Monday, April 30, 2012

Vintage Dinosaur Art: The evolution and ecology of the Dinosaurs: Part 1

Here we have one of those rare occasions where I manage to get hold of a book that is historically interesting, rammed with art and that doesn't stretch the definition of 'vintage' to breaking point. Hooray! Even if you've never looked inside this book, the cover is probably instantly familiar - I didn't know where I'd seen these two oddly rubbery-looking brachiosaurs before, but was quite sure that I at least had. It's a striking enough image, especially given the impressive contrast between the big guys and the tiny theropods flitting around them, which almost look like doves. With extra fingers. (Yes, unfortunately Giovanni Caselli had that issue with Archaeopteryx wings...as we shall see.)






















The book, from 1975, is a pretty comprehensive tour through the Mesozoic history of that archosaurian clade we've come to know and love (words courtesy of the slightly enigmatic 'Dr L.B. Halstead', a person far too cool to reveal their first name). In other words, it lives up to its title. Once again, there is an odd, uneasy melding of new and old ideas here, both in the text and in the art. Yes, there are tail-dragging, swamp-bound sauropods (including some very old-fashioned 'brontosaurs'), but theropods and even ornithopods are described (and often illustrated) as being active and fast-moving. Cavelli's illustrations can be a little odd-looking and are heavily stylised, which is particularly notable given that the book trumpets his specialism in natural history and "accurate reconstructions". It's also very fun to spot the instances where he's ripped off other artists. Like this one:














It's the bird-grabbing Ornitholestes again, a la Charles Knight, here nabbing one of those pesky five-fingered Archaeopteryx. Of far more interest, however, is the very strange creature on the left hand side, dubbed "Compsognathus corallestris". Based on a mistaken interpretation of a specimen that's now been referred to Compsognathus longipes, it has little flippers for hands and just looks utterly, utterly ridiculous. I love its angry little face. Not surprising, really.











While we're on the topic of tragically mistaken reconstructions, this sad-looking Stegosaurus has got to warrant a mention. It's wilted! The text rationalises this plate arrangement on the basis that, if upright, the plates would have offered very little protection for the animal, and you can sort of see the line of thought. On the other hand, other stegosaurs (like Kentrosaurus) are shown with armour as erect as ever - and, well, Marsh actually originally envisioned the plates this way (or near enough - hence the animal's name) but the idea was abandoned. At least they got the bit about the forelimbs right, and as such the animal isn't shown with its head nearly scraping along the ground, as was typical for decades.






















Here we see Tyrannosaurus on its morning jog. The upright posture is certainly a bit strange, but at least the animal is active, mobile and emphatically not dragging its massive tail around behind it. In spite of the creature's pretty dynamic representation in the illustration, the text makes it sound plain rubbish - we're told that the big lug "waddled along rather like a goose" and that its teeth would have been wrenched from their sockets in a struggle. For my money, Caselli comes off rather well here - much as his T. rex looks like it's taking part in a fun run, it's clearly muscular and agile for its size, making for a prescient vision all round. That said, there is an illustration in the book that more befits the vision of a toothless tyrant with a huge arse like a farmyard fowl. And here it is.






















That's certainly an, uh, unusual perspective. Credit is due for depicting Tyrannosaurus and Alamosaurus together though - a scenario that is, bafflingly, hardly ever depicted in palaeoart. They're not up to much in particular here, mind. I think Alamosaurus is just bending over and laughing at T. rex's gigantic rear end.

As far as odd restorations go, I think Caselli's Spinosaurus takes the cake in this book.
















Blimey. "Unlike other large flesh eaters," we are told, "Spinosaurus had strong front legs...walking on four legs does not use up as much energy as walking on two, and when it was wandering in search of food, it would go on all fours." Now just a minute - this was 1975, for crying out loud. They hadn't even found Baryonyx yet, and Spinosaurus' arms are notoriously missing. So where was this information coming from!?! Of course, based on other spinosaurs, we now know that Spinosaurus' arms would have actually been considerably more robust than those in the picture, although completely unsuitable for quadrupedal locomotion.






















And finally...for now. I love this picture. Love love love. Yes, the animals look rather weird, and the T. rex looks like it's sprouted a mohawk. But...there's a man in a suit and bowler hat! And he's carrying an umbrella and briefcase! And staring up at them! I'm sure I don't have to explain why that's quite brilliant. I think the brachiosaur should be wearing a bowler hat too.

Oh, OK then, you got this far. Have some Iguanodon pr0n (someone's clearly been taking yoga classes). The evolution and ecology of the Dinosaurs will return!


20 comments:

  1. Why, it's Mr. George Banks, I'm almost certain!

    Hey look, it seems the Alamosaurus hands were got right. Though it may depend on whether one decides if those are claws or simply flesh... They look a little undecided.

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  2. "Credit is due for depicting Tyrannosaurus and Alamosaurus together though - a scenario that is, bafflingly, hardly ever depicted in palaeoart."

