The Diamantinasaurus in the cave: definitely unfamiliar this time

March 7, 2013

Trust me, you want to click for the full effect.

Trust me, you want to click for the full effect.

This post is just an excuse for me to show off Brian Engh’s entry for the All Yesterdays contest (book here, contest–now closed–here). The title is a reference to this post, by virtue of which I fancy myself at least a spear-carrier in what I will grandly refer to as the All Yesterdays Movement.

Oddly enough, I don’t have a ton to say about this; I think Brian has already explained the thinking behind the piece sufficiently on his own blog. In the brave new world of integumentarily enhanced ornithodirans, these diamantinasaurs are certainly interesting but not particularly outlandish (Brian’s already done outlandish). And it’s pretty darned hard to argue that sauropods never went into caves, although I can’t off the top of my head think of any previous spelunking sauropods (I’m not counting Baylene in Disney’s Dinosaur; feel free to refresh my memory of others in the comments). The glowworms are not proven, but biogeographically and stratigraphically plausible, which is probably as good as we’re going to get given the fossilization potential of bioluminescence.

I’m much more excited about this as a piece of art. I got to see a lot of the in-progress sketches and they were wonderful, with some very tight, detailed pencil-work. The danger in investing that kind of effort is that then you’re tempted to show it off, and if I had any worry about the finished piece, it was that it would be over-lit to show off all the details. But it isn’t. I can tell you from seeing the pencil sketches that the detail went all the way down, but Brian was brave enough to let some of that go, especially on the animals’ legs, to get the lighting effect right. My favorite touches are the reflections in the water, and the fallen pillar in the foreground–toppled by a previous visitor, perhaps–with new mineral deposits already forming on it.

All in all, it takes me back to the best paleoart from my childhood, which made me think, “Wow, these were not monsters or aliens, they were real animals, as real, and as mundane in their own worlds, as deer and coyotes and jackrabbits.” * **

And that’s pretty cool. What do you think?

———-

* Okay, maybe not  in those exact words. I am translating a feeling I had when I was nine through 28 years of subsequent experience and vocabulary expansion.

** My major discovery in the last two decades is that deer and coyotes and jackrabbits are just as exotic as dinosaurs, if only you learn to really see them. And before Mike jumps me for saying that, I said ‘just as exotic’, not ‘just as awesome‘.

UPDATE the next day

If you thought the glowworms were unrealistic–and at least one commenter did–check these out (borrowed from here, pointed out by Brian):

NZ121877D6

NZ121864D6

That’s game, set, and match on the glowworm issue.

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59 Responses to “The Diamantinasaurus in the cave: definitely unfamiliar this time”

  1. Bryan Riolo Says:

    Nice pic! All kinds of animals in modern day Africa, in some areas, go into caves to get salt. Including elephants! So this painting is not improbable at all…And I am glad to see someone besides me who puts some muscles on those legs. And the skin! Really excellent work!

  2. brian engh Says:

    Thankyousir! Glad you like the soft tissue reconstruction. And hell yeah, the idea of cave-dwelling Mesozoic monsters gets me really excited, especially the possibility (perhaps even strong possibility) that some became specialized for a totally or near-totally subterranean lifestyle…

    I asked some geologist friends of mine if they knew of any cave systems that might’ve survived since the mesozoic and/or where one might look for fossils of such cave dwellers, and they had no idea… anybody have any thoughts about this?

    Thanks for posting my illustration Matt!

  3. Craig Dylke Says:

    This is where I’m hitting my dislike for the Yesterdays movement.

    Don’t get me wrong. This picture is amazing visually. The dinosaurs are awesome… I’m commenting on the motivations behind the piece. Not the artist or the piece itself.

    This scene screams pure fantasy to me. It just looks like a cool surreal pic with Dinosaurs in it.

    Having been in several glow worm caves (New Zealand) I have real life basis for this reaction.

    Glow worms don’t frequent caves big enough for a sauropod, and even if they did the Sauropods would kill themselves navigating them. Glow worm environments are pitch dark (which is the point of the glowing). Large vertebrates don’t frequent glow worm caves. Even most of the insect life that end up in the cave aren’t supposed to be there (thus why the glow worms mimic the night sky to fool them into flying into their trap).

    Occasionally big animals would fall into the cave systems. Many Moa bones have been found in caves, and I won’t be surprised if some had glow worms deeper down, but the Moas clearly fell to their deaths, not wondered in for a salt lick.

    So I could go with this scene with a poor dead/dying Sauropod in the cave.

    I get the depicting Dinos in untraditional locations, but this is very close to to far.

    Again no disrespect to the artist. The skill and composition are brilliant. I just really question this as scientific palaeo-art, and wonder why some scientists think we should be pushing palaeo-art THIS far to the speculative.

    Again there are many things in the Yesterdays movement I like, but speculative behaviour based on nothing is dangerous from an outreach and educational point of view. It is supporting palaeontology critics who accuse us of making stuff up.

  4. Mike Taylor Says:

    My favourite part: not just getting the subtriangular cross-section of the neck right, as implied by ventrolaterally position cervical ribs, but highlighting those ventrolateral ridges with soft-tissue spikes.

  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    Craig, did you read this?

  6. Matt Wedel Says:

    Glow worms don’t frequent caves big enough for a sauropod

    It’s a good thing that glow worms are exactly the same now as in the Cretaceous, so we can have that level of certainty. Otherwise we might have to speculate, which we can obviously only do about dinosaurs.

  7. brian engh Says:

    Here are some glow worms right near the entrance to a cave in new zealand (see sunlight and moss in the distance):
    http://mrietze.com/images/Neuseeland12/NZ121877D6.jpg

    And here is another picture of the same cave with a boatload of people in it for scale (also note limestone formations near boat) :
    http://mrietze.com/images/Neuseeland12/NZ121864D6.jpg

    also, if you read my write up on my website you’ll see that my intention was that these were sub-adults (not full grow) titanosaurs licking minerals from the limestone formations to help build up their developing osteoderms. Judging by the scale of the boat in the picture the passageway looks plenty big enough for a sauropod in the 10 meter long range to stroll into for a dose of minerals.

    Furthermore, there are several species of Arachnocampa (fungus gnat with bioluminescent larvae) alive today, and they colonize a variety of habitats, not just small caves.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arachnocampa
    Some even live totally outside caves, as seen here on a vegetated cliff:
    http://mrietze.com/images/Neuseeland12/NZ121932D6.jpg
    Point is, they’re actually a rather adaptable group, so who knows what their ancient ancestors were up to.

    More importantly, I would argue that the status quo in paleoart is far more “dangerous from an outreach and educational point of view.” The more we encourage conformity to a formulaic norm within paleo art, the more we encourage would-be explorers and discoverers to assume that we know well enough what extinct creatures looked like and how they behaved, and that no further exploration or discovery is needed to understand them. Do we really need to see the same grey sauropods walking next to a Araucaria over and over again? Sure, a grey sauropod likely walked by an Araucaria at some point in the many millions of years that they lived, but they were also doing all kinds of other stuff. For me at least, it’s all the other stuff that animals do that makes them interesting and relatable and exciting to learn about.

