Whale of a Tail Picture

There was no “kraken” in Greek mythology, but Desmond Davis’ 1981 smash Clash of the Titans had such a following, and the phrase “Release the Kraken” (uttered by Sir Laurence Olivier) was so hugely popular, that the remake needed it. And it was fun. But in the original story, the maiden Andromeda was chained to a rock as a sacrifice to the great monster Ketos, a sea monster it may be said was inspired by stories of great whales breaching in deep water. The concept of Ketos as a great monster of uncertain affiliation, and relative vagueness about what beasties actually lurked in the deep, suggested to the 1800s researchers in England that any great, titanic creature can be comaprable. Upon finding the remains of a giant sauropod, the evocation of a great aquatic monster was given, and so the Cetiosaurus was born. The term “ketos” in Greek now applies to whales, and while it grants us our term “cetacean” it was also a term meant to suggest giant reptilian things as well, and the describer thought it was a crocodilian.

Cetiosaurus oxoniensis is somewhat of a mismanaged charaicature of 1800s paleontology, as for the longest time it, one of the first dinosaurs to be named and instrumental in Richard Owen's formulation of the name "Dinosauria," wasn't always certain what it was. The holotype at the time was a bunch of crap. It would ebb and flow into paleontology's attentions as its importance was stressed as opposed to how much we could learn from it. But later several far more complete skeletons came to light and, due to Owen's influence and the need to preserve the name historically, the name was transfered to one of these specimens from the same layer and near where the first specimen was collected, and now the name is effectively "safe." Well, that's the intention, anyways. This most important sauropod (some say) deserves a strong place in our paleo collective memory, and to keep it about the specimens shown in the skeletal above should bear the moniker, a remembrance of the Ketos monster that plagued Aethiopia in Greek myth.

Edit: Greek nomenclature aside, I erred when I said Own used Cetiosaurus as part of his structure for defining Dinosauria. While Cetiosaurus was known then, Owen still felt it was rather giant and crocodile like, and it hadn't become more saurischian until years later.

Reconstructed as a comparison of basal neosauropods, it combines aspects of the "club-tailed" Shunosaurus and the almost brachiosaur-like Jobaria; the skull is evocative of these, but the skeleton as it turns out suggests a fairly advanced body form, with an upward sloping back and long forelimbs. The scapulae seem almost certain to be vertically arranged, and as such would tilt the body higher than previously reconstructed.

Prepared for a forthcoming book on the dinosaurs of the British Isles.
Continue Reading: Andromeda