Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Prehistoric Prognostications 2014: The Final List

The masses have spoken, and here is the final collection of predictions for the year in paleontology to come. I'll recap those from the writers of LITC first:

A new pterosaur fossil is unearthed that sports flamboyant, gigantic soft tissue crests all over its body, and is accompanied by a string of unossified baby skeletons. David Peters is therefore shown to be right all along, pterosaurs are declared lizards, ceremonial bonfires are held of the existing pterosaur literature, and riots break out in institutions across the globe. Mark Witton is forced to walk the streets of Portsmouth with a bell around his neck, flagellating himself with a whip.

Do I have to have a serious one? Oh, I don't know, definitive feathers are found on an animal further down the tyrannosauroid family tree. There you go.

I went and thought and came up with something considerably less silly than I had anticipated after all: soft tissue evidence for 'cheeks' in a hadrosaur, with implications thereby for other ornithischians.

Feathered sauropod. If only because the bitching from anti-feather people will be truly glorious to watch if and when it happens.

Secondarily-flightless Azdarchid. It seems too obvious not to exist somewhere (probably an island animal, if it ever existed.) My guess is either a medium sized animal or a real giant, something larger than anything else in the ecosystem.

More Deinocheirus material would be nice. I suspect there's probably going to be some cool carcharodondosaur material as well--they seem to come out of the woodwork with some regularity every year, and it's always fun when they do.

Bruhathkaysaurus and Amphilicoelias. Full skeletons. Sprawled out in all their huge, brain breaking glory. Expect the apocalypse to occur shortly afterward, and the elder dinosaur gods to come back and take their revenge on the world of man.

A firming of the hypothesis that most protobirds had leg-wings. It seems to be pretty well accepted at this point, but it'd be nice to see it firmed up some more.

I'm going to go against my urge to do something integument-related and predict a ceratopsid "mummy" with eggs intact.

...and now on to commenters. Some excellent ones in here. I hope we get as many as possible!

Paul Heaston:
I'm always hoping for a truly epic "frozen in time" battle. We have the famous Gobi combatants, the Acrocanthosaurus/Paluxysaurus(Pleurocoelus) trackway, and recently the more debatable Nanotyrannus/Triceratops thing. But I'd like to see a half-dozen Ceratosaurs swarming a brachiosaur or something. Or Therizinosaurus slapping a tarbosaur silly. Probably no chance of those two, but come ON scientists! Give us something!

Elijah Shandseight (who also posts predictions here):
Since the feathered sauropod has already been cited, there are other interesting critters that just await to be found: a new stegosaurid, a carnivorous silesaurid, a giant troodontid (there are many giant coelurosaurus around, and I wouldn't be surprised if there giant species in Troodontidae), a big psittacosaurid, an oviraptorosaur from South America, a Lambeosaurinae from Australia and a macropredatory ichthyosaur with short skull (there's already Thalattoarchon, but I mean something more like a Dakosaurus-mimicking genus).

Thomas Diehl:
Given that thyreophorans are still missing a major overhaul, I'll go with evidence that Stegosaurus' plates were covered in two fatty humps running the length of its body. Also, marine spinosaurid. Though given that I think the claws were for locomotion, pulling the animal forward in the mud, this might be somewhat unlikely if I'm right.

Craig Dylke:
Some evidence of definite omnivore Ceratopsians.

Henrique Niza:
I would say evidence of feather-like structures on neovenatorids.

Duane Nash:
Evidence of coprophagy in sauropodlets.

A mass burial site reveals that sauropods really did spend their lives floating around in rivers and shallow coastal waters, using their long legs to anchor themselves against the current/tide as they slept.
A more serious thing I'd like to see discovered: evidence that a small maniraptoran used sticks or thorns as tools to extract insects or small prey. (Not shaped or firehardened! Just poking implements as used by modern birds.)

1. A new dinosaur belonging to an entirely new group (preferably some sort of carnivorous ornithischian)
2. Quills/Protofeathers on an ornithopod or thyreophoran.
3. A quilled/feathered primitive ornithodiran or even just archosaur (by that I mean I'd like to find at least some feathery integument on a primitive ornithodiran OR primitive archosaur if we're extra lucky).
4. A at least partially complete Spinosaurus (crosses fingers for 18(or more) meters in length).
5. A Jurassic Rauisuchian.
6. Some sort of Pterosaur mummy or at least good skin impressions.
7. New Amphicoelias material or some fossils from whatever made the Broome trackway.
8. A T. rex with a femur cracked open by a Triceratops beak.
9. Some new polar dinosaurs. (Especially contemporaries of Cryolophosaurus)
10. A stegosaurid or diplodocid in Mid-Late Cretaceous rocks. 11. A Megalania sized Tegu somewhere in South America or a giant varanid on Hateg.
12. A new Holtz' Dinosaurs or book in similar style! (preferably with illustrations by Luis Rey (not photomanipulated either, yuck), Doug Henderson, John Conway, and C.M. Kosemen.

1. Definite evidence of omnivorous ceratopsians.
2. More mummies! :D
3. More of little-known dinosaurs like Utahraptor and Amphicoelias fragillimus (for A. fragillimus it's more proof it existed in the first place).
4. A sauropod with quills or protofeathers.
5. A spinosaur or abelisaur with feathers.
6. More giant feathered dinosaurs in general.

Nick Porter:
Skull-mendous remains from an early eudromaeosaurid that isn't Deinonychus. Fingers crossed for a pre-Barremian example to shed some light on how the group evolved.
Good remains from an early definite neovenatorid.
New oxygen isotope findings reveal semi-aquatic lifestyle in a non-spinosaurid dinosaur, hopefully an ornithischian of some kind.
Unambiguous "missing link" between basal marginocephalians and pachycephalosaurs.

Talcott Starr:
I don't know if it's geologically possible for something like this to last for tens of millions of years, but I'm still holding out hope (and 2014 feels lucky to me) that someone will find a Pompeii-esque site that gives us casts of dinosaur feathers/skin/body shapes.
I'd also like to see the improbable discovery of a dinosaur from Ohio (so far as I can tell, the only way that could happen is if one managed to fall through a chasm into an aquifer).
Neither of those are really predictions, so much as dreams, but at least I didn't include time travel on the list.
That's for 2015.

Matthew Haynes:
More Anklyosaurus
Complete Spinosaurus
Fuzzy juvenile sauropod
Body imprints of neoceratopsians showing bristles
More attempts at de-extinction (fingers crossed)
North American spinosaurs
More Asian ceratopsids

Mark Robinson:
Better trackways and soft tissue preservation shows that dinosaurs from all major groups had webbed feet and were aquatic.
Evidence that the rate of radioactive decay for all elements was up to six magnitudes greater in the past. All prehistoric life is now estimated to be less than 6000 years old.
Feathers on anything other than a bird (definition varies conveniently) turn out to be collagen fibres after all.
Marc's already mentioned the two I would've said forrealz (altho' I would limit the pterosaur to a single fleshy cranial extension) so I will say definitive feathers in a sub-adult albertosaurine.