    Yes, elephants do this:
    http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2561/3682211138_a0399577ef_z.jpg

    …but they also do this:

  8. Matt Wedel Says:

    Here are some glow worms right near the entrance to a cave in new zealand (see sunlight and moss in the distance):
    http://mrietze.com/images/Neuseeland12/NZ121877D6.jpg

    And here is another picture of the same cave with a boatload of people in it for scale (also note limestone formations near boat) :
    http://mrietze.com/images/Neuseeland12/NZ121864D6.jpg

    Holy crap those are breathtaking. I’m swiping them and adding them to the post (I’ll credit you, natch).

    You win the internet today, sir.

  9. brian engh Says:

    Those pictures were taken by a photographer named Martin Reitze who focuses on strange and spectacular landscapes… and volcanoes. All of his work is really gorgeous and worthy of exploring.

    http://mrietze.com/

  10. Craig Dylke Says:

    Just to clarify there is no hostility in my tone. This is meant as a (perhaps heated, but still) civil discussion.

    The only one of your points I want to direct “counter”, but not really (as admittedly it is a single example). Well having been to the glowworm cave with the people in a boat, the initial entrance was so low one of the guides had to stop at it, and make sure the visitors don’t bump their heads as they duck to get in the 4 foot clearance…

    Yes elephants go into caves, I didn’t question that. You have evidence.

    Where is the evidence of Sauropods in a cave?

    Seriously this is just making stuff up.

    Why is this so brilliant, and a creationist who says Dinosaur breathed fire because they were dragons wrong?

    The creationist response is essentially the same as yours “you can’t prove they didn’t.” I can only prove to a point Dinosaurs didn’t have imaginary glands that shot combustible liquids (thank you the movie Reign of Fire), but only to a point. That is (imaginary) soft tissue, and sadly there is at moment (and probably always will be) lingering doubt as to exactly what all that tissue was… Meaning anyone can throw in stupid stuff.

    Now don’t get me wrong. I love what you’ve done with the Dinosaurs. I like that part of the Yesterdays movement. The shrink wrapping is a bit silly. So I’m not attacking your soft tissue here, but showing how imagination for the sake of imagination (even if imagined from nature) is not safe in this era of anti-science.

    Your cave setting implies a WHOLE set of behaviour that is beyond conjecture. It IS just plain made up. Dinosaurs and elephants are not the same (as many on this blog point out regularly). There is absolutely no reason to think they’d behave the same way. Especially since an elephant is a nice solid compact thing, ideal of caving (even if their huge). Sauropods are elogated and spread out, not ideal for caving (too much potential to hit stuff or get stuck).

    Sure glow worms might have been different, but that hasn’t been proven.

    That is my problem. Scientific illustration is supposed to be based on science. Stuff where there is at least some supporting implied evidence.

    Yesterday’s pieces like this are trying to claim a bunch of extreme and extraordinary modern phenomenon (because let’s face it elephants going into caves is not a common occurrence) add up to evidence of how prehistoric events worked…

    Taken this to its logical extreme I can then, by the rational thus far presented, safely claim Troodons were making cities and going to the moon with their advanced brains because there is an exceptional weird singular modern primate that does that unlike all the rest of modern big brained species.

    Extreme claims require extreme evidence. Otherwise it is just fantasy. That is my issue. Palaeo-art at its best presents the reality of what we know about prehistory. Not what we think might have been cool.

    Plus again, as I have to deal with two creationists at work, and they like to play the dinosaurs were dragons card all the time, I can just see this piece being used by them as Dragons lived in caves… Creationists will take every crack and try to wedge it wider…

  11. Matt Wedel Says:

    The only one of your points I want to direct “counter”, but not really (as admittedly it is a single example). Well having been to the glowworm cave with the people in a boat, the initial entrance was so low one of the guides had to stop at it, and make sure the visitors don’t bump their heads as they duck to get in the 4 foot clearance…

    So, there’s a cutoff, right? And if the cave mouth is more than 4 feet tall, the glowworms know to stay away. Got it.

    Oh, except that Brian already linked to a photo of worms that live outside the cave, on the side of a cliff:

    Some even live totally outside caves, as seen here on a vegetated cliff:
    http://mrietze.com/images/Neuseeland12/NZ121932D6.jpg

    So on the technical point of “the glowworms don’t ever do this”, I’d say your case is as dead as Diamantinasaurus.

    Since the rest of your comment boils down to, drawing dinosaurs in any way that goes beyond the evidence is badwrong because it emboldens creationists, I will only say that I disagree about as thoroughly as it is possible to.

  12. Craig Dylke Says:

    Please let me reframe my questions/comment. You are perhaps misunderstanding why I ask these.

    Now I understand you guys may not intended this as full scientific endorsement, but rather a cool factor one (like the Star Wars ship stuff). However (this is meant as a complete genuine compliment) given your high scientific standards on this site, the quality of your posts, and the fact you are a practising PhD you guys giving a piece a stamp of approval to a Dinosaur related palaeo-art piece lends it a lot more credence than maybe you realize.

    SVPoW is one of the most respected sources of Dino information on the web. We amateurs look to you. So when a piece of art gets held up here we take notice.

    As a Dinosaur enthusiast I fully understand the fun speculation and wonderment this piece invokes. I’m not questioning your right to do that. I do it to. However I’m not a scientist. I don’t have the street credit you do. So what I think doesn’t matter to anyone else.

    As a scientist you have a lot more weight. People will listen and frame their opinions on what you say. I’m not saying you can’t have opinions that are unrelated to your professional ones.

    However my comment emerge out of more of a scientific interest.

    Do you as a scientist actually support this level of speculation?

    Not a Dinosaur enthusiast. That part I get. The pure paper writing, field collecting, lab studying palaeontologist. Does he support the speculation in this piece?

    Honestly I really want to believe that Brian’s piece could have happened. However with Elephants as the only analogue the scientist part of my brain (as underdeveloped compared to you guys as it may be) is demanding some more evidence than “it could have happened because…. it looks cool, and there is ONE type of non related animal that does it today.”

    I’ve just been asking/arguing because I want to know if this constitutes for you an actual scientifically accurate piece or palaeo-art OR it is just a super cool looking piece of Dinosaur art.

    I agree with it being a super cool piece Dinosaur art, but I worry if it is now scientific without any evidence because scientists of today want to be cutting edge simply for the sake of it (considering the crazy cool leaps and bounds we’ve been making in the past 10-20 years).

  13. Craig Dylke Says:

    As for why Elephants as analogues for Sauropods is really bugging me on this site.

    So I might only be a primary teacher, with a few undergrad courses in palaeo under my belt, but this is my attempt at science. I demand more evidence to support Sauropods in caves because Elephants are in a cave. The reason is I read this great blog called SVPoW, and it taught me a lot about why Sauropods are different than elephants…

    So please read this next bit as a huge compliment to you guys on this site.

    Originally I didn’t really think about Sauropods as being all that much different than an elephant with a long neck. I wasn’t overly interested in this group of Dinosaurs, and I didn’t read a lot about them. Then I started reading this site (and a few other of the modern top tier palaeo blogs). Over the course of the last several years I’ve caught the significant trend that Sauropods are NOT built anything like an elephant, other than both are superficially large mega-fauna animals.

    The take home message I’ve been getting is that Sauropods are truly weird unique animals that have no modern analogue. That then says to me we need to let them, through their fossils, tell us what was normal (or exceptional) for their behaviour.

