The Why Of Sauron – The Bristol Dinosaur Venture

Enable me a brief digression into one thing nerdy. It’s area of interest and peculiar however I slipped in some science alongside the way in which. While doing a little bit of studying for one more challenge the opposite day I stumbled throughout a curious hyperlink between two very completely different worlds; the science of Palaeontology, and the fictional antagonist of Center-Earth. I subsequently went on to find that hyperlink once more, after which once more. All of which led me to ask; why does Sauron hold popping up in palaeo?

For these unaware, Sauron is a personality created by JRR Tolkien, he’s in reality the eponymous Lord within the Lord of the Rings, and in the entire in depth writings of character lore for Sauron, not as soon as is there any point out that he’s a eager novice palaeontologist. Actually, seeing as Arda (the Tolkien title for Earth) is written as solely being just a few tens of 1000’s of years previous, it might be argued that palaeontology doesn’t even exist in Center Earth. I suppose they don’t want dinosaurs seeing as they’ve precise dragons.

An extinct stem-bird lineage from Arda, seen right here hoarding gold probably as a mating show, like trendy Bower Birds.

In our actuality although, we now have fossils going spare, and a seemingly infinite provide of latest species of extinct creatures being found, and our have to categorise the whole lot into neat little orders signifies that these new discoveries want names. Often the animals are named after some descriptive options of their anatomy (take our personal Thecodontosaurus, which implies ‘Socket-toothed Lizard’ for instance). Nonetheless, typically scientists wish to get a bit extra fantastical and ingenious with names.

This was the case when a peculiar fossil resurfaced for description in 2012. The specimen was a single bone from a cranium of what appeared to be a big theropod dinosaur. Particularly, this bone was the frontal, which is situated simply above the attention socket.

One bone to convey all of them and in taxonomy bind them. Determine from Cau et al. 2012.

It could not look like a lot (as a result of it isn’t actually) however palaeontology is a science that recurrently has little to go on however essentially the most fragmentary proof, and on this case the researchers deemed that there have been sufficient distinctive options to declare the fragment as coming from a hitherto unknown species. An historic terror, having misplaced most of its bodily kind and now identified solely from a bit of eye socket, it was dubbed Sauroniops, actually which means ‘The Eye of Sauron’. The title does have a pleasant ring to it.

The only Sauroniops bone originated from the famed Kem Kem beds of Morocco. This formation is well-known for its assemblage of Cretaceous fossils, together with fish, crocodiles, dinosaurs, and pterosaurs. The fossil the world is most famed for is undoubtedly Spinosaurus, the most important (and possibly most controversial) theropod dinosaur ever discovered.

Sauroniops was a Carcharodontosaur, one other group of huge theropods, named for his or her shark-like enamel. Different members of this group have distinctive forehead ridges, slender snouted skulls, and sharp claws (which look to have been more practical than the diminished arms of T. rex).

A life reconstruction of comparable species, Carcharadontosaurus. Sauroniops would have regarded the identical however for having an important eye, lidless, and wreathed in flame. Illustration by Fred Wierum.

Based mostly on the dimensions of the lone fossil, Sauroniops exhibits the over-engineered forehead you’d anticipate from this dinosaur group. It additionally provides us an estimate in measurement of as much as about 10m in size, although that is clearly largely hypothesis primarily based on comparable species.

Although not a Spinosaur, Sauroniops has nonetheless loved its fair proportion of palaeo controversy. Being identified from solely a single bone will at all times imply doubts might be made about whether or not there’s sufficient proof to say it as a novel species. The principle arguments in opposition to it state that it’s possible only a youthful particular person of Carcharodontosaurus, which can also be present in the identical location.

It’s a cheap argument, as ontogenetic variation (how animals seem completely different as they age) is well ignored in a science the place we regularly don’t have anything to go on however skeletal fragments. It’s even becoming for Sauron, who too has a historical past of not being recognised as his true self (I’m on to you Annatar). Although a assessment of Kem Kem Carcharadontosaur materials in 2022 retained Sauroniops’ place as a sound taxon, so it as a species stays protected for now at the least.

Naming discoveries after popular culture figures is hardly uncommon, and it’s one thing that our personal palaeo group at Bristol is responsible of indulging in. In recent times our resident scientists have named an historic lizard-like animal after a spell from Harry Potter (Clevosaurus sectumsempra), and a vicious bobbit worm after the bassist from the dying metallic band Cannibal Corpse (Websteroprion).

Pictured: both the extinct bobbit worm or the bassist from Cannibal Corpse. I’m undecided which. Art work by James Ormiston.

It’s not simply palaeontology both, geneticists get in on this act too. Within the scientific literature, researchers discussing the mysteries of developmental biology regularly check with a gene-coded protein by its real official title; Sonic Hedgehog.

Gotta go quick

Sauroniops represents what I suppose you possibly can name essentially the most ‘official’ hyperlink between Tolkien’s Darkish Lord of Mordor, and the science of palaeontology. However it’s removed from the one time these two seemingly disparate worlds have mixed.

Way back to 1969, simply fifteen years after the publishing of the Lord of the Rings, this union was first fashioned within the Marvel Comedian Guide universe. That’s proper, palaeontology, Tolkien, and Marvel; we actually are venturing into some sort of holy trinity of nerdom.

Enable me to introduce you to Dr Karl Lykos. Not like different docs we’ve talked about on this weblog prior to now, Dr Lykos isn’t a palaeontologist, he’s a hypnotherapist who, while nonetheless solely a younger boy, travelled to Tierra del Fuego, the archipelago on the southernmost tip of South America. It was right here that Lykos was attacked by a residing Pteranodon, which had travelled up from deep within the primal Savage Lands of Antarctica to show him right into a vampire.

