Standing 16 feet tall at the shoulder and weighing 20 tons, Paraceratherium was one of the largest mammals to ever walk the Earth.
That may seem pretty puny by dinosaurian standards, but, at the American Museum of Natural History and other institutions that house reconstructions of the 34-23 million year old animal, the hornless rhino towers over every other beast. Only a few extinct elephants have come close to its impressive stature.
As is often the case with the large and fossiliferous, though, it’s too easy to get wrapped up in the nature of the beast and forget the history that assembled the creature before us. University of Manchester historian Chris Manias recounts the tale in a new paper.
In the case of Paraceratherium, the great rhino only emerged after years of toil, study, and, most importantly, collaboration between researchers who were independently drawn to the remains of the same giant.
Before the rhino could get a name or start casting shade over museum halls, the titan had to be discovered.
The British paleontologist Clive Forster-Cooper had the honor.
Curious about fossils regularly found by England’s Indian Geological Survey among the Bugti Hills of Baluchistan, Foster-Cooper organized a 1910-1911 expedition to see the fossils for himself.
The work was more difficult than Forster-Cooper had hoped. In the age of imperial paleontology, he took the traditional route of hiring unskilled local workers who he frequently groused about to his esteemed colleagues elsewhere.
Not only were the local Nawab people suspicious of the paleontologist’s true motives – who would be travel all the way out there for old bones? – but Forster-Cooper complained that he had to fire three workers for “idleness and insubordination” and did not trust the remaining three with anything more than rudimentary digging around.
The villa is situated just north of the South Downs close to Stane Street, about 9 miles north-east of Chichester (the Roman city of Noviomagus Reginorum) and the nearby and much larger Fishbourne Roman Palace.
It is on the south-facing slope of a ridge of greensand which provided better conditions for agriculture than the nearby chalk; this fact and its proximity to Roman Chichester meant that the owners were able to become wealthy from farming.
History and structure
The earliest structural remains are of a simple timber farm structure dating to around 190 AD. A four-roomed stone building was built in the middle of the 3rd century AD, and this was extended between c.240 and 290 AD by the addition of a few new rooms, a hypocaust, and a portico that faced east towards Stane Street.
This building became the western wing when north and south wings were added at the turn of the fourth century. In its final form, the villa consisted of some sixty-five rooms surrounding a courtyard, with a number of outlying farm buildings.
The latest phase of building involved additions to the north wing between c.300 and 350 AD, and it is here that most of the fine mosaics are located.
The later history of the villa is not well known, but it appears to have gradually declined in status, rather than suffering a catastrophic fate, such as the fire that destroyed most of Fishbourne Palace.
Discovery and excavations
George Tupper, a farmer, discovered the villa in 1811 when his plough hit a large stone. It was almost entirely excavated by John Hawkins who lived at nearby Bignor Park, and the antiquary, Samuel Lysons. Opened to the public in 1814, it rapidly became a tourist attraction, with nearly a thousand entries in the visitors’ book in the first nine months.
By 1815 the remains of a substantial villa had been uncovered and protective buildings had been erected over several of the mosaics.
In 1818 Samuel Lysons read his third and final paper on the villa to the Society of Antiquaries. He had already published a series of engravings of the villa with the help of Richard Smirke and Charles Stothard.
These engravings together with his three papers and his and his brother’s correspondence with Hawkins form the only record of the original excavations. Excavations ceased in 1819 after Samuel Lysons’ death.
No further work was undertaken on the site until 1925 when S. E. Winbolt did some minor work. Between 1956 and 1962 Sheppard Frere re-excavated parts of the villa in the first attempt to determine its chronology.
Since then Thomas Tupper, the direct descendent of the discoverer, whose family still owns the site, has undertaken further excavations: with Margaret Rule in the 1970s, and David Rudling in the 1980s.
About 60 km northeast of the city of Chachapoyas, in Luya Province, in Peru, lies the archaeological site of Karajia, where the funeral tombs of the “ancient wise men” are located.
Perched high on a ledge by the side of a limestone cliff, the six sarcophagi (coffins carved in stone and displayed above ground) resembling six limbless torsos with large heads and enormous jaw lines, stand proud with their chin up and facing the abyss.
Some of the headpieces are embellished with horns, imitating deer antlers, while others have encrusted human skulls, which are presumed to be trophy heads. Each sarcophagus is 2.5 meters tall.
The sarcophagi were built by the Chachapoya people to house the remains of important individuals in their culture, about 600 years ago.
Originally, there were eight sarcophagi but two were destroyed by earthquakes and other natural elements.
Their inaccessible location high above a river gorge has thankfully preserved them from destruction by looters.