key points within them.

  • Life first developed in the seas, and for nearly all of its history was confined there.
  • For most of Life’s history, organisms were single-celled only. (And today, most of the diversity remains single-celled).
  • The evolution of photosynthesis was a critical event in the history of Earth and Life; living things were able to affect the planet and its chemistry on a global scale.
  • Multicellular life evolved independently several times.
  • Early animals were all marine forms.
  • The major groups of animals diverged from each other before they had the ability to make complex hard parts.
  • About 540 million years ago, the ability to make hard parts became possible across a wide swath of the animal tree of life, and a much better fossil record happened.
  • Plants colonized land in a series of stages and adaptations. This transformed the surface of the land, and allowed for animals of various groups to follow afterwards.
  • For the first 100 million years or so of skeletonized animals, our own group (the vertebrates) were relatively rare and primarily suspension feeders. The evolution of jaws allowed our group to greatly diversify, and from that point onward vertebrates of some form or other have remained apex predators in most marine environments.
  • Complex forests of plants (mostly related to small swampland plants of today’s world) covered wide regions of the lowlands of the Carboniferous.
  • Burial of this vegetation before it could decay led to the formation of much of the coal that powered the Industrial Revolution and continues to power the modern world.
  • While most of the coal swamp plants required a moist ground surface on which to propagate, one branch evolved a method of reproduction using a seed. This adaptation allowed them to colonize the interiors, and seed plants have long since become the dominant form of land plant.
  • In the coal swamps, one group of arthropods (the insects) evolved the ability to fly. From this point onward insects were to be among the most common and diverse land animals.
  • Early terrestrial vertebrates were often competent at moving around on land as adults, but typically had to go back to the water in order to reproduce. In the coal swamps one branch of these animals evolved a specialized egg that allowed them to reproduce on land, and thus avoid this “tadpole” stage.
  • These new terrestrial vertebrates—the amniotes—diversified into many forms. Some included the ancestors of modern mammals; others the ancestors of today’s reptiles (including birds).
  • A tremendous extinction event, the largest in the age of animals, devastated the world about 252 million years ago. Caused by the effects and side-effects of tremendous volcanoes, it radically altered the composition of both marine and terrestrial communities.
  • In the time after this Permo-Triassic extinction, reptiles (and especially a branch that includes the ancestors of crocodilians and dinosaurs) diversified and became ecologically dominant in most medium- to large-sized niches.
  • During the Triassic many of the distinctive lineages of the modern terrestrial world (including turtles, mammals, crocodile-like forms, lizard-like forms, etc.) appeared. Other groups that would be very important in the Mesozoic but would later disappear (such as pterosaurs and (in the seas) ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs) evolved at this time.
  • Dinosaurs were initially a minor component of these Triassic communities. Only the tall, long-necked sauropodomorphs were ecologically diverse during this time among the various dinosaur branches. However, a mass extinction event at the end of the Triassic (essentially the Permo-Triassic extinction in miniature) allowed for the dinosaurs to diversify as their competitors had vanished.
  • During the Jurassic, dinosaurs diversified. Some grew to tremendous size; some evolved spectacular armor; some become the largest carnivorous land animals the world had seen by this point. Among smaller carnivorous dinosaurs, an insulating covering of feathers had evolved to cover the body (possibly from a more ancient form shared by all dinosaurs). Among the feathered dinosaurs were the ancestors of the birds.
  • Other terrestrial groups such as pterosaurs, crocodile-ancestors, mammals, and insects continued to diversify into new habits.
  • During the Jurassic and (especially) the Cretaceous, a major transformation of marine life occurred. Green-algae phytoplankton were displaced by red-algae phytoplankton (which continue to dominate modern marine ecosystems). A wide variety of new predators—advanced sharks and rays, teleost fish, predatory snails, crustaceans with powerful claws, specialized echinoids, etc.—appeared, and the sessile surface-dwelling suspension feeders that dominated the shallow marine communities since the Ordovician became far rarer. Instead, more mobile, swimming, or burrowing forms became more common.
  • During the Cretaceous one group of land-plants evolved flowers and fruit and thus tied their reproduction very closely with animals. Although not immediately ecologically dominant, this type of plants would eventually come to be the major land plant group.
  • The impact of a giant asteroid—coupled with other major on-going environmental changes—brought an end to the Mesozoic. Most large-bodied groups on land and sea, and many smaller bodied forms, disappeared. The only surviving dinosaurs were toothless birds.
  • The beginning of the Cenozoic saw the establishment of mammals as the dominant group of large-bodied terrestrial vertebrates. Early on mammals colonized both the sea and the air as well.
  • During its beginning the Cenozoic world was warm and wet, much like the Cretaceous. However, a number of changes of the position of the continents and the rise of mountain ranges caused the climates to cool and dry.
  • As the world cooled and dried, great grasslands developed (first in South America, and later nearly all other continents).
  • Various groups of animals adapted to the new grassland conditions. Herbivorous mammals became swift runners with deep-crowned teeth, often living in herds for protection. Mammalian predators became swifter as well, some becoming pack hunters.
  • Other new plant communities evolved, and new animal communities which inhabited them. The rise of modern meadows (dominated by daisy-related plants and grasses) saw the diversification of mouse-and-rat type rodents, many frogs and toads, advanced snakes, songbirds, etc.
  • A group of arboreal mammals with very big brains, complex social communities, and gripping hands—the primates—produced many forms. In Africa one branch of these evolved to live at mixed forest-grassland margins, and from this branch evolved some who became fully upright and moved out into the grasslands.
  • This group of primates retained and advanced the ability to use stone tools that its forest-dwelling ancestors already had. Many branches evolved, and some developed even larger brains and more complex tools. It is from among these that the ancestors of modern humans and other close relatives evolved, and eventually spread out from Africa to other regions of the planet.
  • About 2.6 million years ago a number of factors led to ice age conditions, where glaciers advanced and retreated. Various groups of animals evolved adaptations for these new cold climates.
  • The early humans managed to colonize much of the planet; shortly after their arrival into new worlds, nearly all the large-bodied native species disappeared.
  • At some point before the common ancestor of all modern humans spread across the planet, the ability to have very complex symbolic language evolved. This led to many, many technological and cultural diversifications which changed much faster than the biology of the humans themselves.
  • In western Asia and northern Africa (and eventually in other regions), modern humans developed techniques to grow food under controlled circumstances, leading to true agriculture. (Other cultures are known to have independently evolved proto-agricultural techniques).
  • This Neolithic revolution allowed for the development of more settled communities, specialization of individual skills within a community (including soldiers, metallurgists, potters, priests, rulers, and with the rise of writing, scribes).
  • From this point we begin to get a written record, and so the historians can take up the story…

