Vintage Dinosaur Art: Záhada Dinosaurů – Part 2

Vintage Dinosaur Art

No doubt you’ve seen part one of our deep dive into Záhada Dinosaurů, this obscure gem from Czechia, written by Jaroslav Mareš and illustrated by Barbora Kyšková. Obscure unless you’re Czech, that is, in which case you will probably know this book very well. The comments on this and other platforms tell me it’s a divisive book, with divisive artwork, and Jaroslav Mareš a divisive character. We’ve already seen most of the theropods, but a big aspect of the book’s infamy is actually its treatment of the sauropods, which is… well, you’ll see.

Let’s put off the inevitable by looking at some Triassic relatives of sauropods first. Herrerasaurus is sometimes shown, especially in more modern media, as one of the larger and more dangerous predatory dinosaurs of the Triassic. In this scene, however, it decidedly plays the role of the underdog as its bullied by a much larger and meaner looking Saurosuchus, a huge crocodile-line archosaur. Simple though the piece is, it’s refreshing to see dinosaurs in the context of their ecosystem, living together with other animals that aren’t necessarily its prey. In this scene, the meat-eating dinosaur is anything but a mighty apex predator. We all love tiger stripes on our dinosaurs. There’s something to Barbora Kyšková’s hand that has a slight wobbliness to it, something she shares with Chris Forsey. As a result, the animals can look a bit lumpy and flabby, but that only makes them more endearing.

An interesting dinosaur to include is Mussaurus, once the smallest dinosaur skeleton ever found. It’s a Triassic sauropodomorph from South America. Kyšková has illustrated it in baby form. Mussaurus is now known from many specimens of all ages. Interestingly, it seems to be a quadruped when small and a a biped resembling Plateosaurus when grown. Belying its name, it was actually rather large for a non-sauropod sauropodomorph. This is actually a pretty good reconstruction of a juvenile Mussaurus, with the feet and body proportions all looking rather good to me. Even the strange, round head with lots of tiny, mean looking teeth isn’t bad, though its eye could stand to be larger and its snout shorter.

Let us now turn to the sauropods proper. You might have seen it, Barbora Kyšková draws sauropods with trunks! I’ve only ever seen trunked sauropods reconstructed seriously twice, once by Bakker in a chapter of The Dinosaur Heresies, and once much more recently by sculptor Bill Munns. Other appearances of sauropods with trunks were mainly piss-takes by the likes of Sibbick and Dinosaurs! Magazine, in a “look how silly these ideas were” sense. The idea was proposed in the seventies by one Walter Coombs, an important figure in the Dinosaur Renaissance –read more about it in this old article by Darren Naish on TetZoo – but it has not been widely adopted. That makes the inclusion in this book all the more surprising. Again, I can’t read the text so I don’t know just Jaroslav Mareš really feels about the idea, but there’s certainly enough appearances of sauropod trunks in the book to make me assume he took it at least somewhat seriously. This side-view Brachiosaurus is only the beginning.

So here’s a trunked sauropod giving pretty face. Well now. Just lettin’ it all hang out there, aren’t you? Why does this look so obscene to me? It’s not as if elephants and tapirs offend me. On a sauropod, this looks all kinds of wrong. Darren’s article above explains why there’s many scientific arguments to reject sauropod trunks, but I cannot help but feel that the fact that the Coombs hypothesis never caught on was for aesthetic reasons as much as scientific ones. Even Bakker calls the idea “horrendous”. Still, it’s good to have at least one serious illustrated book that champions the idea, if just to serve as an example. The fact that Munns did his version as recently as 2008 should tell us that this mad little hypothesis was just too bizarre to die out completely.

Artistically, Kyšková’s sauropods borrow much from Sibbick and his higly detailed skin textures. The wrinkly proboscides look almost natural – almost – because the Sibbickian trend at the time was to make sauropods look like elephants anyway. The Sibbick version of the trunked sauropod (from WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH) makes an appearance in the background. In addition to Sibbick’s sauropods, I am also reminded of some classic depictions of Macrauchenia, such as the one by Robert Bruce Horsfall (Macrauchenia also probably didn’t have a trunk, but that never stopped the artists). The smaller one looking up at the central animal reminds me of nothing so much as a goblin shark. The trunk of the elephant and the tapir is their upper lip as well as their nose; have an upper lip in addition to the trunk and the effect is unsettling indeed.

The sauropods above have been brachiosaurs (the previous illustration was of “Ultrasaurus“, a hard-to-place genus, but clearly based on brachiosaurs). Here, the diplodocoids get in on the proboscis action with a short-trunked Dicraeosaurus being violently attacked by Ceratosaurus. Even so, my partner says their faces look as if they’re telling each other jokes. The perspective on the theropod bears a hint of Gurche’s cover illustration of The Dinosaur Heresies, a book that was much read in the Mareš household, no doubt. One takes what references one can get. All the same, cool illustration. There’s not much wrong with it really; even the hands on the ceratosaur are oriented right.

