Thursday, 26 July 2012

More on Tyrants: Alioramus - Part 1

When the Alioramus monograph was published back in February this year, it arrived to what appeared to me to be universal praise and acclaim. For 24 hours it received an extremely positive press and you would have thought that there would have been a plethora of discussions and comments at all the usual blogs and websites. But, for whatever reason, this never actually materialised and the monograph very quickly disappeared from the palaeoworld front page. In fact the original press release for Alioramus altai in October 2009 provoked more response and a much greater coverage.
Indeed, I have not seen a single review of this work anywhere and I’m pretty sure I would have found one by now (but if you have reviewed this paper, please feel free to send me the detail or link – I would love to read it). And yet this monograph deserves a much greater press and appreciation than it has received and I am glad to discuss it further here.
To really understand a dinosaur, or any other extinct animal for that matter, and provided that the fossil remains are extensive and well preserved, then you need to read a monograph. This is the only way to get “under the skin” of an extinct taxon and get a real feel for the very essence of the beast. Unexpectedly perhaps, modern monographs of tyrannosaurids are conspicuous by their absence. Indeed, only Brochu’s superb treatment of Tyrannosaurus rex back in 2003 has broken a very long run of absence.
I first became aware of Alioramus altai during SVP at Bristol - I remember it very well. It was the Saturday morning session and we were treated to a string of superb theropod presentations which featured (amongst many) Dal Sasso’s and Maganuco’s magnificent work on Scipionyx and Roger Benson’s very cool work on tetanuran theropods. However, Alioramus altai was soon introduced by Norell et al and I remembered being surprised at the completeness of the specimen which was soon reinforced by the following presentation by the same team describing the braincase of the animal. Just two presentations later, Phil Currie presented his and Myashita’s new phylogeny of Tyrannosauroidea which was only new in as much that it more or less consolidated previous phylogenetic work.
Phil Currie’s passionate discourse when discussing the more traditional phylogenetic aspects of deep skulled tyrannosaurids was excellent and I must admit to getting carried away with the occasion and rather arrogantly dismissed Alioramus as a tyrannosaurid of very little consequence. But, as I have mentioned in the past, I now know how wrong of me that was and regret what was said – and even now I still feel the need to apologise to those concerned.
However, things quickly moved on and Alioramus altai was officially introduced to world in October the same year. Steve Brusatte, lead author from the American Museum of Natural History, described Alioramus  as when “Compared to Tyrannosaurus, this new animal is like a ballerina” because of its skeletal pneumatisation and its obvious gracility. The ballerina quote stuck and featured in nearly news article about the animal and there was a flood of interest throughout the palaeoworld and in the public eye generally.
Just over two years later and the monograph of Alioramus altai was published and it is truly an exceptional document.  As I sat down with it to start reading it I was struck by how much of it there was. At 197 pages in length  it was obvious to me straight away that there had been an extraordinary amount of time and effort in producing this awesome publication and I was determined to give it a lot of time and attention  – I felt I owed  Alioramus and the authors at least that much. Part 2 soon.

Benson, R.B.J. 2009 Middle Jurassic theropods and the early evolution of Tetanurans (Dinosauria, Theropoda).  Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, SVP Program and Abstracts Book, 2009, Pg.62A
Bever, G.S., Brusatte, S.L., Carr, T.D. and Norell, M.A. 2009. The braincase of a new tyrannosaurid from the Late Cretaceous of Mongolia.  Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, SVP Program and Abstracts Book, 2009, Pg.63A.
Christopher A. Brochu (2003): Osteology of Tyrannosaurus Rex: Insights from a nearly complete Skeleton and High-Resolution Computed Tomographic Analysis of the Skull, Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, 22:sup4, 1-138.
Stephen L. Brusatte, Thomas D. Carr, Gregory M. Erickson, Gabe S. Bever, Mark A. Norell (2009) "A long-snouted, multihorned tyrannosaurid from the Late Cretaceous of Mongolia". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 106(41): 17261–17266.
Brusatte, S.L.; Carr, T.D.; Norell, M.A. 2012: The osteology of Alioramus, a gracile and long-snouted tyrannosaurid (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Late Cretaceous of Mongolia. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, (366) doi: 10.1206/770.1
Dal Sasso, C. and Maganuco, S. 2009. Osteology, ontogenetic assignment, phylogeny, paleobiology, and soft-tissue anatomy of Scipionyx samniticus.  Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, SVP Program and Abstracts Book, 2009, 84A
Miyashita, T. and Currie, P.J. 2009. A new phylogeny of the Tyrannosauroidea (Dinosauria, Theropoda).  Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, SVP Program and Abstracts Book, 2009, Pg.149A.
Norell, M.A., Brusatte, S.L., Carr, T.D., Bever, G.S., and Erickson, G. 2009. A remarkable long-snouted, multihorned tyrannosaurid from the Late Cretaceous of Mongolia.  Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, SVP Program and Abstracts Book, 2009, Pg.155A.


SciaticPain said...

Alioramus was always one of my fave tryrannosaurids. Curious as to what was going on with its forelimbs- were they reduced or more funtional like less derived tyrannosaurs? Oh well, I guess I just have to wait 'til pl 2! Kudos on giving this overlooked gem a thorough look.


Mark Wildman said...

Hi Duane and thanks for the comment. I'm not spoiling anything by saying that there are no forelimb elements preserved in A. altai or, indeed, in the holotype of A. remotus and I share the intrigue.

However, as a derived tyrannosaurine, it is almost certain that Alioramus displayed the same reduced forelimbs as other tyrannosaurids. But, of course, until further remains are found, nothing can be deemed certain.

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