Saturday, 27 September 2014

All Yesterdays: A Cognitive Shift In How We Look At Dinosaurs

All Yesterdays will make you love dinosaurs anew. The way we view dinosaurs, and the way that artists have depicted them, has changed greatly over the last century (and even over the last decade). Though a child of the 1980s, my love for dinosaurs started with hand-me-down dinosaur books from the 1960s and 1970s which depicted swamp-dwelling brachiosaurs and bulky, slow-moving biped hunters. At 10 years old my view of dinosaurs was changed forever by Jurassic Park (the book and movie, I was a bit of a JP junkie). Fast moving, sleek, powerful dinosaurs were now all the rage (thanks mainly to lots of paleontological research that my 10 year old self had no idea of!).

And now the shift begins again as, with newer evidence, we've begun to see feathered dinosaurs depicted. Yet... All Yesterdays points out what we are still missing... attempts, however speculative, to see dinosaurs as more than just bones, muscles and skin. Trapped by the near insurmountable lack of evidence of anything but bone and a few skin and feather impressions, scientists and artists have sometimes been guilty of failing to think about how dinosaurs would really have looked and behaved.

There is so much missing from the fossil record that this is quite unsurprising. The end of All Yesterdays presents us with how we might view modern day animals if all we had to go on was their fossilised bones. Darren Naish himself calls it "shrink wrapping" and gives a few examples on his blog here. Once you've let those imagines sink in you begin to see just how different dinosaurs probably actually looked compared to how we've been depicting them.

All Yesterdays presents fluffy dinosaurs, feathered dinosaurs that look like birds rather than feathered scaly dinosaurs, dinosaurs in extreme camouflage (their version of a plesiosaur [not a dinosaur I know!] lying silently on the sea floor disguised as coral is my favourite depiction of a marine reptile ever) and dinosaurs at play.

Almost everything in it is completely and utterly speculative. But it slams home just how inhibited and sterile our depictions have been up to now and how much more utterly beguiling the Mesozoic fauna probably was.

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