AFTER THE FALL

On my home page I promised there would be dinosaurs, so here’s a post on the dinosaur Dracoraptor hanigani whose fossilized bones were discovered ner Barry in 2014.

Limestone cliffs extend east of Barry to Penarth and west along the Heritage Coast from Aberthaw to Porthcawl. The cliffs are geologically very interesting as well as scenic, and there is a glimpse of this at

https://www.valeofglamorgan.gov.uk/en/enjoying/Coast-and-Countryside/Heritage-Coast/Fossils-and-Geology.aspx#ad-image-5

I’m fortunate in having a personal guide to the geology as my granddaughter Rhiannon is studying for a degree in Earth Sciences.

Rhiannon and fallen rocks near the cliffs at Southerndown

Sections of the cliffs fall down all the time and when part of the cliff at Lavernock Point fell onto the beach in 2014 brothers Nick and Rob Hanigan, who are keen fossil hunters, examined the newly broken slabs. They had hoped to find fossils of ichthyosaurs but instead they saw the outlines of bones they did not recognise. They sent their puzzling find to Manchester University where the fossilised bones were scanned and X rayed and then sent for further study at Plymouth University.

The bones were judged to belong to a previously unknown dog sized dinosaur which had feathers and sharp teeth and lived on the shoreline as a hunter and scavenger around 200 million years ago. It was given the name Dracoraptor hanigani. There’s more info on the dinosaur at  

https://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/news/2016/january/welsh-dragon-thief-is-oldest-known-jurassic-dinosaur.html

Nick and Rob Hanigan donated the fossil bones to the National Museum of Wales and these, together with a model made by a paleo-artist, can be seen in in the Evolution of Wales Gallery at Cardiff Museum. 

The cliffs around Barry contain the fossils of a variety of prehistoric animals with hard shells or skeletons but there are no traces of the soft single celled organisms which were the earliest forms of life. Amoeba is the name given to unicellular organisms with a nucleus which move by extending their cell wall; the first amoeba probably first appeared around 3 billion years ago, thousands of millions of years before Dracoraptor and I took our turns at exploring the coast around Barry.

The poem that follows has inexplicably acquired a large space after the first 2 verses which I can’t manage to correct. Please scroll down to reach verse 3 onwards,

AFTER THE FALL 
 
After the rumbling fall 
the brothers arrived to find
the shadows of bones;
a gruelling scrutiny 
fleshed out the stones.
 
An artist appeared
and conjured up
a dog sized animal  
with downy feathers
and tiger-sharp teeth.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
The moon once rocked it 
on its tides, sea urchins 
scavenged its entrails,
each scrap of rotting flesh 
a life-giving blessing.
 
A rain of small corpses
drenched in calcium, 
floating on millennia,
weighed down its bones
and turned them to stone.

I honour the relics 
laid out under glass, 
the radius and ulna, 
femur, fibula and vertebrae, 
small ghosts of my bones.
 
Dracoraptor and I 
paddle in the shallows,
a sea of trillions of sunsets 
flows beyond the horizon
to a foggy shore.
 
Here the first amoeba
rippled and stretched, far 
upon far from the precarious 
tumbling cliffs of home 
and Dracoraptor’s bones.
 
 
Anne Bryan

ON MATHS AND MOTHS

I’ll start this post with a quote from the Statutory Guidance: National Curriculum for England: Mathematics Programmes of Study: Purpose of study for maths.

 “A high-quality maths education therefore provides … an appreciation of the beauty and power of mathematics…”

My granddaughter Elin showed me this as she thought I’d find it interesting. She has a degree in Maths and Music and later this year is going to study for a PGCE; she plans to become a Maths teacher in a secondary school. We agreed that the power and beauty of music is evident, it works its magic on everyone from infancy, but that helping children to appreciate the power and beauty of maths is more of a challenge. I don’t remember that my maths lessons at school gave me this appreciation. 

Years later though, I read The Curves of Life, which is an account of spiral formations and their application to growth in nature, science, and art, written by Theodore Andrea Cook in 1914 and illustrated with many photographs. Cook writes that “I shall not be more mathematical than I can possibly help” and geometrical drawings are more prominent than equations. The Curves of Life made it easier for me to appreciate the mathematical power and beauty of spirals, from the shells of the common snail to the arms of a galaxy, the horns of the greater kudu or the twists of the umbilical cord. I didn’t understand the maths any better than when I was young, but I felt the power of maths in exploring the beautiful forms of the natural world.

So now I see the distance between maths and moths as a short stretch, the distance a tiny caterpillar of a Geometer moth might travel in one move. The caterpillars, known as inchworms, travel by stretching forward, anchoring their front legs and then moving the back legs forward, giving the impression that the caterpillar is measuring the distance as it moves along. You can see inchworms at https://animalsake.com/facts-about-inchworms-you-probably-didnt-know

The Geometer family includes many species, see some British species at https://ukmoths.org.uk/thumbnails/geometridae

The moth resting on the wall of my house is a geometer called the yellow brimstone. 
      THE HEAVENLY GEOMETER
 
And the caterpillar said 
I am the inchworm, the measurer, 
Look at the way I move - 
I hold fast with my back legs 
while I advance my supple body 
to grasp the future with my front legs.
I let go and heave myself forward into a curve
that mirrors a graph of the height of Manchester men
or the wing spread of Mandarin ducks.
 
See how I flatten myself,
to rule on the span of each leaf.
Watch me when I hang
on a thread of silk that measures the height
from the last leaf I chose to the ground below.
But this isn’t the end of my surprises
I’ll lie buried in dirt then fly up transformed 
into a perfect geometer 
with angelic wings.
 
I fly in the formidable storm of moths
that scrawl though the evenings of the world,
look at our pigments and iridescent shadings;
to give you an inkling
flag our names, large emerald, mottled umber, 
argent and sable, coppery dysphania.
 
Don’t ever think we’re just aerial flotsam 
floundering in the dusk - 
our wings, scalloped, indented, 
curved, angled or swallow tailed, 
are inscribed with geometry
that Euclid would have gazed at in wonder:
graphical zig zags,
curves that duplicate maps of islands and bays,
trace segments of spheres,
delineate waves, copy windblown clouds.
 
Marvel at my patterns
for my wings are signed with cryptic configurations
that you’ll never decipher,
for I am the Geometer that measures out the world
I span the universe and mark each curve and angle
throughout the cosmos. 


Anne Bryan