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History Science

A Hummingbird-Sized Skull Found Preserved in 99-Million-Year-Old Amber

March 12, 2020

Grace Ebert

Protected in a small piece of amber dating back 99 million years, an ancient skull is changing the timeline researchers have for when reptiles transitioned into the descendants of current-day birds. Found in Myanmar, the oculudentavis khaungraae had at least 23 sharp teeth on its upper jaw, which suggests that the creature ate insects, according to an article published in Nature this week. Its eye was canonical with small pupils and resembles those of a modern lizard, while the edge of the socket indicates that it was well-equipped to see in bright light. About the size of a hummingbird’s, the skull totals .6 inches, although this avian species is thought to be 70 million years older. After archaeopteryx, it’s the most ancient bird ever discovered. To prevent damage to the bone, researchers used X-rays to construct a 3D model that’s shown below. (via The History Blog)

Update: This article has been corrected to acknowledge an update from Nature that says the skull is no longer believed to be a dinosaur.

 

 

 



Art

A Hanging Mobile of Bronze Hand Sculptures Casts Playful Silhouettes of Animals

February 26, 2020

Grace Ebert

“Os Pássaros e o Lobo” (2017), bronze, steel cables, metal bars, and light projector, 200 x 200. Image © Casa Triângulo

A bronze piece by Brazilian artist Albano Afonso uses multiple sets of dangling hands that mimic shadow puppetry. Titled “Os Pássaros e o Lobo,” or “The Birds and the Wolf,” the sculpture is illuminated by a light projector, casting dark silhouettes on the wall behind it that resembles a mobile of active animals. In a statement, Afonso is described as being “interested in the anatomy of light: its intensity or softness, its ability to both illuminate and obscure, its sources, its symbolic and utilitarian uses, and its beauty.” You can follow his light-sensitive projects on Instagram.

 

 



Design History

Historical Adobe Pigeon Towers Located Near Riyadh Captured in Photographs by Rich Hawkins

February 13, 2020

Grace Ebert

All images © Rich Hawkins, licensed for use

In modern city life, pigeons are often a nuisance to be stepped around or shooed away. But for ancient civilizations, the birds filled a necessary position, prompting communities to build masses of adobe dovecotes, or pigeon towers. Surrounded by an expansive desert with little vegetation, the historical dovecotes pictured above are located just south of Riyadh. Saudi Arabia-based photographer Rich Hawkins recently captured the fourteen towers, saying they’re the first he’s seen in the Middle Eastern country, most often spotting them in Iran, Egypt, and Qatar, where they have a lengthy history dating back to the 13th century.

Dotted with wooden pegs and hundreds of holes, the towers provided shelter and breeding areas for the birds to nest and raise their young in, which at times could amount to eight babies a year per bird, the Pigeon Control Resource Center says. While the structures throughout Europe often housed the birds as a food source, they were used instead throughout the Middle East to provide a place to harvest pigeon guano, or manure.

A lengthy piece from Aramco World detailing dovecote history throughout the region says the tower walls often were slanted to allow the droppings to amass on the central ground area, making it easier to collect. Pigeon guano is high in phosphorus and nitrogen, which is perfect for fertilizing vegetation. It also could be used to make gunpowder when combined with ash, lime, and soil or for leather tanning when mixed with water to create an ammonia substance.

As Hawkins’ photographs show, spray-painted markings and refuse mar the abandoned towers today, although the pigeons don’t seem to mind. “I was able to stay and watch the sun set as wild doves flew back and forth to their nests within the towers,” Hawkins writes on Instagram. For another look at ancient architecture that’s no longer in use, check out the stepwells of India.

