Sunday, December 10, 2006

History writ large at Electric Politics

As mentioned in the agama post, I recently did a podcast interview, and it’s now available online. Strangely perhaps, it wasn’t done for a website that specialises in zoology, nor even in science, but for George Kenney’s excellent Electric Politics site. Covering all manner of issues related to the world of American and/or global politics, Electric Politics might seem an odd venue for a podcast interview with a palaeontologist, but perhaps this is an indication of – dare I say it – how popular Tetrapod Zoology has become. Jon Downes insists on calling me the ‘people’s palaeontologist’*, and presumably that’s a reference to the same thing [the adjacent image shows me, after a heavy rain-storm, at a dig site. I dont normally dress like that, honest].

* Inspired itself by a soundbite once used by Tony Blair.

As is the case with a lot of people, I’m never really happy when I listen back on myself talking in interviews – I always wish that I’d said things differently, or explained them better – but overall it’s pretty good and George was great fun to talk to. We spoke about the evolution of domestic dogs, about brain size and intelligence, about speculations on smart dinosaurs and the future evolution of humans, and also on cryptozoology, sasquatch and dinosaur extinction. There are a few parts of the interview where I become confused and lose my train of thought, and there’s a hilarious segment where I totally lose the plot in trying to explain the history of domestic horses. Cringe.

For the record, the deal with horses in North America is that, while members of the genus Equus were numerous and important there in the Pleistocene, they later became extinct (to quote R. Dale Guthrie (2003): ‘equid species dominated North American late Pleistocene faunas in terms of abundance, geographical distribution, and species variety, yet none survived into the Holocene epoch’ (p. 169)). Meanwhile, Asian steppe horses were domesticated about 6000 years ago (probably in or around Ukraine and Kazakhstan [nod to Steve Bodio]), apparently from several different groups of wild horses (Bennett & Hoffmann 1999, Pennisi 2001, Vilà et al. 2001), and not until the 16th century did Spanish conquistadors reintroduce horses to the Americas. The descendants of these animals, the feral American horses known as mustangs, were being killed for pet food as recently as the 1960s and, despite the 1971 Free Roaming Wild Horse and Burro Act, remain persecuted today. About 42,000 currently live wild in North America. The fact that the wild horses closest to the ancestry of domestic horses, such as the tarpan E. ferus and takhi E. przewalskii, are extinct or highly endangered is an interesting point and probably not a coincidence [the horses in the adjacent image are New Forest ponies].

Anyway, you can listen to and/or download the interview – History writ largehere. It’s a long interview, at 85 minutes or so. Many thanks to George for the invitation, and for the opportunity to do this.

On another subject, thanks to those who have made recent donations to the blog: it’s really appreciated, and helps immensely. I’ve been trying to figure out a way to get enough funding to become a full-time blog writer, but sadly I don’t think that’s an option.

Coming soon: that inconvenient seal, obscure dinosaurs of the Kimmeridge Clay, more on pterosaurs, temnospondyls, and more cryptic intermediates in agamas. For the latest news on Tetrapod Zoology do go here.

Refs - -

Bennett, D. & Hoffmann, R. S. 1999. Equus caballus. Mammalian Species 628, 1-14.

Guthrie, R. D. 2003. Rapid body size decline in Alaskan Pleistocene horses before extinction. Nature 426, 169-171.

Pennisi, E. 2001. Horses domesticated multiple times. Science 291, 412.

Vilà, C., Leonard, J. A., Götherstrom, A., Marklud, S., Sandberg, K., Lidén, K., Wayne, R. K. & Ellegren, H. 2001. Widespread origins of domestic horse linages. Science 291, 474-477.


Blogger Matt Mullenix said...

Well done!

1:28 PM  
Blogger Bora Zivkovic said...

Love New Forest ponies - used to work on a farm that breeds them.

3:16 AM  
Blogger Reid Farmer said...

American Antiquity recently had an article on the first Late Pleistocene Paleoindian horse kill site to be discovered in North America. Found in southwestern Alberta, dated to ca. 11,300 BP

2:03 AM  

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