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Transylvania, the Geographic Equivalent of Slow Glass

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(Slow Glass definition here).

Funny old place, Transylvania. Time seems to move a lot more slowly there than it does here.

Sure, the obvious candidates are things like the Romanians who dug up a corpse and ate its heart because they thought it was a vampire’s body, or the Romanian priest who killed a nun during an exorcism. While I’m sure I could find equal barbarities in rural Texas, I doubt any of them have been practiced for centuries the way the Romanian examples did.

More broadly, it seems that Transylvania has a way of keeping creatures around for a lot longer than anywhere else.

Sadly, I haven’t been able to track down the exact citation (perhaps Tudge’s Time Before History?), but I recall reading about the discovery of a cave bear skeleton in the Romanian mountains. It was estimated that the cave bear died there around 2000 years ago. Considering that most cave bears died out ~26,000 years ago, that’s an unusually long survival.

If we go farther back, though, things begin to get really interesting.

Around 100 million years ago, the continents were differently shaped. Where southern Europe is now was the Tethys Sea. And where part or all of Transylvania is now was an island. Well, many islands, but there was one in particular, centered around modern-day Hateg (45° 36' 27" N, 22° 57' 0" E), which is of special interest to us.

The island was part of an archipelago of islands, with at least 200 km (124 miles) of shallow sea separating the islands from each other. The size of this island isn’t known for sure—anywhere from 7500 square kilometers (4600 sq. miles, roughly 68 miles by 68 miles) to 100,000 square kilometers (62137 square miles, or around 250 miles by 250 miles)—and is, like so much else in palaeogeography, a matter of controversy.

100 million years ago was right in the middle of the Cretaceous period, so, yes, the island had dinosaurs. And in fact a substantial fossil record has been found in and around Hateg. It’s the fossil record that is of interest.

(Well, that, and the fact that the first discoverers of the fossils were Ilona Nopcsa and then her brother Franz Nopcsa von Felső-Szilvás (1877-1933). Franz was one of the great pulp-era characters, because there weren’t a lot of other velvet-cape-wearing, flamboyantly gay paleontologists/spies/guerrillas and would-be Kings of Albania who could compete with him. I’ll be doing a post just on Franz sooner or later).

Hateg Island was essentially untouched for roughly 35 million years, which means that the creatures who lived there evolved in isolation. As is often the case with creatures on small-ish islands, the trend was toward dwarfism–with the limited resources that an island has to offer, it makes sense to be small rather than large.

Hateg Island had dwarf dinosaurs, most roughly 10% the size of their mainland kin: a 15 ft long hadrosaur, a 6 ft long “dwarf iguana,” an 8 ft long ankylosaur, a 9 ft long megalosaurus, an 8 ft long dino-alligator, 4 ft long dino-turtles, pterosaurs, and 6 ft long Velociraptor-like carnivores, the latter being the island’s apex predator.

What is of most interest here is not just the dwarfism, but the fact that many of these creatures were not just unique to Hateg Island, but they existed there for tens of millions of years after their mainland counterparts had gone extinct. Yes, Hateg Island was the real-life Dinosaur Island.

Dinosaurs lasting a lot longer in Romania than anywhere else. Cave bears lasting a lot longer in Romania than anywhere else. Belief in vampires lasting a lot longer in Romania than anywhere else.

Neanderthals lasting in Romania longer than anywhere else? Vampirism as a pseudo-genetic memory of carnivorous Neanderthals? The skull found in Romania supports the Neanderthal-human interbreeding theory. Perhaps the children that resulted from the interbreeding were seen by ordinary humans as Wrong, and that’s what we now remember as vampires?
Current Mood:
tired tired
Current Music:
"Last stop this town," Eels
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On November 3rd, 2010 05:20 pm (UTC), brainstormfront commented:
Always amazed and amused by what you dig up, Jess; I'm also horribly jealous of your research library, as I'd love to read through some of the sources in which you're finding things like this. :)

Steven Schend
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On November 3rd, 2010 05:24 pm (UTC), ratmmjess replied:
:-) Thanks. Actually, my scholarly resources have been drastically limited since leaving the University of California system for my current employer, and a lot of the time it feels like I'm operating with only half my usual senses.

