Monday, August 17, 2009

Lumbering Dead Ends

Leaping Laelaps by Charles Knight, 1896
I am in love with that painting, one hundred percent. Knight's image is a good reminder that the now-deceased myth of dinosaurs as slow-witted, lumbering reptilian beasts wasn't always in fashion. Sir Richard Owen himself, the man who coined the term "dinosaur," noted that the fossil bones he'd examined exhibited both reptilian and avian characteristics.

But as the world grappled with the implications of Charles Darwin's great contribution to our collective knowledge, a different idea sprang up. People just weren't comfortable with the idea that Mankind, the finest and most sublime of creatures, shared a common ancestor with monkeys, rats, and lizards. Thus, the idea that evolution was an upward progression, with direction and purpose. Extinct creatures, such as our beloved denizens of the mesozoic, couldn't cut it. They were too stupid, dull, and unworthy of survival. Luckily, that idea proved to be stupid, dull, and unworthy of survival.
Knight's subject, Laelaps, was eventually renamed Dryptosaurus (after it was realized that Laelaps already was being used for a genus of mites) and now is considered a basal tyrannosauroid, (which is a less loaded way of saying it's a "primitive" one) of its own dryptosaurid family. It is the first American theropod, and was discovered by quarry workers in New Jersey shortly after the civil war. Crimony, that painting is inspiring.

1 comment:

  1. This was the first picture by Charles Knight I ever saw and it's what got me so interested in his work. I dunno if you've ever seen the animal drawing and anatomy book by Charles, but what it lacks in dinosauria it makes up for in sheer brilliantosity.

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