Luis Miguez:
Well, it's easy: More chinese diminutive birdie-things. Sure.

Matthew Inabinett:
Keep in mind these are just things I'd like to see that seem likely, not just what I'd like to see. That list is waaaaay too long:
1. definitive evidence of feathers on a coelophysiod
2. definitive evidence of complex feathers on an ornithischian
3. definitive evidence of feathers on a tyrannosaurine
4. fragmentary remains of a new giant (30+ m) sauropod
5. one or more new carcharodontosaurids
6. relatively complete remains of a 12-14 m span azhdarchid
7. more heterodontosaurids, maybe a carnivorous one
8. more bizarre palaeofauna from Madagascar
9. more (preferably really bizarre) palaeofauna from Antarctica
10. a giant (12+ m) abelisaurid
11. bizarre (very short-necked, very long necked, unusually large, unusually small, armoured, really weird-skulled, etc) diplodocoids
12. more relatively complete pachycephalosaur postcranial remains
13. a truly giant (20+ m) pliosaur, think WWD-proportions here
14. a giant (4+ m) compsognathid

Well, alright then! That will wrap up the prognostications for this year. Next December, we'll take another look at the list and see if any of these came true. Thanks for participating, and here's to a great 2014!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Forewarned is forearmed

Image courtesy of SimplyWallpaper.net

I was with Marc on that solemn journey to the 'Shiny Multiplex Enormodome' to see the Walking with Dinosaurs film. There is very little that I can add to his review, given that we are pretty much in exact agreement and Marc has already mentioned all the points he and I discussed in the post-movie debriefing. Nor do our opinions differ greatly from the near-universal verdict that it is, in effect, a stunning visual treat marred by inane dialogue.

Having gone to it with this already in mind, however, I didn't find that dialogue quite as intolerable as I had anticipated (though, make no mistake, I would have longed for its absence to begin with), a view shared by some reports, including those of Darren Naish and Gareth Monger. The latter found it easy enough to mentally 'switch off'. Like Marc, I even found Alex's narration surprisingly palatable in some parts, and perhaps that should have been the extent of the script, if it was felt necessary at all. The whole was fairly endurable enough until the fight between Patchi and his brother, Scowler, during which the exchange took an evisceratingly embarrassing turn in resembling a scene from a dreadful high school drama. The sequence, much like so many others, would have been entirely spared this indignity had it been speech-free. Even the arguably sillier visual jokes and slapstick would have worked organically and induced fewer groans if the silent storytelling had been left untouched. The soundtrack complaint extends to a degree to the music. My genuine enjoyment of the orchestral score was abruptly bridled by the sudden introduction of Barry White when Patchi first encounters Juniper amid a cloud of butterflies, for example. Incidentally, later in this sequence -- and quite after the Barry White had been dispensed with -- I was amused to recall David's mention of Cyrano de Bergerac as the pudgy young Patchi trotted back day after day to the waterfall in hopes of meeting the rosy Juniper again, but I digress...

 It might be superfluous of me to say more with regard to the beauty of the animals and the animation, but it is worth emphasizing once more. I refer you once again to Marc's description in lieu of my gushing further on the rendering of skin, scales, and feathers, or the palpably alive movement of flesh and muscle.

If the bathos between the sublime visuals and the ridiculous soundtrack is galling for dino-geeks, then, how much more so is it for the artists behind the creation? If it is true that the executive Pooh-Bahs bowed to the opinion of test screen audiences in the retroactive introduction of the script, then my heart is doubly heavy. My frustrations with the greater public's penchant for turning tea into soda are too great to mention and certainly too close to home in my own profession. Nobody can be at a loss to follow so simple a story, or to identify -- and identify with -- the characters, so well conceived and delineated in their designs. I wonder, were folks always so dense when they watched the numerous dialogue-free Pixar shorts? And what of Wall-E? Or what of Lotte Reiniger's The Adventures of Prince Achmed? The list goes on.

I conclude by reiterating Marc that 'the artistic and scientific talent behind this film do deserve our support'. The plain fact of the matter is that the hope of more such films being made in future does rest upon sales, and perhaps we may hope, however feebly, that the collective intelligent response to this film may bend a few ears of the powers-that-be. Thus forewarned, go and see this film, and hold fast to its merits.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Missing Kenneth Branagh

I never thought I'd miss Kenneth Branagh quite as much as I do now. Nevertheless, having solemnly journeyed to my local Shiny Multiplex Enormodome to see the Walking With Dinosaurs movie, it's the slightly over-earnest tones of thespian Kenny that I long for. For you see - and forgive me if you've heard this already - WWD 3D features dinosaurs that talk. And talk. And talk.

Talk v teeth. Image from here.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Prehistoric Prognostications 2014

Edmontosaurus with a fleshy "cock's comb." Tsintaosaurus given a proper crest. Deinocheirus triumphant. 2013 brought us plenty of surprises. Those unexpected discoveries are part of what makes paleontology so much fun to follow: find the right spot to excavate, and who knows what the rock will reveal?

Which gave me the idea to start a new annual series here at Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs: Prehistoric Prognostications. To kick off the predictions, the LITC crew will weigh in first.

A new pterosaur fossil is unearthed that sports flamboyant, gigantic soft tissue crests all over its body, and is accompanied by a string of unossified baby skeletons. David Peters is therefore shown to be right all along, pterosaurs are declared lizards, ceremonial bonfires are held of the existing pterosaur literature, and riots break out in institutions across the globe. Mark Witton is forced to walk the streets of Portsmouth with a bell around his neck, flagellating himself with a whip.

Do I have to have a serious one? Oh, I don't know, definitive feathers are found on an animal further down the tyrannosauroid family tree. There you go.

I went and thought and came up with something considerably less silly than I had anticipated after all: soft tissue evidence for 'cheeks' in a hadrosaur, with implications thereby for other ornithischians.

Feathered sauropod. If only because the bitching from anti-feather people will be truly glorious to watch if and when it happens.

Secondarily-flightless Azdarchid. It seems too obvious not to exist somewhere (probably an island animal, if it ever existed.) My guess is either a medium sized animal or a real giant, something larger than anything else in the ecosystem.

More Deinocheirus material would be nice. I suspect there's probably going to be some cool carcharodondosaur material as well--they seem to come out of the woodwork with some regularity every year, and it's always fun when they do.

Bruhathkaysaurus and Amphilicoelias. Full skeletons. Sprawled out in all their huge, brain breaking glory. Expect the apocalypse to occur shortly afterward, and the elder dinosaur gods to come back and take their revenge on the world of man.