    What it doesn’t say to me, is after spending all this time telling us Sauropods and elephants are built very different, so stop thinking of Sauropods as reptilian elephants… To now stop that and say “hey elephants go into caves sometimes so Sauropods might have to?!? You know because they are so similar as to be analogues to each other…”
    This is why I’ve been kicking up a stink as it were. You guys and many others keep saying how elephants are not all the similar to any kind of Dinosaur outside of their big size.
    As I tell me students when studying animals (all be it at a primary level) teeth and heads tell the majority of the story of any animal. A slogan of my old zoology prof. There is next to nothing similar about either elephants of sauropods skulls or teeth.
    Also elephants are much much much more intelligent than a Sauropod would have been. I attended a talk by Dale Russell where he beautifully pointed out how we have probably gone too far with our estimates of Dinosaur behavior in the Dino Renaissance, due to endowing Dinosaurs with more brains they typically had. He used elephants as his main point. They clearly create graveyards and remember their dead, and so this denotes any behavior they have and exhibit is emerging from this baseline of intelligence. However they also have a brain that is much larger in body proportions to even a maniraptor saurian. We shouldn’t be assuming because a large elephant does something it is because it is large. It also has to do with its level of intelligence. Not a trait I’d expect a sauropod to have in the same abundance.

    So am I missing something when I (scientifically) question an elephant as an analogue for a Sauropod?
    I go one more step with my request to refine my scientific.

    Are there any other herbivorous mega fauna in Africa do this regularly?

    If it were a common behavior among many animals, than that would might lend cave lurking credence among the largest of land animal. However so far you’ve only given one animal. Which would then make elephants the exception NOT the rule…

    Immediately if say a Giraffe, an animal with a much more similar body proportion to Sauropod, was going into caves I’d find it more compelling.

    If this were a wider spread phenomenon among all the large African herbivores than I will happily be re-educated.

  14. Duane Says:

    Here is my take on the issues raised above.

    A big part of the all yesterdays movement is to depict behavior that may not have necessarily been common, and even maladaptive to the critter. Animals do weird things across the board.

    So in the vast amount of time sauropods lived I think it highly probable that at least some wandered habitually into cave systems from time to time,

    But if you read Engh’s web page about his inspiration for the drawing he does discuss whisker like scales and other troglodyte adaptations of these sauropods. Here I think it is going a little too far into fantasy…obligate cave dwelling crayfish, salamanders and …sauropods I think not- at least not to the point of being anatomically specialized for such.

    I do side with Craig on his arguments that elephants are over utilized as analogues for sauropods. But I have also noticed from personal observations, pets I have kept etc that even the most simple minded critters will show some really capacity for memory/learned behavior once food is involved. Maybe the quest for mineral resources inspired surprisingly crafty behavior on sauropods.

    I did a little sleuthing on mineral acquisition by a critter that may be more on par with sauropods intellectually speaking- tortoises. Turns out that they actively seek out mineral resources too, Ingestion of Bones, Stones and Soil by Desert Tortoises (Esque and Peters).

    So we need not invoke elephants as a model for mineral seeking behavior. In my opinion sauropods were probably ingesting all kinds of weird stuff in weird places- dirt, rocks, bones, egg shells, clay, and, with the right congruence of suitable entry points perhaps even minerals in caves with bioluminesent critters above head, I just don’t buy it that they were spending enough time in these areas to show specific adaptations to cave dwelling.

    Cool pic btw.

  15. Matt Wedel Says:

    Okay, I think now that there are, like, strata of stuff to deal with here. But I’m a paleontologist, and you’re willing to engage, so let’s dig.

    From the specific to the general:

    Yes, tons of animals go into caves, and not just the obvious carnivores. Wild sheep, cattle, giant ground sloths…it’s not just elephants. They don’t all go in for the minerals, but as Duane pointed out in his comment, animals that need minerals are pretty crafty about getting them. Tortoises gnaw on bones when they find them (to the extent that anything with a beak can be said to gnaw on anything).

    Next, either you don’t get or don’t buy the whole premise of my elephants in caves argument. It is NOT “elephants go in caves, sauropods are like elephants, therefore sauropods went in caves”. It has nothing to do with size or body shape or anything like that. It is entirely about humility before the natural world, because animals do freaking surprising things. Elephants go into caves–and walk across glaciers at 14,000 feet, and swim out to sea beyond sight of land. Squirrels eat chipmunks, deer eat baby birds, mud turtles climb trees, coyotes and badgers hunt cooperatively, passerines murder sleeping bats and eat their brains, bull sharks swim as far up the Mississippi as Illinois. And I have at least three points to make about this:

    1. Most of the time when someone says, “that’s unrealistic”, they’re just farting through their larynx, because they’re poorly acquainted with what real animals actually do today. So, yes, both parts of your premise about the picture are factually incorrect: all kinds of animals, big and small, carnivore and herbivore, go into caves, and glowworms are found in big caves and even outside of caves on cliffs. To get brutally personal for a minute, if I can have enough humility to say, “Huh, you know, that’s plausible”, how is it that you can be so certain about what animals, large and small, won’t do? I’m not talking about a degree or a fund of knowledge, I’m talking about an attitude of humility before nature. I’m saying you should develop one.

    2. As I said in the previous essay, linked above, do we really think that dinosaurs were any less versatile than living animals? Why? What possible basis in evidence could there be for thinking that the tendency to do surprising things is present in all extant animals but somehow skipped non-avian dinosaurs?

    3. To paraphrase something I’ve embedded in several previous posts (notably this one and this one), no matter how we imagine dinosaurs, we’re going to be wrong, because the chances that what we are forced to imagine will line up with reality are zilch. But if we don’t imagine dinosaurs being surprising, we’re not just wrong in particular, we’re meta-wrong, because we’re denying their real-animal-hood. We’re typecasting them in whatever narrow roles we have direct evidence for or strike us as unsurprising (standing next to trees, drinking from lakes, zzzzzz). So you say I’m somehow doing wrong by encouraging people to make and view pictures of sauropods doing surprising things. I say you’re wrong for arguing that they didn’t do surprising things, or that we can only ever show them doing vanilla stuff because we don’t have direct evidence of their surprising behaviors. (Also, back to point 1: going into caves is not extreme behavior, especially for large animals, it’s just unfamiliar to most people.)

    So much for the zoology and paleontology. On to the sociology!

    As a Dinosaur enthusiast I fully understand the fun speculation and wonderment this piece invokes. I’m not questioning your right to do that. I do it to. However I’m not a scientist. I don’t have the street credit you do. So what I think doesn’t matter to anyone else.

    What an odd thing to say, especially on this blog. I hope that attitude is not pervasive.

    As a scientist you have a lot more weight. People will listen and frame their opinions on what you say. I’m not saying you can’t have opinions that are unrelated to your professional ones.

    Good. But it’s not like I only write either as a degreed professional, or as a dinosaur fanboy. Heck, I am a degreed professional because I’m a dinosaur fanboy. I may vary my tone, but I’m not so schizo that I’d let the fanboy side of myself write something that the degreed professional disagrees with. If anyone is too freaked out by that blurring of roles, maybe they should go find a safer, more boring medium to read. Although I would think that after eight years of blogging just about everything paleo-related that comes into my head, I’d be the most transparent writer possible.

    However my comment emerge out of more of a scientific interest.

    Do you as a scientist actually support this level of speculation?

    I already wrote a whole post about that: it’s the one we’re commenting on.

    Now a pause for breath before I tackle the rest.