This list is obviously not comprehensive, and there are many elements that I had to ignore to keep it relatively short. Still, I hope this overview helps put where we as a species fit into the larger perspective of Life’s long voyage, a voyage that could only have been traced by the study of fossils.

By far truly awesome and a big thank you to Dr. Holtz for making this awesome post to help people out there.

Taxonomy for Fictional Dinosaurs, why it’s so gosh darn fun!

As promised part two of my educational process behind the Jurassic Park Encyclopedia and why it is so much fun. Jurassic Park is probably one of the best mainstream media outlets for getting people interested in dinosaurs, but there’s a lot of scientific inaccuracies in them. My whole thing with Jurassic Park is that I liked it since I saw an advertisement in a book store for it. Being at least four to five years old at the time back in 90 I was told that was a “Big Kids Book”. My mother didn’t really discourage getting it for me, but she said that “When you can read books without pictures I’ll get it for you.” and sure enough she did. I have always had an appreciation for dinosaurs and all things relatively prehistoric (except mammals as I look at them every day) from the age of three on up. Dinosaurs to me wasn’t just a phase and it’s generally not going anywhere with me. Sure the sands of time haven’t been kind to me, but I do what I can to stay in the loop. Unfortunately with JPL it leaves me often feeling like I’m either:

A.)  Dinosaur Groupie
B.) I’m dressing up and playing researcher.

Ech, I know my facts and if I don’t know something I’m willing to learn and I actually trying to find ways to be involved in paleontology and the actual study of the science as it’s important to me. So why am I discussing this here? It relates, give me a moment. The problem with the Jurassic Park dinosaurs is that they are stylized and/or not correct as a result with the current views of either PaleoArt or Vertebrate Paleontology (Dinosaur study) as a whole.

Public Conceptions of Dinosaurs and The Impact on the Films.

So what warrants changes into the taxonomy of the Dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park franchise? How can you reconcile the issues with the rotated ulna with the pronated hands of the theropods, and lack of bontiful amounts of beautiful feathery fluff on said theropod dinosaurs? The necks of the Brachiosaurs, etc, etc, etc. Lastly: Why do you care to do this?

