Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs of Canada

Five years ago (wait...what?!), I wrote a VDA post on W.E. Swinton's book on dinosaurs for London's Natural History Museum, which featured a number of artworks by Neave Parker. Professor William Elgin Swinton (for it was he) moved to Canada after his stint at (what is now) the NHM, and in 1965 he wrote the book we're looking at here - Dinosaurs of Canada. Neave Parker had, unfortunately, died a few years prior, but his influence is keenly felt in the illustrations by Paul Geraghty, which are as wonderfully stylised as they are (very) obviously dated. I don't half love a slightly concerned-looking tyrannosaur.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Book of Big Beasts

After my thinly disguised plea for new material from readers in the previous post, I've been lucky to receive a cavalcade of scanned and photographed Vintage Dinosaur Art from a number of lovely Chasmoheads. Thank you, all! I'll be featuring said submissions over the next few weeks, starting with this - Book of Big Beasts, published in 1954 in the US and written/illustrated by Bettina L Kramer and Harold V Kramer. (I'm not entirely sure who did what; do fill me in if you know.) The BBB comes courtesy of reader David Landis.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Dinosaurs (The Open Gate Library)

As you might imagine (and as I'm sure I've repeatedly said over the last three or so years), it's become increasingly difficult to find truly old books to use in Vintage Dinosaur Art posts. In recent months, all of my best eBay purchases seem to be from a single store, the aptly titled 'World of Rare Books'. When one does have the opportunity to cover a decades-old, illustration-heavy publication, it's typically full of tiresome Charles Knight rip-offs loitering around remarkably sparse backdrops, typically with all the vibrant colour of an original Game Boy screen. And I won't lie - this is pretty much one of those. However, there are just enough amusing quirks in here to make it worthwhile. Just check out that gnarly Ceratosaurus...

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Port Lympne's Dinosaur Forest

Port Lympne (pronounced like 'limb') is a wildlife park in Kent, not too far from Hythe, which along with Howletts zoo (nearer Canterbury) is run by the Aspinall Foundation. Port Lympne houses a huge variety of mammal species, and notably features safari truck rides through a sprawling 'savannah' paddock, as well as a number of very rare species that you won't see in many other parks. As of this year, it also features life-size model dinosaurs (andotherprehistoricanimals) designed by industry stalwarts Wolter Design. They're (often) huge, numerous, colourful, varied and actually rather good. Here's a selection.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Predatory Dinosaurs of the World - Part 3

Who asked for one more round of Predatory Dinosaurs of the World? No? Well you're getting it anyway. If it's any consolation, you might not have expected to see Dimetrodon and Eryops showing up in a book with such a title, and yet here they are. Pesky Dimetrodon, always sticking its giant fin in where it isn't welcome.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Recreating an Age of Reptiles: Marc's review

While recent years have seen a number of books that celebrate palaeoart for its own sake (rather than featuring it in a purely illustrative context), not enough of them feature explanations by the artists as to why they made this or that choice when restoring long-dead animals. Why that colour pattern? Why that crest of scales? Why that unusual plumage distribution? Informed speculation is an absolute necessity, but it doesn't mean that (good) palaeoartists are just pulling the lever on an extinct beastie fruit machine and cobbling together the results. Perhaps the best aspect of Mark Witton's new book, Recreating an Age of Reptiles (aka Rec-a-Rep), is that Mark consistently provides the informed thinking behind his speculative choices, as well as explaining the science that forms the foundation of all his art. It's easily one of the best palaeoart books in years, and not just because Mark's artwork is often very lovely.

Images copyright Mark Witton, used with permission. Remember, "there's a special circle of hell...located halfway up Satan's bottom" for art thievin' types. (And book pirates.)

Friday, July 8, 2016

Mesozoic Miscellany 87

In the News

Cool news regarding a shared origin of feathers, hair, and scales: Nicolas Di-Poï and Michel Milinkovitch of the University of Geneva have published research tracing them all to the shared ancestors of modern birds, mammals, and reptiles. It all has to do with placodes, thickenings of the skin in embryos which had until now not been observed in developing reptiles, though the same genes had been found to control these three forms of integument. Read more at CS Monitor and Cosmos Magazine.

