Wings over Wales

Llywelyn Vaughan, Cadwaladr Gough et al.
‘Pterosaurs in Late Jurassic Wales.’
Mesozoica Cambrensis Vol IV No 1, 2019

In this interesting monograph from the academic journal Mesozoica Cambrensis the authors describe initial research into two pterosaurs from the Late Jurassic period (200 to 145 million years ago) recently uncovered from the Snowdonia eminence known as Dinas Emrys.

The Mesozoic period, roughly 252 to 66 million years ago, is the era we associate with dinosaurs but the flying creatures known as pterosaurs (“flying lizards”) mostly existed during the Jurassic years, some surviving through the Cretaceous until the extinction event about 65myo. What distinguishes the Dinas Emrys pterosaurs is that they appear to belong to two distinct classifications and, unusually, appear in close proximity.

I’m no geologist or palaeobiologist but what I understand is that Snowdonia has multiple layers or strata — Llanberis Slates from 400 million years ago under gritstones, mudstones, siltstones and volcanic ashes, all covered over by more slate beds, then contorted over eons by tremendous geological forces.

Into a remnant of sedimentary layers on Dinas Emrys, as though part of a dried-up pool, were deposited the intertwined fossils of the pterosaurs, almost as if locked in combat. What is fascinating about these two specimens is that, contrary to popular dinosaur belief, they weren’t cold-blooded or scaley but warm-blooded and covered in fur. Extraordinary to relate, traces of pigment were even found.

One of the animals was a Rhamphohynchoid (“beak-snouted”) pterosaur. Enough survived to show it had a long tail with a diamond-shaped ‘paddle’ at the end. Its head, which unlike modern birds was in line with its neck, displayed up to ten pairs of teeth in its upper jaw and as much as seven in the lower. The wings, which were stiffened with struts of gristle, had a span of at least 1.75 metres. Traces of the fine fur covering it were rust-coloured, a very rare survival when prehistoric patterning and hue remain largely unknown.

This beast is tentatively identified as Rhamphohynchoidea snowdoniensis, and the authors contrast aspects of it with the famous Early Jurassic Dimorphodon found in Lyme Regis by Mary Anning in 1828, with a wingspan of just 1.4 metres. For comparison the earliest pterosaurs date from the Late Triassic (210 mya) while the latest — giants with 5-metre wingspans found in the New World — from the Early Cretaceous (say, 120 mya).

The second beast is a Pterodactyloid pterosaur and is distinguished by its short tail and long bird-like neck. With a wingspan of up to 2.5 metres it is marginally larger than its companion. Some of its furry covering appears to have been a dirty cream, further distinguishing it from its neighbour. The authors have given the pterodactyl (“finger-wing”) an as yet unratified classification of Pterodactyloidea loegriensis.

This recent paper doesn’t seem yet to have created waves in the mass media, but it can only be a matter of time. I can’t comment on the detailed scientific data and analysis (the tables, notes and bibliography take up more than two-thirds of the text) but I did note some brief if dismissive references to the 9th-century Historia Brittonum and the 12th-century native tale known as Lludd and Lefelys, about which I do know a little.

The authors also write disparagingly about certain cryptozoologists who’d commented early on in the local press, but I’ve not been able to locate these precise sources (though such sources do exist, for example here). Nor have I been able to find out much else about the authors, but Vaughan and Gough apparently collaborated on a long-term study of a type of short-lived seasonal affective disorder — a sufferer from which is, incidentally, known in Wales as ffwl Ebrill — known to flare up over 24 hours or less before subsiding.

A late entry for Dewithon, the Wales Readathon, which runs through the month beginning March 1st, the feast day of David, patron saint of Wales.

Victorian lithograph of pterodactyl skeleton (P. longirostris)

20 thoughts on “Wings over Wales

    1. Hah! If we don’t know where the world is coming to, Ola, we at least know where it’s it’s going to… 😁

      By the way there used to be (maybe still is) debate about the link between birds and dinosaurs, with the two camps characterised as BAD (birds are dinosaurs) and BAND (birds are *not* dinosaurs):

      All I can say is, anybody who can’t see a connection has never kept hens! We’ve certainly had a few of these living dinosaurs in the wilds of Wales…

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t know about a book, Cath, the online paper suddenly disappeared about midday today for some reason,and I’ve lost all the references. Funny that… 😁


        1. I’m just checking if Mesozoica Cambrensis is still there. Hmm, perhaps it’s something to do with the date? I’ll also check this seasonal disorder, Ffwl Ebrill, it looks a bit suspicious…

          Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: Wales Readathon 2019 – Book Jotter

    1. I hoped those who knew their Merlin legends or even ‘Lludd & Llefelys’ might smell a rat at the Dinas Emrys location, but Ffwl Ebrill was definitely a final hint for Welsh speakers! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

        1. ‘Lludd and Llefelys’ has a variation on the combat between the red and white dragons that Geoffrey of Monmouth introduced into his Merlin stories and located at Dinas Emrys. As a parallel between the conflict between Brythonic and Anglo-Saxon cultures it was as symbolic as they come!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. How curious! I’ve always found the classification of time to be a strange thing–well honestly, with my faith I’m all about creation and the earth NOT being gazillions of years old. This is the sort of study that makes me believe that it takes just as much faith to believe in Christianity’s take on the past as it does to believe in how science defines the past. In either case, it’s always wicked-fun to speculate.

    Just don’t get me started on that trainwreck of a kid’s show DINOSAUR TRAIN, which I’m sure would have had a trainstation by these species and had them playing dino-ball or something….ugh…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First, I want to point out the date I posted this on, as a clue towards whether this story is true or not. (Dinas Emrys is the site in Wales where Merlin is reputed to have predicted two dragons, one white, one red, fighting each other, symbolic of invading Anglo-Saxons warring with native Welsh.)

      Second, you know we’ll just have to differ on Creationism versus Evolution and all those science-based theories, but that doesn’t mean that we have to disagree on everything else! In terms of Diana Wynne Jones and music scores and so on I think we’re on the same page. 🙂

      I don’t think we have Dinosaur Train here in the UK but, no, it doesn’t sound like my kind of thing either!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. GAH!!!! You know, a friend almost got me on facebook changing her birthday to April 1st. Ah well. That’s what I get for not keeping up properly. 😉

        Wouldn’t the world be a boring place if we agreed on everything all the time? After a couple decades “in the bubble” (ie, only hanging around people of my faith) I find it awesome to get the f*** out of the bubble and enjoy conversations with those who’ve walked a different road than I. 🙂

        (Though I must warn you my coming Easter post is going to be very, very Eastery….with a bit of Star Trek for good measure. 🙂

        DON’T WATCH DINOSAUR TRAIN. It’s from Jim Hensen’s company, but it’s just computer animated fluff to keep a toddler’s attention. “What do little kids like?”

        “Well, they love trains, cars, dinosaurs–”
        “THAT’S IT! We’ll put dinosaurs on trains! Brilliant!”

        (and a few years later someone turns dinosaurs into trucks, creating Dinotrux for Dreamsworks. uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh)

        Liked by 1 person

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