Member of The Crypto Crew:

Please Also Visit our Sister Blog, Frontiers of Anthropology:

And the new group for trying out fictional projects (Includes Cryptofiction Projects):

And Kyle Germann's Blog

And Jay's Blog, Bizarre Zoology

Sunday, 17 April 2011

CFZ Blog on Plesiosaurian Taniwhas-REPOST

Wednesday, April 21, 2010 DALE DRINNON: Plesiosaurian Taniwhas

[Plesiosaurus Fossil Skeleton above, Please note the shape of the Limb Girdles]

I had mentioned this in my yahoo group Frontiers of Zoology before. Tony Lucas is a member of the group. When we were discussing the Australian depiction of a plesiosaur on Lindsay's blog recently {see at end of this posting] I mentioned it again and I sent Tony a reminder message separately. Since then I received the suggestion that I post the information to the blog. The petroglyph long-necked Taniwahas are a traditional design and I include a modern piece of jewlery based on the design as confirmation the matter is already known locally (Left above).

In the case of the two long-necked Taniwhas, I have taken a scan of the petroglyphs from the rock face (which also include a thunderbird design and what could well be an elephant seal with a long nose) and rearranged them to be side by side. The creatures are about 60 feet long if human scale is accurate; female is shorter than male (neck not included in copy). Among other useful observations: the species has one opening in the rear (a cloaca) and the male has a single penis (not like snakes). And the limbs and limb girdles resemble those of plesiosaurs. The limb girdles also correspond to the equivalent water monster in the Phillipines and I attach a re-drawing of a textile illustrated in the Hamlyn Treasury of Primitive Art. I do not know the name of the creature but it seems to be called by the generic name of "Shark" (Chacon. Shark is one of the possible translations for Taniwha).
Rock-art Taniwha's limb compared to Plesiosaur's Flipper Skeleton And the Plesiosaurian design of the limbs is mentioned obliquely in other traditions. Different descriptions of water monster's feet in different parts of the world include the curious detail that there is a "Tiger's Palm" in the middle of the limb. This included the traditional description of the Chinese dragon. This is also told of the "Patagonian Plesiosaur". Circled in red of the plesiosaur's flipper skeleton illustration is the "Tiger's Paw".

Different descriptions of Water Monster's feet in different parts of the world include the curious detail that there is a "Tiger's Palm" in the middle of the limb. This included the traditional description of the Chinese dragon. Circled in red is the "Tiger's Paw". This is also told of the "Patagonian Plesiosaur".

I also include some Precolumbian "Patagonian Plesiosaur" depictions, which seem to be the direct parallel to the long-necked Taniwha depictions in New Zealand. 'Taniwha' is a generic and not a specific name, I might hasten to emphasise. You might say it was the equivalent to the English word 'monster.'

The Bagabo textile does not show just the one creature; it shows a pattern of two different things repeating in alternation. One image shows the whole creature between the legs of a human being (not shown in earlier reproduction) and this alternates with a depiction of a human in the belly of the beast. I was not certain whether to include it because it is not certain the same creature is being depicted, but one interpretation is that the larger head of the creature in this version is seen much closer to and its size is exaggerated in perspective (after all, that excuse is used in standard lake monster reports at Lochs Ness and Morar). At any event, it is not a crocodile since it has a "Snakehead" (Bagabo Textile, Mindinao, Phillipines, Hamlyn Treasury of Primitive Art, Plate 39, redrawn)
There is a problem in getting information about any of these creatures.
The actual names of the creatures are taboo and must not be mentioned. Thus, I do not know the name of the creature illustrated on the textile. Water tigers are reported in Indonesia but they are referred to as "Dogs" for the same reason that you must not mention them by name.

PS: I did go hunting through my storage boxes to find the original source for the New Zealand petroglyphs. They are drawn in charcoal at Ophi, South Canterbury. The absolute size is three feet long for the main bodies of the creatures, approx. six inches for the human figure, which is not measuring the legs (the legs are not indicated for their full length, or else the charcoal has rubbed off). The possible elephant seal and thunderbird are also about a yard long (or rather wingspan for the thunderbird). The elephant seal also seems to have a flipper with fingers, but it is not drawn the same as in the long-necked figures. The male long-necked creature is following the female, nose-end (without any apparent head) near the female's genital region, and has an erection, presumably preparing to mate. They are one after the other and not side by side as in my rearrangement for convenience's sake. Credit is given as The Polynesians: Prehistory of an Island People, Peter Bellwood, Thames and Hudson, 1978, London, p. 140, fig. 92.
PPS: The charcoal drawing is evidently from the inside wall of a rock shelter (cave dwelling) and is from between 1000 and 1500, date assumed because of other similar sites with similar artwork. The observation is also made that the makers were Polynesians and the artistic style is similar to other early Polynesian sites in the Pacific. I say this because the text makes these points adjacent to the figure 92 and not because the text explicitely states the date for that site. So this part is basically going on my inferrence that this was meant to be taken that way.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Dale sent the last two pieces to me, but I thought that they were pertinent and have enclosed them as addenda