  16. Matt Wedel Says:

    I’ve just been asking/arguing because I want to know if this constitutes for you an actual scientifically accurate piece or palaeo-art OR it is just a super cool looking piece of Dinosaur art.

    I agree with it being a super cool piece Dinosaur art, but I worry if it is now scientific without any evidence because scientists of today want to be cutting edge simply for the sake of it

    Two things. First, it depends on what you mean by “scientifically accurate”. If you mean “demonstrated by evidence”, then no, but there’s tons of important stuff in science that isn’t demonstrated by evidence (yet). If you mean, “plausible given what we know about how animals behave”, then yes–as I said, I already wrote that post.

    Look, EVERY drawing, painting, or sculpture of an extinct non-avian dinosaur is a hypothesis. To some extent, EVERY one is speculation. NONE of them are without baggage. If you paint a gray vanilla sauropod standing next to a pine tree, that is not “more likely” just because it’s boring. It may even be more unlikely, because it’s basically just a projection of people’s innate biases from having seen elephants and lots of boring paleoart. If you consciously choose to bring that specific baggage when you draw your sauropod, great, at least you admitted that it was a choice and gave it some thought. I choose different baggage, that I think (yes, as a scientist) my baggage is at least no worse, and maybe better.

    Second thing:

    scientists of today want to be cutting edge simply for the sake of it

    Really? Really? Since I started grad school we’ve gone from fuzz on a few coelurosaurs, to full-on feathers on dromaeosaurs, to feathered therizinosaurs, to small feathered tyrannosaurs and four-winged dromaeosaurs, to winged oviraptorosaurs, to fuzzy ornithischians, to big feathered tyrannosaurs, to winged ornithomimids (I prolly got some of those out of order). Now, there’s no momentum to discoveries like this, we’re just dependent on what the fossil record throws us, but it would be a huge freaking shock if the flood of integumentarily enhanced ornithodirans cut off tomorrow. I’m not trying to be cutting edge for the sake of it, I’m desperately trying to get my 70s-vintage brain caught up to the reality of stuff like this.

    Finally, about the creationism. I. Do. Not. Get. It.

    So I’m not attacking your soft tissue here, but showing how imagination for the sake of imagination (even if imagined from nature) is not safe in this era of anti-science.

    Sooooo….because creationists are deluded, we shouldn’t draw dinosaurs doing stuff that real animals actually do? We’ll, like, somehow either erode science or embolden creationists, or both?

    Here’s a thought: use stuff like this as an opportunity to educate. If someone says that Brian’s painting is the same as a fire-breathing dragon, say, “Well, no, actually. It’s not the same at all, because…” and then relate everything I’ve explained in this post, in the linked posts, and in this and the previous comments. If they are amenable to being swayed by logic and evidence, and they have enough neurons to distinguish among gospel truth, informed speculation, and pure b.s., things should work out. If they don’t, at least you tried.

    What I am sure as hell not going to do is pre-filter my posts because this or that piece of reasonable speculation, clearly labelled and explained as such, might make some creationist somewhere more skeptical about science. I reject the idea that the way to decrease creationists’ skepticism about science is to hide all the iffy bits, because that means hiding all the hypotheses, and those are the seeds of new science. (Also, hiding all the hypotheses means no one can draw, paint, or sculpt dinosaurs anymore.) I also reject the idea that the only outcomes of creationists seeing this kind of art will be negative. Maybe some of them will actually read the post, and then some more posts, and start to grokk how science works. Not many, to be sure, but it was never going to be many. Which is why we don’t gear the site toward creationists.

    In fact, we don’t really “gear” the site at all. We just write about what we find interesting, as openly and honestly as we can. If that doesn’t sway people, nothing will.

  17. Mike Taylor Says:

    The key point here, Craig, is that “sauropod mooching around on plain” is just as much an unsupported hypothesis as “sauropod harvesting minerals in cave”. Behaviour doesn’t (directly) fossilise, so we are extremely limited in the behaviours that we can know any extinct animal manifested. Will future palaeontologists in 100 million years recognise how distinctly different the lifestyles of social lions and solitary tigers are? I very much doubt it. (I don’t think they’d even recognise they were dealing with more than one taxon.) But “all Anthropocene big cats had the same behaviour” will, for them, be just one more not-directly-supported-by-evidence hypothesis.

  18. David Says:

    Craig seems, like many non-scientist fans of science, to have confused science with certainty, and plausibility with accuracy. A scientist must be comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity, so as to avoid the temptation of false certainty. Yes, we know some things. And there are some things we may never know. Science has to work in the gap. If it only ever stays on the side of certainty and accuracy, it can never advance.

    The comment about “creationists” seems relevant here. Science is not a battle against religious fundamentalism. It is not, in itself, an ideology, although lots of folks on the internet shouting “f*^& yeah science!” seem to think it is. Science is a practice, a set of methods, a tradition of ways of approaching questions about the world. It is made of mistake after mistake after mistake after mistake – each contributing, often indirectly, to insight. The Crystal Palace Iguanodon fits into that tradition, as do Bakker’s restorations, Greg Paul’s shrink-wrapped beasties, and the All Yesterdays salt-lickers. Where would paleoart be if each of these had waited for more evidence before daring to imagine?

  19. brian engh Says:

    I just want to again clarify that the whisker like structures are not meant to indicate that the sauropods in this image are obligate cave dwellers, but rather having adaptations for dark environments where they could get stuck, which would include night time forests AND (incidentally) caves. I thought it would be a tantalizing detail to suggest 1) dinosaur integument were highly adaptable and versatile and 2) perhaps some dinosaurs did evolve toward being obligate cave dwellers and we just haven’t found them because either caves aren’t good environments for fossilization, or we aren’t looking in the right places.

    Also I want to thank Craig and Duane for their questions and objections – this piece of art is as much about what we don’t know as it is about what we do know, and it is always my hope that my work will stimulate discussion. I think paleoart functions as a powerful tool to test the bounds of what we do know, and I do a lot of research for each piece to find where the boundaries of our knowledge are.

    …And I honestly think this piece doesn’t cross the boundary from plausible to impossible or highly improbable (yet – pending future discoveries). Whereas fire-breathing dragons and a pile of other paleo-art tropes do.

    There are a great many mysteries yet to be explored…

  20. brian engh Says:

    Also stop calling my art “All Yesterdays” my style is way different and I’ve been drawing weird speculative stuff for years – long before i even knew about conway’s and coesman’s work.

  21. Bryan Riolo Says:

    I have to wonder IF we know where speculation ends and pure fantasy begins. To me, having sauropods developing whiskers is pure fantasy if they did it to become “obligate cave dwellers”. I don’t think evolution works that way. However, I think it is…possible.
    IS fantasy something impossible? Or something impossible based on current knowledge? Since I myself am both a speculative artist AND a fantasy artist, I’d really love to go over some, shall we say….definitions.

  22. brian engh Says:

    First of all ALL paleo art is ART. It’s not real. It’s the product of our imaginations, and none of it should be taken as a factual reality visualized. At BEST paleo art is heavily impregnated with scientific ideas, but without the imaginary elements it could not coalesce as a complete image. Even our best and most complete fossils only give us a tiny glimpse of the larger picture the animals that left them were once a part of.

    The difference between fantasy and paleo art is the same difference between fantasy and science-fiction. In true science fiction, science provides the skeleton to the story or image, but imagination fills in the interstices. In fantasy, anything goes, because fantasy (and/or mythology) is more a reflection of the internal workings of humans (emotional, spiritual and ideological) than any external facts.