A firming of the hypothesis that most protobirds had leg-wings. It seems to be pretty well accepted at this point, but it'd be nice to see it firmed up some more.

I'm going to go against my urge to do something integument-related and predict a ceratopsid "mummy" with eggs intact.

So, in the comments, feel free to add to this list. Though we've stuck to Mesozoic dinosaurs, don't be bashful with predictions about other eras of Earth's history. I'll compile them all into a post for New Year's Eve, and we'll check in next year to see who has come closest to whatever new paleontological reality 2014 brings. Of course, paleontology's revelations are often "known" in the community due to the long delays common between discovery of fossils and their description. We'll just have to go by the honor system, I think. No cheating, if you know of something that will blow our minds, keep mum and see if any of the rest of us came within spitting distance.

Happy Holidays!

Sepia ink and gouache on recycled paper, 229 x 193mm.
Opening the image in a new tab for full viewing is recommended. :)
Further details can be found here.

This illustration was commissioned by the Science Faculty of the University of Alberta for their holiday card this year. It revisits an older Holiday Hadrosaur theme of mine, only with an Edmontosaurus rather than a Parasaurolophus this time, for obvious reasons. A Pachyrhinosaurus and a pair of Troodon round off the sympatric saurian cast. If you are familiar with my work, you may also recognise the recurring turbaned figure in one of the handlers.

In the wake of completing this illustration, the discovery that Edmontosaurus actually had a rooster-like fleshy comb (old news to every Chasmosaurs reader by now, I'm sure) was finally published. You may imagine how I felt. And there was poor Victoria Arbour, co-author of the paper and the very person instrumental in securing me this commission, unable to breathe a word of it to me whilst I was working on the drawing. I have expediently decided that my Edmontosaurus here is female (her name is Cybele). I can stick with that for now.

Happy holidays!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Nu-Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaur Worlds - Part 2

So the Walking With Dinosaurs film is finally here, and they ruined it with silly voiceovers. To cheer you up, here's some more from the 1996 Don Lessem classic Dinosaur Worlds, featuring the work of under-appreciated palaeo illustrator Steve Kirk. You can thank me by sending Christmas presents, if you like. Most years I just get a tangerine and some varnish for my tiny wooden crutch. (By the way, Michelle Taylor is to blame for the 'Nu-Vintage' thing, having suggested it on our Facebook page; please direct all your complaints there.)

The Chase

Image courtesy HDwallpapers.in.

Walking With Dinosaurs 3D has been released. As is probably well-known to anyone reading this post, the production company, in a panic to comfort viewers used to the tropes of modern big-budget children's entertainment, tragically decided to add dialogue, pop music cues, and puerile humor to the film. And I had such high hopes in May.

Reviews are uniformly unkind. "If you could turn off the soundtrack you’d have a fascinating silent film featuring photo-realistic prehistoric beasts. But just you try ignoring what sounds like Smurfs 2 meets Alvin and the Chipmunks," writes Chris Knight for the National Post (though he also refers to Edmontosaurus as a carnivore, LOLWUT). As of this writing, the film has a 25% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes, though 61% of ~5,200 users on the site like it, so who knows. Maybe the gamble will pay off and in six years we'll be seeing the third movie in the series rolling out. Here's my idea: in a Triassic twist on Roxanne, a dim-witted Plateosaurus tries to win the heart of his crush with the help of a wacky Liliensternus. Take that one, 20th Century Fox. The next one costs you.

We may or may not review the movie here (there has been mention of Marc and Niroot possibly seeing it together), but seeing yet another big animated dinosaur project get muddled by terrible studio decisions has pretty well convinced me that big studios will never make the dinosaur movie I want to see. Which, for the record, would be something that feels like a feature-length version of the first lagoon shot from Jurassic Park. A narrative arc would be fine. It's been done before, and well - think The Bear. What I want is an immersive, I-just-time-travelled-to-the-Mesozoic feel, with a great score and as little anthropomorphism as possible. There's no way that film gets made anytime soon.

There's hope, though. Who knows what will be possible as the technology gets cheaper and dinosaur fanatics get more motivated to make something on their own? Or perhaps expecting a feature film is the wrong way to look at it. Maybe the dream of an immersive exploration of prehistory is better left to game designers, like the folks behind Saurian (also, like it at FB and follow on Twitter). They'll reportedly be crowdfunding the project as it develops, and I think that the work-in-progress pieces of the process they've shown give some hope that it will be a worthy project to back.

We can spit and curse at huge studios all we want, but they'll never really care about what a small group of passionate paleontology fanatics think. There's no incentive. I'm tired of chasing the wrong dream.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Subtle Frontiers: Observations in Urban Ecology

Thesis Exhibition banners
Banner designs for the exhibition of my thesis project.

As recently promised, the website I created as my MFA thesis in graphic design is now available. Please check it out and learn about the ecology of my yard.

My thesis work was focused on me "planting my flag" as a designer: what is important to me? What work is most pressing? What do I want to do? It was clear from the outset that I would focus on a topic concerning nature. I had the idea to explore the idea of a designer playing the role of naturalist. Then followed a month of exploration and ideation exercises. During September, I tried to figure out what my subject matter should be. At this point, I thought I might present a number of different pieces each demonstrating a different visual approach to natural history. I spent hours hiking or simply sitting in some of my local naure preserves and state parks.

As I journaled and explored what was most important to me, I began to lean strongly toward doing something that worked against some of our popular notions of nature. I looked at the way the experience of nature is marketed. Often, we see images of conquest and achievement, grand and remote vistas. I wanted to focus on the intimate and common and show how surprising and profoundly complex it can be. Using my own documentation of the plant and animal life I encounter every day in my own yard, I began developing an interactive piece that allows users to "explore" the space, learning about some of my favorite (or least favorite) organisms.

As my goal was one of further developing my identity as a designer and expressing what I find valuable about the familiar nature I'm surrounded by, I put all of my time and effort into research, illustration, writing copy, and visual design of the site and the interactive graphic. This unfortunately left no time to learn to code. The site is currently best viewed on a laptop of desktop; as long as you have a recent version of Flash player, you'll be good. Subtle Frontiers is a first step, and I am next embarking on some coding self-education. In the coming months, I'll be coding the entire site from bottom up, with tablet and mobile versions. Once that is done, I'll launch a blog and begin creating new content for the site.

Let me know if you find the Mesozoic fauna that somehow found its way into my backyard...

