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All Yesterdays contest entry by Viergacht All Yesterdays contest entry by Viergacht
PLOUGHSHARES FROM SWORDS:
The Therizinosaurs of Conrad Ormstead

Discovered in 1948 in the Late Cretaceous deposit of Mongolia, the dinosaur Therizinosaurus cheloniformus has long baffled paleontologists with its bizarre mix of anatomical features that seemed to link it theropods, prosauropods and ornithischians. Clearly related to predatory dinosaurs like Deinonychus, its wide hips, stumpy-legged body and small, slender head with peg shaped teeth marked it as a herbivore. Although skeletal elements besides its gigantic claws were not widely known until the late seventies, in fact a more complete skeleton had been unearthed decades earlier by the enigmatic paleontologist Conrad Ormstead.

In a vigorous correspondence with other leading paleontologists of the day, Ormstead referred to his find as “Georgosaurus” (from the ancient Greek geōrgos, “earth-worker” or farmer), inspired by his unique vision of the animal's life habits.

The most distinctive feature of therizinosaurs are their clawed forelimbs. The three digits of the hand bear gigantic claws, the longest measuring 1 meter (3.28 ft) in length. But far from implements of death, these claws were narrow and flattened from side to side, relatively straight and tapering gradually to a dull point, quite unlike the sharply hooked claws of a cat or bird of prey.

Noting that the therizinosaur's claws were not suitable for grappling prey, Ormstead went a step further, proposing that they were not used simply to gather vegetation but to farm it. The claws were quite literally plough blades that the dinosaur used to prepare soil for the planting of seeds.

Specifically the animal's claws functioned as an ard, or scratch-plough, a rudimentary tool used for shallow tillage in light soil such as loam or sand. Ormstead speculated that the agricultural habits of “Georgosaurus” developed from cache behavior, familiar in many modern animals such as the common squirrel and the Western Scrub Jay, in which food items are hidden from rivals or stored in times of plenty. Seeds in neglected or forgotten caches would naturally begin to sprout. If the dinosaurs remained in a fairly small territory (as suggested by food caching, which would not be required if they could roam widely to seek food) then the behavior would be naturally selected for, as the dinosaurs who left their caches alone long enough to germinate would reap the benefits in the long run.

Other instincts could have been co-opted into the agricultural behavior, Ormstead argued. For example, the ancestral “Georgosaurus” might have buried their feces to disguise their presence from carnivores, especially if they kept to small territories. With a few behavioral modifications, this could have evolved into the dinosaurs deliberately defecating in areas which later be farmed, acting as fertilizer. It's even possible that young “Georgosaurs”, like juvenile iguanas, were more insectivorous than their parents and when too small to plough, performed another useful function by eating pests off the growing plants. In his wildest flight of fancy, Ormstead noted how birds who feed their young are triggered to perform the behavior by the sight of the hatchling's gaping, brightly colored maw. Might the first flowers have evolved a shape and color to mimic a hatchling and thereby prompted the farming dinosaur to tend to them with water carried in a throat pouch?

Ormstead's hypothesis was merely an entertaining just-so story without actual proof of “Geogorsaurus” farms. The paleontologist insisted that he had indeed found evidence – fossilized stretches of ground covered in distinctive 4-toed paw prints and crisscrossed by rows of furrows that perfectly matched the dinosaur's claws – but that he had been forced to leave his dig site by hostile natives. He was determined, however, to return, and was postponing the publication of his discoveries until such time.

Ormstead was not a talented draftsman, illustrating his letters to fellow paleontologists (the only records of his ideas) with crude stick figures, but he did commission at least one illustration from an unidentified artist, shown here. It is a smallish gouche painting, probably a study for a larger oil painting that we must assume was never completed. Slightly yellowed by time, it is marred by a label of masking tape and badly damaged by a large tear.