All valid questions indeed! So let’s answer the last first and work our way to the other two. Why I care: Jurassic Park has a rich story that i isn’t elaborated too much in the films and like in the films with the cloning process you’re required to use your brain to fill in the gaps making inferences – based on evidence to make your conclusions. Essentially, you know the structure, you know the direction it’s going, but something is missing. A lot of this can be left up to viewer/reader interpretation of the story, but a lot of it can be supported. Sadly I find it a lot like the actual science behind the film here. The thing with Jurassic Park is it’s meant to be for adults who like dinosaurs and want to feel nostalgia. To me it’s much more than that I care because Jurassic Park is probably the single most popular property out there, but it gets treated like the estranged black sheep uncle (Insert blank name here) that you have and people don’t associate with often. Why is it that way? Good question! I don’t know, but maybe if enough people ask Universal maybe Jurassic Park will make a proper come back.

Point is that a lot of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and the discrepencies with modern paleontology and the view points established within the last two decades (1990 to 2010) can clearly be blamed on “public consciousness/view of dinosaurs”. There’s a scene in the novels in the chapter of Version 4.4 that Wu is remarking how the animals need to be changed to make the public perception of the dinosaurs more real. Here’s the scene for those interested:

“I really think you should consider my recommendations for phase two. We should go to Version 4.4″
“You want to replace all the curren stock of animals?” Hammond said.
“Yes, I do.”
“Why? What’s wrong with them?”
“Nothing,” Wu said, “except that they’re real dinosaurs.”
“That’s what I asked for, Henry,” Hammond said, smiling. “And that’s what you gave me.”
“I know,” Wu said. “But you see…” He paused. How could he explain this to Hammond? Hammond hardly ever visited the island. And it was a peculiar situation that Wu was trying to convey. “Right now, as we stand here, almost no one in the world has ever seen an actual dinosaur. Nobody knows what they’re really like.”  (Crichton p. 122)

So the conception basically is inGen would alter their dinosaurs to suit the public opinion of it if they had to in the novels, but seeing how in the films they’re different from what we know in reality (dinosaurs of the time) the chances are they took this step in the film universe prior to bringing the park together. We can say this because of the constant and ever changing view on dinosaurs as a whole. So essentially this explains some of the anatomical differences, lack of feathers, and such on the actual animals we see being different than what’s in the film. So with that clearly pointed out to those who say that the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park are incorrect – by today’s standards…Yes, yes they are! Back to the public of then and somewhat now? No. They weren’t. Yes Jurassic Park is to blame for such school yard retorts of “T.rex’s vision was based on movement.” which is a carry over not accurately elaborated on from the novels to the films. Stupid, stupid, stupid! It doesn’t make Jurassic Park bad, it in fact makes it a classic. The other issue that’s seen with Jurassic Park is that Dr. Grant apparently has the luck of finding wonderfully preserved and complete fossils on his digs. I can’t explain that for you. It’s a movie for crying out loud though. Maybe Grant is just lucky? :)

Issues with Velociraptor and why Gregory Paul, among other Paleo-Figures impacted the Jurassic Park franchise forever.

In 1988 Gregory Paul, the reason why I started making attempts at PaleoArt came out with a book on dinosaurs. Gregory Paul is known for lumping a lot of genera together. Depending on your view point on taxonomic lumps and splits this can be a bad thing. Anyways the book paired Deinonychus up with Velociraptor and thus where all thus fuss of inaccurate Velociraptors came from. The book was “Predatory dinosaurs of the world : a complete illustrated guide” and like the newer “Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs” it deals with a lot of lumping. Both books are good, and I really enjoy reading them. The idea made it into the novel and then from the Novel Spielberg pumped up the Raptors using the “new” taxonomy of the time and boom. You have Velociraptor “antirrhopus” in the film. Utahraptor made the icing on the cake sweeter essentially though and justified the “Big One” for the film and the large size when it was discovered. The thing with Utahraptor is a lot of documentaries on the Discovery Channel point this to being the “True Raptor” of Jurassic Park – needless to say they’re wrong. This fact for the Deinonychus was pointed out in the “Jurassic Park Institute: Dinosaur Field Guide” on page 63 as well among other Paleontology books out there.