    It’s probably also worth mentioning here that science functions on probabilities, as well as certainties. While I have no idea if you could mathematically evaluate the probability of a complex biological situations like the one I illustrated (and if you could you’d still be left with a judgement call as to what is probable enough to be illustrated and still called “scientific”), you can certainly look at specific details and check to see if such details occur in nature… and all of the individual details of the above piece that have been contested occur with certainty at numerous points in nature…

    So, to recap:
    –Bioluminescence is fairly common evolutionarily – and the fossil record shows with certainty the family Mycetophilidae had diversified by the late cretaceous. Combined with the all the evidence to suggest that both New Zealand AND Australia (where those glowers currently live) began to be isolated around the Creteaceous, I think that there’s a decent enough likelihood to speculate that they had evolved bioluminescence by the cretaceous.

    –Those worms are currently living in a bunch of habitats including caves that are big enough for decent sized dinosaurs to enter and exit.

    –Dinosaurs have certainly evolved a lot of crazy integuments, and some extant species that live in dark forests (including Kiwis which live in New Zealand) have whiskers. Whiskers have also evolved numerous times independently, so again, i think putting whiskers on dinosaurs is a reasonable enough speculation, supported by multiple lines of evidence.

    –All kinds of animals go into caves.

    –All kinds of animals will go to great lengths to get the minerals they need – large animals included.

    –Elongated bodies are perhaps the best for navigating subterranean or cramped habitats. Elongation is a common adaptation among animals that squeeze themselves into tight crevices and holes (think skinks, anguids, legless lizards, snakes, centipedes, millipedes, worms, ferrets, some rodents, the list goes on and on and on). By elongating the body the front parts can explore around, while the back parts give them a way out if the front half finds a dead end or too tight a squeeze. Generally body elongation for the purpose of squeezing into stuff is coupled with shortening or loss of the legs, but hey, nobodies arguing that sauropods lived exclusively in caves – rather my image is meant to suggest that perhaps they could get away with going into them, and at some point might have benefitted from doing so.

    –Fundamentalist Christians don’t use logic to build arguments, so who cares if they try to use cool paleo-art to support their case. If the paleo-art is really good, their plan will backfire on them because it will make people want to learn more about dinosaurs and… uh oh! the world is crazy old and crazy complex, all things are cyclical, and nature is not forgiving and death is everywhere???

  23. brian engh Says:

    –Oh, also nobodies arguing that elephants are a great analogue for sauropods, but they are big, herbivorous and they have somewhat similar feet and legs, so they are the best we’ve got for guessing how sauropods walked and what a sauropod was capable of navigating by foot. Again, not a perfect biomechanical analogue, but I think better than a sprawl-legged heavily armored tortoise (as far as locomotion is concerned).

  24. Craig Dylke Says:

    Well to make one thing clear this non-scientist science fan worked at the Tyrrell for 4 years… So I know a thing or two about palaeontology actually. I stand my challenges on sound scientific ground. There is no such thing as certainty in science sure, but there is incredibly plausible and supported…

    With this in mind I’m going to have to call out this line here:

    [i]“sauropod mooching around on plain” is just as much an unsupported hypothesis as “sauropod harvesting minerals in cave”[/i]

    This either indicates Sauropodology is way behind the time compared to other Dinosaurs OR you are misrepresenting the state of overall Sauropod studies.

    Now I will admit I’m not current on Sauropod research, but I know as a matter of fact there are very solid taphonomically supported theories on where other prehistoric animals were living. Paywalled research (a topic I love reading about here by the way) restricts me to keeping up with just marine reptile, and Laramidian Dinosaurs research (my main interest is taphonomy rather than anatomy, for the record)

    If you guys have no idea which environments Sauropods were actually living (which I frankly doubt… I’m sure workers somewhere have done taphonomic research somewhere… and you are grossly undersupporting their work with this assertion) you should read the research of Eberth and Brinkman about population and environmental distributions of Albertian Dinosaurs, and look into doing such research with Sauropods.

    Admittedly I’m sure you can’t do this with all Sauropods, as there isn’t big enough sample sizes. However I’m sure (if someone hasn’t already, but I suspect someone has) the Morrison at the very least would easily have the necessaries stratigraphic sample size, data set,, and diversity to due a similar study. I also am guessing they’ll find (or have found) many Sauropods who did in fact more than likely live on the plains…

  25. dobermunk Says:

    hooboy…. do I want to enter into this?

    (dramatic pause)

    I admit to not liking this piece myself. I don’t think I have to go into how much I like Brian’s work in general. This is about this piece. When I try to find out why I dislike it, or rather, why I find myself not accepting it… I find myself in arguments that are based on dramaturgy (I am not suspending my disbelief) but those in turn are interwoven with scientific plausibility.
    I react to this in part because it feels like something I try – with or less success – to resist in my own work. I call it ‘sofa safari’. I see an image in the internet or TV, and its so powerful that I feel compelled to quote it, copy it or somehow get it into my work. These cave larva (if I recall correctly relatives of mosquitos) are so dramatic! Elephants wandering into a cave are so dramatic! Might sauropods have done this? I don’t doubt this is plausible.

    For me, the question is: does this possible scenario have enough to do with the quirky, freaky morphology of sauropods that I will recall this as a portrait of what these creatures might have been, or will I retain it in memory as a fantastic cave painting with a few beasties thrown in. (Brian: sorry for the provocational simplification). Am I willing to lift my disbelief? No.

    The way I take it is, I simply fall outside of the envelope for this piece. As for ‘all yesterdays’ in general – I like it as a wake-up call. I love about 90% of the work in the book. 5% completely leaves me outside the envelope. Everyone will have their own sweet spot, but that’s a fantastic percentage for a fairly skeptical person.

  26. brian engh Says:

    dobermunk, I get what you’re saying – that’s a good point to make. That question “does this possible scenario have enough to do with the quirky, freaky morphology of sauropods…?” is one I should perhaps ask more as I develop sauropod pieces… though primarily to help push the ideas in my art further.

    Admittedly this picture could’ve reasonably featured a number of different extinct megafauna from Australia or New Zealand, but the idea was born from thinking about the fantastic nutritive demands of multi-ton armored giant reptiles. That’s where it has “enough to do with the quirky, freaky morphology of sauropods” to merit my wanting to paint it as I did. But otherwise I agree – other scenes might convey similar concepts while being more quintessentially saurpodian… and I will work to actualize those as best I can with upcoming pieces (many of which are already in development).

    But yeah, good critical commentary overall, and critique that I think will help me moving forward. Thanks.

  27. Bryan Riolo Says:

    If art is done only to mark what we know is true or believe to be true, it is a failure as art to my eyes. If there is nothing of the artist’s vision, the artist’s soul, the artist’s quirks, then it is simply mere recording. Even photographers many, many times go beyond this, so why not artists?

    I am not talking about an artist recording a true event, being, whatever!–I’m talking about ONLY recording the event as varifiable fact. Useful as a record, yes. As art? Only a qualified maybe. My complaint is the critical ones who seem to find something worthwhile only if it represents the unqualified, known truth, and nothing but the truth. Fine, IF you’re talking about a portrait of your estimable self or a painting (as evidence!) for a crime scene or a commissioned piece where the client’s demand is absolute as possible accuracy.

