Tetrapod Zoology

Cyril Walker

It is with some sadness that I must pass on the news that Cyril Walker died last Wednesday (6th May 2009). Cyril worked at the Natural History Museum from 1958 until his retirement in 1999. He is best known for his many palaeornithological contributions: often working together with his colleague Colin Harrison (1926-2003), he produced numerous papers on fossil birds from all around the world. Among the more noteworthy of these are the pelagornithid review (Harrison & Walker 1976a) and the Prophaethon reappraisal (Harrison & Walker 1976b). Cyril also contributed to Charig et al. (1986): the Natural History Museum’s definitive response to the ill-conceived and wholly erroneous claim that the London Archaeopteryx might be a fake [below is the only half-decent photo I have of Cyril, sorry about the poor quality. It was taken in Bournemouth in 1998. Gareth Dyke is on the right].

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Some of the identifications and appraisals made by Cyril and Colin were criticised, and there is no doubt that they sometimes went too far in trying to identify fragmentary fossils (that is, they proposed identifications that were too specific given the quality of the material). However, this technique is capable of producing as many ‘hits’ as ‘misses’. In 1981, Cyril wrote a brief paper in which he described an assemblage of unusual bird bones from the Upper Cretaceous Lecho Formation of El Brete, Argentina. The El Brete bones seemed to belong to several, very distinct avian taxa, yet they shared enough unusual characters for Cyril to conclude that they represented an entirely new avian clade, phylogenetically intermediate between Archaeopteryx of the Jurassic and the ornithurines of the Cretaceous and Cenozoic. Cyril named this clade Enantiornithes (Walker 1981). His initial paper on this group showed remarkable prescience and later work was to wholly vindicate his ideas on these unusual birds. Several taxa are named after him, including the birds Proardeola walkeri Harrison, 1979, Explorornis walkeri (Nessov & Panteleyev, 1993), Eocolius walkeri Dyke & Waterhouse, 2001 and Eocathayornis walkeri Zhou, 2002, and the mosasaur Pluridens walkeri Lingham-Soliar, 1998.

Cyril was not only interested in birds, and also contributed to work on fossil turtles. In fact some of his oldest contributions are on members of this group (Walker 1979). He also participated in a lot of fieldwork, and was involved in the collection of many dinosaur and marine reptile fossils from the African Cretaceous [in the image below, Cyril and David Ward (at right) examine fossils in – I think – Niger. Image provided by Gareth Dyke].

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I first met Cyril some time in the late 1990s when I was looking at cassowary specimens at Tring. We spoke about cassowaries a lot, but also about the Wealden dinosaurs I was working on, and I was surprised to find that Cyril knew quite a lot about them as well. Cyril was great fun to talk to, and over the years we had many vigorous discussions about birds and other tetrapods. I am pleased that he was able to briefly attend the ‘Dinosaurs – A Historical Perspective’ conference held in May 2008, but it was to be the last time I ever saw him. Farewell Cyril, you will be missed.

This year’s Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting (to be held in Bristol, UK) includes ‘The evolution of birds in the Mesozoic: a symposium in honor of Cyril A. Walker’, organised by Gareth Dyke and Larry Martin. Thanks to Gareth and Dick Moody for information and images.

Refs – –

Charig, A. J., Greenaway, F., Milner, A. C., Walker, C. A. & Whybrow, P. J. 1986. Archaeopteryx is not a forgery. Science 232, 622-626.

Harrison, C. J. O. & Walker, C. A. 1976a. A review of the bony-toothed birds (Odontopterygiformes): with descriptions of some new species. Tertiary Research Special Paper 2, 1-62.

– . & Walker, C. A. 1976b. A reappraisal of Prophaethon shrubsolei Andrews (Aves). Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History), Geology 27, 1-30.

Walker, C. A. 1979. New turtles from the Cretaceous of Sokoto. The Nigerian Field, Monograph No. 1, 42-48.

– . 1981. New subclass of birds from the Cretaceous of South America. Nature 292, 51-53.

