AI: Paleontological Pondering

We hear the call of the unimaginative regularly claiming that things like dragons and sphinxes and unicorns must have existed since nobody could possibly have made something like that up.

That argument might be absurd, but deep down don’t we all have some creature that we wished was real? Don’t you secretly wish that along with dinosaur feathers and crocoduck skeletons, paleontologists could unearth a centaur or a unicorn?

What fantastic creature do you want to be discovered in the fossil record? If one is found, how will it change your worldview?

You may not be at all surprised to learn that I’m still holding out hope for a proper dragon to be found.

The ART Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Mad Art Lab community. Look for it to appear Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 3pm ET.


Ryan is a professional nerd, teaching engineering in the frozen north. Somewhat less professionally, he is a costumer, author, blacksmith, juggler, gamer, serial enthusiast, and supporter of the Oxford comma. He can be found on twitter and instagram @studentofwhim. If you like what I do here, feel free to leave a tip in my tipjar.

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  1. Actually, based on the post title, I had guessed that you were hoping for a star soccer player. (Or maybe the essence thereof.)

    You know what would change my worldview? Finding a fossilized Beholder. Or better yet, a Lurker Above. That would be serious evidence that the universe is consciously messing with us.

    Could a Gelatinous Cube be fossilized?

  2. Thanks for pointing out the typo. For those who come after, the title was misspelled and Breadbox was wittily ribbing us.

    Unfortunately Gelatini (that is the genus to which gelatinous cubes belong) cannot be fossilized. They can, however, be frozen and can preserve within them the acid resistant remnants of their meals.

    There have been a number of unfortunate instances of archeologists thawing out a find only to be subsequently attacked by the reanimated cube.

    Trust me. I’m a scientist.

  3. From a scientific standpoint, dragons would be very interesting. A 6-legged “tetrapod” would be extremely interesting to study from an evo-devo standpoint, and of course the chemistry and biology needed to support fire breathing would be interesting.

    Griffons or hippogrifs would also be interesting, both because of the 6-limbed part and because of the combination of bird and mammalian features. Would they lay eggs or give birth to live young? Would they produce milk? Do they have feathers and fur, or feathers that look like fur or fur that looks like feathers?

    However, for me the top of the list would certainly be the manticore, both from a personal and a scientific standpoint. Personally, I think they are about the most bad-ass monsters in all of mythology. Human faces hiding gaping jaws with multiple rows of teeth, dragon wings (sometimes), can eat a person whole clothes and all, and a scorpion-like tail that can launch spines with enough force to penetrate iron.

    Scientically, they have all the pros of dragons and griffons combined: 6 limbs, a combination of mammalian, reptilian, and arthropod features, unique jaw structures compared to any known vertebrate, their digestive system would need to be one of the toughest in the world, their human faces would be interesting from either a mimicry or convergent evolution standpoint, and the biological and material properties behind their spines, spine launching, and and regeneration would even beat out fire breathing in my book.

  4. A bit mundane in this company perhaps, but I’d like to see evidence of tool-using dinosaurs. A velociraptor with a tomahawk would do nicely.

  5. @Bjornar, I completely disagree with your self assessment. Tool using dinosaurs would be so much less mundane than unicorns or dragons.

    We know that evolution can produce damn near anything. Finding a unicorn fossil wouldn’t change the world. Finding another species that had developed sophisticated tool use would blow everyone’s mind.

    If this were a competition, I would nominate you as the winner. Now I am going to sit and imagine the Tyrannosaurus Rex inventing the toothpick cause his tiny arms don’t reach on their own.

  6. I was under the impression that hexipod vertebrates were possible, but the course of evolution led away from that development. I could be very wrong.

    I imagine that if there were to be dragons or griffons or centaurs, they’d be the result of a much earlier branch in the evolutionary tree than that which led to all of the tetrapods. They would be much closer relatives to each other than to modern mammals or reptiles.

    My respect for the tool wielding dinosaurs comes not from the likelihood, but from the implications.

    The world is full of the evolutionary oddities. Hell, there really are lizards that can glide on proto-wings. What I was excited about was how much ancient tool users of a completely different evolutionary branch would affect the worldview of the rest of the world.

    Consider the religious backlash, the rewriting of textbooks, the utter confusion in the fields of archeology and paleontology.

  7. Right, that is exactly why it would be so interesting. If it was something easy or simple, then why would we care?

    Tool-using, intelligent non-humans are a dime a dozen in mythology, though.

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