Having had a look at the dinosaurs in Animals of the Past Stamps (1954), I asked our lovely readers if they'd be at all interested in seeing some of the stinkin' Cenozoic mammals. A handful of people were, so here we are. Unfortunately, I don't know half as much about prehistoric mammals as I do dinosaurs (in spite of being a descendant of some of them), so you'll have to forgive me when I fail to spot the bleedin' obvious. I mean, more so than usual. In any case, let's start at the Palaeogene beginning!
That the NA dinosaurs were killed off in some sort of cataclysm is taken for granted these days, so it's easy to forget that the concept is relatively recent. Of course, the asteroid idea was yet to be mooted in the pre-Renaissance days, but in addition the dinosaurs were long considered to be simply obsolete by the end of the Cretaceous. After all, their frills, spines and tiny arms matched with giant heads were just examples of evolutionary silliness, and they were surely doomed to be replaced by animals that were smaller, leaner, faster, and could actually maintain their body temperature. This book is typical in asking nothing of where all the dinosaurs went - they just, y'know, died out. Whatever. I'm not sure what this fairly generic Early Mammal is based on, but it looks a bit like a fossa with a weird wombat head. Lovely stripes on the stamp illustration, though.
Of course, the dinosaurs do get their last hurrah as 'kings of the beasts' at the start of the Cenozoic section of any book like this, normally in the form of Gastornis aka 'Diatryma'. Long depicted as an active predator of small mammals (and thus contributing to an evocative 'upside down world' that the plucky underdog mammals would come to dominate), more recent research has painted a rather different picture of this admittedly very fearsome-looking bird. In the line drawing here, it appears to be chasing the fossa-thing from the previous page. Or possibly a housecat. Meanwhile, the stamp depiction features an interesting glistening red streak on the neck. Which I quite like.
There's also the matter of The Uinta Beast, which sounds like it belongs in the cryptozoological literature, and its tiny, tiny brain. "The brute must have been very stupid." Yeah, but I'm sure its unsightly facial protuberances helped it get by.
Given that this is a book from 1954, one can forgive the overly simplistic view of equine evolution. However, it's always interesting to see a meme like this explained and illustrated through the decades. The Middle Horse illustration is especially good, with varied terrain and vegetation adding interest, but still not detracting from the subject matter. (Now just watch someone turn up and point out how it's been shamelessly copied from Charles Knight or someone.) The Dawn and Middle horses share a page with Brontotherium, which is just standing around looking pretty. Hello, dear brontothere.
Naturally, a line drawing is provided that illustrates how as horses evolved, they became bigger and lost/fused digits until they became much better at being modern horses, running around fields and pleasing posh people and the like. Which isn't quite right, or how evolution works, but I've already mentioned that. The animals in the illustration above would make a lovely sculpture, although the incongruously gigantic grass implies that they've had a run in with Rick Moranis in the 1980s.
Sooner or later, you just know that a gigantic hornless rhinoceros is going to turn up and hog all the attention. This particular creature is infamously the largest land mammal of all time (which would still have been dwarfed by the largest dinosaurs. Take that, synapsids!). It has also gone by any number of different generic names over the years, possibly to avoid being tracked down by Interpol. When I were a lad, this animal seemed to be consistently referred to as Indricotherium, whereas here it's Baluchitherium, and these days it's Paraceratherium, or the near-horned-beast (as this book would probably put it). While convincingly bulky, I'm not sure if the necks in these illustrations are a little too chunky by modern standards. Do let me know in the comments, should you be into this sort of thing. Weirdo.
(Incidentally, I searched for Paraceratherium in Google Images, just of curiosity, and 'v T. rex' inevitably appeared. Which is so very Carnivora Forum and awesomebro that I'd just love for someone to illustrate it properly.)
Occasionally, a mammal is simply too far-removed from any modern lineages for it to be referred to by anything other than its scientific name. So here is an Apostrophe (sorry, astrapothere, namely Astrapotherium), depicted inhabiting a fetchingly primordial landscape of vivid red-and-yellow sunsets straight from Jurassic Park toy packaging. (Which is by no means an insult or even backhanded compliment - I loved the JP toy boxes.) I'm quite tempted to take some brightly coloured felt tips to the illustration below, if only to cheer up the cross-looking animal depicted in it.
There's also a three-horned creature depicted in what appears to be a lovely site for picnicking (if it weren't for all the pesky prehistoric mammals roaming about the place). First person to remind me of the damn thing's name gets a shout out. UPDATE: Synthetoceras it is. Connor Ross wins.
Furthermore, if anyone would like to tell me exactly what the 'bear-like dogs' were, I'd be very grateful. Handsome portraits are fine, but scientific names would be very useful. Thankfully, I knows me a gomphothere when I see one. Wonderful use of perspective to emphasise the animal's sheer strageness - like an elephant in a funhouse mirror.
And finally...a Smilodon, striking a suitably Knightian pose as it menaces one of those pesky three-horned things, trapped in what is ostensibly a tar pit but which more closely resembles, as Rob Evans put it on Facebook, "bedsheets". Yeah, but it's just so the kids can colour it in, preferably in custard yellow. The stamp image is just as reminiscent of Knight, but I do think that bison is very handsome. It seems that depictions of herbivores in this book are often more interesting than those of carnivores...which is quite welcome.
Next time: I've finally bought a book from the 1980s with a bunch of feathered dinosaurs and annoying idiosyncratic taxonomy in it. You can probably guess which one.