Comments

  1. #1 Dartian
    May 12, 2009

    Cyril also contributed to Charig et al. (1986): the Natural History Museum’s definitive response to the ill-conceived and wholly erroneous claim that the London Archaeopteryx might be a fake

    Didn’t Hoyle and his henchmen say flat out that the London Archaeopteryx is a fake, rather than soften their claim by saying that it only ‘might’ be a fake? (I don’t have their original publications handy, and I rather don’t want to make the effort of looking them up, as that whole sordid affair still angers me. It’s an effing shame that publishing the Charig et al. paper was necessary in the first place.)

  2. #2 Darren Naish
    May 12, 2009

    Yes, they asserted that it IS a fake. I only went with the ‘might be’ because it sounded better. Alan Charig was very angry about the fact that he had to waste time responding to this nonsense. Of course, the ‘hoax’ claim continues to have adherents in the lunatic fringe: I’ve seen it mooted just this year in some anti-evolution articles.

  3. #3 Dartian
    May 14, 2009

    Still on this sad Archaeopteryx affair…

    Did Hoyle et al. ever really comment on the Charig et al. (1986) paper? Did they have the backbones to admit that they were just utterly and completely wrong in their accusations? Or did they follow the usual wackaloon routine and ignore all valid counterarguments?

  4. #4 Darren Naish
    May 14, 2009

    Hoyle, with colleagues (Chandra Wickramasinghe and R. S. Watkins), published a few, short articles in British Journal of Photography, as well as the 1986 book Archaeopteryx: The Primordial Bird, and in the book they (Hoyle and Wickramasinghe) did indeed respond to Charig et al. Few palaeontologists have read this book (I only know two that have) – and this is kind of unfortunate because it’s only here that the full, incredible ridiculousness of Hoyle and Wickramasinghe’s hypothesis is explained in full. This stuff is soooo good (read: bad) that I must blog about it some time.

    By the way, we need to standardise the spelling of wackaloon: with or without an ‘h’? Speaking of which, ‘Peter Mihalda’ just posted something new. Deleted it, of course.

  5. #5 Dartian
    May 14, 2009

    This stuff is soooo good (read: bad) that I must blog about it some time.

    Yes, please do!

    we need to standardise the spelling of wackaloon: with or without an ‘h’?

    I wondered a little about that; I chose to drop the ‘h’ because I thought the word is derived from ‘wacky’. But I’m open to be persuaded otherwise.

    Speaking of which, ‘Peter Mihalda’ just posted something new.

    Something new? Wow, that sounds like an improvement!

  6. #6 David Marjanović
    May 14, 2009

    There are Americans who still pronounce w and wh differently. Ask them…

  7. #7 David Kellt
    May 15, 2009

    There are Americans who still pronounce w and wh differently. Ask them…

    Posted by: David Marjanović | May 14, 2009 11:45 AM

    Not just Americans. There was a debate on Birdforum about how Whooper Swan was pronounced. Wast it “Wooper” or “Hooper”?

    My response was

    “Feckin’ southern illiterate barstewards!

    How do you pronounce white, is it wite or hite?

    No it’s feckin’ white!

    Is it Wale or Hale?

    No it’s a bluidy Whale!

    Neither the W nor the H are silent.

    If yer Ingils teachers ur deid they’ll be whurlin’ in their graves.

    I’ll be awa’ tae ma beid noo!”

    As you may just possibly guess from the above I am not from Berkshire.

    David

  8. #8 Dartian
    May 16, 2009

    Regarding the spelling issue: Urban Dictionary, at least, seems to prefer the spelling ‘wackaloon’.

    David K:

    As you may just possibly guess from the above I am not from Berkshire.

    Ur ye frae North Kilt Toon?

  9. #9 Nathan Myers
    May 21, 2009

    In this as in all such cases, the spelling is exactly counter to pronunciation. Therefore, it’s “whackaloon”, but the “h” is silent. We see a parallel in “kludge”, pronounced to rhyme with “Scrooge”. The awkwardness is part of the complete experience.

  10. #10 leon harris
    June 5, 2009

    christ what a bunch!
    does anybody remember cyrils telly appearance on Arther C Clarks world of mysteries? {or some such)indiana jones had nothing on this bloke.

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