    Rourke's "Tyrannosaurus" ( http://www.amazon.com/Tyrannosaurus-Angela-Sheehan/dp/B000LB2XIK/ref=sr_1_13?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1335826459&sr=1-13 ) also depicts T.rex & Alamosaurus together.

    "I think the brachiosaur should be wearing a bowler hat too."

    I was thinking the T.rex should wear a top hat or a fedora.

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  3. I loved this book when I was a kid, not because of the text (which was often confusing and tough going) but for the art. I still think that Caselli's art looks awesome, even where it is completely inaccurate... with the possible exception of that second T. rex pic. The Spinosaurus may be all wrong, but it still has a special place in my heart.

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  4. That post just kept getting better and better, right to the end! Frankly, there are not enough pictures of dinos wearing hats (or getting it on).

    That Spinosaurus has 4 fingers and is not very bright - of all the places to start munching, he chooses the bit that's mostly bone.

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    1. 'or getting it on'

      Heavens, no, do not suggest it. You will prompt someone to post that orgiastic collection of dinos doing precisely that...

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  5. Great post. I got this book for Christmas in 1977, and it soon became my absolute favourite and the basis for class talks and school projects. My copy is worn, tattered but still treasured and to this day resides with the great and good of palaeontology on my bookcase.

    I'm so glad you included the size comparison image, the best ever in my humble opinion. There were flashes of genuis in the book (as well as the reworking of plenty of old tropes), especially the image of _Tyrannosaurus rex_ getting up from a lying position, with the end result a very modern-looking reconstruction with the spine held horizontal to the ground.

    The B stands for Beverley (don't know about the L).

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  6. L.B. Halstead (13 June 1933 – 30 April 1991) was Lambert Beverly Halstead, commonly reffered to as Beverly. Modern Geology 18 (1995) was dedicated to him and his work. His Wikipedia entry mentions his "candid theories of dinosaur sexual habits" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beverly_Halstead), but what I remember him most for was his profound scepticism in the face of Robert Bakker's warm-blooded-dinosaur theory.

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    1. I had a feeling that it was Beverly Halstead (but couldn't resist the line about him being too cool for a first name). I have actually looked at one of his books before (the Collins Gem book).

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  7. I remember there was a very good Pachycephalosaur headbutting contest in the "Pan" version of this book (a small 25-odd page papereback version, with a jolly hadrosaur on the cover), which might still pass muster (why is it that no-one has them headbutting any more)?

    That finned and flippered Compsugnatus wasn't labelled in my version, I wondered what on earth it was supposed to be. Now I know.

    There was also an impressive herd of sauropods swimming neck-deep in a sort of underwater stampede. In 1977! It's a very powerful meme...

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    1. Both of those are in this book! Don't forget, this is only Part 1...

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    2. Well, T. Rex and Alamosaurus didn´t actually have the same stratigraphy; they lived in opposite and isolated shores of the Interior sea and the sauropod is a bit older. If there´s a tyrannosaurid that lived along it, that must be Bistahieversor.

      Another hilarious and very enjoyable review, btw. :D

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    3. Brian Switek tells me otherwise, and he has such a handsome face. http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/dinosaur/2009/03/tyrannosaurus-vs-alamosaurus/

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    4. I want to 'like' this reply. Or favourite it.

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    5. @Marc: so it is def. identified as T. rex? last time I´ve heard about this tyrannosaur remains nobody was very sure what taxa they belonged to. Tyrannosaurs rex is theoretically endemic of northern N. america. Alamosaurus seems to be also a bit older than thought, but I guess there still could be some overlapping in space and time. I´d be the first one to cheer if I´m wrong, because I used to like the idea of those two coexisting.

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    6. "why is it that no-one has them headbutting any more?"

      The headbutting Pachysephalosaurus was a bit of a no-no for a while, but apparently it's back on the table: http://archosaurmusings.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/guest-post-when-pachycephalosaurs-attack/

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  8. I think the "mowhawk" on the Tyrannosaurus silhouette is based on the old full size model at the Boston Museum of Science. I'm assuming it's still there, haven't been there in years. And I think the guy in the size comparison is Jake Blues, even if he is in front of 10 Downing street for some reason.

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    1. Do you mean this one? http://gregcookland.com/journal/uploaded_images/picMOSdino1111208_0210web-791792.jpg

      If so, Caselli only ever saw it in lateral view.

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  9. I saw an illustration similar to the mating Iguanodon in a book a few days ago, except with Corythosaurus in their place. Iguanodontians must just be kinky.

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  10. I had this book as a kid and have been trying for YEARS to find it, or anyone who remembered it...THANK YOU! This is the one where there is a sequence of line drawings of T.rex lying on its belly, using the tiny forelimbs to steady it while it rose to stand, correct?

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  11. Shouldn't that be Iguano-pr0n? *shot*

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