Dilophosaurus also got hit in the mix-bag as well. The thing I liked about the “Jurassic Park Institute: Dinosaur Field Guide” is it makes the attempts we do in the Encyclopedia to reconcile fiction with cold solid and beautiful fact.  It’s placed in the field guide that Dilophosaurus suffered under the gene splicer more or less. (Holtz & Brett-Surman 65) I personally find this acceptable, but there’s some issues with people who say the Dilophosaurs is too small. First off, yes they’re right, but the fact was attempted to be reconciled in The Lost World Jurassic Park due to this image/screen capture:

Yes, this screen can be seen in the movie during when Malcolm and Sarah are talking in the mobile RV lab trailers when they discovered Kelly stowaway’d with them. Another thing pointed out in the “Jurassic Park Institute: Dinosaur Field Guide” is that Metriacanthosaurus may actually be Yangchuanosaurus as well. I do recommend getting the book if you can find it. Despite it being out of print it’s what really inspired me to work harder on the updated classifications for the Jurassic Park dinosaurs to try to show there’s people out there serious or nuts (depending on your view point) about these films. Check for citation at the end of this blog post in regards to the books and sources mentioned. The book, done by my personal hero, Dr. Holtz and Dr. Brett-Surman is truly great for the reasons mentioned. To me they help shaped Jurassic Park along with Dr. Bakker, Dr. Horner, and so many others as well.

Pteranodons with teeth! This one goes without much explanation. The genetic manipulation is subtly applied with a power drill. The Pteranodons in The Lost World: Jurassic Park are fairly correct, but the ones in JP3 are downright appalling. What’s interesting is the fact in the JP3 Aviary you can see charts and what not behind Grant and his group of weathered travelers that the Pteranodons were possibly under heavy observation and study. Again this goes back to a possible goof in the cloning process or alteration to try to make the dinosaurs compatible with a theme park setting. This adds more argument to the fact that the dinosaurs are constantly under refinement as can be seen with the Velociraptors and the differences in behavior between the two breeds in all three films.

That takes care of most of the basics of what’s considered and why the taxonomy is usually changed. Usually if the animal is different enough from the real animal it warrants that. Soon a lot of the theropod dinosaurs are going to be given this change in classification because of the hands and lack of feathers on some due to the ever changing environment of science. Essentially, some day soon the entire classification system for the Jurassic Park dinosaurs is probably going to be need to be re-defined because of the incorrect restorations. Thanks for reading folks!

Recommended Reading:

  • Dr. Holtz Jr, Thomas R.; Dr. Brett-Surman, Michael: “Jurassic Park Institute: Dinosaur Field Guide” Copyright 2001. Random House. New York
  • Paul, G.S. (1988). Predatory Dinosaurs of the World. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  • Paul, G.S. (2010). Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
  • Crichton, Michael. “Jurassic Park”. Copyright 1990. Published by Ballentine Books.

What’s canon? What’s not? Is it a matter of opinion?

Recently, a lot of questions in a research project regarding the timeline of the franchise came up in the upper-echelons of the staff portion of the board in regards to what’s considered canon and what’s not in the Encyclopedia. One of the greatest things about Jurassic Park is that it actually brings the world from long ago to a more modernized now. True, Jurassic Park doesn’t accurately reflect actual Paleontology. Example, you’d be lucky to find a Deinonychus or other fossil that well preserved in the field. Either Dr. Grant just is psychic or he’s secretly Merlin (see another film that Sam Neill is in known as “Merlin”). The biggest confusing portion of Jurassic Park is honestly the continuity and the common fallacy is the “hybrid it with other variations to make a complete canon” logic. Sometimes this can be done, but other times it hurts the continuity a lot in the end.

So what is essentially considered canon and what is not? It really depends on the universe you choose to meddle with really. Jurassic Park, from what I’ve found, is distinct in how each universe is more or less an alternate, but yet similar reality of one another with no clear intersect point for every universe. It looks like because it’s all different media it would really use different continuity for each “timeline”. Here’s a brief write out I did of how the JP continuity works:

C-Canon – Crichton Canon/Novel Canon. This is the novel canon only. The only reason this exists is due to the novels being the “starting” medium. Considered the Alpha universe as it’s the first one made and therefore the source material. The novels have really no “supplements” to canon is the interesting aspect. Suggestive reason for this is the fact the films are more popular.

