Terror Storks

For this blog, I’d like to talk briefly about the very last change I made to Augusta, namely the appearance of a strange winged creature known in the context of the story as Dunosulu and known to modern palaeontologists as Haztegopteryx thambena.

For those who don’t know, hatzies are basically the most glorious things to ever fly.  Yeah, try to argue with me on that one.  I dare you.

hatzie.jpg
Abandon all hope, ye who find a hatzie.  Image Credit: Naish and Witton 2017

Hatzegopteryx, like the more famous Pterodactylus antiquus and Pteranodon longiceps, is not a dinosaur, but rather a member of a group of flying reptiles called pterosaurs.  Hatzies in particular belong to a group of pterosaurs from the family Azhdarchidae.  Azhdarchids were pretty big for the most part, many species having wingspans comparable to the largest of volant birds or even greater, but several azhdarchids compete for the title of biggest flying critter ever: Quetzalcoaltus northropiArambourgiania philadelphiae, and the hatzie.

aram.jpg
Noodle-necked Arambourgiania bicker over a hapless troodontid.    Image Credit: Witton and Naish 2017

Sadly, the large azhdarchids are known mostly from fragmentary fossils, so we have an incomplete picture of their anatomy.  For the most part, it seemed like they were pretty tall and lanky, and that assumption carried over to the hatzies for a while.  Even in Augusta, they were briefly described as giraffe-height, scrawny fellows.

Until now.

A paper published by Witton and Naish on January 18 takes a look at the vertebrae of one particular hatzie and argues that these fellows had shorter necks and were far more robust.  While probably not as tall as the other two giants, hatzies were definitely far more powerful animals.

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A lanky bourgie and super-chunk hatzie compared to a 5.6m Masai giraffe.  Image Source

In writing Augusta, I made it an effort to preserve as much accuracy as I could.  Given the genre and stylistic choices, I did not necessarily have to give super scientific descriptions of the dinos, but accuracy was always at the back of my head as I wrote what details I did.  With the historical elements, I again made it an effort to preserve as much as I could.  There might be some differences between what late Roman/Byzantine historians said and the elements of Augusta on some matters, and I have tried to limit those differentiations to issues of “well this historian wrote one thing and that one wrote with a slighty different perspective” rather than a blatant disregard for preexisting historical narratives.

Having the story entwined so closely with real history makes Augusta a stronger book, and it is a decision I hope you as the reader will appreciate when you get to read it for yourself.  While these matters of accuracy may not be blatantly obvious to the average layperson reading Augusta, it is a subtle presence that shapes and influences even the small details.

Now before I go, I’ll leave you with a little tease, a snippet of Augusta detailing the terror of the Hatzegopteryx:

A hail of arrows came raining down
Upon Aetius’ doom-struck sortie,
Sending horses and riders to the dirt
And kicking up a storm of dust and gore
As on the deadly barrage continued.
Dismounted riders frantically sought
To find riderless horses and thus escape,
But were instead caught in the shadow
Cast upon them by sweeping Dunosulu.
Winged beasts entered the fray,
Skewering panicked Romans on honed beaks,
Cruel jaws long and sharp as pikes.
With jabbing blows they felled the horsemen
If not by dozens, then perhaps hundreds,
And Aetius struggled as best he could
To hasten so very few survivors away.
Some among the hellish flock
Landed and strode about on all fours,
Impaling Romans left and right,
And bodies slithered down hulking necks
To be burned by boiling acids
Churning in their turbulent guts.
Hideous wails rent the skies asunder
As all about them Romans were sent
Screaming down into the grave.
No escape was there from the horror
Nor solace for the wearied soul
As monsters from time immemorial
Brought their judgement down on those
Who still fought for a dying empire.

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