PalAss 2012 at UCD - a dose of alanology

For a number of years, I was asked to write a newsletter report for the annual meeting of the Palaeontological Association.  This meant I had to go to every session of each annual meeting and summarize what my colleagues were presenting.  I think it was supposed to be pithy, but I managed to stop that nonsense.


Perversely, now I hold the position of newsletter reporter on the association council, I don't have to write the meeting reports.  Old habits die hard, however, and I decided to report on this year's meeting in Dublin anyway.  This would be a report with a variation, though: I would summarize talks using only haiku.

I wrote about geopoetry in the association newsletter a while back, arguing that the poet has his/her place in palaeontology*.  I've become a bit obsessed with geohaiku recently, though, and to the challenge of condensing an idea into a 17-syllable poem.  It forces me to stop rambling, and condense PalAss into very succinct snippets.  Anti-waffle, if you will.

Inevitably, not every talk grabbed my attention, whilst others lent themselves to multiple geopoetic thoughts, so this is an inherently patchy report of the meeting.  It goes like this:

Day 1 - Sunday December 16th

Thematic Symposium on 'Taphonomy and the Fidelity of the Fossil Record'.

Derek Briggs
Nereis the first
Taxon to make an entry
Into PalAss '12

After 30 days,
All that's left of Nereis
Is a pair of jaws.

Alan Channing
In hot spring wetlands,
Strange taphonomies occur:
All things get preserved.

Heathen chemistry
Saline, alkaline,
Heavy metal conditions
Attract specialists.

If an old club moss
Is overly aggressive,
Does it lycophyte?

Rob Sansom
As hagfishes decay
You'll typically find them
Moving down the tree.

Chengjiang fauna
What poem is best
To interpret a fossil
Called Haikouella?

Maria McNamara
After 18 months
Of decaying green beetles,
Nothing much happens.

But squash the same bugs
Under a stiletto heel;
They slowly turn blue.

Clive Trueman
Stable isotopes
Might let ecologists speak
A common language.

The Annual Address was given by Professor Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum, entitled 'New Views On The Origin of Our Species'.

Could ride the New York subway:
No-one would notice.

Nasal passage
Don't call me big nose.
Breathing in freezing air is
Not to be sniffed at.

Homo sapiens
Challenged the Neanderthals:
Mods versus rockers.

We may be human,
But genetics show we are
Neanderthal too.

Day 2 - Monday December 17th

A coralline red alga
Not an old land plant.

Dianne Edwards' reply
Is surely terrestrial,
Not a red alga.

Christian Klug
In Leinster, Münster,
Where Cretaceous ammonites
Reveal their innards.

Parallel sessions
In lecture room A
Three clocks tell different times,
None of them correct.

Carys Bennett
An eye for an eye
And an eye for isotopes:
See surface waters.

Look Back in Ongar
The 39a
Is not a rapid bus route,
So don't fall asleep.

Day 3 - Tuesday December 18th

Giant pterosaurs
Allow us to imagine
If giraffes could fly.

Dogs' dinner
A pre-lunch speaker
Talks of Brownian motion.
I think about soup.


Small shelly fossils:
Specialization, fusion,

Lame Herringshaw
What kind of numpty
Spells his own talk title wrong?

Five days in Dublin,
Socializing nightly.
Drank not one Guinness.

*Without a poet in it, palaeontology becomes alanology, hence the title of this post.