S-Canon – Spielberg Canon/Film Canon. This encompasses the films, cast & crew interviews, official media such as Making of Books and other various “movie-oriented” sources. Spielberg Canon is where all the films and their supplements originate from. They are mostly their own beast as they have an entirely different continuity from what is read in the novel. What sources are considered to be film canon, S-Canon. or Spielberg Canon?
1.) The films themselves obviously. Spielberg had ties with all three.
2.) Cutscenes – What this is in regards to is scene remnants or scenes that were originally meant to be included but were cut due to run-time constraints and would have only furthered the story.
In order for a cutscene to be considered canon it must be true for the media to be present of this scene in various places including, but not limited to: Screen capture from cut scene, film clip showing the scene, and lastly audio file. Audio files are suspect and can be forged however, so it would pend review. Examples of this include: Ellie grabbing Leaf, Ellie and Muldoon walking to power shed, extended Grant and kids through park walking, the board room scene, meeting with Roland and Ajay, etc would all be considered within valid canon as reasons for their elimination were not due to continuity, but rather shortening of run-time. While this is disputed and debatable, it is still adhered to in our continuity timelines due to the reasons behind the elimination.
What precludes this clause and makes something uncanon that was cut? If said scene takes place in script, but is shortened or changed during filming then film canon takes priority. Examples of this include: Extended dialog between two or more characters where no screenshot is present, different endings, etc. The rule of thumb is the scripts are not canon for this reason as they attempt to overwrite established continuity and generally even the final revisions of the scripts fit into this category as they are changed at some point during filming.
3.) Supplemental Material this includes The Making of Books, featurettes in the films, making-of documentaries, Interviews from the cast/crew of the film, The props (If it’s seen in the film it’s canon and if it’s not in the film it’s not canon.). Mark ‘Crash’ McCreery art. (Similar to acceptance like the props – if it isn’t exact to the film it is not canon), the Jurassic Park Traveling Exhibits (they basically explain the science in the films, but bring the props to the forefront as well as the movie dinosaurs too), Official Souvenir Magazines (Official Movie Trading cards fall under here, where applicable and so long as this doesn’t override the film), The Dinosaurs of Jurassic Park/The Lost World Scrapbook (Published by Scholastic), The Jurassic Park Institute: Dinosaur Field Guide (Some information pertaining to animals referenced in the film) and cold hard paleontological fact (We’re talking dinosaurs here)!
4.) Jurassic Newsletters (Ambiguous canon at best, not very reliable and should be considered last. It is muddled with hybrid novel/film canon; however, the film events, workings, etc can be extracted so long as they do not contradict the finished product seen on screen.) and The Rides (Only events of course referencing the movies, events, animal behavior, or places from the film). The rides are a tricky subject as they are set into a metaverse like the newsletters where with bridging the gap in our world. What can be trusted exactly? The props from the film you see of course, the behavior of the movie dinosaurs, and some of the events from Isla Nublar that is discussed on the rides.
CB-Canon – Comic Book canon, functional continuity that alters the events of the films due to being made off of final script revisions differing enough to not match the film closely.
JN-Canon – Novelette Canon, functional continuity that alters the events of the films due to being made off of final script revisions differing enough to not match the film closely.
U-Canon – Noncanon elements such as games & toys with no functional continuity
That pretty much covers everything on what’s canon, how the universes are, and what’s considered. So how does anybody arrive to these determinations of what canon is when no otherwise “official word” is present other than a few loose words here and there from a few people in charge (e.g, Rick Carter and Michael Crichton specifically)? The fact is canon is never about your personal want nor can it be for personal opinion so much. The fact is that “I want” shouldn’t and doesn’t exist in this unless you have proof and it’s really not a justification point either. It’s almost as annoying as justifying something with “Because.” and nothing more. So what’s this say about us? What did we do? Whenever we say something isn’t canon it’s justified as we cite the reasons why and the specifics behind.
So say you are making a project and you are worried about criticism from us because you fear you don’t fit into canon. Relax! We’re not in the business here to criticize your work and scrutinize it with a harsh eye and a sharp tongue. I personally find fan projects that don’t readily consider continuity fun actually. Now if you decide to ask about how to make your project fit in the continuity, we’ll gladly explain how it would be violating continuity and we even suggest alternatives if you’re open to altering your story. Example, look at Live the Legend we take a lot of creative liberties with it to make it interesting, but we still try to keep the continuity grounded within the original source and at the same time making our own.
Look for part two of this soon when I bore you more on the science behind the dinosaur classifications and why taxonomy with fake dinosaurs can be fun too.

Version 6 on its way!

One of the hardest parts of doing a new version to Jurassic Park Legacy is trying to find a way to top your own work and improve upon the faults you found in the previous designs. I started new work on version 6 to find myself constantly going through a load of ideas constantly before settling on what I am now finally working on. The original idea for version 6 was actually more of a JP3-esque look seeing how we have had a bit of JP and TLW look to the site. The time honored traditions of most of the JP sites out there has been to “honor thy film” as I say. I tried to break that manner of thinking a bit with my first two versions of the site. I tried to do Version 1 or 2 based off of an idea I had just randomly. There was a Version 0 at one point, but Version 0 was just a generic gradient red-black background and nothing too special there. Check these out below, these are all of our past versions.

So you see where the site has been and now as to where it’s going. Recently we’ve seen the launch of a new style logo for Jurassic Park, new comics, a new game coming, and lastly a new set of toys. The trick in this? Finding something that kind of marries the site to the products available to give Hasbro, Telltale, and IDW a bit of free press/promotional blitz and to bridge the fandom to meeting it.

