The Sea Going Monster

Moving building stone has long taxed humanity.  For instance, last summer’s attempt at ice age revisionist history, the movie 10,000 B.C., showed that mastodons were the primary movers of stone 

at the pyramids.  Okay, maybe the movie makers made a mistake but transporting tons of rock is not easy.  For example, Michelangelo narrowly escaped death twice when great columns of marble he was moving fell and almost crushed him.  Stone movement was so important that it led to what many consider the world’s first patent, granted on June 19, 1421 to Fillippo Brunelleschi.

I learned of Brunelleschi’s patent while reading Robert Clark’s new book Dark Water: Flood and Redemption in the City of Masterpieces, which tells the story of the 1966 flood that devastated Florence.  Clark begins by tracing the history of art and artists in Florence before preceding to details of the flood and its aftermath.  One of the artists he features is Brunelleschi, best known as the architect of the dome of the Duomo in Florence.

Brunelleschi’s patent covered a boat that would be used to “bring in any merchandise and load on the river Arno and any other river or water, for less money than usual.”  Not merely content with ensuring Brunelleschi’s intellectual property rights, the patent noted that if anyone attempted to build their own vessel it would be destroyed by fire.  And you can be sure it would have been; Brunelleschi was notoriously secretive and vindictive.

Known as “Il Badalone,” or the sea-going monster, the vessel wasn’t completed until 1428, when it was scheduled to carry 100 tons of marble from Pisa, 55 miles up the Arno River to Florence.  That marble had been quarried in Carrara, another 30 miles north of Pisa.  Famous as the material that allowed Augustus to boast “I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble,” Carrara marble achieved even greater fame when Michelangelo used it for his David, Pieta, and Moses.  The brilliant white marble is still widely used for sculptures and as building stone.

(Drawing by Mariano Taccola of Il Badalone)

We do not know exactly how the boat was made because no detailed accounts exist.  The one drawing, by Brunelleschi’s contemporary Mariano Taccola, shows a flat-bottomed vessel getting towed upriver by another boat.  Oxen could also have been used to pull Il Badalone up the Arno.

Unfortunately for Brunelleschi, his monster boat made it only about halfway to Florence before sinking, for unknown reasons. Brunelleschi not only lost all of his marbles but also lost one-third of his wealth in the Badalone fiasco. Its failure, however, did save one life. His rival Giovanni di Prato, who had called Brunelleschi a “pit of ignorance” and a “miserable beast and imbecile,” had vowed to commit  suicide if Badalone had succeeded.  Brunelleschi eventually recovered his fortune and other boats eventually brought Carrara marble to Florence for use in the Duomo. 

The Natural History of King Kong

The other night I watched a movie about Megaprimatus kong, better known by his non-scientific sobriquet, King Kong. And I thought he was just a rather large representative of the species Gorilla gorilla. Did you know that Kong was the last surviving member of his species? Did you even know he had a scientific name? He wasn’t alone. The nasty, toothy worms that ate some of the film crew were Carnictis and the dinosaur gang of three that battled M. kong were Vastatosaurus rex. At least that’s what the gang who made the 2005 version of King Kong tell us in their mockumentary about the natural history of Skull Island. The extra film footage is included in the DVD version of the movie.

While I cannot recommend the main feature, the mockumentary makes a fine addition to the geomovie oeuvre discussed earlier this year at Magma Cum Laude and Geotripper. Skull Island: A Natural History includes “historic footage” of expeditions to the island, talking heads, and material from King Kong. We learn that the island is a “perversion of evolution,” where dinosaurs survived because underground vents kept the island temperate during the prolonged cooling following the asteroid that hit 65  million years ago. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the geologic instability that led to the survival of the dinosaurs ultimate doomed Skull Island, as a 9.2 magnitude earthquake led to the island’s disappearance into the sea, coincidentally just after the original King Kong movie crew finished shooting in the 1930s.
I have to hand it to the movie makers because much of what they discuss is based on plausible science, even if applied to a made up world.  This does not necessarily mean that the movie is believable and it’s too bad that none of this science comes across in King Kong but at least the mockumentarians did take the time to research the facts. Another plus for the mockumentary is its length, an easy-to-watch 17 minutes versus the butt numbing three hours of the film.