Not everyday you get to see 100 millon-year-old enantornithine wings in amber! Amazing stuff. More from NatGeo, WaPo, and Earth Archives.

New research studying tooth wear patterns reveals that the Leptoceratops chewed like a mammal.

Around the Dinoblogosphere

Missed this last year, but saw it pop up on the old Facebook recently. An interview with the one and only Dr. Tom Holtz.

The conflict between private and public interests in fossils isn't going away. At the Inverse, Jacqueline Ronson writes about an important sauropod skeleton from Montana that's in the hands of a private firm, the Judith River Dinosaur Institute.

Trish Arnold offers up a slab of 1993 pop-paleontology goodness with an issue of Time magazine featuring... Mononykus on the cover, of all things.

Meet the pterosaurs of the Liverpool World Museum, courtesy Paul Pursglove at the Pterosaur Database.

She's headed for Toronto soon, and Victoria Arbour offers a tour of North Carolina geology before she leaves.

Tristan Stock is not a fan of the "Montanaspinus" prank from last month.

At Letters from Gondwana, Fernanda Castano writes about the end-Permian and end-Triassic extinctions.

Gareth Monger celebrates the humble conodont - which has been gone from this planet since the end-Triassic - in a new design riffing on the poster for Alien 3.

Crowdfunding Pick

Mongolia is undoubtedly one of the most important countries in the history of palaeontology, but too many important fossils have been taken away. A new crowdfunding effort seeks to bring the wonder of Mongolia's scientific treasures to the country's children via a moveable museum. "Kids in the communities we visit will board the moveable museum to experience the interactive exhibits, and join classroom activities about dinosaurs, fossils and the relationship of dinosaurs to modern birds." Pledge your support today!

Paleoart Pick

Mark Witton's long-awaited book of palaeoart is out now! Pick up Recreating an Age of Reptiles at Lulu. Sit back to enjoy this launch video from Mark.

I love how he expressed the idea of "credibility" in palaeoart. His point that many depictions of prehistoric life can depict equally valid hypotheses is in line with my feelings over the past few years. Wouldn't it be great if at least some palaeontology press releases or media coverage included multiple reconstructions, driving home the point that there are no concrete answers for many of our questions? Anyhow. Pick up a copy of the book.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Predatory Dinosaurs of the World - Part 2

It's back - Greg Paul's 1988 magnum opus, Predatory Dinosaurs of the World. As we established in the first post, it's long deserved its prime position in the Palaeoart Hall of Fame, having been not only highly prescient but also hugely influential on almost everyone interested in reconstructing Mesozoic theropods. It was stuffed with the sort of truly fantastic and uniquely observed artwork you just didn't see anywhere else - theropods fighting ritualistically, having a nap, and gathering in family groups around a carcass.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Mesozoic Miscellany 86

In the News

The most complete ctenochasmid pterosaur to date has been described in PLoS One, a juvenile specimen of Gladocephaloideus.

Two new (but pretty scrappy) theropods from Patagonia have been described: the carcharodontosauroid Taurovenator and the megaraptoran Aoniraptor. Check out the PDF here. These come from "a single locality located in northwestern Río Negro province, Patagonia, Argentina. This theropod association is composed of abelisauroids, two different-sized carcharodontosaurid allosauroids, a coelurosaur of uncertain relationships, a megaraptoran tyrannosauroid, and a possible unenlagiid paravian."

Around the Dinoblogosphere

Darren Naish has been writing a series on our current understanding of that beloved clade, Maniraptora. Start there, and then hit parts two and three. Oh yeah: like cassowaries? Darren wrote about them, too.

At the PLoS One paleo blog, Jon Tennant writes about sexing a T.rex.

"With a little help from his knife-wielding Grandmother Maribel, and friends Starlee and Captain Jim, Nate opens a restaurant that secretly serves dinosaur meat." So... read more from Prehistoric Pulp.

Brian Switek interviewed Victoria Arbour about her recent investigation into "Ankylosaur Fight Club," the paleoart depictions of battlin' tank-o-saurs and the physical evidence that exists for such interactions.