1 comment: stormwalkernz [Tony Lucas] said... Dale, I am extremely glad you posted this. It is interesting that the word Taniwha is a very, very generic term. Under this heading comes sea creatures, land creatures and creatures of the air. The large " Thunderbirds" seen in the rock drawings could well be depictions of Harpogornis moorei - Haasts Eagle, which has been proven to have still been around during the time of early colonisation. This massive Eagle was quite capable of taking down a man, and was considered a threat. If this is correct and gives credence to the other creatures drawn as being actual live creatures that the artist saw. 3:52 AM
The posting which sparked this discussion was an earlier blog posting by Lindsay Selby concerning the following piece of Australian aboriginal artwork of a creature called a Yarru and posted on several of the "living Dinosaur" sites. The larger B&W version is from a scientific paper which dismissed it as a "Pseudoplesiosaur" carcass, noting that the stomach contents have been ripped out and are now lying on the ground about the creature (C). These seemingly include fishes, turtles, eels and a sea snake in front. All very reasonable for a Plesiosaur but NOT for a basking shark. And the belly has been opened because there is a human figure inside. This obviously illustrates some aboriginal myth. General feeling at Linsey's blog was that the painting was of modern manufacture but I have seen older examples like it-without, however, the creature looking quite so emphatically Plesiosaurian. However it is in good anatomical agreement with the other examples I cited on my follow-up blog posting.

UPDATE: While researching the latest series of articles on little-known African Cryptids, I came by chance upon a website that collected traditional African designs to be redistributed in artwork such as Rubber stamps. Here is a Mokele-Mbembe design from Dahomey, and it is exactly equivalent to the other possible Plesiosaur designs. This one is not so careful to show the flipper structure but it DOES indicate the vertebrae: there are approx. 20-30 vertebrae each in the neck, body and tail. That is roughly what I had determined from studies of other Longnecks the world over. It should be noted that multiplication of neck vertebrae is a trait that belongs almost exclusively to the Plesiosaurs themselves: placental mammals nearly always have the standard seven cervical vertebrae, including in giraffes.

Friday, January 08, 2010
DALE DRINNON: On "Discosaurus" and the possibility of Plesiosaurian Survival

Joseph Leidy had written several articles about the earliest finds of Plesiosaurs in North America, and one of them was the disputed 'Discosaurus' in Alabama, possibly originating from the same beds as 'Zueglodons' (Basilosaurus). He was writing in the 1850s and one of the comparable early finds was from the Greensands of New Jersey, thought to have been of Late Cretaceous age. The specimens in this case were named 'Cimoliasaurus'; however, some of them turned out to be cetacean vertebrae of probably Pliocene age, probably some sort of a dolphin.

However, this was some of the vertebrae and not all: Leidy did think the other vertebrae were legitimate and were of that genus, and probably related to that

However, it seems that both genus names are invalid. 'Cimoliasaurus' has been described as a 'garbage taxon' and several nondescript fossils from Europe and Australia have also been ascribed to this genus, much in the same way as the early tendency to call all early canivorous dinosaur finds 'Megalosaurus'

In this case the really interesting thing is that the New Jersey fragmentary Plesiosaur is found in association with Pliocene dolphin fossils, mixed up together and only separated out later, and the Alabama fossils Leidy considered probably the same genus are labelled as coming from the Eocene zueglodon beds. In the case of the New Jersey Greensands, there is independant evidence that they are not only Cretaceous but also Tertiary: another site gives a paper in which several genera of O. C. Marsh's 'Cretaceous' birds from the New Jersey Greensands are actually of Eocene date or later.

The characteristics of these fossils has placed them tenatively in the same family as Cryptocleidus and Muraenosaurus, and they were thought to have been like the Elasmosaurs but with shorter necks. This is also along the lines of what the surviving Plesiosaurs would have to have been to give rise to our Long-necked Sea-serpents: long-necked, but not excessively long-necked, not so specialised as the extreme Elasmosaurs, and generalised enough to be versatile, possibly enough so that they could pursue other avenues of evolution that became open to them.

That makes a good deal of sense and I am willing to arrange the theory of Plesiosaurian survival on those terms alone.


Dale Drinnon said...
It is important to bear in mind that the name "Discosaurus" was invalid even as that name was given to it, that name had previously been given to something else. So the putative Post-Cretaceous Plesiosaur is officially nameless at this point.6:27 AM

scottmardis said...
There is more on Discosaurus pssibly being from Eocene deposits in the 1981 book "Fossil Vertebrates of Alabama"

I did not see Scott's comment at the time but he is absolutley right and that book was in fact one of my sources.


  1. I might also point out that the last posted picture, the depiction from Dahomey, is actually a "Snake threaded through the body of a turtle" as done in the local style. That is the traditional description for a Plesiosaur. the neck, body and tail each having 20-30 (say 25) vertebrae each is about equivalent to generalised Plesiosaurs such as Plesiosaurus

  2. I have also subsequently added the discussion on "Discosaurus" from the CFZ blog as also being pertinent-also because it did not turn up on the CFZ Blog's own search engine.

    Best Wishes, Dale D.


This blog does NOT allow anonymous comments. All comments are moderated to filter out abusive and vulgar language and any posts indulging in abusive and insulting language shall be deleted without any further discussion.