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.

For the few of you unfamiliar with Dinosaurs!, it was a magazine series on prehistoric animals that began in 1992 and ran for 104 issues (unsurprisingly, I've featured it on here a few times). In issue 40 (published in 1994), the magazine profiled Tsintaosaurus, and included a series of illustrations of the animal by various artists, all of which were distinctly flat-faced. The cover illustration, also reproduced on the page above, was by Stephen Message.

Without being a direct copy, Message's illustration was clearly influenced by Sibbick's Normanpedia work - the animal appears very stocky, with rather shapeless limbs and a strange, über-wrinkly, 'Michelin Man' skin texture. It differs from Sibbick in the animal's apparent lack of 'cheeks'. In fact, it also seems to be missing the 'duck bill', too. Beautifully painted, but rather odd-looking.

Message provided one further Tsintaosaurus illustration for the mag (above), and it's a broadly similar affair, although the animal's head is something of an improvement, as is the more interesting (and original) perspective.

The origin of the flat-nosed interpreation lies in a study by Taquet (1991). In 1990, Weishampel and Horner also suggested that the horn wasn't what it seemed, although they proposed that Tsintaosaurus was a mix of two different animals, implying that Dinosaurs! took its cue from Taquet. Interestingly, a study by Buffetaut and Tong-Buffetaut in 1993 had already refuted Taquet's view - either the Dinosaurs! authors were unaware of it, or chose to ignore it. A flat-nosed Tsintaosaurus had appeared in one earlier issue - number 26 from 1993 (see above) - so perhaps they were just sticking to their guns. (Does anyone else think that skeleton's mounted in a rather odd pose? Could just be the angle, I guess...)

Whatever the case, it seems that most were convinced of the reality of Tsintaosaurus' erect crest, and depictions of the animal with its fabulous appendage present and correct persisted until this year. It means that flat-nosed restorations of this animal are something of a rarity, and I'd love to know if there are any more out there.

For a final bit of fun, the 'Giants of the Past' panorama in issue 40 (by Robin Boutell) depicted a herd of dopey-looking Tsintaosaurus hurling themselves off a cliff edge to escape a fetchingly blue-and-pink Alectrosaurus pair. The big flat-headed lummoxes.


  1. Notably Tsintaosaurus has appeared in Dinosaurs! magazine with its horn, namely in the collectible card series later issues had with them (at least they did in Germany), as can be seen here in all its glorious testicle-face-ness:

  2. I've always thought that the Tsintaosaurus in Dinosaurs! #26 was just furiously drumming on a bongo or conga.

  3. Hmm... A 4 metre Tsintaosaurus? It wasn't just the skull they got wrong then


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