I did a lengthy interactive project with many people, Skin & Bones II, where people covered plastic dinosaur skeletons in clay in an attempt to make the dinosaurs look like what the people thought the dinosaurs looked like in real life. Then I analyzed the skeletons’ morphology according to over 30 visual characteristics.

For Clay-dograms, I took all the data about the skeletons’ morphology and fed it into Mesquite, a program that paleontologists usually use to create cladograms (sets of evolutionary relationships) based on real fossils’ morphologies. I broke the data down by the species of the original plastic dinosaur, then used the program to find the visual relationships that existed among the clay models.

There is one cladogram per species. The names are shaded from dark to light, depending on how many steps a particular model is from its original “visual ancestor.”  It should be noted that these are not necessarily the only cladistic solutions to the data sets, but are one viable possibility.

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I performed Skin & Bones II, the project the Clay-dograms are based on, on multiple occasions in Ithaca and Syracuse, NY, including a preschool, multiple elementary school classes from kindergarten to 4th grade, a high school class, and random adults at various sites including the New York State Fair.

Here are a few examples of the 300+ models that people made:

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