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!