Version 6 has been my back-breaking endeavor to working that out. What is Version 6 to include? Random Quote, Poll, and a Search for sites in the JP community. Well that’s stuff we already do, we’re actually going to go back to version 4 a bit with the random changing logo again and designing new header images for it. On top of this we’ve got a plan to go a bit further with Version 6 by actually creating horizontal hover link menus for easier navigation. The hardest part of the site is navigating so I want to clean that up for the next version. Next thing that’s being done is a new “intro page”. I would be lying if I said Version 6 isn’t our most image intensive version yet. Truth is also in that we’re also looking to keep load times down for performance reasons.

What about the Encyclopedia? It’s taking some time but we are planning a revamp of how the information is presented by scrapping together our own CMS. I personally hate Wikipedia software and the free “how-anyone-and-their-father’s brother’s cousin’s sisters roommate ” can edit the thing. This to me makes a Wiki-anything heavily unreliable because of this. To further add insult to Wiki? College courses really will fail you if you cite them. Something I agree with because of how it can be edited and changed by almost everybody. So JPL is making it’s own system based off a couple old designs and such a few other people have tried in the community’s past. It will take some time, but we’re hoping to even give the Encyclopedia it’s own sub-hosted domain; however, still keeping the Encyclopedia integrated on the site. The domain would be jpecyclopedia.jplegacy.org or something like down the line here.

So keep in mind with anything it takes a load of time to accomplish and to have up and running. I have teased version six already on our message board. Kind of an exclusive, here’s the link to see the “progress” we want public so far.  Check it out here. As always keep with us and we’ll keep trying to keep things exciting.

A Tour of the Encyclopedia Process…

A lot of people don’t realize the due process of the Encyclopedia and how it actually works for the community. If you were to joined the community in the year 2000 and asked for a list of dinosaurs that were located on Isla Nublar you would have been simply given the novel list and said simply “Well, that’s all we have.” or some people would chime in saying the toys represented the accurate count of the animals on Isla Nublar, to this it was met with a face palm representing frustration as I was a mere aspiring Fan Fiction writer along with my friends.

The concept of canon, although clearly indicated by Rick Carter (Production Designer) and Michael Crichton (Author of the original works) were briefly elaborated with admittedly vague, but confirming quotes. The problem was, these quotes – like a lot of the information represented in the Jurassic Franchise were buried and forgotten. You can see more information about these quotes here. Out of a flowering ambition and a lack of a social life in High School I took it upon myself to organize a group of individuals to lead a research effort into determining what was canon and what was not in the Jurassic Franchise. The result, well, after ten years is what you see as the Jurassic Park Legacy website.

A lot of questions are asked about the due process involved in the Encyclopedia, a lot of accusations have been made in regards to the validity of our information. There is a lot of stuff we keep out of the public eye because, some of it, is boring and a lot of it gets into philosophical fights on occasion surrounding what is/was canon and what is just us getting into semantics regarding what we see. In other words, boring crap. The fact is we see ourselves like digital paleontologists in a way mulling over a trilogy of film, two novels, countless comics, numerous video games, and a couple lines of toys scraping every detail we can from them in order to establish the boundaries of continuity and lastly canon to make it easy for Fan Fiction writers and fans a nice something to read through. Fan Encyclopedias are quite popular, in fact there are very many people – with nothing to do at times, that love going over and reading them to “attain” knowledge. Jurassic Park is different in a way, we’ve had to stay up on current paleontology research in order to point out the interpretations in the dinosaurs concerning how “true” to science they are. Very recently, we indicated that even if InGen had cloned a feathered Velociraptor they would still – likely – modify it to match public perception of dinosaurs at the time to make it seem a real. A concept indicated in the novels, and can be inferred over to the films due to the appearance of the JP3 Velociraptors being different from the previous two film’s Velociraptor. We also indicated that the JP Velociraptor is not actually a Velociraptor, but a Deinonychus based on size and the ontological aspects of the animal’s skull that we see in the film. Ergo on the taxonomic aspect, it is a Deinonychus. Among this, we’ve made much progress, for one we now know there are varying species lists between the continuities that add up as, again, different media.

