Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Vintage Dinosaur Art: I-Spy with David Bellamy: Dinosaurs

Merry Christmas everyone! In the true spirit of this season of giving - and by no means through sheer coincidence, or because I have nothing else to write about - Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs is bringing you two Vintage Dinosaur Art posts this week. It's something we've never done before, except that one time. Furthermore, this book stars David Bellamy, otherwise known as Father Christmas, the original British equivalent of the Dutch Sinterklaas and American Santa Claus, who has subsequently effectively merged with the latter, much to the chagrin of traditionalists throughout the country.

Say, the top half of that tyrannosaur looks familar!

According to British tradition, David Bellamy (or Father Christmas) is an elderly, bearded gentleman who is very keen on wildlife. On Christmas Eve he visits the houses of well-behaved children and leaves them books on nature spotting and anthropogenic climate change denial. He also hit the charts once, but the less said about that, the better - although it should be noted that this book appeared at about the same time in 1980. The illustrations (by Jenny Halstead) aren't fantastic, but then neither are they particularly bad, falling somewhere closer to 'mediocre'.

Take a look at this Allosaurus, for example. By 1980 standards, it's not bad at all - even if it's missing a toe on each foot (perhaps a result of the artist taking the text a bit too literally), at least the tail's elevated and the head's only a little misshapen. The text is interesting in that it claims that Allosaurus was "closely related to...Megalosaurus", which according to modern analyses it wasn't particularly, although this is just a relic of the time when every theropod was lumped into Megalosaurus.

Writing by the original owner of this book. D'awwww.

This Iguanodon is very similar in appearance to the Invicta toy, but that aside it is, again, not bad (for 1980). This page is more notable for the claim that Megalosaurus "probably preyed" on Iguanodon, in spite of the two being separated by a good 40 million years. This error - which pops up in old dinosaur books with alarming frequency - can probably be traced back to the two being depicted as living together back in the 19th century. However, back then they had no way of telling how old they really were. Some jokers even thought that they might haved lived alongside the earliest humans but, of course, no one in their right mind thinks that anymore.

Remember when Supersaurus and "Ultrasauros" ended up being conflated into one chimeric creature? I don't, obviously, but I've seen enough of these sorts of illustrations to get the impression that it happened quite frequently prior to Supersaurus being 'officially named'. Obviously, Supersaurus turned out to not be a brachiosaur, and as such modern weight estimates are considerably lower - around half of the 80 tonnes stated here. Meanwhile, "Ultrasauros" was at least partly a brachiosaur - in fact, its scapulocoracoid was from a Brachiosaurus altithorax. The rest of it was just more Supersaurus. Ah, well...

Here's an interesting couple of pages. On the left we have a profile of Mussaurus, which Bellamy (or whoever authored the text, if not him) seems to mistakenly believe was very tiny. Of course, the remains that have been found are very tiny, but that's only because they're juveniles. On the right we have a more promising page, pointing out the similarities between the skeletons of modern thrushes and nonavian theropods, which was a brilliant thing to include in a kids' book back in 1980. (A note to non-Eurasian readers - the blackbird referred to here is Turdus merula. Which I'm sure you already knew but, y'know, just in case.)

Unfortunately, there is a dropping of the ball later in the book. Birds as descendants of ornithischians? Noooooo! Still, this page deserves merit for being pretty progressive for 1980. At the time the idea of birds being dinosaurs was still frowned upon by members of the palaeontological establishment, including good old Alan Charig (for no very good reason). It's remarkable that, these days, claiming that birds (and often other maniraptorans) aren't theropod dinosaurs is the 'outsider' view, although that'll be because it doesn't make any bloody sense.

Finally, on 'spotting' everything and completing the book, kids could send off for a certificate from Father Christmas himself, declaring them to officially be a "Dinosarologist". I hope to receive mine forthwith...


  1. Aww... Hey, you should have let me do the lettering on that certificate. :P

    I hope you'll forgive me, but as lovely and knowledgeable as Mr. Bellamy is, I still cannot quite see him as Father Christmas...

    Ms. Halstead seems to be rather keen on tiger stripes (or zebra, if you will) for her herbivores. Are there other examples of them in the book?

  2. @Niroot: It wouldn't have been funny in your handwriting. My childish scrawl seems more apt.

    Also, he is knowledgeable, although his views on global warming can be...suspect.

  3. It might have been funny looking all pseudo serious...

    There, you see. He is not Father Christmas. ;)

  4. @Niroot: True, I guess. Especially if you too wrote "The Interwebs".


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