Modern Fossils

maart 10th, 2010

Hester Oerlemans
Modern Fossils in asphalt, 2003

modern fossils

Recognisable objects like a wind rose, a mobile phone, a key, a pair of scissors, a safety pin, a ring and also words and poems were rolled into the still hot asphalt of the constructed footpath. They are ‘modern fossils’ that carry the past with them in a playful way. Hester Oerlemans collected these ‘fossils’ together with the residents and personnel of nursing home ’t Laar and had them placed over the entire stretch of the two hundred meter long footpath, connecting the new and the old part of nursing home ’t Laar.

modern fossils

Modern Fossils

juli 31st, 2009

Christopher Locke
Modern Fossil –
Asportatio Acroamatis, 2009
(commonly referred to as the Cassette Tape)


‘These Modern Fossils are made from actual archaic technology that was once cutting-edge. Most of these examples were discovered in the United States, although the various species are represented all over the world. It is sad, but most of these units lived very short lives. Most people attribute the shortened lifespan to aggressive predators or accelerated evolution, but this is not necessarily true. It has been shown recently that the true demise of most of these specimens came from runaway consumerism and wastefulness at the high end of the food chain.

This species was first seen in the mid 1960s, but is not widespread until the 1970s. Similar to Repondecium antiquipotacium, it is thought that the compact disc lead to the decline in the Asportatio acroamatis population in the late 1990s. Asportatio has often been found in close proximity to Ambulephebus sonysymphonia, suggesting a close relationship between the two species’.

Christopher Locke

Dominaludus Sexagentaquad, 2009
(commonly referred to as the Nintendo 64 Controller or “N64”)


Deferovoculae Cellarius
(commonly referred to as “Cellular Phone” or “Cellphone”. This particular example is a “Motorola Meteor”)


Homo Stupidus Stupidus; The Missing Meme

mei 27th, 2009

missing link

Ida – Researchers from the University of Oslo have suggested the specimen, which was found 95 per cent complete, may be the root of anthropoid evolution, when primates were first developing the features that would evolve into our own.

Discovered in Germany, Ida is so well preserved that even the outline of its fur can be seen. An incredible 95 percent complete fossil of a 47-million-year-old human ancestor has been discovered and, after two years of secret study, an international team of scientists has revealed it to the world. The fossil’s remarkable state of preservation allows an unprecedented glimpse into early human evolution. Discovered in Messel Pit, Germany, it represents the moment before anthropoid primates–the group that would later evolve into humans, apes and monkeys–began to split from lemurs and other prosimian primates. This groundbreaking discovery fills in a critical gap in human and primate evolution.

Maarten Vanden Eynde
Homo Stupidus Stupidus, 2009 A.D.

homo stupidus stupidus

homo stupidus stupidus

Richard Dawkins
The Ancestor’s Tale: A pergrimage to the dawn of Life
, 2005

Just as we trace our personal family trees from parents to grandparents and so on back in time, so in The Ancestor’s Tale Richard Dawkins traces the ancestry of life. As he is at pains to point out, this is very much our human tale, our ancestry. The Ancestor’s Tale takes us from our immediate human ancestors back through what he calls ‘concestors,’ those shared with the apes, monkeys and other mammals and other vertebrates and beyond to the dim and distant microbial beginnings of life some 4 billion years ago. It is a remarkable story which is still very much in the process of being uncovered. And, of course from a scientist of Dawkins stature and reputation we get an insider’s knowledge of the most up-to-date science and many of those involved in the research. And, as we have come to expect of Dawkins, it is told with a passionate commitment to scientific veracity and a nose for a good story. Dawkins’s knowledge of the vast and wonderful sweep of life’s diversity is admirable. Not only does it encompass the most interesting living representatives of so many groups of organisms but also the important and informative fossil ones, many of which have only been found in recent years.

Dawkins sees his journey with its reverse chronology as ‘cast in the form of an epic pilgrimage from the present to the past [and] all roads lead to the origin of life.’ It is, to my mind, a sensible and perfectly acceptable approach although some might complain about going against the grain of evolution. The great benefit for the general reader is that it begins with the more familiar present and the animals nearest and dearest to us?our immediate human ancestors. And then it delves back into the more remote and less familiar past with its droves of lesser known and extinct fossil forms. The whole pilgrimage is divided into 40 tales, each based around a group of organisms and discusses their role in the overall story.

– Douglas Palmer –



Richard Dawkins first introduced the word in The Selfish Gene (1976) to discuss evolutionary principles in explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. He gave as examples melodies, catch-phrases, and beliefs (notably religious belief), clothing/fashion, and the technology of building arches.