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Vintageish Dinosaur Art: Dinosaur Worlds - Part 1

First published in 1996 (hence its filing under 'vintageish'), Dinosaur Worlds promises 'new dinosaurs, new discoveries', and indeed, much of the book deals with animals that were relatively new to science at the time (or brand new, in some cases). Authored by Don Lessem (inevitably nicknamed 'Dino Don'), it's a richly illustrated, surprisingly chunky, and highly accessible trip through dinosaur palaeontology in the mid '90s.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Subtle Frontiers: Thesis Exhibition Announcement

Subtle Frontiers Announcement

The exhibition of my graphic design thesis project that caps my MFA career opens this Tuesday, December 10, at the Grunwald Gallery of Art on the campus of Indiana University Bloomington. It will be accompanied by a release of the project website. Subtle Frontiers: Observations in Urban Ecology is my attempt to combine my passions for graphic design and natural history, telling the story of some of my favorite plants and animals that make up my own backyard.

I'll also be giving a gallery talk on Friday the 13th at noon, speaking to the commonalities between the practices of design and natural history as well as my interest in seeing stronger bonds form between the science and design communities. If anyone reading this happens to show up to that talk, I must beg your advance forgiveness if I seem somewhat addled. It has been a wild ride to the finish line.

I'll be updating this post with my project's web address when it launches. And yes, a non-avian dinosaur or two just might have crept in to the project...

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Tsintaosaurus - the 'flat nose' dinosaur that wasn't

Hopefully, most of you will already be aware that Tsintaosaurus has a new, far more dignified look, with its unfortunate unicorn horn replaced by a far more elegant affair reminiscent of other lambeosaurine hadrosaurs. This is thanks to Albert Prieto-Márquez and Jonathan Wagner, in a paper published in PLOS ONE (so it's free, free, free! To view). Jaime Headden has already written a blog post on the subject, which is a must-read if you haven't done so already, and he mentions the prevalence of the 'cock-'n'-balls' meme, as popularised by John Sibbick and others.

However, while most reconstructions of Tsintaosaurus over the years have stuck firmly with the phallic look, there was a brief period back in the '90s when an alternative was proposed - namely, that that big pointy bone actually lay flat along the animal's snout in life. Palaeoart featuring this alternative, shall we say, flaccid Tsintaosaurus is rather rarer, which inspired me to once again dig out my copies of Dinosaurs! magazine, where the idea received a richly illustrated airing.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Vintageish Dinosaur Art: An Alphabet of Dinosaurs - Part 2

Because Wayne Barlowe's an awfully talented sort of person, may I present a handful more of his dinosaur paintings, as featured in An Alphabet of Dinosaurs. On no account should you miss part 1 if you haven't seen it yet. Forward, Barlowe!

A Tardy Pirate

I took a short break from my thesis project work to whip up a scurvy saltasaur of my own, since Marc's post was so much fun and full of so many awesome prehistorical pirates. Here he is, with Polly the dromaeosaur on his shoulder. I suppose I could have put a Psittacosaurus on Captain Salty's shoulder for the etymological pun of it, but I wanted wings and big floofy feathers.

Back to the thesis salt mines! Stay tuned for an announcement about where you can view what I've been working on all semester.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Salty saltasaurs

It recently occurred to me (well, a couple of weeks ago, while writing one of those book reviews) that Saltasaurus just doesn't get the attention that it used to in palaeoart. Twenty years ago, including a Saltasaurus in your Cool Dinosaur Book for Cool Kids was de rigueur - after all, it was a sauropod but with armour! Alas, as the specimens of weirdo sauropods have stacked up, old Salty just isn't fashionable any more.

What could we possibly do to encourage more Saltasaurus art? Why, only groaningly obvious puns could possibly suffice!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Vintageish Dinosaur Art: An Alphabet of Dinosaurs - Part 1

Yes, it's the first Vintageish Dinosaur Art post - because I've stretched David's name for this series quite far enough. Wayne Barlowe's paintings in An Alphabet of Dinosaurs are copyrighted 1995, while this UK edition of the book was published in 1997; perhaps a little too recent, even by my standards. Nevertheless, it's remarkable how much even books from the mid-to-late '90s have become dated from a scientific perspective, even if the artwork remains stunning - as it does here.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs - The Real Monsters

Another entry in the Dinosaur Dynasty book series from 1993, The Real Monsters focuses on a select few dinosaurs that embody the largest, and often toothiest, that said archosaurian lineage had to offer at various points in the Mesozoic. As such, a scary-looking tyrannosaur with yellowing teeth and a tiny, beady eye leers out from the cover, for maximum child-enticing appeal. For as every kid knows, the coolest dinosaurs are those that look like they would happily chew, slice, gore, stamp, or otherwise pulverise you to death without so much as blinking a nictitating membrane. This is a book dedicated to them.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs - Giants of the Earth

Published as part of the five-book Dinosaur Dynasty series back in 1993, Giants of the Earth was my childhood introduction to pop-palaeo stalwart Dougal Dixon. Each book in the series dealt with a different aspect of dinosaur science, with this one looking at, as the cover implies, their evolutionary history. The artwork is of a surprisingly high standard for the time, even if the obligatory early '90s Sibbick rip-offs are present and correct. The cover art, by Steve Kirk, is exemplary - a couple of very small tweaks, and it would pass muster even today. And the colour scheme is quite lovely. You can't go far wrong with stripy Styracosaurus horns.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Leonardo is Coming to Indianapolis

Robert Bakker with a model of Leonardo from the Dinosaur Mummy CSI exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural History. Photo by Ed Schipul, via Flickr.

When I was younger, dumber, and less awestruck by my home state's natural heritage, I bemoaned the fact that Indiana had no dinosaur fossils to offer. I've gotten over that, of course, but I'm still proud that one of the finest dinosaur exhibits in the country, The Dinosphere, is housed at the Children's Museum in Indianapolis. The museum has announced that it's going to be getting a serious injection of star power next year, as Leonardo, the famous "mummy" Brachylophosaurus, is revealed to the public.

From the museum's announcement:
Leonardo is listed in the Guinness World Book of Records as having the best preserved dinosaur remains in the world. For now, visitors will be able to follow the dinosaur’s tale via his tail until the rest of his body is on display in March of 2014. At that time, Leonardo’s Lab will open for children and families to learn everything from what he had for his last meal to how he spent the last few hours of his life.

When this fossilized mummy was carefully unearthed from his grave in Malta, Montana in 2001, researchers had one of the first real looks at the skin, scales, foot pads, and even the stomach contents of the behemoths that roamed the planet 77 million years ago.
Dinosphere manager Mookie Harris - who recently returned to the museum after a stint at a Florida museum - has written about the fossil on the Children's Museum blog, so be sure to check that post out.

If you haven't read my previous posts about the Children's Museum, sit a spell and read about how awesome it is.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

SVP Dispatches: The Body of Deinocheirus

It's been a rumor online for years. Hang around the Dinosaur Mailing List or a paleontology forum for long enough, and you'd hear it. Rumors that an old mystery might soon be solved. Rumors that expeditions to the remote Gobi have found a body. Rumors that one of the most enduring riddles of dinosaur paleontology might soon be made clear.