With little to go on besides scrappy fossils and imagination, Ormstead's reconstructed therizinosaurs are crocodile skinned, limp-tailed, heavy limbed creatures following the general illustrative style of the day, but the general correctness of the proportions do suggest the artist was working from nearly complete fossil remains. In the foreground, a “Georgosaurus” is shown bent over and walking backwards, dragging its plough blade claws through the topsoil. A second animal is shown with forelimbs full of some kind of root or tuber, its harvest. A few unidentified pterodactyls and what is presumably a Tarbosaurus decorate the background.

Unfortunately for science, before his article on the “agricultural dinosaur” could go to print, Ormstead fell ill with malaria following an expedition to South Africa's Great Karroo in search of protomammal fossils. Upon admission to hospital suffering a raging fever, it was discovered that Ormstead was not who he appeared to be – in fact, “he” was a woman, Beverly Ryan-Ormstead. Facing prejudice early in her career, Ryan-Ormstead had embarked on this ruse and largely succeeded. The scientific community of the time period predictably reacted with scorn, ridicule and rejection, and Ryan-Ormstead was forcibly admitted to a sanitarium. Although she was released a few months later, her career was more or less destroyed, and Beverly Ryan-Ormstead faded quietly from public view, never to be heard from again. Her revolutionary article on therizinosaurs was never published. Her fossils were apparently seized by the Mongolian government, and their whereabouts are unknown to this day.

All that remains are the intriguing notes in her letters to other paleontologists and this painting, currently residing in the author's private collection.



_____________________________________

It should be pretty obvious, but because this sort of thing has bitten me before: this is a work of fiction. Therizinosaurus is a real dinosaur, everything else was invented for the "All Your Yesterdays" contest, the goal of which was to creatively interpret & restore extinct animals.
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:iconbrandon-bowling:
brandon-bowling Featured By Owner Apr 21, 2014
What a fantastic piece of retro art, and a story to go with it! You'll spoil us if you keep this up.
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Apr 25, 2014  Professional General Artist
Aw, thanks! I love retro dinos.
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:iconlaughbutts:
LaughButts Featured By Owner Mar 10, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
THE DETAIL!!! How long did this take?! 
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Mar 11, 2014  Professional General Artist
A couple of days, if I recall right. 
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:iconfirehazard123:
FIREHAZARD123 Featured By Owner Mar 9, 2014
Oh my god this is simply brilliant :D
Reply
:iconjflaxman:
jflaxman Featured By Owner Feb 24, 2014
I've got no idea how this slipped under my radar for so long! The picture looks suitably archival, but I was most impressed with the story. For a while you had me wondering "how have I never heard this one before?"

The final twist was effective as well, and will have a lot of resonance with anyone who's been ostracised for differences that should not count. I wish more contemporary art was this good.
Reply
:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Feb 27, 2014  Professional General Artist
Thanks! I wanted to do something a little different from what I figured the other folks would be doing for the contest. I was inspired by a couple different things, mainly James Tiptree Jr and a real-life paleontologist whose theories got buried for a while because he was gay. 
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:iconsaberrex:
Saberrex Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Wow. i actually thought this was real based on the description. amazing work with the illustration and the description.
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2013  Professional General Artist
Thanks! No idea whatever happened to the contest, though . . . 
Reply
:iconsaberrex:
Saberrex Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
yeah. i really wonder about that.
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2013  Professional General Artist
Shame - there were a ton of amazing entries. I was interested to see how it all shook down, but the guys running it seem to have forgotten it entirely. It's been like 7 months now since they last said anything.
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:iconpristichampsus:
Pristichampsus Featured By Owner Nov 17, 2013  Professional General Artist
They have produced a free e-book containing all the best entries, and yours is in there :)