In this case, though, the Hateg Island stuff was free, via Google Scholar.
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On November 3rd, 2010 05:31 pm (UTC), kadath replied:
I didn't know you'd changed jobs, but given how unhappy you seemed at UofC, congratulations!
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On November 3rd, 2010 05:53 pm (UTC), ratmmjess replied:
Thanks! Yeah, much happier here. Not wild about swapping California for Texas, and I miss my friends there, but otherwise it's all to the good.
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On November 3rd, 2010 05:53 pm (UTC), (Anonymous) commented:
Valley of the New Man
Hmmm. Consider the following data:

1.) Neanderthals were contemporary with early modern humans, but died out.
2.) Neanderthals, judging by skeletal remains, were stronger than humans.
3.) They were primarily found in northern and eastern Europe -- i.e. places with less sunlight than Africa or Mediterranean regions.

What if ALL Neanderthals were vampires? Not really an offshoot species but humans transformed into super-strong deformed bloodsuckers. Eventually they were wiped out.

Now scientists are trying to reconstruct Neanderthal DNA . . .

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On November 3rd, 2010 05:54 pm (UTC), ratmmjess replied:
Re: Valley of the New Man
I thought about heading in that direction but was afraid of losing what audience I had left. :-)
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On November 3rd, 2010 10:12 pm (UTC), chadu replied:
Re: Valley of the New Man
According to a thing I read last week, Ozzy Osbourne had his genome sequenced. He *does* have some Neanderthal DNA.

Makes sense, dunnit?
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On November 3rd, 2010 06:10 pm (UTC), ext_308459 commented:
I loved visiting Transylvania precisely because of its timelessness. It's very, very rural still, with horse-drawn (or human-drawn) plows everywhere and numerous horse-drawn wagons on the road. While Romania is now a member of the ECU, the principality of Transylvania has been slow to change.

Of course, there never were vampires in Transylvania--just strigoi, who are essentially zombies, not blood-drinkers.
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On November 3rd, 2010 06:13 pm (UTC), ratmmjess replied:
Re: Transylvania
Transylvania is one of those places I've always wanted to visit but never quite managed. Some day, some day.
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On November 3rd, 2010 07:08 pm (UTC), ratmmjess replied:
I thought you knew!
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On November 3rd, 2010 07:33 pm (UTC), ratmmjess replied:
Me too, pretty much continually since we moved back.
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On November 3rd, 2010 07:56 pm (UTC), princeofcairo commented:
This post (and those like it) are why you are one of the 36 tzaddikim whose awesomeness keeps God from destroying the world in the End Times.
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On November 5th, 2010 06:28 pm (UTC), ratmmjess replied:
Thank you, Ken.
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On November 3rd, 2010 10:11 pm (UTC), chadu commented:
That is frickin' awesome.

Franz was one of the great pulp-era characters, because there weren’t a lot of other velvet-cape-wearing, flamboyantly gay paleontologists/spies/guerrillas and would-be Kings of Albania who could compete with him.

This is one of those guys you were emailing me before about, isn't it?

I think you've just written one of your sentences on him, btw. ;)

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On November 4th, 2010 11:19 am (UTC), richardthinks commented:
Hmmm... dwarf dinosaurs, predator bears and proto-human natives. I can't decide whether this is Lovecraftian throwback territory or Barsoom for the Indo-europeans, with St. George in the role of John Carter.

Someday I must chase down the implications of the Irishman Stoker having his bloodsucking, Empire-penetrating horror come from "backward" Transylvania.
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On November 4th, 2010 01:19 pm (UTC), ratmmjess replied:
I pick Barsoom. More fun that way.