I'm speaking, of course, of Dienocheirus. To a dinosaur enthusiast of a certain age, that name crystallizes the mystery and frustrations of paleontology. "The Terrible Hand" was terrible for its size, terrible for its claws, and terrible because--beyond its long arms and fingers--nothing else remained. 

Copyright Luis Rey
Researchers suspected it to be an ornithomimid, albeit an uncommonly massive one. There were certain diagnostic signs to the hands, the shape of the claws, the structure of the arms, all of which pointed to a kinship with those legendarily fleet-footed animals. But what shape was Dienocheirus? Was it a massive, lumbering browser? A giant, elegant runner? Perhaps even a predator? In the absence of a body, there was no way to be sure. 

Now it seems that the wait is over. According to an abstract recently released at The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, Dienocheirus was indeed a type of ornithomimid, one displaying skeletal traits previously unknown in that family. The abstract notes that two new specimens were discovered, with material comprising the majority of the postcranial skeleton. Gastroliths were recovered as well, which would imply a herbivorous diet. 

So what did Deinocheirus look like? Apparently it had a heavily built pelvis and hind limbs, adaptations suggesting a slower moving life style than the one practiced by its smaller cousins. Unlike the similarly robust therizinosaurs, though, Deinocheirus was narrow bodied, with tall, straight ribs. By far the most interesting bit of anatomy, however, is the fact that Deinocheirus apparently had long neural spines in the vicinity of its pelvis. The living animal was thus graced with either a sail or a hump, a trait that comes as a complete surprise. 

Copyright http://stygimolochspinifer.deviantart.com
There are still several mysteries about Deinocheirus, and these two skeletons only give rise to new questions--especially ones concerning its somewhat odd anatomy. But rejoice, nonetheless. Deinocheirus has a body, and it's weirder than anybody could have dreamed.  

The complete text of the abstract is below. 


LEE, Yuong-Nam, Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources, Daejeon, Korea, Republic of (South); BARSBOLD, Rinchen, Paleontological Center, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia; CURRIE, Philip, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada; KOBAYASHI, Yoshitsugu, Hokkaido University Museum, Sapporo, Japan; LEE, Hang- Jae, Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources, Daejeon, Korea, Republic of (South)

The holotype of Deinocheirus mirificus was collected by the Polish-Mongolian Palaeontological Expedition at Altan Uul III in 1965. Because the holotype was known mainly on the basis of giant forelimbs with scapulocoracoids, Deinocheirus has remained one of the most mysterious dinosaurs. Two new specimens of Deinocheirus were discovered in the Nemegt Formation of Altan Uul IV in 2006 and Bugin Tsav in 2009 by members of the Korea-Mongolia International Dinosaur Expedition (KID). Except for the skull, middle dorsal and most of the distal caudal vertebrae, the right forelimb, left manus, and both pedes, the remaining parts of the skeleton (Mongolian Paleontological Center [MPC]-D 100/127) including a left forelimb clearly identifiable as Deinocheirus were collected. The humerus (993 mm in length) is longer than the 938 mm humerus of the holotype. The Altan Uul IV specimen (MPC-D 100/128) is a subadult Deinocheirus (approximately 72% of MPC-D 100/127), which consists of post-cervical vertebrae, ilia, ischia, and hind limbs. Both specimens provide important paleontological evidence for exact postcranial reconstruction of Deinocheirus mirificus. Cladistic analysis indicates that Deinocheirus is a basal member of Ornithomimosauria, but many new unique skeletal features appear to be quite different from other ornithomimosaurs. These include extreme pneumaticity of tall, anterodorsally oriented distal dorsal neural spines (7~8 times taller than centrum height) with basal webbing, fused sacral neural spines forming a midline plate of bone that extends dorsally up to 170% of the height of the ilium, ventrally keeled sacral centra, a well-developed iliotibialis flange, a posterodorsally projecting posterior iliac blade with a concave dorsal margin, a steeply raised anterior dorsal margin of the ilium, an anteriorly inclined brevis shelf, vertically well-separated iliac blades above the sacrum, an completely enclosed pubic obturator foramen, triangular pubic boot in distal view, vertical ridges on anterior and posterior edges of medial surface of the femoral head, and a robust femur that is longer than tibiotarsus. These features suggest that Deinocheirus (unlike other ornithomimosaurs) was not a fastrunning animal, but a bulky animal with a heavily built pelvis and hind limbs. However, the dorsal ribs are tall and relatively straight, suggesting that the animal was narrowbodied. A large number of gastroliths (>1100 ranging from 8 to 87 mm) were collected from the abdominal region of MPC-D 100/127, suggesting Deinocheirus was an herbivore.

This is the first of a few posts about discoveries announced at SVP 2013. Stick around through the rest of the coming week, because there's some cool stuff coming down the pipe. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

It's a great big beautiful Golden Book of Dinosaurs

While we are quite obviously rather partial to a little dinosaur-themed nostalgia here at LITC, we're nevertheless very keen to embrace the new - the latest discoveries, inventive ways of portraying our favourite beasts, and so on. How perfect, then, that Robert Bakker and Luis Rey should bring us an updated take on The Big Golden Book of Dinosaurs. The original (in its various guises; see alternative title in the photo) is one of the most fondly-remembered of all popular dinosaur books, children's or no, and paying appropriate homage to Zallinger's memorable art was certainly quite a task. Could the ever-divisive Rey meet the palaeoartistic challenge?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Finally, a few words on All Your Yesterdays

The original All Yesterdays, with art by John Conway and the mighty Memo, caused enough of a stir last year to break free from its 'niche publishing' status and make it into the mainstream media - even into delightful tabloid newspapers normally filled with right-wing batshittery and celebrity boobs. Now - or rather, a month ago, but I've only just caught up - the dream team brings us the fruits of their All Yesterdays art contest, which inspired artists far and wide to produce fine works of palaeontological speculation. All Your Yesterdays might be choppier than the original - that's to be expected, given the number of artists involved - but it's free, damn it, free! And considerably chunkier, too.

John Conway's bubble-headed Allosaurus, as featured in All Your Yesterdays.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Royal Dinostamps

If you're a Briton (like me), then you'll no doubt have heard that the Royal Mail...was privatised recently, according to Prime Directive 2 of the inordinately wealthy neoliberal androids who run the country. But don't despair! Or rather, do despair, but also pay heed to this welcome distraction. For the Royal Mail also recently issued a new set of prehistoric animal-themed stamps, illustrated by John Sibbick. There are ten to collect, each one featuring a Mesozoic creature discovered in the UK (only six of them actually feature dinosaurs).