    Brian’s piece here is his own thoughts, as accurate as he can make them, and as interesting as he can make it. In that, to my eyes, he has succeeded admirably. He has made me think of new (to me) possibilities. Why bring him to task because we might find cave dwelling sauropods to be unproven? If it was presented as proven science, at this time, he would be being untruthful. It is presented as a possibility (I think it happened probably millions of times.), so we, IMO, have no decent reason to jump on his back and pummel his spirit into uselessness.

    Frankly, I find such criticism to be worse than useless. Do we have a right to criticize? Of course! Do we have a right to call a piece bad (as science oriented paleoart) if the science is unproven scientifically or we don’t agree with it? Yes, we have that right, but I say the artist also has the right to shoot us as many birds as he or she wants! :P

  28. dobermunk Says:

    I have no issue with any of what you say… for art. And there’s lots of that which I very much appreciate. But while some pop art has dinosaurs in it, palaeoart isn’t brethren to pointillism, conceptualism or expressionism, but rather to illustration, wildlife and landscape art. And that’s a good thing.

  29. brian engh Says:

    “so we, IMO, have no decent reason to jump on his back and pummel his spirit into uselessness”

    HAHA! know this:
    MY SPIRIT IS UN-PUMMELABLE!! and no matter the protestations I will never cease to agitate!!!

    Honestly, I don’t think it’s very good paleo art if it’s not raising people’s speculative proto-hackles a bit.

  30. dobermunk Says:

    To be more balanced, I should also add that I love the thorny underneck integument, the facial details such as lips and tongue, etc. fantastic palette etc.

  31. Mike Taylor Says:

    I just want to chip in to agree with Craig that elephants are not great sauropod analogues; but also to agree with Brian that they are the least inadequate extant analogues we have. No, sauropod feet are not like elephant feet; but sauropod legs are kind of like elephant legs, which is more than you can say for giraffe legs. In short, when we base hypothetical sauropod behaviour on any extant animal, elephants are a better choice than most, maybe all, others.

  32. Mike Taylor Says:

    Does a picture goats in trees have enough to do with the quirky, freaky morphology of goats? No? Better not illustrate that, then.

  33. Mike Taylor Says:

    To make the same point in a less snarky way: one of the consistently fascinating things about animals is precisely that they so often do things that they don’t appear well adapted for. If we think sauropods did only things that they were were adapted for, then we as almost certainly wrong.

  34. dobermunk Says:

    I have no issue with animals doing freaky things. I do have an issue with them doing things that so clearly call up images of things that are very seldom occurrences and have made a very wide and public impression because they are so freaky.
    My inner-sarcast then refuses to watch the film, thinking “wait aminnut, I liked the version with the duck penis on the duck better than the one with it on the dinosaur. (Snarky begets snarky).

    Ultimately, celebrating speculation removed from sources found in, around or filtered out of the actual specimen/ecology/hypothesis will deflate the very important speculative works – of which Brian’s had plenty of.

  35. Bryan Riolo Says:

    Bullsh…

  36. Mike Taylor Says:

    I refuse to conspire in perpetuating the comforting illusion that we know more about sauropod lifestyles than we actually do.

  37. Craig Dylke Says:

    It is not conspiring. It is presenting supportable facts.

    My issue here is everything being said and present is ALL speculation as far as the Sauropods are concerned. That then means this is ALL imagination, and not science. There has not been a single shred of fossil evidence to back any of the claims up. Palaeontology last time I checked was about fossil evidence.

    If there were any of the following I would immediately admit I’m wrong:

    1. A Sauropod found in a geologic context that hinted at or implied it was a cave. I’d have further taphonomic questions about the animal (aka does it show evidence of falling or being washed in), but that would be a big start.

    2. Preserved evidence of a Mesozoic cave, in an area where Sauropods have been found, of the right size, shape, and rock size to match the ones we see the elephants in here in the present…

    3. A glowworm perserved by, near, or in a Sauropod skeleton, body trace, footprint, or coperlite.

    4. Isotope evidence in sauropod fossils of abnormal amounts or types of nutrients in Sauropod bones showing they were acquiring them somewhere other than plants and matched those you could acquire in a cave.

    ***************************************************

    We don’t need to use ONLY the modern world to get cool speculative (but yet prehistorically supported) ideas into prehistoric behaviour.

    One of my favourites is Anchiceratops. There is some lines of evidence (not from its anatomy, but rather geologic and taphonomic settings) to suggest it was at least semi-aquatic around the coasts of prehistoric Alberta. The extreme end of that is it could have been a ceratopsian hippo… at the very least it PROBABLY swam around a lot.

    Can this be proven? Not at this time. Is it speculative, yes, but with a basis in fossil evidence. I’m not completely making up rationalizations to why I’m now using a hippo as a possible ceratopsian analogue.

    This is an example of what I’m trying to get at. Speculation that not only stretches our conceptions of Dinosaur norms and behaviours, but also uses fossils and geologic evidence to do so.

    I get way more chills up my spine just reading about stuff like that, then looking at a piece of art like this that (while being incredibly pretty and brilliantly executed) is clearly just imaginary… as all the analogues and examples you’ve given are from the modern era. Not one actually comes from the Mesozoic.

    The reason we are so blown away by weird and novel behaviour in real animals is that it is just that weird and novel. Goats might climb trees, but they don’t do it often or that’s what we’d know them for. The point is 99% of the time goats do boring goat stuff.

    Emphasising the unique, weird, and novel is a human thing. We love spectacle over substance.

    As much as elephants in a cave is cool, 99% of pictures of elephants have them in their “boring” normal habitat of African plains or Asian lowlands. The reason is that for 99% of the time, that is what they do. In reality it is their living. The caves are a minor distraction/hobby in comparison. It is an interesting anomaly to be sure, but doesn’t truly tell you what an elephant is or does.

    Good SCIENTIFIC illustration should show us what a prehistoric critter was about. As in as much of its reality as we can gleam from their fossils (and the supporting geology). It shouldn’t be us trying to jazz it up, because we don’t know as much as we’d like to.

  38. Mark Robinson Says:

    Yes. Let’s not illustrate/photograph/write about/discuss that measly 1% of animal behaviour. Then we’ll have elephants/sauropods standing on a plain 100% of the time and people won’t have their sensibilities perturbed.

    No arboreal ceratopsians until we actually find fossil evidence of a Protoceratops in a tree. (Sure goats do it but they’re not even archosaurs). No herbivorous dinosaurs harvesting calcium from bones (let alone eating a live animal), no docile tyrannosaurs, no walking billboards, and definitely no stegodicks (although that would make all those spikes and plates easier to negotiate).

    “Palaeontology last time I checked was about fossil evidence.”
    Brian isn’t doing palaeontology, he’s doing art and I’m not sure that we should ever support the censoring of art, either topic or treatment. Furthermore he has identified and then clarified it as speculation. Very reasonable speculation IMO.

  39. brian engh Says:

    Alright, so it’s not the awesomely ideal, highly direct fossil evidence that was demanded above, but this piece is based on some fossil evidence.

    The mycetophilidae (fungus gnat family which includes glowworms) is represented in the fossil record of Cretaceous Australia.

    The fossil record also indicates remarkable similarities between the Cretaceous floral systems of Australia, Antarctica, New Zealand and New Caledonia to the modern floral systems of New Caledonia and New Zealand (NZ being one of the places where modern glow worms are diverse and abundant). This overall similarity in the base environment and paleo-climate is what lead me to think it was reasonable to speculate that perhaps there were glow worms inhabiting caves in these areas in the Cretaceous.