It's been a while since I did any research on this, but I vaguely remember that Transylvanians weren't seen as "white," so there was a racial element to Dracula doing his thing.
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On November 4th, 2010 04:09 pm (UTC), doctorpsycho60 replied:
It does not surprise me that Transylvanians were dubiously white. I remember Arthur D. Hlavaty saying, "I have passed for white my entire life, although I am at least one quarter Hun".

OTOH, it messes up my comparison/contrast of Dracula and Frankenstein's monster (the one an ancient parasitic aristocrat, the other a non-Caucasian abused child/escaped slave/frustrated would-be husband) as analogs to the major U.S. political parties....
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On November 4th, 2010 05:02 pm (UTC), richardthinks replied:
I can't remember if my vague recollection of "swarthy and desperate Zouaves" is Real History tm or Edward Gorey.

I've a strong feeling that the troubles in the Balkans were mostly easily written off by the English & French during the 19th century as Somebody Else's Problem because of a racial/ethnic theory that put them all into a kind of Greater Orient category. Metternich said the Orient begins at the somethingstrat, meaning the east end of Vienna. If I had more time I'd actually try to figure out how "Caucasian" became an accepted term for "white," since the Caucasus was well beyond the pale for most of the 19th c.

If only Gorey were still with us, I'd have him illustrate my preclassical Barsoomian stories. I'm thinking doomed Edwardian Conan, all high fur collars and deadly insults shouted across gloaming pools, and a three-way war between Gimbutas' Old Europe, the phallic Indo-European invaders, desperately in search of dragons to slay, and the timeless, bemused Transylsoomians.
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On November 7th, 2010 09:49 am (UTC), uvula_fr_b4 replied:
Blame Blumenbach.
Looks like we have a guy by the name of Blumenbach to thank for this use of "Caucasian." From Vol. III of Peter Gay's The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud, The Cultivation of Hatred (1993; Norton trade paperback edition, 1994):

"When, in 1775, the German anatomist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach devised his epoch-making catalogue of human races, he placed each of the five he found -- Caucasian, Mongolian, Ethiopian, American, and Malay -- in its own region of the globe. But he saw mankind as one; distinguished from the animals by upright posture and the capacity to reason, it can change. Race theorizing had not yet become racism. That was to be the contribution of nineteenth-century speculative thinkers and social scientists, all too often one and the same." (p. 72; incidentally, "the celebrated Swedish naturalist Carl von Linné...identified four distinct races" in the late 1730s and "[h]is even more celebrated French contemporary the comte de Buffon discovered six races"; pps. 71-2.)

Turning to Léon Poliakov's The Aryan Myth: A History of Racist and Nationalistic Ideas in Europe (trans. fr. the French by Edmund Howard; copyright 1971 & 1974 by Léon Poliakov; 1996 hardcover reprint published by Barnes & Noble Books), we find that Blumenbach was 23 years old when he published his racial theories; we also learn that he wrote that "the face of the white man [was] 'that face which is normally regarded as the most beautiful and agreeable...'. 'I gave to that variety,' he continued, 'the name of the Caucasian mountains because it is in that region that the finest race of men is to be found, the Georgian race, and if it were possible to assign a birth-place to the human race all physiological reasons would combine to indicate that place. . . . . Finally, the skin of the Georgians is white and this colour seems to have belonged originally to the human race, but it can easily degenerate to a blackish blue. . . .'" (p. 173)

Poliakov goes on to note: "Blumenbach's category of a Caucasian race was used in the first half of the twentieth century as a criterion for selective immigration into the United States and it served to justify the segregation of both the coloured races and the Hebrew race. From an administrative point of view, therefore, the Caucasian race was the Aryan race according to the North Americans before 1939-1945" (ibid).
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On November 8th, 2010 01:12 pm (UTC), richardthinks replied:
Re: Blame Blumenbach.
you know, I had heard of Blumenbach and his theories in passing, but I didn't realise he formulated his aesthetic theory of whiteness because he had a thing for Georgians - or, perhaps, for one particular Georgian.

...on one hand, reading about racial theories always depresses me. On the other, this is kind of beautiful in a Dada way: it's like a manifesto of nonsense.
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