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10 Swift Facts About Eoraptor

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One of the earliest known dinosaurs, this meek little fellow poses far more questions than it answers.  

1. It’s Got an Evocative Name.

Eoraptor means “dawn plunderer,” a reference to its status as an animal that lived at or near the very “dawn” of the dinosaurs. Its full scientific name is Eoraptor lunensis. Roughly translated, that second word means “of the moon.” This is an homage to the Argentinian park in which Eoraptor's remains were first found. A sprawling, otherworldly place, the area is popularly called Valle de la Luna or Valley of the Moon.

2. Eoraptor Was Discovered on a Joint American-Argentinian Expedition.

On October 3, 1991, Eoraptor lunensis came to light. The big moment was made possible by American paleontologist Paul Sereno and Alfretto Monetta of the National University of San Juan. Together, they led an international team through the Andes foothills—and promptly went five weeks without finding anything significant. Happily, when all hope seemed lost, Argentinian student Ricardo Martinez saved the day. Fortune was with him when he spotted a conspicuous tooth, which just so happened to come with a skull and a reasonably-complete skeleton.

3. Eoraptor Was Most Likely an Omnivore.

Rooted in its mouth was a combination of blade-like and leaf-shaped teeth. Two hundred and thirty million years ago, the arrangement would have allowed Eoraptor to eat everything from green foliage to small, passing critters.

4. Although Eoraptor had Five Fingers on Each Hand, Two Were Probably Useless.

Three clawed, grasping digits are present at the end of each arm. While these no doubt helped Eoraptor gather food, the same can’t be said about its other fingers, which were stubby and clawless.

5. Some Scientists Think That We’ve Only Found Juvenile Eoraptor Specimens So Far.

Eoraptor eye sockets look almost disproportionately big. This is a trait we often associate with young, still-growing animals—including humans. Furthermore, a few specimens contain skull bones which aren’t fully fused together. Hence, a few experts conclude that all (or most) of the Eoraptor material we’ve yet uncovered came from immature animals.

6. A Few Other Primitive Dinos Shared its Habitat.

Herrerasaurus, Eoraptor’s neighbor/potential predator, was around 12 feet long and had a rather rectangular skull. Their turf (in modern-day South America) was also home to the nimble “dawn runnerEodromaeus, which chased down small game on its lanky hind limbs. More about that guy later…

7. For its Time, Eoraptor Had an Unusual Neck.

In Eoraptor’s day, non-dinosaurian reptiles ran the show. Huge, quadrupedal predators called rauisuchians stalked the landscape. Crocodile-like phytosaurs basked on riverbanks. And the beaked, armor-plated aetosaurs spent their days digging up roots. Amidst such company, earth’s first dinos looked rather diminutive. Still, a few anatomical features helped them stand out anyway. For instance, as paleontologist Donald Henderson notes, basal dinosaurs “all had necks that were noticeably longer than those of [related reptiles] from the same period.”

8. Scientists Have Long Debated Eoraptor’s Placement on the Dino Family Tree ...

Since its discovery in the early '90s, paleontologists have been arguing about its evolutionary relationships. Some say that Eoraptor should be thought of as a very early theropod, or “meat-eating dinosaur” (think T. rex or Velociraptor). Others, meanwhile, lump it with the sauropodomorpha, a gang that includes long-necked giants like Jurassic Park’s Brachiosaurus. Together, both groups form an order of dinosaurs called the saurischia. So, perhaps Eoraptor is just a really early saurischian, one that emerged before the theropods and sauropodomorphs split apart.

9. … But, Hopefully, a New-ish Carnivore Will Help Clear Everything Up.

Cross your fingers, everybody! When Eodromaeus was discovered in 2011, the little beast convinced many dino classification buffs that Eoraptor rightly and truly belonged to the sauropdomorph crew. As you’ll recall, these two lived at the same place and at the same time. But while Eoraptor’s family ties are frustratingly ambiguous, no one can doubt sharp-toothed Eodromaeus’ credentials as a card-carrying theropod.

Eodromaeus gives us the earliest picture of this predatory line,” says Sereno. Previously, he—like many—believed Eoraptor deserved that distinction. Eodromaeus changed his mind. “Eoraptor was incorrectly placed at the base of the theropod tree,” Sereno now claims. Today, the scientist holds that it was a sauropodomorph all along. After all, among other things, it did have those plant-slicing chompers (unlike Eodromaeus).

10. The Man Who Named Eoraptor Has an Impressive Fossil-Hunting Resume.

None other than Sereno himself coined the name back in 1993. Since then, he’s spearheaded numerous expeditions throughout Asia and Africa—one of his teams has even extracted 100 tons of dinosaur fossils from the Sahara desert. Brand-new species he’s had a hand in discovering include the wrinkle-faced carnivore Rugops primus, and the sizable sauropod Jobaria tiguidensis. On a random note, he was also named one of People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People” in 1997.


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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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Art
New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b

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