Thursday, April 3, 2014

Vintage Dinosaur Art: All About Dinosaurs - Part 2

Onwards with All About Dinosaurs, a book written by the awesome Roy Chapman Andrews, he of Gobi fossil-hunting fame, and illustrated by Thomas Voter. Now, you know you're reading a vintage dinosaur book when...

Swamp-o-pods! Mind you, All About Dinosaurs must surely lose points for lacking a full-length depiction of brachiosaurs immersed up to the very tip-tops of their nasal crests in murky water. Instead, the animals are rather more convincingly depicted wading their way through a swamp, opposite some seriously gigantic palm fronds. I mean, they're nicely drawn and all, but...geeze. They must be a good four metres long! This isn't to say that mysteriously non-floating sauropods aren't mentioned...

...of course they are. "Sometimes [Brachiosaurus] would poke its head above the surface and look about, just as men in a submarine use the periscope to observe the scene above water." Great stuff. Such a nostril placement would remain the convention until into the 21st century, when someone finally dared to move them a little further down the snout (that Witmer guy might have had something to do with that). It remains the norm in toys, animatronics, and CG artworks...or at least, the crappier ones.

You know, someone ought to gather together some thoroughly outdated illustrations of underwater brachiosaurs - preferably out of copyright - and send them to Ken Ham, politely explaining that they depict animals being overwhelmed by the Biblical flood. It'd be worth a few giggles should he publish them somewhere, or pin them up in his Not-A-Museum. (Blame Darren Aronofsky for this digression.)

Snorkel-o-pods are one thing, but of all the images in this book, I think none quite so neatly encapsulate a bygone age of palaeoart as much as the above. Volcano. Monkey puzzle(-like) tree. Tail-dragging Triceratops. It's a lost world all of its own. The intended focus of this image is the ankylosaur in the foreground, labelled with the obsolete name 'Palaeoscincus'. What's perhaps most notable about this depiction is that, for the time, it's actually very good - unlike many contemporary (and even later) illustrations, the animal has reasonably long legs, a tail that, while too short, isn't ludicrously stumpy, and - sweet Hatzegopteryx above!  - a neck. As is typical of illustrations of 'Palaeoscincus' (another of those genera based on teeth), the animal appears to combine aspects of Edmontonia and Ankylosaurus.

A mosasaur taking on a plesiosaur is another illustration that is simply obligatory for any vintage dinosaur book worth its salt. Er, in spite of the fact that neither were dinosaurs. Typically, the scene will pitch the ferocious aqua-lizard Tylosaurus against the freakazoid plesiosaur Elasmosaurus - a classic clash of the titans to rival even T. rex v Triceratops. Unfortunately, the plesiosaur in the above illustration appears to be a tiddler, and thus looks understandably alarmed at having to face such an enormous, handsomely crested opponent.

Vintage depictions of pterosaurs tend to be as unflattering as descriptions of their palaeobiology (always unable to fly properly, implausibly fragile, and completely useless when grounded). While not all of the pterosaur illustrations in All About Dinosaurs are quite so bad, the above 'pterodactyl' is pretty monstrous - all bat-like wing folds and pointy scales and sinister black eyes. Brrr.

While life restorations are, naturally, what we're most interested in, a great chunk of this book is dedicated to Andrews' fossil-finding exploits in the Gobi - and rightly so. This section is also illustrated throughout, with some of the pieces depicting Andrews' discoveries as they appeared in situ. Hopefully, most enthusiasts of things prehistoric will be able to identify the above remains, belonging as they do to Oviraptor. Voter's work makes it clear that the animal's head has been rather smushed, as if it had walked into the wrong part of Nottingham one night. It's also missing most of its crest, which would later lead to the 'nose horn Oviraptor' meme - in reality, it would have had a tall crest not unlike its relative, Citipati.

Voter's depiction of Andrews' team finding one of their most precious prizes - dinosaur eggs! - is suitably dramatic, with a lone scientist perched atop a monolithic Flaming Cliffs outcrop, with a dazzling sunburst behind. Monoliths...dazzling light...fantastic discoveries...why, there could only be one soundtrack for this. Or you can just shout "I'm king of the world!" But we'll all look down on you for that, culturally snobbish as we are. Particularly as you're sitting there in your underwear.

In any case, Andrews makes it clear that his team went nuts for dino eggs:
"'Bigger and better eggs' was our slogan. Almost every man in camp hunted eggs from morning till night. I found several as did all the others. But George Olsen became the champion dinosaur egg hunter of the world. He had amazing success."
Attaboy, George.

And finally...this illustration is very lovely. Scientists toiling away to reveal the ghostly remnants of long-lost worlds. The theropod, at least, looks approving. Voter turns what might have been a banal illustration of plaster-wrapping into a marvellous reminder of the sheer hard work that goes into the palaeontological science that the rest of us just sit back and enjoy. Wide-brimmed hats off, I think, to Andrews, his team, and palaeontologists through the centuries.


  1. "The theropod, at least, looks approving."

    The sauropod seems disapproving (if not angry) & the lambeosaurine seems neutral.

    BTW, any idea if this was the original ghost dino illustration? It reminds of more recent examples by Skrepnick ( ) & Rey.

    "Voter turns what might have been a banal illustration of plaster-wrapping into a marvellous reminder of the sheer hard work that goes into the palaeontological science that the rest of us just sit back and enjoy."

    That's 1 of my favorite things about AAD (in addition to the T.rex vs. Trachodon scene).


    1. "The sauropod seems disapproving (if not angry)"

      It probably heard them say it needed a second brain to function, or call it a "lumbering behemoth" or something.

  2. "of all the images in this book, I think none quite so neatly encapsulate a bygone age of palaeoart as much as the above."

    It's even got the requisite volcano. As a kid, I had the inchoate idea that the entire Mesozoic was enormously volcanically active - every other dino illustration had one erupting in the background!

  3. The Tylosaurus/Elasmosaurus meme originates in a Burian painting, if I remember aright.

    1. Yep, I do believe it's the first time they faced off, inspiring endless re-enactments with Safari Ltd toys in my bathtub as a kid

  4. These kind of books make me feel nostalgic

  5. At least the pterodactyl is flapping at a time when all pterosaurs were believed to have been gliders. These books were meant to be entertaining for kids as well as educational, so it's little wonder that the entertainment factor got the better of the educational. Nothing's changed. Artists still do that in kid's dinosaur books. Now, is there a suggestion of a shaggy mane in the Dimrphorynchus, or whatever it's meant to be?

    1. Actually, it looks like a ridge of dorsal spines- you can see it continued onto the tail.

  6. Does that Tylosaurus have a mane?

    1. Yes. The idea arose from rings of cartilage in mosasaur tracheas being mistaken for dorsal fringes.

  7. I love to spot the amusing expressions the animals are given. This time it's the poor plesiosaur going "noooooooooooooooo!"


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