About a month ago now (I know! I’m slacking these days! I do have my reasons) we had a look at the dinosaurs in The Prehistoric World, a beautifully illustrated and often gloriously violent book first published in Italy in 1982. Such was the overwhelming clamour for me to feature pre- and post-Mesozoic life from the book (at least two comments!), here we go again – this time, with creatures of the Palaeozoic. It’s freaky, surreal and often unsettling, and therefore perfect for this spookiest of months.
By way of example, here’s a stunning and quietly disturbing image of the eurypterid (sea scorpion) Mixopterus hunting some primitive vertebrate thingies. There’s something uniquely unnerving in imagining this primordial world, in which giant scorpion-like arthropods snared and devoured animals that must have included our own ancestors, and this illustration is fittingly atmospheric and evocative. (It probably doesn’t help that the “primitive chordate” being ensnared looks almost like it’s screaming in terror.) I might have over-brightened it a little here – on the page, this piece is rather moodier and murkier, but no less dynamic-looking. This one’s by P Cozzaglio, who also produced the Diplodocus v Allosaurus piece seen last time. A real talent for churning waters, there.
Should Astraspis be there? Perhaps not. You tell me.
Speaking of evocative scenes and dynamism and churning waters and all that, here’s a gorgeous-looking illustration of the Devonian jawless fish Hemicyclapsis by A Fedini. I can’t say I’m too familiar with the body of palaeoart depicting these animals, but what I have seen typically depicts them from above, as if we’re looking down upon an animal in a shallow pool; therefore, this attempt at an unusual perspective is surely to be commended. It also helps place the viewer deep within the animal’s world, and gives us an immediate idea of what their feeding habits must have been like. More than that, it’s just a beautifully detailed piece.
Sooner or later, you’ve got to have a Dunk – in a book featuring Devonian sea life, not featuring Dunkleosteus would be like leaving T. rex out of your generalised dinosaur book. It’s simply unthinkable. Here, then, is the giant fishy terror with the nightmarish crushing maw and (inevitably) permanently madly staring beady eye. And, yes, I know Dinichthys is a perfectly valid genus, but my understanding is that this is almost certainly based on the related and better-known Dunk. As the image notes, it’s never been exactly clear what the majority of its body looked like, beyond that armoured pseudo-toothy portion – it’s like trying to reconstruct David Norman based solely on his sexy headshot on the back of Dinosaurs!.
Sadly, this is the one image that I was unable to find a credit for. As far as Dunkleosteus reconstructions go, it notably blends the armoured and unarmoured portions of the body quite smoothly, rather than having a jarring transition from one to the other. If you happen to know much at all about arthrodires, do let me know what you think.
Now here’s a very atmospheric one – a steaming Carboniferous swamp scene, as depicted by C Di Ciancio. Early tetrapods and stem-tetrapods hunt each other through the misty, murky swamps, surrounded by towering, beguilingly alien flora. Earthy browns and greens dominate the palette. I’m sure it’s dated now (that Dolichosoma does look suspiciously snake-like), but I’ve always found palaeoart depicting the Carboniferous (at any stage) to be among the most intriguing, perhaps because (when it’s done correctly) the plantlife seems superficially familiar-looking, yet on closer inspection, so very alien.
Now we’re in more familiar territory – here’s an animal well-established in the ranks of infamous prehistoric creatures, known to every disinterested parent as ‘actually, that’s not a dinosaur’. As befits a book that seems quite retro in its outlook overall, A Fedini’s Dimetrodon is sprawling and very reptilian at first glance, but it’s also clearly very mobile, seemingly pushing itself into the water with its hindlimbs to hunt some unseen aquatic prey. The bubbles around the animal’s forelimbs are beautifully done, and I like the spots of vibrant colour on an otherwise swampy grey-green-brown body. Unusually, the creature in this illustration is labelled specifically as D. incisivus, rather than just Dimetrodon or one of the grander species like, er, D. grandis. (I think D. incisivus may have been synonymised – Dimetrodon has a crazy number of species for anyone used to Mesozoic dinosaurs.)
In the background sits Edaphosaurus, which is also identified to specific level – namely, E. pogonias. Which is the type species, and still stands. Phew. It’s a shame that it’s almost the same colour as Dimetrodon – rendering it, one again, as the less interesting ‘herbivorous Dimetrodon‘ when it really has much more going for it than that. I mean, those horizontal protrusions from the neural spines look proper weird when you see them on a mounted skeleton.
In the previous post I described a piece by P Cataneo as “a bit more painterly than usual,” and I’m quite sure one could say the same about the above. The way the lush, impressionistic foliage blends into the hills in the background is quite lovely, and there’s more fine detail packed into this piece than might first meet the eye. That said, it’s also rather static – the Lycaenops seem to be rather impassively biting the Dicynodon, and although one of the latter is down on its back, it doesn’t appear to be struggling all that much. Cataneo seems to excel at landscapes far more than gory rip-‘n’-tear action. I do enjoy that the Lycaenops have a prey item each, rather than mobbing the same poor individual. There’s plenty to go around!
Onward through the Permian, and here’s an animal described in the text (by author Giorgio P Panini, via an English translation) as “almost lion-like” – an idea that credited artists Andrea and Luciano Corbella have really taken to heart. Their Anteosaurus essentially is a lion, albeit with a reptilian noggin that resembles that of a Zallingerian theropod dinosaur. A beautifully detailed illustration of a particularly freakish lion, but probably not what Anteosaurus looked like.
We get the point, though – some Permian synapsids lived in cold environments and might even have been properly furry. And the “pristerognathid” fares better, looking like less of an obvious facsimile of a modern mammal (although clearly still drawn with one very much in mind). Why isn’t it just referred to as Pristerognathus? You tell me.
And finally…here’s an animal that we don’t see very often in popular books – Mesosaurus. Although superficially crocodile-like, Mesosaurus (and relatives) lived in the Permian and actually had nothing to do with them. Little is said about the animal in this book, beyond them being ‘fierce aquatic predators’ that probably hunted fish and crustaceans, which is a shame as I’m quite sure that this is my own introduction to these creatures (there’s a good chance that I’ve seen them before somewhere and forgotten after a few rounds of delicious liquid poison). Having consulted Professor Wiki, it seems that their evolutionary affinities are somewhat uncertain, which is especially interesting. Leave a comment if you happen to know a lot about Mesosaurus! Please, please leave a comment. Please. I just want so desperately to be loved.
Anyway, this seems like a perfectly lovely illustration by C Di Ciancio, with a nice sense of movement and a couple of different perspectives on the animal, which gives us a decent idea of its form. Coming up next time: the Cenozoic!