 

 



Craft

Intricate Landscapes and Animals Cut From Single Sheet of Paper by Pippa Dyrlaga

February 3, 2020

Grace Ebert

“This Fragile World,” (2019), hand cut paper and acrylic paint, about 11 x 11 inches. All images © Pippa Dyrlaga

For Pippa Dyrlaga, one piece of paper holds a lot of possibility. The Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire-based artist cuts each one of her delicate creations from a single sheet. Her intricate designs turn a blank page into a plant-filled landscape or a robot tending to a garden. Dyrlaga begins by sketching each piece in reverse, before cutting sections out. Then she flips it over to unveil the finished work or to paint details onto the piece.

Whereas her previous work often utilized a single white sheet, the artist now is working more with color, painting shades of blues, golds, and black, which helps to distinguish one group of plants or mosses from the next in her lush landscapes. She also has been inspired by Greek mythology and lore, describing “Psychopomp” (shown below) as “a spirit or deity, often depicted in animal form, which guide people into the afterlife,” on her site. “The piece is split into two, night and day, life and death. The daytime is represents life and growth, organic patterns and plants. The second half with nocturnal animals and abstract patterns, representing the more abstract idea of what comes ‘after.'”

Head to Dyrlaga’s Instagram for more of her intricate creations, and see which are available for purchase in her shop.

“Torn #3” (2019), torn and hand cut paper, painted with acrylic, about 20 x 10 centimeters

Left: “Arber” (2020), hand painted and cut Japanese 36 gsm washi paper. Right: “Garden Spirit” (2019), hand painted and cut Japanese 36 gsm washi paper

(2018), hand drawn and hand cut Awagami Kozo Natural Select paper 46 gsm, about 23 x 25 centimeters

Left: “Torn #1” (2019), hand cut paper. Right: “Torn #2” (2019), hand drawn and cut paper

“Bright” (2019), hand cut from Awagami Factory 36 gsm paper and painted with acrylic paint

Left: “Psychopomp,” hand drawn and hand cut paper, 80 x 40 centimeters. Right: “Bennu,” hand cut 32 gsm gampi washi paper, with hand painted gold acrylic

‘While the World is Asleep” (2018), hand drawn and hand cut paper, about 42 x 28 centimeters

 

 



Photography

Seagulls and Pigeons Photobomb Shots of Rome by Photographer Skander Khlif 

February 2, 2020

Andrew LaSane

All images © Skander Khlif, used with permission

Munich-based photographer Skander Khlif documents public spaces with the Shakespearian mentality that life is theater and we are all actors. The play becomes both comedy and drama in his recent From Rome, With Birds… series. Seagulls and pigeons take center stage as they fly between the camera and scenes of Italian street life.

Either well-timed shots or a curated collection of happy accidents, Khlif’s humorous series presents an alternate view of a city typically visited and photographed for its architecture. Like people passing in front of buildings, the birds are almost oblivious to the beauty they are obstructing. In the artist bio on his site, Khlif shares that his interest in photography began with a school project back in his home city of Tunis. The experience “made him aware of the power that photography has to reveal the beauty in each object,” even Roman birds.

To see more of Khlif’s photography from his travels around the world, check out his Behance portfolio and follow him on Instagram.

 

 



Photography

Found Wood Pieces Morph into Twisted Animal Portraits by Jonatan Maldonado

January 31, 2020

Grace Ebert

All images © Jonatan Maldonado, shared with permission

Jonatan Maldonado, a Los Angeles-based artist and creative director, has a strong sense of pareidolia, the psychological phenomenon causing humans to see faces and meaning in inanimate objects. In Creatures of the Ancient Forest, Maldonado’s black and white photographs frame found branches and chunks of wood at just the right angle, allowing viewers to catch a glimpse of a squawking bird or a horned animal poking its head out of a tree.

The dark, twisted series is ongoing, and the artist tells Colossal he’ll soon be in Alabama Hills, California, searching for more pieces⁠. “The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in California is the home to the oldest trees in the world,” he says. “Being surrounded by their spectacular shapes feels truly magical, or maybe it’s the lack of oxygen when hiking at 10,000 feet.” Follow Maldonado on Instagram to see what he spots next.

 

 

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