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Evolution of Paleoart

Evolution of Paleoart

Dinosaurs are one of the most popular creatures that have existed. These creatures are so peculiar that it is difficult for us to comprehend their existence. Thus, once we learned about their existence formed a new genre of art called Paleoart. This form of art seeks to depict these creatures of a bygone era.

But, paleoart is not entirely based on our imagination of these creatures. No, paleo artists used their fossilized remains as the basis for our reconstruction of their world. With that being the case, our depiction of their world is accurate. But only to the extent of our latest science and the number of their fossils found.

Laelaps by Charles R Knight. The image of two dinosaurs fighting each other. Photo Credit: www.theguardian.com
Laelaps by Charles R Knight. The image of two dinosaurs fighting each other. Photo Credit: www.theguardian.com

Despite that, human rationality can only go so far. Our imagination continues to influence our perception of them. Their remains struck terror into our hearts. Consequently, this fear led us to name these creatures dinosaurs. Their name came from the Greek word deinos which denotes “terrible” and sauros meaning “lizard”. Our feelings of fear did not end with the names we have given them. Apart from that, the realm of paleoart continues this feeling of dread.

Drawing of a Yutyrannus, feathered cousin of the T. rex. Photo Credit: Paleo artist Mark Witton
Drawing of a Yutyrannus, feathered cousin of the T. rex. Photo Credit: Paleo artist Mark Witton

But, it seems that this trend is coming to a close. As humanity further progresses its science and the number of fossils found increases… our dread is slowly becoming admiration.

Monsters to Animals

Humanity’s artistic rendition of dinosaurs and their prehistoric environments started in the early 19th century. Their artwork is an amalgamation of science and fantasy. This comes as the field of paleontology has not matured. Paleontologists have not found many fossils yet. While the development of their technologies and methodologies used to study the fossils would come much later on. As such, there is a myriad of things we do not know about them. Hence, why humanity uses fantasy to supplement the lack of information.

Image of a Anchisaurus from M. Jean Craig book Dinosaurs and More Dinosaurs. Photo Credit: chasmosaurs.com
Image of a Anchisaurus from M. Jean Craig book Dinosaurs and More Dinosaurs. Photo Credit: chasmosaurs.com

The culmination of these elements comes in the form of depicting dinosaurs as monsters. For a large portion of time, humanity has described dinosaurs as dimwitted, tail-dragging, savage, reptilian monsters. These characteristics form the basis of early paleoart. As such, most of our depictions of them feature them fighting each other.

Furthermore, artists frequently depict dinosaurs and most especially carnivores as hungry beasts. While their depiction of herbivores is usual as prey for carnivores. Although this is true, dinosaurs fought one another for survival. Like the animals of today, dinosaurs also have food cycles that keep the ecosystem balanced. But, this depiction fails to give precedent that even modern animals are not just hungry beasts. That there is more to these creatures than eating.

Image of a T.rex from M. Jean Craig book Dinosaurs and More Dinosaurs. Photo Credit: chasmosaurs.com
Image of a T.rex from M. Jean Craig book Dinosaurs and More Dinosaurs. Photo Credit: chasmosaurs.com

Hence, as time progresses so does the field of paleontology. From the 19th century to the 21st-century paleontologists have found more fossils. In addition, their technologies and methodologies have advanced through the years. These advances deepen our understanding of these creatures. Now we see dinosaurs as colorful and complex animals.

Dinosaurs are Animals

Now in the 21st century, paleoart has drastically changed its depiction of dinosaurs. Because of advancements in technology, maturing the practice of paleontology, and finding more fossils— dinosaurs have become more than just monsters. Because of this, paleo artists are adding new information to the illustration of dinosaurs. Chief among them is the presence of fat, feathers, and social behavior. All of this makes dinosaurs less like a monster and more like an animal.

Shrink Wrapping

At present, more artists are lessening their use of a technique called “Shrink Wrapping”. The technique is a conservative approach to reconstructing extinct animals based on their fossil bones. This made the dinosaurs have low body fat, skinny tails, and heads without cartilages or loose skin. As such, dinosaurs look reptilian in their paleoart.