In case that final sentence didn’t make it clear, Dr Karl Lykos a fictional resident of what comedian ebook followers name Earth-616. That vampiric pterosaur chunk transforms him into some human-pterosaur hybrid, resulting in the inevitable flip to evil and embracing of a supervillain title; Sauron.

Earlier than 1969 the vampiric properties of Pteranodon assaults had been solely unknown to science.

Canonically he chooses the title Sauron right here particularly in honour of Tolkien’s creation, as a reputation match for his new evil state. However any parallels to the precise character appear to start and finish there. As for the connections to precise palaeontology, they’re simply as tenuous.

The Pteranodon kind Dr Lykos takes is supposedly half human, so I suppose you’ll be able to forgive a number of the inaccuracies, although I’m nonetheless going to level them out. Beginning with the truth that Pteranodons had particular musculature to permit them to fly successfully which, while strongly constructed, doesn’t actually line up with the human preparations. So you’ll be able to in all probability write off any actual Pteranodon having the spectacular washboard abs Sauron (the non-Tolkien one) recurrently places on show.

We could by no means know if Tolkien’s Sauron additionally had spectacular washboard abs. So far as I do know that was omitted from the Appendices.

Likewise the wings of Pteranodon, as for all pterosaurs, are supported by a extremely developed and modified finger (the generally used colloquial moniker of pterodactyl actually means ‘Wing Finger’). This meant that the completely free to maneuver palms of Sauron (with opposable thumbs and all) wouldn’t have been a function on the actual factor.

Additionally Pteranodons didn’t have a mouthful of razor-sharp enamel; that they had toothless beaks, which is a standard adaptation of flying animals to assist them saved their physique weight down (see: all residing birds). The fictional Sauron is recurrently proven as having an extended tail too, a function which had been lengthy since misplaced by Pteranodons and different massive pterosaurs as they developed.

So palaeontological accuracy might not be the strongpoint of this different fictional Sauron, however at the least it did give us one of many best memes to have come out of the graphic novel world.

I’ve by no means learn a Marvel comedian in my life, and but I nonetheless see this picture about fifty occasions a 12 months.

In case you’re nonetheless following me down this obscure rabbit gap, enable me to set the scene for the third hyperlink I stumbled upon. It’s 1994, you’ve simply completed re-watching your VHS copy of Jurassic Park now overdue from Blockbuster, BoyzIIMen is on the radio, and also you’re assured that every one dinosaurs had scales and also you’d by no means be confirmed incorrect on that reality.

To have fun life being this good you’re going to take your change to the closest Video Arcade to play your favorite new recreation, ‘Primal Rage’. This can be a Mortal Kombat-esque combating recreation the place you tackle the persona of what can loosely be described as prehistoric fauna. You attain the character choose display and choose your go-to MVP, his title, is Sauron.

Sauron is a yellow T. rex with purple stripes, marking the second time that Tyrannosaurus has been reconstructed with these two colors (although Sauron is a bit much less kid-friendly than Barney – I’m undecided Sauron would sing in a circle with me in any respect). He stands upright, propped up by his tail, in an identical pose to how dinosaurs had been reconstructed round 100 years in the past when the primary skeletal mounts had been debuted (and kinda Barney once more I suppose). It’s a pose we now know to be horribly incorrect, and rather a lot much less horizontal than can be preferrred.

Fairly certain this was precisely what Tolkien envisioned when he first wrote the character of Sauron.

Similar to Tolkien’s non-dinosaur model, this Sauron is immortal to be untouched by the consequences of passing years, although the price of that is that he’s at all times hungry for people, who view him as a god… and need to get eaten… Look, the plot of this recreation is a bit odd. The continents are inexplicably rearranged to seem like a fire-breathing dinosaur cranium, scientific accuracy or sanity isn’t it’s sturdy level.

I may go into extra particulars about how this online game character is much like the literary Sauron and the way it all connects to palaeontology, however I’ve suppose we’ve all reached our restrict of endurance with this area of interest deep dive of an article, and as a substitute I’m going to chop it quick with a fifteen-minute playthrough video I discovered on YouTube of somebody finishing the arcade model of the sport as Sauron. I feel all of us knew the article was at all times going to finish like this.

Rhys Charles is the Engagement Officer for the Earth Sciences division of the College of Bristol, and has headed the Bristol Dinosaur Venture since 2016. (@tweetodontosaur)

Article edited by Ben Griffin.


Cau, A., Vecchia, F.M.D., & Fabbri, M. (2012) Proof of a brand new carcharodontosaurid from the Higher Cretaceous of Morocco. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica. 57: 661 – 665

Paterna, A., & Cau, A. (2022) New big theropod materials from the Kem Kem Compound Assemblage (Morocco) with implications on the variety of the mid-Cretaceous carcharodontosaurids from North Africa. Historic Biology. 1 – 9

Klein, C. et al. (2015) A particular Late Triassic microvertebrate fissure fauna and a brand new species of Clevosaurus (Lepidosauria: Rhynchocephalia) from Woodleaze Quarry, Gloucestershire, UK. Proceedings of the Geologists Affiliation. 126: 402 – 416

Eriksson, M.E., Parry, L.A., & Rudkin, D.M. (2017) Earth’s oldest ‘Bobbit worm’ — gigantism in a Devonian eunicidan polychaete. Scientific Reviews. 7: 43061

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