The rather, er, mixed reaction to these stamps in Social Media Land only made me more intrigued, so off I popped to the Royal Mail website to stuff a little more cash into the foul capitalists' pockets (by which I mean, I ordered a set).

Remember, all images are copyrighted. So don't go making hipster t-shirts out of them or anything. They'll find you.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Archosauria - Part 3

We've established by now that John McLoughlin's Archosauria was a beautifully bold, often highly prescient book, dedicated to overturning notions of dinosaurs as 'great fossil lizards' that were nature's way of killing time before those 'superior' mammals took over the place. McLoughlin illustrated feathered theropods and supercharged sauropods at a time when the number of people doing so could be counted on one hand. Given its boldness, it's surprising that Archosauria so infrequently oversteps the mark, but when McLoughlin goes too far, he has the decency to do so very memorably.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Archosauria - Part 2

While nothing could match the feathered theropods in terms of sheer prescience, there were illustrations of other animals in Archosauria that were groundbreaking in their own, perhaps more subtle ways (and now you know I'm not referring to the ceratopsians). McLoughlin may have been skimpy on the sauropodomorphs, but what he did provide was a tantalising glimpse into an exciting new era of palaeoart.

(Yes, I'm finally doing jump breaks.)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

And We Thought We Were Dinosaur Lovers (NSFW)

It seems like a classic "good news/bad news" story. The good news is that, for the first time in a while, the entire internet has been talking about dinosaurs. Tumblr blogs, Facebook, even Cracked--all have been devoting space to our favorite extinct animals.

The bad news is that...well...see for yourself.

The horror continues after the jump.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Archosauria - Part 1

It feels like I've been waiting an age for this one, but at long last, here it is - John McLoughlin's infamous Archosauria: Or, How I learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Dinosaur Renaissance. It's a book that's come to be known among dino-geek circles for a series of reconstructions, chiefly of ceratopsians, that (even at the time) were very odd indeed. However, that's not a fair perspective on this remarkable book, for Archosauria was, in most other respects, an incredibly prescient publication - far ahead of its time in giving a new look to the old dinosaur.

At a time (1979) when the predominant image of dinosaurs, for all the advances being made in palaeontology, was still that of the slothful, oversized, cold-blooded reptile - what McLoughlin dubs 'the great fossil lizard' - Archosauria is completely unabashed in its embracing of the Dinosaur Renaissance. The writing further exudes confidence in actively attacking the outdated, old-school interpretation of dinosaurs still being promoted by palaeontology's old guard, referred to by McLoughlin (rather sarcastically) as the "Grand Old Men" and (more viciously) "stodgy professors".

In fact, McLoughlin was willing to go further than many palaeoartists have dared until very recently. Even his Triassic theropods (such as the above Coelophysis) not only sport lean frames and active poses, but a covering of fuzz, too. All of the dinosaurs in Archosauria are presented in a fetching monochrome style, devoid of backdrops, making use of stippling and crosshatching. It would have been good to see a few more animals presented as part of a wider ecosystem, rather than as isolated, itemised 'specimens', but at least McLoughlin's work is distinctive, and devoid of bland meme-following.

Perhaps my favourite spread in this book pertains to the Late Jurassic theropod Ornitholestes (here synonymised with Coelurus, a position made more-or-less untenable by subsequent studies). It's obvious when McLoughlin has better reference material for an animal, and his Ornitholestes remains remarkably accurate, even agreeing rather well with Scott Hartman's far more recent skeletal. Check out the feathery coat, too - an impressively far-sighted decision, and handled very well.

What's most remarkable about McLoughlin's Ornitholestes is that it avoids many of the unfortunate tropes that still afflict feathered nonavian dinosaur reconstructions. This is particularly clear in the animal's 'portrait', where feathers are present almost to the snip of the snout, there are no unsightly scales, and a realistic amount of flesh is applied to the mouth and skull more broadly; this is no sunken-eyed haggard-o-saur. And hey, the eye's very pretty, too. By way of contrast, McLoughlin also provides a 'great fossil lizard' version of the dinosaurs he illustrates, as shown here in the form of a naked, upright Ornitholestes with legs that could advertise jeans for Topman.

Given how good his Ornitholestes is, it's very strange that McLoughlin should fumble with the most infamous 'feathered dinosaur' of all. There are much, much worse Archaeopteryx illustrations out there, of course, but this is still a pretty ugly creation, all frayed feathers and oddly proportioned forelimbs that come perilously close to 'Wings...but with hands!'.

Equally baffling is McLoughlin's failure to stick a single plume on his Dromaeosaurus, given how obviously birdlike dromaeosaurs were known to have been even at that time. Although stippling is used to wonderful effect here, this muscle-popping, indecently naked creature hasn't aged well. At least it's a dromaeosaur feeding on a prey item smaller than itself (rather than hurling itself kamikaze-style at some much bigger ornithopod), although what it's doing with that claw is anyone's guess. I'm also tempted to suppose that the head was based on Velociraptor, rather than Dromaeosaurus, given its relative shallowness; Deinonychus still tended to be given a rather allosaur-like head at that time.

Speaking of which, time hasn't been kind on McLoughlin's work on larger theropods (here lumped together as 'carnosaurs', as was the wont of people back in the day - the lazy gits). Particularly amusing is his restoration of the rauisuchian Teratosaurus as a 'primitive theropod'. Of course - and let's be fair, now - he wasn't anything like the first to do so, with many earlier illustrators restoring the animal as a creeping, hunched-over beast in the manner of Neave Parker's Megalosaurus. The animal was finally revealed to be a rather different type of archosaur in the mid 1980s. McLoughlin's Teratosaurus, in keeping with his (now orthodox, then still quite revolutionary) view of large theropods as sprightly, active creatures, is shown accelerating forward like Niki Lauda. It also has a rather bizarre, snake-like head, with the eye set far forward in its socket, and the mandible extending waaaaay back.

Moving swiftly back to the dinosaurs-that-really-were, McLoughlin's Allosaurus is an impressively lean and muscular predator, its tail held stiffly behind as it powers forward with a vengeance. While generally proportioned very well, McLoughlin ironically perpetuates a common mistake made by Zallinger-era illustrators in replacing his allosaur's horns with a convenient, rounded 'arch' over the eye, like a monitor lizard. A pet peeve of mine and a nitpick, I realise, but in the words of Ian Malcolm, "there it is". The allosaur also illustrates McLoughlin's habit of giving his theropods uncomfortably straight legs, although how much data was freely available on that sort of thing back in the late 1970s, I don't know.