But now, paleo artists are adding more soft tissue to their dinosaurs. This comes from looking at present-day animal skeletons. An animal’s skeletal system does not accurately depict the amount of flesh it actually has. Although, artists are still using Shrink Wrapping to make their make works less speculative.

Comparison of how the T.rex was depicted in the past. Photo Credit: nixillustration.com
Comparison of how the T.rex was depicted in the past. Photo Credit: nixillustration.com

Feathers

Another advancement in paleontology is the discovery of feathers on dinosaur fossils. Because of this fact, more artists have given their depiction of dinosaurs with fur-like feathers around their bodies. This is most apparent with illustrations of theropods like the T.rex or raptors. Paleontologists hypothesize that dinosaurs used their feathers as protection from the environment.

Prehistoric Planet's depiction of a Nanuqsaurus with feathers in the snow. Photo Credit: Apple TV+ (Jorge Formigós)
Prehistoric Planet’s depiction of a Nanuqsaurus with feathers in the snow. Photo Credit: Apple TV+ (Jorge Formigós)

But according to Paleoartist Julius Csotonyi, there is insufficient data to determine whether T. rex had feathers or not. Thus, he recommended a compromise to this problem. Arts should illustrate a downy hatchling or a juvenile T.rex with some feathers on its back. And as it grows older then you depict a T.rex with scales. In the end, this will better present the most accurate depiction as people can see both scales and feathers. Although this is still speculation, there has not been a major consensus on the topic.

See Also

Illustration of how scientist discovered these animals' color. Photo Credit: Lucy Reading
Illustration of how scientists discovered these animals’ color. Photo Credit: Lucy Reading

In addition, artists have placed more emphasis on the colors of these creatures. Experts believed that dinosaurs used their colors for camouflage, as a form of communication, and possibly used for mating as seen on peacocks. Justification of this trend comes from observing modern birds. These birds are descendants of dinosaurs. And as such, they provide some evolutionary links to what dinosaurs might look like.

Social Behaviors

Unlike previous depictions, modern paleoart presents dinosaurs in a more peaceful setting. Furthermore, artists depict dinosaurs socializing with each other. Just like what Csotonyi said, artists are illustrating dinosaurs with their young. This shows that these creatures are capable of social behavior by taking care of their young. In addition, some artworks show that dinosaurs also dance as a way of attracting mates.

Prehistoric Planet's depiction of a Carnotaurus dancing to attract a mate. Photo Credit: Apple TV+
Prehistoric Planet’s depiction of a Carnotaurus dancing to attract a mate. Photo Credit: Apple TV+

While some have even depicted dinosaurs to have a social hierarchy and be able to cooperate. Prehistory Planet is a great example of this depiction. This is a television documentary about dinosaurs. And in one episode they show a group of theropods using pack tactics seen with wolves or lions. They can cooperate to hunt their prey. This form of activity symbolizes major social and mental capabilities.

Prehistoric Planet's depiction of a group of Nanuqsauruses surrounding a Pachyrhinosaurus. Photo Credit: Apple TV+ (Jorge Formigós)
Prehistoric Planet’s depiction of a group of Nanuqsauruses surrounding a Pachyrhinosaurus. Photo Credit: Apple TV+ (Jorge Formigós)

But, all of these characteristics are still speculation and only based on what modern animals do today. There is little physical evidence to support these depictions. As such, see these artworks in the context that they are not completely accurate.

Conclusion

Prehistoric Planet's depiction of a pair of T.rex nuzzling together. Photo Credit: Apple TV+
Prehistoric Planet’s depiction of a pair of T.rex nuzzling together. Photo Credit: Apple TV+

In the end, due to the advancement of paleontology paleoart was able to evolve. The new knowledge gained from the study made the deception of dinosaurs more realistic. These depictions counter the preconception of them being mindless and brutal creatures. Although, they may never be completely accurate… The essence of this is right.

Now comment right below what is your favorite modern depiction of dinosaurs. And share with us your thoughts on the evolution of paleoart. We would be happy to hear from you.

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