Meme-theorists contend that memes evolve by natural selection (in a manner similar to that of biological evolution) through the processes of variation, mutation, competition, and inheritance influencing an individual entity’s reproductive success. Memes spread through the behaviors that they generate in their hosts. Memes that propagate less prolifically may become extinct, while others may survive, spread, and (for better or for worse) mutate. Theorists point out that memes which replicate the most effectively spread best, and some memes may replicate effectively even when they prove detrimental to the welfare of their hosts.

A field of study called memetics arose in the 1990s to explore the concepts and transmission of memes in terms of an evolutionary model. Criticism from a variety of fronts has challenged the notion that scholarship can examine memes empirically. Some commentators question the idea that one can meaningfully categorize culture in terms of discrete units.

The Dogs From Pompei

februari 6th, 2009

Allan McCollum
The Dog From Pompei, 1991
Cast glass-fiber- reinforced Hydrocal

Allan McCollum pompei dog

Mount Vesuvius was blazing in several places…A black and dreadful cloud bursting out in gusts of igneous serpentine vapor now and again yawned open to reveal long, fantastic flames, resembling flashes of lightning, but much larger…Cinders fell…then pumice-stones too, with stones blackened, scorched, and cracked by fire …

The scene described by Pliny the Younger occurred on an August afternoon in 79 A.D. Of the more than 20,000 inhabitants in the city of Pompei, several hundred died that day in their homes and in the streets. The rest fled toward the sea.

The cavity of The Dog From Pompei was discovered November 20, 1874, in the house of Marcus Vesonius Primus, in the “Fauce,” the corridor at the entrance of the house. The house was located in Region VI, Insula 14, Nr. 20.
During the eruption, the unfortunate dog, wearing his bronze-studded collar, was left chained up at his assigned place to watch the house, and he suffocated beneath the ash and cinders.
Allan McCollum’s casts were taken directly from a mold made especially for the artist from the original second-generation cast presently on display at the Museo Vesuviano, in present-day Pompei.

Allan McCollum pompei dog

Lost Objects, 1991

Allan McCollum lost objects

The Natural Copies from the Coal Mines of Central Utah, 1993.

Allan McCollum natural copies

Allan McCollum’s series The Natural Copies from the Coal Mines of Central Utah is a companion to the two series’ he’d done before—the Lost Objects (casts of dinosaur bones) and The Dog From Pompei— all created from gypsum casts of fossils and done in cooperation with natural history museums around the world. The Natural Copies are recastings of “natural casts” of dinosaur tracks found in the roofs of coal mines in central Utah, which are produced through a process of natural fossilization as follows:
(a) by dinosaurs walking over spongy beds of decaying vegetation (peat); (b) by the footprints being filled with sand, (c) by the accumulation of thousands of feet of additional sediment, which compressed the peat to help form coal and solidified the sand to sandstone; (d) by removal of the coal in mining operations so as to leave the tracks protruding downward into the mine; and finally, (e) by the geologist brushing away the residue of coal to expose the sandstone filling the original track.

McCollum offers his Natural Copies as an allegorical presentation of the narrative attached to other kinds of collectibles and fine art objects: in their various modes of production, exhibition, distribution, and collection; their use and exchange value; their function as markers of natural history or embodiments of cultural memory; their ambiguous status as found objects, cultural artifacts, scientific specimens or fine art objects; and their relation to local lore and folk stories of the region.

By reproducing the natural casts as artworks, McCollum intersects another narrative into the story. Originally discovered in the roofs of underground mines, the footprints’ inverted position offers the eerie experience of a dinosaur walking on the ground above one’s head, already suggesting the realm of the fantastic: monsters and exotic creatures from a primeval and forgotten past, treasures produced over the millennia and unearthed from the subterranean depths through the competative and determined search for “the rock that burns.” McCollum’s evocation of this narrative in the fine art context immediately transforms it into a metaphor for romantic views of the archaic and unconscious sources of human creativity, and at the same time suggests a symbolic shadow narrative that might underlie all social relations in communal labor.

Integral to his exhibitions is the accompanying display of multicolored photocopies of didactic literature the artist calls the Reprints. This other display of “copies” reiterates the metaphorical references to community organization, production, and dissemination in the real time of the exhibition space itself; it not only suggests an alternative to the convention of the expensive fine art catalogue, it simultaneously presents an exuberant, allegorical drama of repetition and production which imagines an uncanny continuity between the geological (natural) copying of tracks and traces from a prehistoric past and the mechanical and electronic endless copying of today.

juni 9th, 2008

Jin Jiangbo
Tyrannosaurus Rex of China
, 2005-07
Interactive Media Installation
500cm x 230cm x100cm


When entering the room the Tyrannosaurus Rex starts moving and making sounds. Unlike the realistic Jurassic Park variety, Jin’s dino appears to have been assembled in the junkyard, using scrap metal and industrial bits and bobs. As a result, this T-Rex is less fearsome and more sympathetic than one might expect. Which, of course, is a reflection of the artist himself. Jin came of age as China was opening up to the world and that newfound curiosity, that need to communicate with the world, is the essence of his work.