How about the maps? We have different methods with those, some of us look at the filming locations and how the topography seemingly blends in together on what we see with the film and the island layout provided by the Production Design department. The issue is, always with JP, continuity. Because of changes in filming or changes in perspective from concept to filming a lot of the maps involve our best educated guesses. The problem with this is that we are having to make inferences or educated guesses on scant information. A lot of our work recently has been involving map making and ergo, therefore, a lot of educated guesses and inferences from what we see on film, from the Making of Books, and other sources. The problem is, occasionally, we are wrong and we work hard to fix that in light of new evidence. The other issue is a lot of people go “Well I can do better.” to this I respond, atypically and maverick like “You are certainly welcome to try, but it’s going to be wrong.” Why do I tell them it’s going to be wrong? A lot of naysayers, hecklers I call them as well, come in without learning all the facts themselves and say “I feel it should be this because it just looks right. So you should change it.” this is honestly the worse thing anyone can say/do. We don’t simply put something because we *feel* it should be there. We put something to its location on the map because of educated guesses. If you want something changed, present evidence – strong evidence, to indicate it needs to be changed. Some people have unfortunately gone as far as presenting pictures with little to know evidence regarding a change. They accompanied dubious evidence which only confuses the argument.

The process behind the Encyclopedia is slow, if you have seen our current Sorna map some have realized the scale is off, this is true. We are currently re-working it and a lot of work involved in it is admittedly overwhelming, but this is our biggest project in a while. The aim of JPLegacy and it’s team is very simple. Provide accurate information to the fans of Jurassic Park. Give Jurassic Park the treatment and highlight that it should have always received from the beginning and not the negligence and “step child treatment” it has received by so much from Hollywood. In addition to this we provide a friendly community, as much as we can at least, for the fandom to come and discuss all things JP.

Where we find news…

The previous post addressed (very briefly) how Coranto was used to post news. This post is basically where we go for news.

We have two types of websites we visit daily for news. Firstly; film websites. We are a Jurassic Park website, after all. We have to be on the ball for breaking news. My personal recommendations for the latest news in Hollywood, JP or otherwise includes www.ropeofsilicon.com and www.aintitcool.com. Of course, we use a lot more than two websites for this. We search at least fourteen websites about news information. DVD/BluRay releases, and so on.

The second type of website we use are scientific websites. These range from National Geographic, to Nature, to even regular news such as the BBC. We try to cover paleontological finds (Generally dinosaurs, of course) to provide our more scientific curious fans with a steady stream of information. As the world of dinosaurs is rapidly changing, we have to keep on top of this. It allows us to keep our users in touch with the reality aspect!

Lastly… arguably our most useful source if news is from within the community. We’ve had a few stories recently uncovered by fans not working on the staff who have provided us with the scoop to put on the front page. The help from the community is undoubtedly a great asset for our website, however we’re not out of a job…

yet. If you have something newsworthy to post; please post it so it can make the site page!

How we post news: Coranto

Coranto is the tool used to post up news by the Jurassic Park Legacy staff. (http://www.coranto.org/) We use it in combination with the HTML language, which allows fancy graphics, bold, italicized, and underlined fonts for the eye-catching effect. These allow us to deliver news and emphasize certain points.
Formatting is done through various HTML codes which are entered into a “post”. These HTML codes are added similarly to how parenthesi and quotation marks are applied. However, we call these “tags”. Tags can do various things such as shrinking images down (“thumbnails”), marqueeing (moving) text, or centering text. For Jurassic Park Legacy, and other websites, however, a key element in the web journalist’s weapon is in the use of bold, italics, underlining, and colors. “Fancy fonts”.

Why the fancy fonts? Why the interesting colors? Well, basically its a bit of psychology. See what I did there? The use of bold and italicization is to draw the attention of the reader to specific words through emphasis. The eye naturally is drawn to these different words because they stand out from the crowd of dull 12 Times New Roman. This is a trick of advertising and journalism, particularly web journalism and advertising where you might not be able to use colorful font, or pictures. Naturally the strength of this effect can be lost when overused! Nobody wants to read something completely in bold. It hurts the eyes and it abuses the effect. Likewise, bolding every other line looks awful. Roadsigns DONT APPEAR IN ALL CAPS BOLD unless they’re warnings, and even then, notice that they don’t retain that format for the entire sign?

Its to keep the eye fixed on the important terms. That is why we recommend, and try to use these unique formats to their proper use and nothing more. We don’t want a blind audience, but we do want to hammer home our points. AND THIS IS REALLY ANNOYING!

IRC: What does it mean?IRC: Internet Relay Chat: What do these funny symbols mean!?

As you may or may not know, Jurassic Park Legacy hosts its own IRC (Internet Relay Chat) on the website. The chat room acts in a way that it allows members to communicate with each other live about pretty much anything. Since the chatroom is live, and it allows for a much better way of showing emotions, it is a little more of a free fire zone. Topics can bounce across the board, from Live The Legend, to project discussion, to just about anything!

