Friday, August 18, 2017

Dinosaurs of China in Nottingham: part 2 - Feathered Flyers

While the reconstructed skeletons of big scaly beasts dominate the main downstairs area of Dinosaurs of China, the real treasures are upstairs, where far more delicate, intricately preserved and altogether fluffy animals await. While some of our scientist readers will have seen these in person before, DoC is a unique opportunity for us mere laypeople to get up close to feathered beauties from China. And yes, many of them are originals, including Stripy Longtail here!

Notice the fish, bottom left.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Dinosaurs of China in Nottingham: part 1 - Ground Shakers

Have you ever wandered among the imposing corridors and grand halls of an historical stately home and thought about how much they could be improved by the addition of dinosaur skeletons? Then boy, do I have an exhibition for you. But more importantly, it's a showcase of numerous impressive skeletal mounts of Chinese dinosaurs, many never seen before outside their native country, along with an array of breathtaking original specimens. Dinosaurs of China is a huge coup for an obscure museum, a wonderful achievement of international co-operation, and a unique opportunity for British dinosaur enthusiasts - and Natee and I were fortunate enough to tour with curator Adam Smith.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Book Review: Dinosaur Empire

Cover art for Abby Howard's 'Dinosaur Empire' book

The gradual shifting of popular visions of prehistoric life has been a theme of this blog almost since the start. Looking at how old, mid-century or earlier ideas stick around longer than scientific consensus would dictate is fun, but one thing that's been rewarding has been watching in real time as the world embraces modern paleontology's increasingly nuanced and diverse view of dinosaurs.

Another cobblestone in that road has been placed with Abby Howard's wonderful Dinosaur Empire, now available from Amulet Books. Told in comic form, Howard takes the reader on a thorough tour of the Mesozoic, as a paleo-geek named Ms. Lernin takes a child named Ronnie on a time-travel adventure via the wibbly-wobbly power of "science magic." Anyhow, the book is awesome, and you should buy it, and here are five reasons why.

It embraces current palaeontological knowledge in an approachable way.

It's undeniably fun to get together with fellow paleo-geeks and talk prehistory. But sometimes, many of us will readily admit, talking with folks with only a superficial grasp on ancient life can be taxing. Dinosaur Empire is perfectly aimed at helping everyone understand and appreciate the history of life on Earth, no matter how in the dark they are to start - or what old notions they're holding on to. Howard's art is bright and humorous, her animals stylized but recognizable. Mark Witton recently praised Johan Egerkrans for his balance of stylization and anatomical fidelity, and Howard deserves the same praise.

It's funny.

If you're into Howard's comics Junior Scientist Power Hour or The Last Halloween, you'll be happy to hear that Howard's sense of humor is deployed just as effectively here. Using the form to her advantage, animals get to have humorous little reactions to and interactions with their environment and other animals.

An interior page from Abby Howard's 'Dinosaur Empire,' featuring a collection of pterosaurs.
A page dedicated to pterosaurs from Abby Howard's Dinosaur Empire graphic novel. Image courtesy Abrams Books.

It's about more than T. rex, and goes well beyond dinosaurs.

Howard realizes what any of us who have done education with kids realize: they want to hear the biggest hits, and quick. Her character of Ronnie reminds me of many kids I've met - her first order of business is to get to Tyrannosaurus rex. But Dinosaur Empire begins in the Triassic, and readers are soon introduced to aetosaurs, placodonts, ichthyosaurs, thallatosaurs, pterosaurs, insects, and more. Smok wawelski gets a page to itself. Eocaecilia, Castorocauda, Fruitachampsa, Morganucodon, Anatosuchus, Ocepechelon... they're in here. There's a page geeking out about the wonderful and gruesome world of parasitic wasps - in fact, where some books might include stinkin' arthropods as an aside, Howard returns to them multiple times. I was delighted to see how deep Howard went with her cast of critters - and just for good measure, she includes a brief appendix highlighting a collection of animals she couldn't fit in to the main story! I'm writing this with a big silly grin on my face in a tastefully decorated, quiet coffee shop, and I don't care what the other patrons think.

It's a heck of a lot more than just a simple roster of animals.

It's clear that Howard wanted to not only feature the amazing creatures of the past but put them into their context in time and in their environments. IMHO, she totally succeeds, taking the time to explain some foundational concepts of anatomy, evolution, phylogeny, and geology. She talks about protofuzz, pycnofibers, feathers, scales.