    Geological and fossil evidence indicates Australia and NZ split around the Cretaceous. While it is possible that the adult form of glow worms (fungus gnats) dispersed over sea form one land mass to another, it is equally possible that they were already there when the land masses broke apart.

    Diamantinasaurus had particularly robust bones, so these animals most certainly had phenomenally high mineral demands. I have not found anything saying mineral analysis of the bones has been done, but even if it were the sample size is so small it certainly wouldn’t definitively rule out the possibility of these animals acquiring minerals from limestone.

    Somebody on here mentioned that Moa bones have been found in NZ caves – and after looking around on the web a bit I found that one moa skeleton was even found in a cave inhabited by glowworms.

    http://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g616349-d640393-i31885941-Spellbound_Glowworm_Cave_Tours-Waitomo_Caves_North_Island.html

    So, if modern dinosaurs definitely went into glow-worm caves in New Zealand with enough regularity that their remains have been found there why not another terrestrial dinosaur?

    I’ll dig up some references on the above mentioned fossil evidence if berated enough, but right now I need to get back to work…

  40. Craig Dylke Says:

    Moas in cave was my reference. However all of them I’m aware of fell into the caves to their deaths (taphonomic indicators…). Not to go hang out in the cave.

    I’m not requiring specific refs.

    I’m satisfied with Brian’s (later) replies about this being speculative. Had that been said right away I’d have stopped…

    Why I kicked up a stink is my initial scientific questions were ALL initially replied to with facts and examples as though to lend scientific backing. A reply that it is pure speculation, and THEN saying why it is cool would have cleared this all up at the beginning.

    By the time it was clearly stated as speculation, my science illustration shackles were up, and I kept getting replies that essentially were trying to play the best of both worlds on the scientific illustration vs. speculation for this piece.

    That is the one thing I’m sticking to. There is a big difference between scientific illustration and (reality inspired) imaginative speculation art.

    Why this matters to me, is I fight in the trenches of the science education war everyday. On the front line I can tell you we’re in starting to get in big trouble people of science. The anti-science movement is subtly in full force in our primary and secondary schools, with teachers who don’t care or understand about science OR worse teach lies and BS.

    My school has two resident creationists (which is why they’re always fresh on my mind). One wastes her otherwise great brain on the cognitive dissidence that is creationism (the other one is just not too bright). Her favourite strawman (which I have now definitively beat her on) was Henry Osborn’s Nebraska Man.

    However one of her arguments she sticks to, which is dead on (though it needs to be equally applied to her own young earth claims) is that we need to be clear what is speculation and what is based on evidence. Now I agree all the modern analogues are better proof than a book by bronze age nomads. At the same point modern analogues aren’t great (solo) evidence for extraordinary behaviour like this in prehistoric animals.

    I’m withdrawning on that note. Just consider more strongly disclaiming the speculation BEFORE bombarding people with your reality based inspirations for what is still pure speculation. If even just for the sake of us who have to deal with the general public (and the yahoos lying to them). We are looking to you smarter than us guys to try and help really make clear the science vs. imagination in all this palaeo stuff (espeically with the paywall issue).

    Those are the kinds of lapses and oversights that get thrown back in our face (unfairly… but it’s how it is working right now), It distracts from the solid evidence and neat stuff we actually have found.

    Quick aside:

    Zealandia was a much different continental landmass than modern day New Zealand. There is a ton we don’t understand about how its modern terrestrial fauna came to be, as in the Oligocene nearly 97-100% of the whole landmass was submerged. Modern New Zealand has reemerged due to tectonic collision. I mention this due to modern NZ being a horrible analogue for prehistoric NZ (I’ve done talks on NZ palaeo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcjerm_DSO4).

  41. Mike Taylor Says:

    Goats might climb trees, but they don’t do it often or that’s what we’d know them for. The point is 99% of the time goats do boring goat stuff. [...] As much as elephants in a cave is cool, 99% of pictures of elephants have them in their “boring” normal habitat of African plains or Asian lowlands. The reason is that for 99% of the time, that is what they do.

    Then I suppose we have nothing left to say to you. If what you want from palaeoart is to see more pictures of animals doing what we guess they probably spent most of their time doing, then the only conclusion is that this piece, like a Stewart Lee stand-up routine, is Not Aimed At You.

  42. dobermunk Says:

    In the end, it’s a question of where the line should be, which is – understandably – different for each of us. The main thing speculation should achieve is discussion, and that’s what we’ve been doing. I don’t propose censoring artwork, conspiring to anything other than protecting the damned oceans and I haven’t called bullshit or accused anyone of anything… I’ve tried to explain, also to myself, why Brian’s piece doesn’t work for me.

    Now I’m going to go play in the snow.

  43. Mike Taylor Says:

    Craig writes:

    I’m satisfied with Brian’s (later) replies about this being speculative. Had that been said right away I’d have stopped [...] Just consider more strongly disclaiming the speculation.

    Brian’s post begins:

    I made this illustration for a top-secret project I’m working on in collaboration with Matt Wedel (more on that later). I also submitted it as an entry in the All Yesterdays Contest for speculative reconstructions of extinct creatures.

    I’m not sure how much more up front you think he should have been about the artwork being speculative.

    Or could it be that you didn’t actually read his post?

  44. Craig Dylke Says:

    In all honesty I missed that one line about speculative reconstructions… there has been a lot of talk in the amateur palaeo-art community about Yesterday’s being a form scientific illustration. I’ve developed (admittedly not justly) a knee jerk reaction to all Yesterday’s piece thinking they are pretending to be scientific. I also took the working with you part to be scientific again, as again I have high regard for your science (and am used to your being attached to more academic slanted things).

    So I apologize for this. (got to love working on the weekend…)

    That said an initial reminder in people’s responses to my first comment that it was speculative BEFORE the immediate bombardment of modern analogues would have cleared it up.

    That said I still stand by my a lot of what I said. In particular I would love to know just know (not in a pointed way… just honest pure unbridled curiosity) if there have been taphonomic studies trying to pinpoint possible plausible sauropod environments. To me taphonomy opens up tons of realms for new cool palaeo reconstructions, and it is based on actual fossil and geologic evidence (that can then be enhanced with modern analogues).

    As dobermunk has pointed out (and I was clearly fumbling to get at) this piece is way on the extreme of the scientific envelope. It is out of my comfort zone, as I like my palaeo-art either grounded on one solid bit of fossil or geologic evidence OR really out there (like Trilobites with Wings or Victorian era guys hunting dinos).

    There is a place for speculative art and discussion. I just fear gearing all our palaeo-art to full Yesterday’s mode is dangerous.

    I love the anti shrink wrapping and more varied behaviour depiction part. I just worry about extreme speculative soft anatomy AND extreme speculative behaviour/habitats presented at once turns into essentially wishful reality fantasy. Sure the reality is in there, but it is just flavouring for fantasy.

    The real world is amazing, and doesn’t need us to embellish or jazz it up. Prehistoric life is starting to surrender its secrets through hardwork of workers like yourself. I just don’t want to see us ignoring or glossing over the actual fruits of knowledge and insight we’ve harvesting, because it is more exciting/fun to imagine things that COULD have been.