Not all sauropods have trunks in this book, suggesting that even Mareš wasn’t completely all-in on the idea. These Barosaurus look much more familiar and typical for the day; grey and flabby, with shrinkwrapped faces and nostrils between the eyes. It’s a spectacular illustration all the same, as these massive diplodocids get their brontosmash on. The rearing, the splashing, the animals throwing their weight around; it’s all very Bakker. Open up The Dinosaur Heresies and you’ll barely see an animal with all of its feet on the ground. I love the ones looking on in the background. Even though they are heavily simplified, Kyšková still makes them very recognizable as diplodocids with just a few strokes of the brush.

Saltasaurus is also here, the titanosaur with the turtle shell. I’m not sure what ground zero was for this look on Saltasaurus; they all appear quite samey in books from around this time (again, Sovák is another example). It appears in the Normanpedia, so I guess it’s good old Sibbick again. This one does look more lean and modern. Again, it’s hard to get a sense of scale for this one. It could be the size of a horse, or the size of a house. No trunk on this one, either.

Wuerhosaurus is a cool one. A stegosaur with those flat plates would sometimes appear in 90s dinosaur books, and I was always intrigued. Turns out the few plates they found were simply broken and the real animal probably looked a lot more like Stegosaurus (I think it’s Stegosaurus closest relative) so this look was more of a palaeoart trope than anything. I still think it looks cool. Those stripes are fantastic. One of the best of the side-view “spotters guide” illustrations here.

Stegosaurus proper is also here, and this one is very idiosyncratic. The influences of Sibbick are obviously there, but why does it have eight spikes on its thagomizer? That was an artifact of Othniel Marsh’ initial description, but quickly amended by the man himself. The eight-spiked stegosaur appeared in art around the turn of the 20th century, in early works by Knight and his contemporaries like Smit, Vatagin and Woodward, but it died out rather quickly… and yet here is one in a book from a hundred years later. The plate arrangement is also highly strange, with a low number of oversized plates that seem to be arranged in at least three overlapping rows. I’m also confused by the perspective. I’m afraid Kyšková bit off more than she could chew here; compared to the straightforward side-on view of Wuerhosaurus, she is on much unsteadier ground here. I love the colours, though.

This is the most blatant Sibbick-copying in the book. She could have at least made it orange or something.

Here’s Kyšková’s take on an early bird. I believe the text uses the name “Sinopteryx“, not a valid genus I’m familiar with, and Sinosauropteryx wasn’t described yet so it can’t be that. Who knows what it’s meant to be. Given how influenced author and illustrator clearly were by Bakker, I assume the book doesn’t shy away from emphasizing the link between dinosaurs and birds. Even if it’s a bit speculative and fanciful, can we take a minute to appreciate what a rad little punk ass dino-bird this is? The red highlights on white look really nice, and that mohawk is rock ‘n roll.

And nope, we’re not done yet! Stay tuned for more ornithischians in part three! There’s no more dinosaurs with trunks, I promise.

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  • Reply
    Grant Harding
    April 30, 2024 at 3:37 pm

    I think that Wuerhosaurus is a Brian Franczak copy. And I want to say that the bird with a mohawk is based on one of Jan Sovak’s illustrations in Currie’s THE FLYING DINOSAURS, but I don’t have a copy to check for sure.

  • Reply
    April 30, 2024 at 6:14 pm

    Wuerhosaurus is sister to Hesperosaurus, with Stegosaurus sister to this pair (Maidment et al. 2008 considered them synonyms).

    Stegosaurus with eight spikes was revived by (I think) Bakker or Czerkas around that time (it appears in David Lambert’s The Dinosaur Data Book from 1990).

    The bird’s presumably Sinornis, which was described a year earlier.

    • Reply
      Lars Dietz
      May 1, 2024 at 4:22 am

      According to the latest analysis (description of Thyreosaurus by Zafaty et al.) Wuerhosaurus (referred to as Stegosaurus homheni) is indeed sister to S. stenops, with Hesperosaurus somewhat further apart.
      I remember reading as a kid in the 90s (could have been in Dinosaurs! magazine) that Stegosaurus stenops had four spines but St. ungulatus had eight, so the idea was clearly going around at that time. There’s also a paper which I haven’t seen:
      Carpenter, K., & Galton, P. M. (2001). Othniel Charles Marsh and the myth of the eight-spiked Stegosaurus. In K. Carpenter (Ed.), The armored dinosaurs (pp. 76–102). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

    • Reply
      Marc Vincent
      May 6, 2024 at 4:20 pm

      The Battat Stegosaurus armatus toy notably has 8 tail spikes.

  • Reply
    May 1, 2024 at 8:38 pm

    despite the idea being scientifically ridiculous, I love the trunked brachiosaurs. Curiously, the trunks actually remind me most of the noses of certain turtles – which don’t have trunks – like softshell turtles.

  • Reply
    Rafael Albo
    May 21, 2024 at 7:05 pm

    Absolute amazing blog. Nostalgic at most! Thank you.

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