An interior page of Abby Howard's 'Dinosaur Empire' featuring a collection of triassic animals.
A page from the Triassic section of Abby Howard's Dinosaur Empire graphic novel. Image courtesy Abrams Books.

Abby Howard's love of prehistoric life is obvious.

Howard's animals are depicted naturalistically. They're nesting, socializing, drinking, feeding, hunting. Shrink-wrapping is markedly absent. Integument is believable, never too over-the-top with color schemes but not avoiding colorful and gaudy display structures, either. It's obvious that Howard wasn't just ticking off a checklist to fit so many of these obscure taxa in the book. She just loves drawing them. And when Ronnie finally gets to see her T. rex, it's a beautiful moment that Howard allows to breathe.

I hope I've made my case. This book deserves to be part of any paleontology book collection. It's perfect for elementary schoolers, but older paleo-geeks will get plenty of joy out of it. Pick it up, and send abundant plaudits Howard's way!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Animals of Yesterday

As regular readers will have noticed, I've received a great many scanned books by e-mail from Charles Leon, all very gratefully received (even the dino sex article). Animals of Yesterday, originally published in 1941 (with this edition arriving in 1966) is mostly a rather run-of-the-mill pre-Renaissance dinosaur book, stocked with the usual Zallingerian swamp beasts. All the same, it does present certain mysteries that I'd love for any readers familiar with museums in Milwaukee to clear up, and moreover it's a book from Charles' personal collection. I feel quite honoured!

Monday, July 31, 2017

This Mesozoic Month: July 2017

July! That really was a month, wasn't it? A mellow month after the sturm und drang of June, but still plenty of fun to be had, so let's start having it.

In the News

Razanandrongobe sakalavae is a new, giant notosuchian from Jurassic Madagascar. Learn more about this fearsome beast from Jon Tennant at PLOS.

Straight out of the nineties: fossils that have been in the Royal Tyrrell Museum since 1993 and 1996 have received new attention, found to be a new species of troodontid. Read about Albertavenator curriei at Live Science.

Drs. Hone and Holtz teamed up for a big overview of spinosaurs. Read about it from Archosaur Musings and grab the paper here [PDF link].

The earliest neornithine bird, Vegavis iaai, was recently the subject of osteohistological research, offering confirmation that it was a diving, foot-propelled bird. Read more from Fernanda Castano at Letters from Gondwana.

Read about the ongoing effort to recover and prepare "Walter," a giant hadrosaur from Rangely, Colorado, by a team from Colorado Northwestern Community College.

Around the Dinoblogosphere

Mark Witton interviews artist Johan Egerkrans, who has been doing some fantastic, cartoony prehistoric art lately.

At the Inverse, Jacquelyn Ronson talks to Mike Habib and Jordan Mallon about The Land Before Time and its scientific accuracy.

Darren Naish returns with another post about the big empty space in the noggins of ceratopsians at TetZoo.

At Raptormaniacs, check out some animatronic beasts at the Bristol Zoo.

NatGeo has done an amazing 3D tour of the Suncor nodosaur fossil.

Chris talks dinosaurs and beer at Prehistoric Beast of the Week.

Since industrial operations are digging in places where rock isn't naturally exposed, some unique fossils can turn up. The Royal Tyrrell Museum blog delves into this intersection of industry and science.

Paul Pursglove writes about Wukongopterus lii, now on display in the Dinosaurs of China exhibition at Wollaton Hall, at the Pterosaur database blog.

At the RMDRC blog, Anthony Maltese shares the story of finding a tyrannosaur's ass. Glamorous field work alert!

One of the most enduring questions about theropods -especially non-maniraptorans - is how they used those often small forelimbs. "T. rex trying," anyone? Duane Nash takes a critical look at some of our prevailing assumptions and comes up with some pretty satisfying counterpoints.

Liz Martin-Silverstone wraps up her "150 Things about Canadian Palaeontology" series with a look at some of the country's truly ancient fossil sites.

The Empty Wallets Club

The cover for Ted Rechlin's 'Jurassic' graphic novel.

Ted Rechlin's new dinosaur graphic novel, Jurassic, is now available from his own Rextooth Studios imprint. Pick it up at Amazon and read more at Rextooth.

Rebecca Groom's Yutyrannus art doll

Rebecca Groom of Palaeoplushies fame unveiled her painstakingly crafted Yutyrannus huali art doll, and it can be yours.

