For today’s guest post, we’re welcoming Joan Turmelle to the blog. Joan is an undergrad alumni from ECU, who majored in Anthropology, and a frequent collaborator with several members of the paleo-community. Recently, she served as moderator for the Dino Nerds For Black Lives event. Give Joan a follow on Twitter!
After several years of searching, I had managed to track down Then and Now, a book that I had once owned but gave away without really thinking. Despite knowing the name and remembering the cover, I didn’t know the names of the authors and was left in the dark for quite a while (there is just no online presence for this book!). But in the end it all worked out, and so, here we are. First published in 1974, Then and Now provides readers with an opportunity to compare the fossil and living members of several familiar animal lineages, as well as a few groups that are no longer with us. Authors Lisbeth and Georg Zappler formerly worked for the American Museum of Natural History and provide some lively and informative text, and illustrators Dorothea and Sy Barlowe may be most familiar from their contributions to the Golden Nature Guides series.
Curiously, while the contents of the book don’t have a formal order, there does seem to be a series of basic categories that the animals are lumped into. First, we’re treated with familiar domesticated species, perhaps the animals young readers would immediately associate with as their own pets. The evolution of the horse is rather briskly treated, focusing more on Hyracotherium (properly called Eohippus nowadays, as the former genus was found to be paraphyletic) before spending time with living species. A lot of focus is given to the many uses of horses by humans throughout time, though most folks would certainly take issue with the following high praise: “the Wild West could never have been wrested from the Indians without the gallant U.S. cavalry” who “were always able to gallop to the rescue”. Yeesh.
Afterwards, we’re treated to a number of animal groups that, rather pointlessly, might be considered “living fossils”, like turtles, dragonflies, and horseshoe crabs. The spread on opossums is particularly interesting, highlighting the differences between marsupial and placental mammals before giving a few details about South American sparassodonts. Notice how the thylacine is still listed among the living groups – of course its extinction was never formally confirmed until the 1980s. The authors seem rather baffled about the survival of the Virginia opossum into the present day, referring to the species as “the most notorious coward” of all animals, apparently because of their trick of feigning death. As if other animals don’t do that too!
Next we spend a few pages talking about large wild mammals like elephants and camels. That giraffes are considered in the book is really cool, because their history might not be very well known to budding future naturalists (besides as examples of why Lamarckian evolution is bunk). Sivatherium is discussed and there is even reference made to the infamous Sumerian statue that was once proposed to represent a late-surviving animal! Darren Naish covered this story over at TetZoo a while back.
I understand y’all like dinosaurs? Thankfully, the book dedicates quite a bit of space to them! That being said, the dinosaurs are not really given a respectful introduction, being treated as “the most extravagant practical joke ever played by Mother Nature”. Otherwise, the animals are given the usual treatment in books from this time, covering everything from their “thecodont” origins to a rundown of all the dinosaur groups to the many theories of extinction. This phylogeny is a real head-scratcher though. Who decided that pterosaurs were ornithischians? Surely this was a mistake. The inclusion of crocodylians here is because the book states that, though they did not descend from dinosaurs, they are their closest living relatives. Keep this in mind for later.
The only double-page illustration in the entire book is this scene of Cretaceous dinosaurs, including time-traveling Brontosaurus and some weird Tyrannosaurus hands. The rainbow-colored sky is rather lovely though.
The dinosaurs are grouped in the book with other now extinct animal lineages, though to modern readers the inclusion of some animals as “leaving no descendants” might raise some eyebrows. Even though the discussion of “birds as living dinosaurs” was stirring by 1974, here they’re lumped with the pterosaurs (and bats) in a spread about flying vertebrates. Birds in the context of dinosaurs is not mentioned at all. Of course, Archaeopteryx is here shown with its trademark wing-fingers that plagued restorations of the dinosaur for many decades. Not like I expected things to be different this time around.
Fossil mammals get quite a bit of space in these pages; notoungulates & litopterns, brontotheres, and chalicotheres get their own spreads. Some of the information here is, undoubtedly, inaccurate today, and raised quite a bit of questions for me as I was reading through the book. When was there ever a time when chalicotheres were thought to have been wading mammals that used their claws to uproot aquatic plants? “Leaves and grass had no appeal for them” reads the text. So strange…
I’ll leave you all now with this page from the section of human evolution, which naturally closes out the book. Our origin is said to have not caused “any great stir in the rest of the animal world” and it was only later that “[man] exerted a force on his natural environment which caused as much turmoil as the dinosaur did in its day”. If you’re familiar at all with paleoanthropology then a lot of the text here is pretty textbook: we have big brains, we’re adaptable, we can make tools… blah, blah, blah. Again, there are some curious nuggets of info here, like how the book states that neanderthals interbred with modern humans (yes, this was discussed long before the genetic data). And there’s nothing more vintage than a white “cro-magnon” painting in a cave.
All in all, this is a neat little book that really does teach you to appreciate how animal life changed over time. I adore books like this that look at prehistoric life in context with living organisms, and thankfully there are several others out there that do the job well.