Beyond Bones, the Houston Museum of Natural History blog, told the story of the Chicxulub crater recently.

What the heck were dromaeosaurs doing with their wingy-army-thingies? Duane Nash has some ideas.

I recently priced tickets for a trip to New York City to see the "Dinosaurs Among Us" exhibition. I'm hoping it moves to a closer museum! For a preview, Albertonykus just visited and has a report for us at Raptormaniacs.

Check out Rebecca Groom's plushie Dakotaraptor, a perk in the Saurian Kickstarter at the $600 pledge level (currently sold out).

Speaking of Saurian, check out their recent post on the Hell Creek hadrosaur, and their reasoning for what they're calling it (even though I'll be whispering "Anatotitan" when I encounter it).

At Expedition Live!, Dr. Lindsay Zanno has been chronicling this summer's field work, including the not so hellish Hell Creek and a very good day which may have seen the discovery of a beauty of a Triceratops skull.

Crowdfunding Pick

On the crowdfunding platform Walacea, you can help Stephen Durham of the Paleontological Research Institute in Ithaca, New York fund his lab's work in Amino Acid Racemization geochronology, which can help us learn more about past climate change through mollusk shells. There is just a bit over two weeks left on the campaign, with about a third of the goal reached.

An update on another campaign from Walacea: The Virtual Museum of Natural History did not reach its initial funding goal, but the team is rethinking some aspects and keeping the campaign open-ended. So the more they get, the better they can make the app! Head over and kick in some money to help the team make this very cool educational tool.

Paleoart Pick

Check out Fred Wierum's Brontosmash animation. Gloriously retro depiction of a contemporary behavioral hypothesis.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Grapplers

I think about fighting theropods a lot. Since you're visiting this blog, you likely do as well: the scenario of two multi-ton predators going at it with tooth, talon and claw has long been a staple of paleoart, and remains one of the most popular subjects of dinosaur illustration. These kinds of fights certainly occurred occasionally--there's fossil evidence of some really nasty disagreements between tyrannosaurs, for example--but they've largely become either bloodless or cliche. Since I'm not personally interested in sketching gore, I thought a less-typical type of theropod fight might be fun to take a swing at.

But what sort of model to draw from? Perhaps certain big theropods settled things with showy displays and bellowing, but this doesn't always make for a compelling illustration, especially for an artist working with limited time. So I started thinking about some of the most compelling (and goofy) grapplers in the extant animal kingdom. I speak, of course, of monitors.

What's interesting about the conflict here is how quickly it's decided by weight and technique. Big dragons can easily kill each other, and sometimes they do. But mating disputes tend to be more ritualized affairs. Whether or not big theropods did something similar is hard to say--we don't really have a good analogue for the big-armed, big-clawed theropod body type anymore, since birds lack meathook forelimbs and crocodiles don't precisely wrestle. (Though as Darren Naish points out, passarine fights can get really unpleasant, and anybody who's encountered an annoyed swan is aware of how much use they get out of their wings in a scuffle.) It's possible that big theropod fights ended where most human fights do--on the ground. But I wanted to take the Monitor model of conflict for an artistic spin.

Abelisaurs were my first pick, in part because I found the idea of mostly armless dinosaurs neck-wrestling to be kind of fun. These are intended to be fairly generic, although they're based on Aucasaurus. The resulting fight is more of a shoving match, with both animals working on a fairly narrow margin of balance.

Still, it didn't seem quite right to me. So after more scribbling, I came up with a twist on the idea I liked better. Megalosaurs like Torvosaurus have big, hefty arms and powerful necks and chests: perfect for grappling dinosaurs. 

The result: two male Torvosaurs in the breeding season duke it out. Like the Komodo battle in the earlier clip, this tussle will be over pretty quickly: the male on the right is a bit smaller, likely younger, and has bitten off rather more than he can chew. I've chosen to emphasize the big, muscled forelimbs. Likely these battles would have been at least a bit bloody--everyone involved having massive claws--but I wanted to focus on the technique involved. Here's the finished sketch.

 Pretty goofy looking. But sometimes it works out that way.