What do dinosaurs and Greek statues have in common?

It turns out that birds are avian dinosaurs.  They belong to the group of dinosaurs called theropods.  They’re not ‘evolved from dinosaurs’, they are dinosaurs, because biologically, they aren’t different enough to be something else.

Many other dinosaurs also had feathers.  The first feathers were not for flight, they were for warmth, intimidation, and communication.

It also turns out that ancient and classical Greek statues weren’t white.  Their clothes were painted with bright patterns and their hair, skin, and even eyes were painted in bold, natural colours.  Greek buildings weren’t white either.  The reliefs were painted, the columns were painted in contrasting colours, even the ceilings were painted – with patterns.

The reason you don’t see this in the museums is because until relatively recently, the paint remains used to be scrubbed off the statues.   If you visit the New Acropolis Museum in Athens, you can see a variety of newer finds that haven’t been scrubbed.

What these two facts have in common is that they both challenge an idea we held as a culture, about the world.  And it can be challenging to accept the new idea, simply because the old idea has become important to us.  We’re used to looking for the missing link between dinosaurs and birds, wearing white togas, and thinking a lot of U.S. government buildings look a lot like ancient Greek architecture.

I love these kinds of facts for exactly this reason: they stretch the mind.  Thinking about things in a new way keeps the mind flexible and ready to learn and discover more.

Every time I see a bird now I look at it and think, ‘that’s an avian dinosaur, a theropod’ and try to wrap my head around it.  I find this quite fun and generally try to engage the person I’m with in the exercise.  I hope my friends don’t find this annoying.

My office has in the lobby a replica of a ruined Greek statue, head and arms missing, paint faded.  There is a place for such things.  But why don’t we ever see replicas of what those statues would have looked like new, paint and all?  I’d like to see some of those.  My guess is they were coloured with the same expert artisanship with which they were carved.

I’d like to invite you to share with me more ideas that stretch the mind, in the comments section here.


5 thoughts on “What do dinosaurs and Greek statues have in common?

  1. ilovemeflora says:

    Music is very similar. Equal temperament (where the frequencies of the 12 notes are separately equally from it’s neighboring tone) didn’t exist until the Baroque period. If played or sung correctly, everything written before then should sound “out of tune”.

    They didn’t have the same notes that we do. Bach’s “A” is closer to our “G”. The standard tuning of A 440 didn’t exist.

    Also, music was a social activity. During the renaissance, all educated men and women had to learn an instrument. Getting together and playing music in groups was a form of socializing and those that couldn’t play or sing were socially hindered. I think they would be horrified at the social isolation that music brings now when people plug themselves into a gadget and listen by themselves.

  2. Maureen says:

    Love this post. I had no idea about the statues, but did about the birds. I remember one morning, ducks showed up on the lawn of the suburban house in Cupertino where I grew up. They were totally out of place–a male mallard and two females–but they had the presence of mind to look at us like ‘what are you staring at’ and ‘I am a dinosaur, beotch!’

  3. Fiona says:

    Some birds seem like dinosaurs to me. A pelican is definitely a dinosaur. And anyone who has ever seen a picture of a cassowary has to know it is a dinosaur. I’m not sure a chickadee can be a dinosaur in my head, even if it is scientifically. Perhaps that is similar to the reason tomatoes will never be fruits in my head, even if I know they are. It may be unscientific, but it’s my brain and I’m keeping it.

    It is hard for me to tell what will stretch someone else’s mind..I think it’s not so mind-stretchy if it’s something you’ve known for a while. Here are some things that blew my mind when I learned them:

    In mathematics, there are different degrees of infinity. For example, there are an infinite number of integers and an infinite number of reals, but number of reals is a bigger infinity.

    The man who first wrote down the golden rule “Do unto others…” etc., was Rabbi Hillel, a Pharisee in the Second Temple period. Another amazing and radical idea of his was that the message of the Torah was to love your neighbour, and the rest were details. It amazes me that someone could have come up with so much of the foundation of what we believe today is “goodness” and yet know one even knows his name.

    We live in a very special time in the history of the universe. If we had evolved earlier, everything would have been much closer together, and we would not have been able to measure expansion (and therefore know about dark energy) because it would have been so overwhelmed by gravity. If we had evolved later, the rate of expansion for everything outside our local cluster will be so great that it would take light longer than age of the universe to get back to us from anything outside our local cluster. Therefore, it’s only a species that has evolved in this moment, when things are in such balance, that could know that (a) the universe is expanding, and (b) there is a lot of stuff out there beyond our local cluster. I think that means we have a great responsibility to learn more about the universe, because it’s only species that exist in this fraction of a cosmic window that can.

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