Of all his 'carnosaurs', McLoughlin's Gorgosaurus is perhaps the most interesting in that it combines traits from both old and 'new' (i.e. more rigorous, post-Renaissance) restorations of the animal. The horizontal back, elevated tail and hugely meaty thighs all feel thoroughly modern. On the other hand, there's no escaping that rather strange-looking head and neck combo. The posture appears to have been borrowed from older, more upright restorations, while the skull shape appears to have been borrowed from, well, Tyrannosaurus; note the pronounced postorbital boss and lack of pointy part in front of the eye. This also seems to be an animal that scuttles along on the tips of its claws. Of course, regardless of any nitpicks, this is still a lovely drawing and yet another laudably forward-thinking vision of an animal formerly portrayed as a slowly shuffling hulk.

And finally...an animal formerly portrayed as a slowly shuffling hulk, or in McLoughlin's words, "a lumbering tripod whose long, flexible tail dragged behind him as he moved". Contrary to this outdated, reptilian picture, McLoughlin asks us to imagine an animal that was
"...A biped rather than a tripod; he came equipped with a long and rapid stride that enabled him to catch the swift herbivores that were his food while circumventing their fearsome spines, horns, and other defenses...every detail of the tyrannosaur frame argues for an active predatory life-style."
It's enough to make you want to punch the air with glee and scream "YEAH!" (preferably while staring madly into the eyes of a friend or loved one). The illustration gets the animal's proportions, particularly the head, a little off; Trish dubbed this one "Sharkface McDerpasaurus rex". In fact, the shrinkydink head's rather disappointing all round, which is especially odd given the beautifully drawn skull on the opposite page. Still, plaudits to McLoughlin for the animal's attractive stripy styling and his own kick-ass demeanour - it's a welcome change from other late '70s books that portray T. rex as a sad, toddling fatty with brittle teeth and arms like cruelly diminutive toothpicks.

Archosauria will return!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Vintage Dinosaur Art: The Age of Dinosaurs

Originally published in 1978, with this larger format edition appearing (under a different publisher) in 1987, The Age of Dinosaurs is filled with art that will be instantly recognisable to many readers in their 20s and 30s. The cover is the very epitome of the beautifully painted, but hideously outdated palaeoart of the '70s. This hugely fat apatosaur, with its elephantine wrinkliness, lizardy head and mountainous flesh heap body, screams "WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!" at modern audiences. Yet artist Bernard Robinson (for it was he) has made it possible to appreciate this work on artistic merit alone.

Robinson was especially adept at scaly skin textures, so it's a little strange that his apatosaur is so damn wrinkly. Nevertheless, he remains consistently good at lifelike shading and lovely landscapes. His work evokes what is, for many, a nostalgic vision of tail-dragging, cold-blooded behemoths. Of course, there's something a little strange going on in this picture, as an extremely perky Barosaurus is striding into the midground. Darren Naish has already provided an excellent commentary on this image, so over to him:
"It’s as if the Barosaurus is an inter-dimensional tourist, just in from a parallel '1960s Bakkerian' universe and now strangely juxtaposed against the flabby, massively over-weight swamp-dwelling behemoths of the Zallinger era (hey, great idea for a comic)."
You know, that really is a great idea for a comic - a 'when worlds collide' scenario where classic palaeoart reptilimountains meet the pumped up steroid-o-saurs of today. It's tempting to think that the old guys wouldn't last five minutes, but they'd certainly have a significant weight advantage. Maybe a Robinson-esque apatosaur could be deployed like a rolling log down a hillside, squishing countless little feathery theropods on the way down.

Speaking of which, Robinson was actually rather good at painting Archaeopteryx, too; not perfect (the feathers are occasionally attached to the wrong digits), but they at least look like not-quite-birds, rather than little lizard gits with scaly dragon faces and tiny 'extra fingers' (a trope I like to call 'Wings...but with hands!'). See the individual in the image above, and corresponding close-up below. Note that the contour feathers blend with one another convincingly, rather than sticking out all over the place and making a mess.

There are many more Robinson lovelies in TAoD, not least this painting of fighting pachycephalosaurs. I remember this one particularly vividly from my childhood, and I believe that's down to the unnervingly lifelike, disconcertingly staring face of the individual in the foreground. It's a remarkable piece, with the animal's nodule-encrusted visage threatening to have your eye out; a real case of dinosaurs being in your face. It's an alien, otherworldly creature made remarkably real. It's perhaps also worth noting that the pronounced musculature and generally quite svelte appearance of the animals is unusually progressive for '70s-era Robinson. And the sky's nice, too.

Equally fetching is this lovely painting of an Ichthyostega pair in their steaming, swampy home. Unfortunately, a great deal of it is covered up with a dirty great text box, in which author David Lambert claims that animals couldn't see any reason to live on dry land; they just reached the shore, shrugged their incipient shoulders, and sunk back into the bog. The lousy layabouts. You're doing nothing for vertebrate evolution, you squishy-skinned slackers!

While I remain a big fan (in spite of the occasional...unpleasantness), there's more to TAoD than just Bernard Robinson. John Francis and Ross Wardle are the other two illustrators, although individual pieces aren't credited (or signed, as with Robinson's), so unfortunately it's difficult to figure out who produced what. Almost as unfortunately, a lot of the illustrations also appeared in the earlier Dinosaur World, and I really did review that one too recently to start wheeling out repeats. Nevertheless, one tends to get a wider view of the reused illustrations in TAoD, so it's possible to see, for example, just what that hungry T. rex was chasing. Gangly, anachronistic hadrosaurs, as it turns out.

Hurrah. There's also enough new stuff to pad out this post, including the below Triceratops, depicted charging through dirt with a wonderful momentum and carefully applied flying mud splatters. When compared with other animals in this book, the Triceratops' anatomy is really rather good, with the artist making effective use of the unusual perspective. On the other hand, this does make it all the more cringe-inducing that the animal's 'eyebrow' horns are shown protruding from its frill. Gah...

As if to underline my point about the Triceratops actually being pretty decent (but shame about the face), it shares a double-page spread with this bizarre retro ankylosaur, complete with stunted tail, pangolin claws and grumpy turtle mug. Seemingly, relatively accurate ankylosaurs only entered popular books en masse in the late 1980s, and then it was because they were all copies of John Sibbick's Euoplocephalus from the Norman encyclopaedia. As with the freaky giraffoid Barosaurus, freaky woodlouse ankylosaurs were an artistic meme that long outlasted their sell-by date.

The book is topped off by a marvellous 'dinosaur parade', featuring some excellent watercolour work and amusingly shifty-looking dubious-o-saurs. Leonard Nimoy is wisely running away, of course, but it's not the disinterested Tyrannosaurus he needs to worry about - not when that Stegosaurus looks so utterly furious. While ol' plateback might be too slow to catch him now, it knows exactly where he lives, and will shuffle back there and hide in the bushes until the following morning, when Nimoy will find himself brutally thagomised on his doorstep. Stegosaurus is patient. Stegosaurus always wins.

