Monday, May 14, 2012

Vintage Dinosaur Art: The evolution and ecology of the Dinosaurs: Part 2

There's far too much 1970s goodness in The evolution and ecology of the Dinosaurs to be contained in a single post. May I now present yet more classic Caselli illustrations and occasional Bev Halstead strangeness. Hooray!


Among other eccentricities, Halstead seems to have a real love for the classic, chimeric "Brontosaurus" a la Marsh. In other books, Halstead referred to apatosaurs as 'brontosaurs' even after acknowledging their correct name; here, he perpetuates the myth that Apatosaurus "used to be called Brontosaurus" (the name Apatosaurus came first - it's a generic name ferchrissake!). Accordingly, Caselli illustrates Apatosaurus semingly based on Marsh's 1880s "Brontosaurus" skeletal, complete with mismatched macronarian head. When it comes to sauropod habits, Halstead is most definitely of the old, swamp-dwelling school, and he points to various features of the sauropod skeleton that are (according to him) adaptations to an aquatic lifestyle, including a long, heavy tail that served as a sort of anchor/propulsion device. Of course, nobody in their right mind would suggest that these days.


Still, I digress - this is supposed to be about vintage art, not giggling at how silly people were in the 1970s (and that they most certainly were). To illustrate Halstead's description of a trackway made by sauropods on a lakebed, Caselli provides a rather strange image of some 'brontosaurs' doing just that. Of course, being all dopey and small-brained, the poor dears have got their tails in a tangle. Looking at this lumpen mess of tails and blobby bodies and protruding limbs is a little...confusing.


Ankylosaurs never get a good deal in these old books. Here, Caselli reverts to a rather lazy "let's all copy Neave Parker!" mode, and produces some truly bizarre beasts (check out the weird taxonomy too!). There's always one with adorable little ears, in this case Palaeoscincus, a dubious genus based on teeth. "Scolosaurus" is, as usual, a sprawling grump with spikes on its club, and Polacanthus is...a terrifying pinhead from your worst nightmare (it'll TEAR YOUR SOUL APART!). Speaking of which...


Unfortunately, it's a tiny image, but here we see what might well be the genesis of an art meme that saw Quetzalcoatlus depicted as an "evil, pin-headed, toothy nightmare monster that wants to eat your soul" (warning: hellish images of bloodthirsty demon-pterosaurs not for the faint hearted). Caselli's Pteranodon aren't bad by comparison, although the individual hanging like a bat on the right hand side is unfortunate (and another art meme - one that's still not quite dead).


Halstead has some very peculiar ideas about ceratopsians and especially Protoceratops, which he claims weighed 1.5 tonnes, in spite of the fact that "it was only 75cm high at the hip". That's one seriously lardy animal. Furthermore, Halstead describes (and Caselli correspondingly illustrates) the neck muscles of this creature attaching to its frill in such a way that it essentially merged into the animal's back. Darren Naish (him again!) has had a look at the absurdly overmuscled ceratopsian head phenomenon, and it's well worth a read.


More Neave Parker copying, in the form of the classic skulking Megalosaurus (with tiny, four-fingered hands), naturally living in, er, the Early Cretaceous. It's a legacy of a time when the name Megalosaurus was applied to every extinct theropod under the sun, of course, but this strange error probably goes all the way back to their depiction alongside Iguanodon in Victorian art (when geology was in its infancy). Note the very Parker-esque Polacanthus and Hypsilophodon with scutes in the background. Regardless of its scientific obsolesence, the scene is still beautifully painted, with a herd of Iguanodon lurking just out of scanner range to the right.


Allosaurus now, clearly based on the AMNH mount/Chaz Knight's restoration of same. A trend I don't understand in old palaeoart is the tendency to ignore the ornamentation on theropod's heads - why does Caselli illustrate an Allosaurus skull with prominent horns on the page opposite this, but not stick them on his life restoration? Got to love the jolly, fat old Ceratosaurus in the background though. Actually, the real animal was rather robust, but probably not so jolly. Its giant fangs have been blunted in art for far too long...


Oh dear. I absolutely love the colours, and the feathers are beautifully rendered, but...why? WHY? You've drawn a skeleton RIGHT THERE! Look at it! Look at an extant bird's skeleton! I need a lie down.


And finally...it's the image you've all been waiting for! Maybe. This illustration of two fighting Pachycephalosaurus is probably my favourite from the entire book. There's a fantastic sense of movement and inertia here, and that impact looks painful - just look at the one on the right, sailing through the air. There's even a brilliant Handy Diagram to show you in which direction the heads would have travelled, just in case you couldn't figure it out for yourself. Just wonderful stuff.

13 comments:

  1. You know, before looking at the diagram above the pachy illustration, I could not figure out what those two were doing.

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  2. I think the tail twisted sauropods are engaging in a bit of 70's Dino porn. If you listen, you can just hear the bow-chicka-bow-wow in the background.

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  3. Wonderful stuff.

    It occurs to me that the earlier restorations of Archaeopteryx wings (and subsequent perpetuation of the same mistake) might have in part been influenced by the vision of pterosaur wings, with their clawed hands apparently 'separate' from the wing (although they're not separate in pterosaurs either, but you know what I mean).

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  4. I remember this book quite clearly and I'm almost positive those twisted up sauropods are doin' it, so to speak.

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  5. I love the lone foot sticking out of the rumble of sauropods toward the center left of the picture. I can just hear its owner yelping "help me!"

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  6. Have to agree, I think those brontos are getting it on which, given his comments on an earlier post, will no doubt please Niroot immensely! I thought that the pachys were too but, thanks to that diagram, I can see that I was mistaken.

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    1. Will somebody please think of the children!

      ;)

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  7. It's not the brontos on the job that's so fascinating about that picture, it's the fact they also apparently had prehensile tails. Is this being deliberately kept out of the literature by a cabal of sauropod workers intent on keeping the sheer wonderfulness of this revelation to themselves??

    I think we should be told.

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    1. Well, we all know how sauropod workers are unilaterally dishonest, fleecing the public, conspiring to have the sheeple believe that these animals could live on land, held their tails aloft, had hearts that could pump blood all the way up to their heads, and of course that they lived hundreds of millions of years ago.

      I mean, follow the money.

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    2. Indeed, everyone knows that those palaeontologists sit there in their ivory towers, raining the scalding oil of sneering professional disdain down upon the fearless radicals who dare propose such awesome, heretical Actual Science.

      By the way, I had never even considered that those sauropods might be doing...it. I guess I'm just that innocent. But not any more, you awful, awful people.

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    3. I honestly didn't think it either - it would be a weird time to get frisky, in the middle of crossing that body of water.

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    4. Nor I, just to add to the chorus.

      'But not any more, you awful, awful people.'

      Now you know how I feel... *Puts on best expression of injured virtue*

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  8. The overmuscled ceratopsian frills are redonkulous, but fascinating.

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