Monday, March 7, 2011

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Scaphognathus Hangs Out

Pterodactylus crassirostris 1857
Illustration of the restored Scaphognathus crassirostris holotype. From Hugh Miller's The Testimony of the Rocks, 1857.

It's fair to say that Scaphognathus crassirostris is not the most celebrated of the pterosaurs. But the evolution of its popular representations is pretty interesting, and has popped up in a few cool places. The 1857 engraving above is a perfect example of the typical pose that recurred throughout the 19th century.

Scaphognathus crassirostris Holotype, 1831
An engraving of the holotype fossil, described by Goldfuss in 1831.

Scaphognathus was originally described in 1831 by the German paleontologist August Goldfuss, who at the time determined it to be a species of the first described pterosaur, Pterodactylus. During the 1800's, it was shuffled around taxonomically until a second, probably juvenile, specimen was found and Johann Wagner erected its current name in 1858. In January, Dave Hone featured Scaphognathus at Archosaur Musings, writing about pterosaur taxonomy in the years after that first Pterodactylus was discovered. Though Scaphognathus and other early pterosaurs had marked differences from Pterodactylus, they
were put into Pterodactylus based on their even more obvious similarities – these were, after all, obviously pterosaurs. However, once it became clear that there were some important differences, as well and the similarities, then thinks like Dimorphodon and Scaphognathus were separated out into their own genera. This is an extreme example, but the principle is the same and constantly resurfaces.

Pterodactylus crassirostris restored 1836

The "restored version" of Scaphognathus, here reproduced by Buckland in 1836, seems to have cast a spell over early reconstructions of the animal. This pose became the default one used over and over throughout the 19th century, often modified so the wing is in a more extended position.

This 1888 version, redrawn and mirrored horizontally, is from the German natural history text Naturgeschichte Geologie und Paläontologie that was the subject of a Vintage Dinosaur Art post last month.

Pterodactylus crassirostris 1888

Pterodactylus brevirostris, 1836
In this 1836 reconstruction (at right), also from Buckland's Bridgewater Treatises, you can see what I suppose this pose is meant to represent - the animal clinging to a rock face.

Scaphognathus crassirostris 1890

The only early depiction that I could find that strayed from this trend was the one above, from Albert Gaudry's Les enchaînements du monde animal dans les temps géologiques, published in 1890. But it's not too different.

I recently wrote about a collection of paleontology-themed trading cards by the French company Chocolat D'Aiguebelle, and one of them featured a cartoonified illustration of the restored Scaphognathus holotype, though labeled with the generic "Pterodactyle."

Pterodactyle Trading Card from Chocolat D'Aigubelle

My favorite version of this meme, edging out the D'Aigubelle chocolate wrapper, was used for the bookplate of a Dr. Tillfried Cernajsek. Thank you to Matt Celeskey of the Hairy Museum of Natural History website for passing it on to me; I love the woodcut look of it, and it's my favorite of the admittedly small collection of paleo bookplates I've begun.
Dr. Tillfried Cernajsek Bookplate

I've collected these images of Scaphognathus crassirostris, along with others, at Flickr. It's also a fun game of spot-the-mistakes (hint: you can count them on your fingers). I'll be adding more to it as I can, and if you have any other variations of his meme, I'll happily add them to the set.

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