Monday, February 13, 2017

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs (Herbert S Zim) - Part 2

As you'll no doubt recall, the last time I posted on LITC, it was to share my #cleaneating cooking tips and various photographs of myself flashing my pristinely white teeth while preparing cabbage-based dishes in a mysteriously desaturated, blandly rustic-looking netherworld. Nah, only joking - it was all about an old dinosaur book from the 1950s, written by Herbert Zim and illustrated by James Gordon Irving. Here are some more intriguing excerpts from said book, ranging from your usual Knightian hadrosaurs to a 5' 8" American. I should also point out that my teeth are far from perfect. I am British, after all. Oh, and thanks again to Charles Leon for sending me the scans!

In this little ornithopod gathering, the hadrosaurs look rather pleased with themselves, while Iguanodon appears rather cross and stab-happy. The overall 'look' of the 'anatosaurs' again belies the use of AMNH models as references for the illustrations in this book, mostly in that they're actually quite decent-looking for the period, if a little inconsistent (for example, the individual on the left appears to have cheeks, while the one in the centre doesn't). The shading is again quite lovely. The Iguanodon, while sporting the typical humanoid arms, is also adopting an unusually horizontal pose for an illustration of this vintage.

Over on the Fezbooks, Herman Diaz seemed to recall an illustration of 'adult and juvenile' dinosaur trackways side-by-side. Here they are, Herman! Sort of. There's no mention of these prints having been made by differently-aged individuals of the same species, but the illustration would appear to depict two different theropod trackways, at least. This illustration provides the backdrop to an explanation on how Ornithischia and Saurischia do not form a single clade (see previous post). Nope. No way.

And now for some mid-century nonsense about the pituitary gland. Zim explains that most humans vary little from the 'average' in terms of size - Americans might be slightly taller, since they consume lots of wholesome hamburgers and milkshakes down at the local bar-'n'-grill of a Friday evening, and the Japanese may be shorter and a bit funny-looking, but in terms of height they're only a few inches either side of the 'average' in each case.

Of course, one does occasionally come upon individuals who are exceedingly tall, or unusually short - even shorter than a Congo Pygmy. Such strange, er, heights are entirely explained by an overactive or underactive pituitary gland. (Oh yes, that's quite literally the only cause there is. Pipe down at the back. We're reading a 1950s dinosaur book, here.) For whatever reason, the shorter fellow here is depicted in full suit and tie, and smoking what appears to be a cigar; his tie is also too short, quite unlike the current POTUS, whose ties are always far too long, even if certain other parts of him are small. But I digress. Could it be that large dinosaurs had a serious hormone imbalance, and this led directly to their giant size and tendency to break out in ugly zits?

Well, no, obviously, but it's a funny thought. As Zim notes, hormones alone aren't enough to guarantee that an animal reaches a giant size - it must possess certain anatomical adaptations to carry all that bulk around. Dinosaur enthusiasts will note that the brachiosaur would look quite different in a modern-day illustration, but it's amusing to note that the blue whale would, too. Balaeonoptera musculus remained enigmatic well into the latter half of the 20th century, even while it was being systematically slaughtered by the whaling industry. As such, illustrations and models of this magnificent beast tended to make it too fat and bloated, probably the result of information on its appearance having mostly been gleaned from carcasses; the model in the NHM in London famously suffers from this.

Naturally, one can't mention some dinosaurs' huge size without also mentioning that their brains were really, really small, thus allowing us humans to feel all smug about our mammalian superiority. Stupid, stupid dinosaurs. The illustration on the left appears to have been adapted from an older one that featured in AMNH books, although I'm not sure who the artist was.

The book concludes, naturally enough, with a look at why the dinosaurs went extinct. (Birds, don't forget, evolved from a separate thecodont ancestor.) Naturally, there is speculation that the fact that the pituitary gland occupying a disproportionate part of their brain cavity meant that they were poor learners and slow to adapt; I mean, it's only sensible. I always enjoy a strangely smooth-skinned, snakelike illustration of a brontosaur neck; utterly at odds with the overbuilt, chunky reality of apatosaurine neck vertebrate, it's a palaeoart peculiarity that just won't die. On the right, meanwhile, we have some rather marsupial-like Early Mammals. Could these intelligent animals have suddenly become egg-crazed eating machines, outwitting the tiny-brained saurians into abandoning their nests? Probably not.

And've got to love the 1950s paraphernalia in the illustration on the right. Of course, it's intended to illustrate that the fact that what might seem the incomprehensibly distant past to us is but a tiny blip in geological time; as a book that I previously reviewed rather drily put it, humans 'haven't had time to change that much'. In that sense, it's rather effective. On the other hand, comparing a single extant species with a huge clade of thousands upon thousands of species seems a bit silly, as does the contention that dinosaurs only 'ruled the Earth' for 60 million years (even by 1950s standards). The illustrations of the dinosaurs at the foot of the page seem passable, until one takes a closer look at that sauropod's forelimbs - for some reason, they're T. rex tiny. Good luck trying to roam the swamps with those things.

Oh, and the caveman doesn't have any nipples.


  1. Nipples were outlawed under Eisenhower.

    Thanks for sharing this book - I'd never seen it, though I have several Golden Guides by Zim. Fun stuff!

  2. You should review one of David Peters' old books from the 80s and 90s, if you haven't already. Excellent art and presentation which really had an effect on me when i was younger, even if the author has sort of gone off the deep end since the turn of the millennium (I'm sure you're aware!).

    1. Indeed, his "Raptors!" book is one of my favorites. He gave them propatagia, which I thought was SO COOL.

  3. The first 'anatosaur' looks remarkably like a certain unwelcome character from The Phantom Menace.

  4. "Over on the Fezbooks, Herman Diaz seemed to recall an illustration of 'adult and juvenile' dinosaur trackways side-by-side. Here they are, Herman!"

    Thanks! Also, sorry for the delay, but I've been a bit distracted recently.

  5. So beautifully drawn! Even much in the text is wrong by today's reckoning, it is still good to see a children's book that went into a bit more physiology than 'they were bog, lumpy, stupid reptile.' I notice they refer to the duck-billed as Anatosaurus and not Trachodon.


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