The LITC AV Club

Who's ready for an hour of Dave Hone talking about tyrannosaurs? He offers a fantastic overview of the family. Pull up a seat!

As if that wasn't generous enough, there's a great Q&A portion that the Royal Institution has made available to the masses.

Not enough tyrant action for you yet? No? Well have some more: Dr. Thomas Carr talks about Daspletosaurus horneri.

Saurian is finally here! At the time of this writing, the team is simply awaiting for Steam to approve it. Here's the release trailer for the game.

Finally, Mark Witton has announced his next book, and it's a doozy. Check out his preview video!

Crowdfunding Spotlight

Diane Ramic's 'Coloring Book of (Scientifically Accurate) Paleofauna' Diane Ramic's paleofauna coloring books are pretty wonderful, with an engaging aesthetic that allows colorers plenty of freedom to invent color schemes for the animals. Her second coloring book is being funded via Kickstarter. The campaign lasts until August 6, so hurry up and pledge.

A Moment of Paleoart Zen

So, this has been a tyrannosaur-heavy post. Why stop now? Here's Raph Lomotan's gorgeous Yutyrannus pair.

Raph Lomotan's Yutyrannus painting
Yutyrannus huali © Raph Lomotan, shared here with the artist's permission.

Be sure to follow Raph at DeviantArt. If you're into Star Wars, he's done quite a few beautiful character paintings as well.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Vintage Dinosaur Art: Tyrannosaurus Sex: A Love Tail (Omni magazine, Feb 1988)

Beverly Halstead accomplished rather a lot in his life; geologist, palaeontologist, holder of professorships at universities around the world, author and science populariser, and more besides. Halstead (full name Lambert Beverly Halstead) died in 1991, and in spite of having written numerous popular dinosaur books, didn't figure into my childhood dinosaur obsession; I was probably a tiny bit too late. In fact, my first notable encounter with his work was when I got hold of a copy of his 1975 book The Evolution and Ecology of the Dinosaurs back in 2012, a significant book for those a little older than me, and perhaps what first comes to mind for many when they hear Halstead's name.

That and all the sex.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Vintage Dinosaur Art: The Crocodiles Still Wait

When attempting to flesh out their Mesozoic palaeoart scenes, artists will often throw in a few crocodilians. After all, many of them (although very far from all) closely resembled those we have with us today, which makes referencing a great deal easier. Quite apart from that, having a familiar animal in a scene helps accentuate the strange, exotic nature of beasties of more extinct archosarian clades. In this delightful book, however, one of those 'set dressing' creatures finally gets its time in the spotlight. Many thanks again to Charles Leon for sending me this one.

Friday, June 30, 2017

This Mesozoic Month: June 2017

It's kind of been an annoying month for those of us who don't think science exists to serve our personal preferences as to what prehistoric animals looked like (ahem). And if you're not into childish sensationalism in your science journalism, it's been doubly annoying. So... I made this. Obi-Wan Kenobi says 'Only a Science Headline Writer Deals in Absolutes.'

I think I remember that line correctly...

In the News

Let's start with something light and non-controversial, shall we? Thank goodness for amber, that perennial benefactor of the prehistorically-inclined. The latest gift? A beautiful little enantornithe. Read more from Asher Elbein, writing for Audubon.

New research at the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, the site of a massive Jurassic bonebed dominated by Allosaurus remains, suggests a gradual deposition of carcasses over years of seasonal flooding, rather than a single catastrophic event. Read more from Brian Switek. Randall Irmis writes about iffy coverageof the research at the Natural History Museum of Utah blog.

There's been a streak of new insights into sensitive facial integument in theropods lately, and the newest published research is about Neovenator. Read more from Darren Naish at Tet Zoo (one of the study's coauthors) and Sam Barnett at the Natural Sciences Collections Association blog.

Finally, the story that inspired a thousand online arguments. Nothing like a new paper on tyrannosaur integument to get the people talking. There has been a ton of conversation over the paper itself as well as about the typically awful hot takes from sciencey websites and blogs. Read more from Meig Dickson at Earth Archives. Mark Witton's post is particularly insightful, and I for one will not fuss too much when I concede that my recent Science March sign has been rendered - probably - obsolete.

