Because at least two people asked for it, here’s a final look at 1980’s Prehistoric World, written by Richard Moody and illustrated by a variety of artists – and this time, we’re looking at some Cenozoic beasties (and no more coral – with apologies to coral fans). Or as the book would have it, “Cainozoic”, a seldom-seen spelling that Moody might have chosen because it’s somewhat closer to the Greek. Since I can’t remember the last time I saw “Cainozoic” used in any context apart from this book, I’ll stick with Cenozoic, please and thank you.
It was during the Cenozoic that the rubbish, smelly, inferior mammals inherited the farm from the dearly departed dinosaurs. And they diversified rather rapidly, as is evident in the below depiction of a “London Clay shoreline” around 55 million years ago.
Moody explores the London Clay formation in some detail – looking at the flora as much as the fauna – and Tony Morris’ illustration is duly stuffed with appropriate plant life. This is clearly a lush, tropical environment. A Coryphodon pair lounge in the water, while Oxyaena disturbs Hyracotherium, and Platychoerops stays out of harm’s way. The turtle isn’t named – because who cares about turtles, really? – but several are known from the formation so, you know, pick one with a smooth-looking shell (a softshell, perhaps). While I don’t really feel fit to judge the reconstructions, they all look suitably convincing, and I love the swirling, impressionistic (take a shot!) nature of the foliage.
Morris also contributes this illustration of a “terrestrial environment” in the “Early Tertiary,” or what we’d call the Palaeogene nowadays. That encompasses a fairly lengthy period of time, and although the prominent inclusion of Plesiadapis (the lemur-like fellows on the right) would appear to narrow it down, those horses over on the right look remarkably modern – so, perhaps the aim is to give more of a ‘general impression’. Whatever the case, it’s all very pretty, with the richly detailed foliage being (again) especially gorgeous. Moody describes “mountain slopes…densely forested with redwoods (Sequoia), pines, cypresses and yews representing the gymnosperms, and oak, elm, poplar, the flowering plants,” all of which Morris carefully works into his piece.
Unusually, the Cenozoic/Cainozoic section of the book features model photography alongside the more typical illustrations, with wee figures of extinct mammals sculpted by David Bayliss. There’s certainly an art to photographing scale miniatures to make them appear larger, and the Hyracotherium shot (above) is much more successful in this regard than the Deinotherium photo (below). It doesn’t help that Deinotherium was a considerably larger animal, but the end result is rather reminiscent of the sort of photos I used to take of my dinosaur toys in my parents’ garden when I was 7 years old. (There even appears to be a fence in the background.) The models themselves are both quite lovely, but the staging of ol’ stabbytusks doesn’t do the lovingly sculpted figure any favours.
Returning to the illustrations, and naturally Basilosaurus makes an appearance, as brought to life by Ray and Corinne Burrows. Although it follows in the unfortunate tradition of giving the animal a crocodile-like (or plesiosaur-like?) lipless face, this is otherwise an admirably detailed and well observed illustration – the animal’s subtly spotty countershading and shiny, scuffed-up hide look very convincing.The complete animal is shown in the book, with the beautifully tapered tail ending in sturdy flukes over on the left, and it makes quite a striking impression.
Naturally there’s a La Brea tar pit scene, illustrated by John Barber, that packs in quite a variety of flora and fauna. The carnivores (Smilodon and dire wolves) are depicted as mostly interested in the elephant carcass trapped in the tar, which is easy meat – steering clear of the Megatherium and (live) Columbian mammoths hanging around nearby. The imposing, towering frame of the latter is emphasised very effectively by its placement in the scene, with nearby trees providing scale, and the viewer taking on a human’s-eye-view, which also helps make the whole thing that much more immediate and immersive. The careful composition, skillful variation in detail, and lifelike poise of the creatures make it easy to imagine the artist painting this from life. It’s nice. I like it.
Peter Crump, whose memorably maned Anteosaurus and fearsome Uncle Dunk featured last time, here illustrates some “Pliocene” Australian animals, namely Thylacoleo and Procoptodon. As far as I can tell from a few minutes of lazily searching the internet, these animals only overlapped in the Pleistocene, but never mind. Blame Moody. Thylacoleo appears suitably stout and stubby-faced, but Crump may have made Procoptodon a little too much like a modern kangaroo – not that we can see much, what with them being off in the distance. It’s not an especially detailed or enthralling illustration, especially when compared with some of the other spreads and, indeed, Crump’s own Dunkleosteus piece. One can’t help but feel that there’s a lot more that could be done with these fascinatingly strange animals.
And finally…here are two related pieces by Pat Oxenham, illustrating “glacial and interglacial periods”. The first is, of course, the glacial period, featuring various very large, hairy, well-built herbivorous mammals with sharp, pointy things sticking out of their faces. Here, the woolly mammoth and rhino are content to sit back and watch while an angry bison prepares to grind some puny wolves into the cold, hard ground beneath its hooves. It’s a very nice illustration, but we were rather spoiled by that Cozzaglio illustration in The Prehistoric World (the Italian book), which featured an utterly terrifying wolf’s-eye-view of a furious bovine mountain. On the Siberian steppe, beef minces you!
The glacial is followed by the interglacial, where much balder but otherwise quite similar-looking animals appear. The intention of this piece is to illustrate that the types of animals shown once ranged much further north than they do today – as Moody puts it:
“Many of the animals that lived in Eurasia and North America during interglacial times are today associated with the tropics. Clearly their present distribution is merely a relic of their former range, due largely to the influence of MAN.”
OK, ‘man’ wasn’t capitalised in the original. It’s just how I always read it. In any case, while the eye is immediately drawn to what a modern viewer might see as ‘African’ animals, it’s the foliage that really tells the story – although not highly detailed or realistic, one’s eyes only have to divert from the beasties for a second for one to realise that something’s amiss. It’s quite cleverly and subtly done, especially as the illustration is actually quite small on the page. But why does that hyena remind me of Winnie the Pooh? I’m not sure.
And that’s all for Prehistoric World! There’s definitely nothing significant that I’ve missed – nothing like, say, a substantial number of hominid illustrations. No, nothing like that to see here. Not at all. (Look, I want to get back to, you know, dinosaurs. Actual dinosaurs coming next time!)