Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How! How!

The Megatherium Club, circa 1850s. From the Smithsonian Institute Archives.

Members of the Megatherium Club greeted each other by shouting "How! How!" This, besides being pretty fun, was supposed to be the cry of the ancient megatherium, below.

The megatherium was a prehistoric giant sloth that was about as big as a modern elephant. Members of the Megatherium Club were also big on serenading the ladies, which one hopes was also based on the behavior of the ancient animal.

According to the New York Times, indigenous people in the amazon jungles say that the giant sloth a) still exists b) prefers to be referred to as the "mapinguary" and c) smells really terrible.

The article emphasizes the mythological hoo-doo aspect of these assertions until you get to the very end, where the continued existence of the megatherium begins to seem rather credible.

Megatherium skeleton sterograph from the British Museum, 1857

I think I'm going to put a megatherium in my new drawing, and I wish I could put one in my back yard. Although they might not be so great for the landscape.

When one searches the internet for images of the megatherium one comes up with an inordinate number of attacks on innocent trees.

Megatherium by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins (1807-1889) from Johnsons Natural History, 1871 United States

And occasionally worse.

I have no idea what's going on in this image, but that's a megatherium skeleton, and I assume the bikini girl has something to do with the serenade.

As interesting as megatheriums are, what I really like is looking at images of them on the internet. The megatherium seems to have developed its own peculiar pictorial traditions over the years. In the 19th century images they have pointy noses and attack trees.

Megatherium by Joseph Smit (1836-1929) from Extinct Monsters 1892 England

In the modern era the nose has shunk, the hair is hairier and the settings are pure technicolor.

(This image is fantastic, and it's even better when it's huge.)

I did find one atypical visual incarnation of the giant sloth from an Italian webpage full of fantastic paintings that deal with evolution. This image makes the megatherium look less like a fierce twenty-first century yeti-rat than a gentle giant.

Who, perhaps, has just finished serenading his armadillo, and is now wondering,"Why? Why?"

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