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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Nov 18, 2013  Professional General Artist
I saw that. I was a bit surprised since they really should have sent the artists whose work they used a contract, especially since they're asking for monetary donations. 
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:iconpristichampsus:
Pristichampsus Featured By Owner Nov 18, 2013  Professional General Artist
I didn't give a donation anyhow, since none of my work was in it. I would suspect that they had to get permission, if they ever wanted to sell copies, maybe they were using a loophole?
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Nov 18, 2013  Professional General Artist
Probably. But even for donated art, there should have been a contract in place, even if they only had good intentions - they've published books, they really should know this. As it is, I'm concerned they're taking advantage of the artists who participated in the contest. Everyone else seems to think the book is a "lovely surprise" though, so I haven't made a fuss about it. Maybe it's just me. 
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(1 Reply)
:iconsaberrex:
Saberrex Featured By Owner Sep 18, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
wow. i guess they forgot?
Reply
:iconlacrymosadiesilla:
LacrymosaDiesIlla Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Okay. I'm just going to ignore the part where this is fiction, because that was the coolest bit of 'history' that I have ever read. I may even go to school tomorrow and talk about it as if it's fact; my friends won't know the difference. xD
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2013  Professional General Artist
Aw, thanks! I was having a hard time coming up with an idea for the contest until I thought up the story.
Reply
:iconthearchosaurqueen:
TheArchosaurQueen Featured By Owner Mar 7, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
That story griped me really hard, and I nearly believed it too ^^;. Very nice artwork, background and ideas.
Reply
:iconnicart9:
nicart9 Featured By Owner Mar 1, 2013  Student General Artist
You know... there something nostalgic about this for me. It reminds me of the kind of retro images of dinosaurs I used to revel at when I was a small child. Especially the ones that were in a dinosaur mini-magazine my great grandmother would get me regulary at one point. Good times... I would like at somepoint to get like a very large painting like this and put it up in my living room.
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Mar 1, 2013  Professional General Artist
Same here - I know they're inaccurate, but they're what I grew up with and I have a great deal of affection for the overgrown lizard style of dino. Plus some of the older paintings are just gorgeous works of art.
Reply
:iconthomastapir:
thomastapir Featured By Owner Mar 1, 2013
BRILLIANT! :omg:

And now we know what those dromeaosaurian sickle-claws were REALLY used for--crop raids!
Reply
:iconriver-hrossa:
river-Hrossa Featured By Owner Feb 28, 2013  Professional General Artist
brilliant! :D
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:iconyahtzeewolf:
YahtzeeWolf Featured By Owner Feb 28, 2013
Wow. I'm amazed. Fantastic work on the illustration and the old masking tape label.
Reply
:iconbabbletrish:
babbletrish Featured By Owner Feb 28, 2013  Professional Traditional Artist
Oh, weird...

Gorgeous retro-paleoart!
Reply
:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Mar 1, 2013  Professional General Artist
Thanks - I'm an old fart and I have a big soft spot for those chunky, bumbling, tail-dragging dinosaurs in my childhood picture books. XD
Reply
:iconkazuma27:
Kazuma27 Featured By Owner Feb 28, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Man, you really have a great imagination!
And your idea of farming therizinos is very, very intriguing... Would you mind if i borrow your idea for the novel i'm writing, maybe using another dinosaur (it's a fantasy, post-apocaliptic story set 3 years after the KT impact, starring a young T.rex and his friend, an heron)?
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Mar 1, 2013  Professional General Artist
Sure!
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:iconkazuma27:
Kazuma27 Featured By Owner Mar 1, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you very much! :)
Reply
:iconindigomagpie:
indigomagpie Featured By Owner Feb 28, 2013
OK, wow. How did you get the picture?
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:iconysvyri:
Ysvyri Featured By Owner Feb 28, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
This is pretty awesome. It's digital art? Looks totally like traditional.
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:iconviergacht:
Viergacht Featured By Owner Mar 1, 2013  Professional General Artist
Yeah, it's all done in Photoshop Elements :)
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:iconysvyri:
Ysvyri Featured By Owner Mar 1, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
Well, it looks really excellent!
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