The Elvis Effect

When I moved down to Alabama in the summer of 2000, I commenced with my study of all things Southern. One of the rites of initiation that I underwent was a road trip along the Elvis Presley pilgrimage route from Tupelo, Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee. Tupelo, Mississippi has a small Elvis Presley museum where you can also tour the tiny house, built by Elvis’ father Vernon, where Elvis was born. The exhibits at the Tupelo museum are more personal, featuring hand written letters from Elvis, and some of his performance costumes. Graceland, his final residence in Memphis, Tennessee seems to focus on the gold and platinum albums and a lot of kitsch.

Even though Elvis has been dead for 36 years, although some still claim he is alive, his fan base remains strong and diverse. Not only can his influence be felt in the field of music and popular culture, but in the hallowed halls of academia as well. One of my university class sessions on Roman Archaeology featured busts of Nero. Nero’s imperial stylization through time was compared to that of the young and older Elvis. The resemblance was rather uncanny! The field of Paleontology, the scientific study of prehistoric life, is also not immune to the Elvis effect.

If someone mentions the continent of Antarctica, dinosaurs are the least likely thing to come to mind. During the Jurassic Period, around 188 million years ago, experts believed Antarctica was located 100 miles north of its current position. (Please see Christopher Scotese’s website for a better map on location: http://www.scotese.com/jurassic.htm).The climate was temperate and the land yielded lush vegetation and supported many different creatures including Tritylodonts (described as Mesozoic rodents), Pterosaurs (translated to winged lizards or flying dinosaurs), and Prosauropods (large herbivore dinosaurs).

Cryolophosaurus from the Dino Discovery Exhibit at the Birmingham Zoo

Cryolophosaurus from the Dino Discovery Exhibit at the Birmingham Zoo

The Famous Elvisaurus

In 1990, the David Elliot and William Hammer came across the first Cryolophosaurus remains in the Beardmore Glacier region of Antarctica’s Transantarctic Mountains. The Cryolophosaurus was classified as a Theropod, meaning three toed. This creature is described as being 5 feet tall and 20 feet long. Its short arms and 3 stubby digits for hands were not highly effective for fighting. It utilized bipedal locomotion and had a long stiff tail. The Steve Austin (recall Lee Majors as the Bionic Man) of Theropods, the Cryolophosaurus was lighter and faster than its cousin the Terranosaurus Rex and weighed in at whopping one ton. Its distinguishing feature is the cranial crest that is located between the eye sockets which resembled the young Elvis’s pompadour hairstyle. Thus the name Elvisaurus became legend. The bone crest is speculated to have played a part in species identification, and to have played a role in attracting mates. I wonder if the females swooned like Elvis’s adoring fans… This carnivore had a massive set of teeth and cranial muscle attachments to make it a formidable chomping force. It is believed to have dined on the Prosauropods (http://www.jurassictimes.com/cryolophosaurus).

If you would like to see this fellow in action, PBS’s kids show Dinosaur Train featured our friend the Elvisaurus (http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/15dbf535-eb83-4a6a-a9dc-8ffcf63ed9b6/15dbf535-eb83-4a6a-a9dc-8ffcf63ed9b6/ ). However at the end of the episode, the resident Paleontologist, Dr. Scott Sampson, does tell the kids that this dinosaur did not sing and dance.

I encourage you to try this exercise with your own budding Dino Dan. There are so many dinosaurs to explore!

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