Paul Heaston's Facebook comment is also worth mentioning here.
"Dinosaurs? In the Shire?"

And finally...does anyone know the origin of the Gangly Dork Parasaurolophus? We've already seen them once in this book, of course, but the below is particularly superb example of this rather baffling meme. For a long time, Parasaurolophus - even moreso than other hadrosaurs - was depicted as having a highly upright carriage, noodle neck and piffling feeble forelimbs for no good reason whatsoever. Presumably just another case of artists copying artists copying artists.

And that's your lot! Coming up soon...a review of All Your Yesterdays. Hopefully.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Be a Dinosaur Detective

There's been so much Dougal Dixon on this blog in the last few years, I've actually petitioned David to rename the it to 'Love in the Time of Dougal'. He refused, but nevertheless, the rather prolific author surely featured significantly in the childhoods of many readers. Certainly he featured in Adam Smith's, the present-day plesiosaur and dinosaur biscuit expert, for the Dougal-authored Be a Dinosaur Detective is another book lent to me by him.

Of course, while it's important to take a moment to honour Dixie Doug (as his little known country-and-western alter ego* is named), we're really here for the artwork; it's Vintage Dinosaur Art, after all, not The Fantabulous 1980s World of Dougal Dixon (although that sounds like it has potential, you know). Steve Lings was on illustration duty for BaDD, although the cover looks like it might have been painted by a different artist. Bernard Robinson aficionados will note that the sauropod's body is copied from his painting of Apatosaurus (described by Darren Naish as "very rotund"), but the artist has improved upon it with a helter skelter neck and slightly amused facial expression. The children depicted in the bubble serve to represent the reader(s) for size comparison purposes inside the book, which is fortunate in that we never have to look that closely at their freakish faces again.


Dating from 1987, many of the dinosaurs in this book are quite 'modern' in appearance; this T. rex, for example, has huge (if slightly odd-looking) muscles and birdlike feet complete with tarsal scutes. The tail might be on the ground, but the posture's definitely leaning more towards the horizontal.

Other theropods fare similarly; Deinonychus, Dromiceiomimus (or is it Ornithomimus?) and Compsognathus, while conspicuously scaly (or is that warty?) by modern standards, are nevertheless depicted running at full pelt. Being tiny, the Compsognathus is being threatened with an enormous magnifying glass, presumably to reduce it to a charred husk that can be ground up and sold in buckets with a side order of fries and a Diet Coke, please. Lings' Baryonyx is low slung, but not quite a quadruped, as it was frequently depicted in the late '80s. He also manages to avoid falling into the trap of giving it a freakish hand, with one giant hook surrounded by a cluster of tiny vestigial digits, as others did back in the day.

By way of contrast with the theropods, the sauropod spread is decidedly retro, with a miserable bunch of bland-looking, tail-dragging schlubs. At least Opistho...Opisthocoeli...this one livens things up by rearing and adopting a face that's all, "Look ma! No hands!"

BaDD invents non-technical names for each key dinosaur group, the better that kids can remember them. This way, ankylosaurs become the 'welded dinosaurs' ('cos they're fused, see?), while ornithopods become the, er, 'two-footed plant-eaters'. The Iguanodon appears to take after a John Sibbick piece, but we all know what you're looking at, you dirty scoundrel. As if having a tacky gag stuck to its head wasn't enough, Tsintaosaurus just had to go and look so damn sad about it. It's like it's anticipating your reaction. Poor Tsintaosaurus; the resonating chambers are hypothetical, and there's no reason that they always have to be inflated in that way, and yet people keep on making it a literal dick head (see also: this toy).

Since I've been told off about this before, I feel obliged to point out that BaDD features a decent overview of dinosaurs' skeletal features and possible lifestyles, and - since the book is all about sleuthing - posits questions on why animals may have evolved certain features. Note the question on 'duck-bill' hands - the answer is quite revealing of how dinosaur books in the time had one foot in the pre-Dino Renaissance past:
"A duck-bill's paddle-like hands would have helped it to swim."
 Wouldn't it have helped to not have the hand be so narrow? Oh, whatever.

Lings is a good artist, but his approach to ceratopsians is a little odd, and may be informed by the work of John McLoughlin, who believed (as recently discussed) that the animals' frills would have been anchored to their backs by ludicrous amounts of muscle, rendering them spiny-shouldered neckless wonders. Hence the flat-headed Styracosaurus we see here, and a similar Triceratops elsewhere.

Of course, it's not all dinosaurs in BaDD - those pesky 'other' Mesozoic animals make their contractually-obliged appearances, too. The plesiosaurs are pretty good, all things considered, boasting retracted nostrils, eyes in the right sort of place (ish) and even vertical tail fins. This might also be the cheeriest Kronosaurus ever committed to paper. Why, he's even encouraging kids to have a go at making their own plesiosaur out of plasticine and string. However, the book doesn't mention that you will also require a palaeontologist on hand to give you a slap on the wrist whenever you start snaking the neck around. There's no arguing with biomechanics.

Pterosaurs pop up too, with the obligatory Burianesque Pteranodon joined by an alarmingly purple Quetzalcoatlus. We're out of Pin Headed Nightmare Monster territory by this time, but the azdharchid still looks a little strange, what with its stick-thin arms and capsule-shaped body.

There's also the fact that the Pteranodon are apparently clinging to a sheer rock face upside-down, but that's cool. Careful analysis of highly compressed JPEG photographs of Pteranodon fossils has revealed that they possessed gecko-like pads on their hands and feet. It's not mentioned in Mark Witton's book 'cos he doesn't know nothing about pterosaurs, that guy.

As is par for the course in a 1980s book, Archaeopteryx is featured alongside the pterosaurs as a 'Mesozoic flying animal', although it is nevertheless noted that birds are thought to have evolved from dinosaurs. This is a classic 'wings...but with hands!' rendition of the animal, although you've got to love that colour scheme. Wild.

It's quiz time! Yes, there is a little irony in including an '80s-tastic Spinosaurus in a lineup like this, given that a great deal of its anatomy has, indeed, been completely made up (albeit by scientists making educated guesses, rather than Ray Harryhausen - see below). The ineffectual four-fingered hands and grinning 'carnosaur' fizzog are just fantastic. It seems to be waving hello. I wouldn't be taken in.

And finally...the two imposters in the quiz. On the left we have a gliding ankylosaur with theropod hands, a concept so gloriously silly that Hasbro even made a 'genetic mutation' toy out of it (oh yes they did). On the right we have the titular creature from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, which is a beautiful thing to crowbar into a 1980s children's dinosaur book. His characteristically cheerful expression makes me wonder if someone's made a toy out of him - preferably, a plush toy. If not, someone needs to work on it, post haste. Go on, Internet, don't let me down.

*This is a complete lie.