W is for Wings

Pteranodon longiceps, at the NY Museum of Natural History

The flying dinosaur is a tricky concept. If you search “flying dinosaur,” you get a hundred sites that refer to pterosaurs as flying dinosaurs. But they’re not dinosaurs; they’re not on the dinosaur clade (family tree). They don’t have the right kind of hips or the hole in their head (see Letter “A”). Maybe 10% of those internet sites put “flying dinosaur” in quotes to show they at least know something, although most don’t bother (including MSN, Youtube, LiveScience and so on). Just to be clear, pterosaurs were flying reptiles, but not dinosaurs. Now that we have that out of the way, they were also cool. Just look at the bones, the arms, the wings!!!!

Meanwhile, scientists talk about non-avian and avian dinosaurs. What’s that about? Some reputable sites say the non-avians meant cold-blooded, the big giant sauropods. Others label all dinosaurs non-avian except for the one line, Avialea, that produced the modern birds. To recap, flying reptilian pterosaurs were not dinosaurs. Birds are avian dinosaurs. I would argue that makes all other dinosaurs non-avian. And one specific type of non-avian dinosaur was so close to birds that it may be considered a missing link between the two bird and dinosaur branches.

Whether dinosaurs or avian or not, their flight is also the subject of the day. How did they fly–compared with modern fliers? And what was so unusual about archaeopteryx, the fossil with a feather? I want to acknowledge right up front that I was inspired in this post by the paleontologist guru professor of the Rediscovering the Age of Dinosaurs Great Course, Kristi Curry Rogers. She specifically compared pterosaurs–those wonderful flying giant reptiles–to birds and bats, so I am going to borrow and share several of her ideas here.

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R is for Republics

Genoese ships in the Black Sea, photo from memorients.com.

Via della Seta. That, Google Translate tells me, is the Italian expression for “Silk Road.”

The city-states, for Italy was nowhere near being Italy back in 1100, were duking it out for supremacy. Although Rome was sucking wind, trying to recover and build St. Peter’s, and Florence was still finding itself, the big tunas in medieval Italy were the coastal cities. So the Via della Seta was not about carts rumbling down the road to markets but ships sailing across the big Mediterranean Sea to the little seas… the Red Sea, the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Aegean, Adriatic, Ligurian, Ionian–the Black Sea.

The sea dogs were traders and carriers of cargo and ships and horses. Knights in armor especially in 1099. The Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor were trumpeting up a holy war to push back the Saracens and Ottomans who were all over the place, suggesting there might be a competitor to the one true religion. The Republics answered the call by carrying men in heavy armor from France, England, and Germany in their ships down the coast. Some of them even joined the fight.

Medieval map of Pisa @1200s. Wikipedia.
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Z is for Zweihänder

Zweihänder swords, photo from blackfencer.com.

What shall we choose for the Renaissance “Z”? Zacco, the King of Cyprus (James II) who controlled the sugar industry until the Venetians took it? Bartelomeo Zorzi, a Venetian alum merchant, who negotiated with the pope over the mines discovered at Tolfa? (Alum was a key ingredient in textile dying.) Both of those are economic stories, about controlling resources, which was an underlying motivation for many of the skirmishes of the age.

But there were wars for control of territory, belief systems, and ruling classes. So how about ending a month of Renaissance history by looking forward to the next wave. The Reformation and the rise of the Hapsburg dynasty. We go to Germany.

The Landsknechte warriors, etched by Daniel Hofer 1530. Photo from wikipedia
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