Paleontologic Time Travel

maart 3rd, 2008

La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles

La Brea Tar pits

La Brea Tar pits2

Rancho La Brea is one of the world’s most famous fossil localities, recognized for having the largest and most diverse assemblage of extinct Ice Age plants and animals in the world. Radiometric dating of preserved wood and bones has given an age of 38,000 years for the oldest known material from the La Brea seeps, and they are still ensnaring organisms today.

The Page Museum is located next to the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits in the heart of Los Angeles. Through windows at the Page Museum Laboratory, visitors can watch bones being cleaned and repaired. Outside the Museum, in Hancock Park, life-size replicas of several extinct mammals are featured.


Sculs of the saber-toothed cat, Page Museum Los Angeles, 2008

La Brea Tar pits lab

La Brea Tar Pits lab, Page Museum Los Angeles, 2008

The collections document the Rancho La Brea biota and include some 3.5 million specimens representing over 600 species of animals and plants. The site-specific collections also include geological samples, archaeological artifacts and historical objects. The Tar Pits function as black wormholes where the past gets mingled with the future. Every day object from the past come up and new once from the present disappear inside the pits to be discovered by the next generation archaeologists. Every sample will be washed and cleaned and puzzled back together again in order to understand the future past.



future tar pits



future tar pits2

Prehistoric Pets

juni 26th, 2007


The tadpole shrimp (scientific name = Triops longicaudatus, which are in the order Notostraca in the class Branchiopoda) inhabits freshwater, ephemeral ponds ranging from the southern regions of western Canada, through the United States and into Central and South America. Triops translates in Latin to three eyes and longicaudatus refers to the elongated abdomen and associated structures. Two genera (Triops [formerly Apus] and Lepidurus) constitute nine to twelve species within the Notostraca taxa. Triops is distinguished from Lepidurus by the absence of an anal plate. Fossil records indicate that these crustaceans evolved over 350 million years ago during the Devonian period and have remained relatively unchanged in external morphology. The persistence of these taxa during several geological extinctions may be related to the ability to remain in embryonic stasis for several decades.

triops 2

Populations of Triops are comprised of males and hermaphrodites, with wide variation in the numbers of both sexual types. Most populations have many more hermaphrodites than males, and in some ponds, no males are found at all. The hermaphrodites can fertilize their own eggs, or can mate with a male. The fertilized eggs are called “cysts” or “resting eggs,” and can be dried for several years to decades before being hatching when rehydrated. In this cyst form, Triops can withstand extremes of heat and cold. (This is why they can be sold in plastic bags in novelty stores!) The eggs are carried by the hermaphrodites in small “brood pouches” located on two of their swimming appendages (about half-way down the length of the body, on the left and right sides). The eggs are either white or pinkish in color, and are carried in these pouches for between 12 and 24 hours before being laid in the ponds. The Triops have two large mandibles that they use for grinding up both live and dead food items. They eat plants, other animals, and sometimes even each other.

triops drawing

Mammoth Clone: Science, or Simply Fiction?

april 28th, 2007


Bill Gasperini

The idea of cloning a mammoth is just a fantasy,” says biologist Ross MacPhee, an expert on the giant fauna of the last ice age and chairman of the American Museum of Natural History’s mammalogy department. Alex Greenwood, a molecular biologist who studies ice age extinctions (and a colleague of MacPhee’s in New York), agrees: “I am really stunned,” he says, “that there are scientists still pushing this idea.” MacPhee, who has worked extensively with the Jarkov mammoth in Siberia, and Greenwood say that making an exact copy of a species that died off 10,000 years ago is possible only in science fiction movies.

The main reason is simple: To have any chance at a successful cloning, scientists must start with pristine, complete DNA. But even in cold environments, cells quickly break down after an organism dies; entropy occurs, and bacteria and certain enzymes latch onto or destroy cellular material. All the DNA found from long-extinct animals (even those remains found in the Siberian permafrost) has been incomplete and fragmented.

“If freezing is done under special conditions, such as in a modern laboratory, cells with their genetic material can be preserved indefinitely,” explains Russian scientist Alexei Tikhonov. “But conditions out in the permafrost are far from perfect.” Tikhonov has worked with the best-preserved mammoth ever found, a baby mammoth carcass pulled from a construction site in 1977. Nicknamed “Dima,” the small calf still had its skin and looked like it could have died just days earlier. But it probably fell into a mud pit and died quickly 44,000 years ago. Dima now rests in Tikhonov’s institute in St. Petersburg. Studies have shown that proteins in Dima’s cells were seriously modified after death, and that other substances common in living tissues (such as phosphorous) disappeared entirely.