However, it IS still a bit of an alien world for those not used to IRC. After getting onto the client, the user is greeted by a row of names with symbols next to them. Each of these symbols has different meaning. Traditionally they’re other key symbols such as the percentage sign, however they can be different if you are using another IRC cluent such as ChatZilla or HydraIRC. HydraIRC’s symbols are shown below. For further informaton about these, consult the ReadMe of your client.

This post will cover the symbols and their meaning.

Operators ( @ OR ~) are the heads of the chat. These are generally administrators, or in other cases, bots. Our resident bot (JurassicBot) is not an actual member. Don’t bother talking to JurassicBot. It won’t respond.

Half Operators ( % ) are the moderators of the chat. There is often more half ops then operators. They have the power to keep order within the chat such as kicking or banning members, however they can not preform all of the duties of Operators.

Voiced people ( + ) are people with voice in the chat. This is traditionally done to ensure these people can talk in the event the chat has to enter moderated status. The only difference between them and regular users is that they can speak in the event of moderation. They have no powers such as kicking or banning.

Regular members are… you! These guys have no symbols and no special abilities. In the event of a chat room being put into moderated state (mode +m), these people will be unable to speak unless given voice.

FAQ:

What is the use of IRC?

IRC is used to allow communication live. It is from the old days of ARPAnet. Despite its old age, it is still a viable resource. IRC was briefly used as a news outlet during the Gulf War in 1991, where the breaking news of the war was reported over the internet as well as TV and radio.

Wow, thats neat! Why does JPL use it?

JPL uses IRC to allow live coordination of projects and discussion of future events, as well as just providing a place to discuss… anything! Our chatroom is a leisure room.

How do I join?

Click the chat link on the sidebar of the homepage and follow the instructions there. If you have your own chat client such as mIRC, follow the instructions to connect.

What the heck!? I joined and I was kicked/banned before I even got to say a word!

Odds are your IP address has been banned because of someone else from that IP using it for malicious things in the chat. Take this up with one of the chat staff and deal with it over the forums or through e-mail. They will help get you on the right path.

If I’m banned on the chat, am I banned from the forum? (Or visa versa)

It depends on the circumstances. If you’ve been banned from the board, you had better have a good reason for being on. If you’ve been banned from the chat, you likely aren’t banned from the forum. If you’re banned from both, you’re obviously a naughty individual.

Is the chat a free fire zone?

Not exactly. The chat is more liberal then the board, but that doesn’t mean you can be obscene or slander members because its ‘a free zone’. Actions are logged by JurassicBot. Bite your tongue if you have something to say about a member and don’t gossip. It will get out. It won’t be pretty. We’re not going to put up with drama. Yes you can be infracted or even banned for things done on the chat.

Jurassic Innards Goes LIVE!

Good day! If you’re reading this, then you’ve stumbled upon Jurassic Innards. This blog is the official website of Jurassic Park Legacy. It is officially live. Go ahead and post comments on the already posted news, or suggest future topics on our forum!

Welcome to the official Jurassic Park Legacy Blog.

Now, you’re probably asking yourself “A Jurassic Park Legacy… blog?” Yes. The purpose of this blog however is nothing related to dinosaurs, Jurassic Park, or anything really. It is simply to show our users how we do stuff. How is news posted? What do those symbols in the chat mean? How did you figure that out? Basically, this blog is a look under the hood of Jurassic Park Legacy. It looks to see the guts, muscles, and skeleton that make up the website.

Our goal with this blog is Multifaceted:

1: Provide users with an understanding and respect of how we get things done around the website.
2: Familiarize members with functions, terms, and things that they might not understand outright, but would be beneficial to them, either on or off the site.
3: Act as a bit of a reference guide for new staff members so that they can familiarize themselves with the utilities we use.
4: Show how research is done; which will allow the members to appreciate research, and be able to help out with the process.

Basically, this blog will help all members hopefully. Users get to see the fancy workings under the hood and help us out better if we need it, or if they find useful information. New staff will have access to a tutorial which can be applied not only to Jurassic Park Legacy, but to other websites which employ the same utilities. Veteran staff get to showcase the work that they have put into the website.

The blog will span across the three ‘veins’ of Jurassic Park Legacy. Chat, Forum, and Homepage. It will go in-depth on certain projects and things (eg: Live the Legend), and will also, thanks to this vein-spanning, provide users with insight to something they might have not seen before that could be of interest to them.

This blog will be updated frequently over the summer, so be sure to check back often!