Perhaps memory failure has an advantage. After all, the knowledge human memory holds will expire. Our certainty is rooted in our fields of endeavour and I think that like oaks, knowledge grows with our effort and because of it. Keeping with that analogy, if the tree avoids the wind, lightning and drought, it will live for centuries. But eventually it will have to be replaced, perhaps after re-purposing.
I have enjoyed reading about the new things we know of dinosaurs. The idea that birds have two-way lungs and pneumatic fenestrae amazed and astounded me. It makes so much more sense than invoking high oxygen levels as the enabling factor for the huge sizes attained by some terrestrial dinosaurs. And to think we’ve all seen birds do this double breathing and had no idea. Received and perceived wisdom should come with caveats and expiration dates.
I visited Plaza Huincul before there was a real museum there. It’s since become the main tourist attraction. People come from far and wide to see Argentinosaurus huinculensis, the largest herbivorous sauropod ever found. The sauropod was named for Argentina and Huincul having been found in 1988 some 8 km east of this Patagonian town. I visited in 1995 after we read about the fossil in a local newspaper when I happened to be in the palindromic Neuquen region, in the sleepy, dusty town of Añelo, some 50 km north of Plaza Huincul.
There is an English language newspaper called the Buenos Aires Times. Back when I was there, I was told how to read it. For example, when some electricity pylons were reportedly knocked over by political dissenters, a well informed colleague explained how this meant that they were built below specifications. You could tell by the juxtaposition of a story about the windstorms. They were blown over not blown-up. I was told to read the articles like they were a crossword puzzle. The report of the mayor who successfully got a highway asphalted was beside a story on recycling. Did that mean waste oil was illegally used as a road surface sealant?
So we went to Plaza Huincul following the signs that said Cutral Có. I’m still unsure how there are two towns on either side of the intersection of two national routes. And whatever about the mysteries of the dual metropolis, we couldn’t tell without a visit if the the story of Argentinosaurus could be taken at face value.
130 million years old, 50 tonnes in weight, 30 metres long, this supergiant titanosaur was in bits on tables and in boxes awaiting the funding to finish the museum. But these were the real fossils we saw, touched and enjoyed seeing. I understand that the version on show today is a cast.
I’ve dined beneath Diplodocus several time in the Natural History Museum in London before the skeleton went on a regional walkabout. It too is a cast. These paleontological giants are scientifically informed recreations from quite a limited number of bones.
In 2014, the story changed. Another Patagonian discovery weighed in at over 70 tonnes, displacing Argentinosaurus Huinculensis. Except that I still don’t know its name. If it doesn’t have a name, maybe it doesn’t exist?
If the stories of dinosaurs interest you, I suggest you read both The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte (2018) and The Dinosaurs Rediscovered by Michael J Benton (2019).