Cloning is only possible when the nucleus taken from a living cell (such as with Dolly the sheep) is placed into an egg from which the original nucleus has been removed. This substitute nucleus, with its DNA, proteins and other crucial material completely intact, was what controlled the development of Dolly. Injecting fragments of DNA into a cell without a nuclear transfer would not result in a clone. Greenwood explains it this way: “If I throw all the parts needed to make a car down the stairs of a building, I will not have a Porsche 911 in the stairwell when they land.”

Ryuzo Yanagimachi, a scientist in Hawaii who has successfully cloned mice and other small mammals, says he would like to clone a mammoth. But he agrees that this could happen only if intact DNA is ever recovered from a long-dead mammoth. In recent years, a Japanese team has mounted several expeditions into Russia’s far north with the expressed aim of trying to bring a mammoth back to life. The team’s main intent is to recover frozen sperm from a mammoth and then use it to impregnate a female elephant, the mammoth’s closest living relative. But Greenwood and MacPhee say this is equally problematic, even on the off-chance that intact sperm DNA from a mammoth could ever be found. “Mammoths and elephants have been separated by about 4 (million) to 6 million years of evolution,” says Greenwood. “This would be like crossbreeding a human and a chimp and expecting to have a successful generation of a hybrid.”

Is it possible that in the march of time and scientific advance, technologies may be developed that will allow extinct creatures to be cloned? Or, someday, may a perfectly intact chain of mammoth DNA be found? According to MacPhee, such questions remain too tough to answer. “There isn’t even a direction we can point to,” he says, “which would indicate whether cloning extinct animals will ever be possible.”

© 2005 Discovery Communications Inc.


Baby Mammoth discovered in Siberia in 2007

Eric Adler
Cloning a Better Tomorrow


Human vs Chimp

april 25th, 2007

Jeff Koons
Michael Jackson and _________, 1988


Koons: “I’m interested in the morality of what it means to be an artist. As an artist I’m most concerned with what art means to me, how it defines my life, etc. And then after that, my next concern is my actions, the responsibility of my own actions in art in regard to other artists, and then to a wider range of the art audience, such as critics, museum people, collectors, etc. Art to me is a humanitarian act and I believe that there is a responsibility that art should somehow be able to effect mankind, to make the world a better place.”
The sculpture of Michael Jackson and his pet monkey Bubbles has fetched $5.6m (£3.8m) at a contemporary art auction at Sotheby’s in New York.

Gareth Cook
Humans, chimps may have bred after split, 2006

Boston scientists released a provocative report that challenges the timeline of human evolution and suggests that human ancestors bred with chimpanzee ancestors long after they had initially separated into two species.

The researchers, working at the Cambridge-based Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, used a wealth of newly available genetic data to estimate the time when the first human ancestors split from the chimpanzees. The team arrived at an answer that is at least 1 million years later than paleontologists had believed, based on fossils of early, humanlike creatures.

The lead scientist said that this jarring conflict with the fossil record, combined with a number of other strange genetic patterns the team uncovered, led him to a startling explanation: that human ancestors evolved apart from the chimpanzees for hundreds of thousands of years, and then started breeding with them again before a final break.
Read the rest of this entry »


maart 8th, 2006

Mark Dion
Ichthyosaurus, 2003


(pronounced IK-thee-oh-SAWR-us) Ichthyosaurus was an ichthyosaur, a marine reptile; it was not a dinosaur. This sleek animal could perhaps swim at speeds up to 25 mph (40 kph). Ichthyosaurus lived from the early Jurassic period until the early Cretaceous period, roughly 206 to 140 million years ago.
Anatomy: Ichthyosaurus was about 6.5 feet (2 m) long and ay have weighed about 200 pounds (90 kg). It had a tall dorsal fin, a half-moon-shaped tail, paddle-like flippers, and smooth skin. The nostrils were near the eyes on the top of the head. It had massive ear bones and large eyes, probably indicating that it had acute hearing and keen eyesight. These marine reptiles gave birth to live young.

Diet: Ichthyosaurus’ diet was mostly fish, but may have also included cephalopods (like straight-shelled belemnites).

Fossils: Hundreds of Ichthyosaurus fossils have been found in England, Germany, Greenland, and Alberta, Canada. Even fossilized dung (called coprolites) and fossilized skin impressions have been found. Ichthyosaurus, which means “fish lizard,” was named by Charles Koenig in 1818.