Around the Dinoblogosphere

At Prehistoric Beast of the Week, Chris has begun reviewing dinosaur figures by Safari, starting with a snazzy Coelophysis. Love the racing stripe.

Give a listen to WICN's Inquiry podcast, which recently featured Anthony J. Martin talking about paleontology, especially ichnology and his book Dinosaurs Without Bones.

At ART Evolved, Herman Diaz returns with more book reviews: Patricia Lauber's How Dinosaurs Came to Be (yay!) and Richard Moody's Dinofile (boo!).

There's a current effort to complete a database of every dinosaur specimen in the world, and Mike Taylor tells us about it at SV-POW.

In her latest post on Canadian paleontology, Liz Martin-Silverstone writes about the country's paleobotanical treasures.

Victoria Arbour visited the "coal age Galapagos," a fossil exposure in Nova Scotia, and found some beautiful stuff. Check it out at Pseudoplocephalus.

The LITC AV Club

PBS Digital Studios has begun a new paleontology video series titled Eons, hosted by Hank Green. Here's episode one, dedicated to trilobites. Subscribe at Youtube to see what they cook up next!

The Empty Wallets Club

The contents page from Taschen's 'Paleoart.'

The contents page of Taschen's Paleoart.
In August, the publishing company Taschen will release Zoë Lescaze's Paleoart, a scholarly look at the history of artistic depicions of ancient life. You know, paleoart.
The collection provides an in-depth look at this neglected niche of art history and shows how the artists charged with imagining extinct creatures often projected their own aesthetic whims onto prehistory, rendering the primordial past with dashes of Romanticism, Impressionism, Japonisme, Fauvism, and Art Nouveau, among other influences.
It looks gorgeous, but it does cost a pretty penny.

Crowdfunding Spotlight

Paleoartist Matt Martyniuk needs a new computer, and if you support him at GoFundMe, you get to help determine what his next project will be. Chip in at his campaign page!

A Moment of Paleoart Zen

Benke Bálint's Atopodentatus is one of my favorite depictions of the Triassic oddball.

Atopodentatus by Benke Bálint, shared here with the artist's permission.

Friday, June 23, 2017

American Museum of Natural History, part 3: no birds, please, we're bird-hips

And so, finally, to the hall of Ornithischian dinosaurs (as a reminder, Baron et al. 2017 isn't to be mentioned). In spite of the tendency of theropods and sauropods to hog the limelight, the AMNH's Other Dinosaur Hall almost manages to outshine the lizard-hipped-themed gallery - almost. There's no beating Rexy's charisma, but his eternal adversary certainly comes close.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Explore Mesozoic Ecosystems with Gabriel Ugueto

Illustrator, designer, and herpetologist Gabriel Ugueto's prolific output never ceases to stun me - a feeling Natee also shares, as the subject came up during our recent meeting. You may recall that Gabriel's posters of various families of non-avian dinosaurs were included in our 2016 gift guide, and may also recognize him as part of the Studio 252mya paleoart team.

Lately, Gabriel has been following up his previous series by designing posters based on various geological formations and the paleofauna they've revealed to us. Laid out phylogenetically, they offer a concise way to take stock of select groups of inhabitants of each of these paleoenvironments. Animals are shown in easy-to-understand lateral and dorsal views, occasionally with details like alternate views of the head with jaws agape. Each poster also includes a helpful scale diagram.

Gabriel Ugueto's Ischigualasto Formation Poster

The Ischigualasto Formation

Gabriel Ugueto's Niobrara Formation Poster

The Niobrara Formation

Gabriel Ugueto's Wessex Formation Poster

The Wessex formation

Gabriel Ugueto's Las Hoyas Formation Poster

The Las Hoyas Formation

Gabriel Ugueto's Kayenta Formation Poster

The Kayenta Formation

As someone who especially enjoys learning about prehistoric animals in context with their contemporaries, I really appreciate this undertaking - and it doesn't hurt that Gabriel's illustrations are beautiful and his layouts are attractive and easy to digest. The posters are available at Gabriel's Redbubble shop; links in the image captions above will take you directly to each poster's shop listing. Keep an eye out for his next design, dedicated to the Oxford Clay.

Follow Gabriel on Twitter, Redbubble, ArtStation, and Instagram, where he often shares works-in-progress and close-ups of individual animals - as well as a selfie game so fierce he handily earns the title #Paleobae. Thanks to Gabriel for allowing me to share his work here, now let's get them up on some walls!