    I’ve found I’ve artistically drifted away from palaeo-art due to the monetary stability and demand I’ve been getting from the boardgame industry. There they make stuff up all the time (often these days using the same methods Brian outlined… there are some very great reality inspired sci-fi concepts… but they are just that fiction with a science flavour…. palaeo IS science. It should play to that strength).

  45. Mike Taylor Says:

    Once more: we do not know what sauropods spent their time doing (beyond the broad outline that there was feedin’, fightin’ an’ fornicatin’ going on). Taphonomy and sedimentology tells us that the sauropods preserved in the Morrison Formation were buried in seasonal floods on seasonally dry plains. It doesn’t tell us where the lived, only where they died. For all we know, they spent their lives up in mountains (where fossils are never preserved) and only came down to the floodplains to die.

    You feel that speculation is the enemy of science. You are dead wrong. The most dangerous enemy that science faces is misplaced certainty. I don’t just disagree with your claim that paintings like Brian are misleading. I go much further than that. To not produce such paintings would be misleading, because endless streams of sauropod-mooching-about-on-plain artwork reinforces the prejudice that we know that’s what they spent all their time doing.

    The All Yesterdays Movement (and apologies to those like Brian who don’t like the name, but it seems to have caught on) is not just a refreshing change, it’s an absolutely necessary antidote to the creeping delusion that we know what we’re talking about. How do you think the Aquatic Sauropod meme survived so long in the teeth of the evidence? Because people kept drawing and painting it.

  46. Craig Dylke Says:

    No punch meant, honest fact finding (again Sauropods are not my saurian group of know how) was it art that brought the research out of the swamp, or the research that brought the art out?

    I’ve always been under the understanding it was research that gave us the land based Sauropods, not a speculative piece of art…

    To me memes are more a product of lazy popular book publishers/artists and pay walling research.

    I don’t think speculative art has ever been the true killer of memes (granted nothing has been… so I guess I’ll sit back and see if you are right).

  47. Matt Wedel Says:

    In all honesty I missed that one line about speculative reconstructions…

    That said an initial reminder in people’s responses to my first comment that it was speculative BEFORE the immediate bombardment of modern analogues would have cleared it up.

    Um, dude, the very first sentence of the post references All Yesterdays, which you admit to knowing about. It also links to Brian’s post where he discusses the fact that it is speculative. Then the second sentence mentions references All Yesterdays again. So if you are just too thick-headed to understand what is clearly laid out at the very beginning of the post, that is somehow our fault?

    As for the rest, I really wish now that I had numbered the paragraphs in my two long responses so that I could just quote them back to you. Did you actually read the bit about all life restorations being hypotheses?

    I just worry about extreme speculative soft anatomy AND extreme speculative behaviour/habitats presented at once turns into essentially wishful reality fantasy. Sure the reality is in there, but it is just flavouring for fantasy.

    I have explained repeatedly why this is just not true. There is a difference between fantasy and reasonable speculation. I wonder why you keep harping on this. Your initial positions were that glowworms don’t live in big caves or places where sauropods could go, and that big animals going into caves is so extremely rare as to be not worth discussing. Both of these positions are factually wrong. Yet somehow having the pegs knocked out from under your arguments has not changed them one bit. How can you dismiss this as fantasy when we’ve shown, with evidence, why it’s plausible? Just because something is outside your personal comfort zone does not make it incorrect. Also, I think your comfort zone needs to be adjusted, given that your initial reaction was based on two mistaken ideas about how animals behave.

    There is a place for speculative art and discussion. I just fear gearing all our palaeo-art to full Yesterday’s mode is dangerous.

    You keep saying that this is “dangerous”, but all you’ve been able to explain about that is protecting creationists from the reality that science often deals with unknowns. I’ve already explained why I think that is a BS position. Got anything else?

    I just don’t want to see us ignoring or glossing over the actual fruits of knowledge and insight we’ve harvesting, because it is more exciting/fun to imagine things that COULD have been.

    For crying out loud, the only one who has been “glossing over the actual fruits of knowledge” is you, since you continue to deny that the behaviors shows in the painting are plausible, in the face of massive evidence to the contrary.

  48. brian engh Says:

    Mmmmm knowledge fruit…

    Shit got real in here! Good science battle yall. Glad to have instigated.


  49. [...] sensationalism begins. This is partly an issue of audience. I may take issue with something like spelunking sauropods, but it’s a quality image done with scientific consultation. I personally climb out of my [...]

  50. Tony Says:

    What started out as a way to show cool dinos to my two year old son has turned into an obsession. I love the site and Brian’s art. Book in the works?

  51. Craig Dylke Says:

    Matt- Sorry had some work things pop up the past few weeks, but have been meaning to come back to your last comment/accusation…

    [I]“You keep saying that this is “dangerous”, but all you’ve been able to explain about that is protecting creationists from the reality that science often deals with unknowns. I’ve already explained why I think that is a BS position. Got anything else?”[I/]

    So to frame my “dangerous” position, I need to know you’re take on the Triassic Kraken of a little while ago.

    As that was based on (according to the “researcher” who presented it) speculation. It had more fossil “evidence” than this piece does (granted I’m well aware the evidence in question was a gross misinterpretation of the fossils in question).As we know it was then taken in and spread by the media and public as though there was something legit to it all…

    So please could you tell me how you saw/see the Triassic Kraken than I can better outline for you my “BS position”.

  52. Matt Wedel Says:

    The Triassic Kraken was blatant BS.

    It had more fossil “evidence” than this piece does

    Sigh. I am starting to despair here. You’re just not getting it.

    There is nothing particularly speculative about showing animals in caves. Living animals of all kinds go in caves all the time. It would be less reasonable to speculate that in 150 million years, sauropods never went into caves.

    Oh, also, this piece was clearly labelled as speculation both in Brian’s original post and in my repost. The Triassic Kraken was presented as a real thing.

    So, in short, the two have nothing to do with each other. There’s no reason to compare them as unfavorably as you have unless you have an axe to grind.

    Now, you can keep whining that we don’t have any direct evidence of sauropods in caves. We don’t have any direct evidence of sauropod kidneys, either, but we can be pretty darned sure that they had them. Science involves making reasonable inferences! All the time! It just does! If you think the inference that sauropods occasionally went into caves is unreasonable, then it’s on you to explain why.

  53. Craig Dylke Says:

    Matt- *In a sad tone* Since you are despairing and think my stance is BS this is official my last post on this topic (you’re choice of words not mine). I’m sorry to have bothered you so much by a discussion of palaeontology. I thought that is why you are here.
    *Rest of this in a civil tone*
    If it got lost in here somewhere (I’ve been having this discussion on three different blogs), you have converted me on Sauropods in caves… Where you still are not getting me onboard is Sauropods in a GLOWWORM cave. The reason being you still are missing important components of glowworm biology (I’ll come back to this in a second).
    Why I bring up the Triassic Kraken, is not directly to do with this piece. I bring it up as you accused me of having a BS position on the dangers of science miscommunication.
    So either you think the Triassic Kraken is an example of a scientifically illiterate media and public taking over speculation as fact (I wouldn’t use the word speculation in this specific case myself, but Mark McMenamin did and the public accepted it) , and therefore diminished understanding of the real world and science in general. Or you’re okay with it, and then in which case my concern is BS.
    When I say dangerous over speculation, I don’t mean bombs, explosions, and deadly danger, I mean we are dealing with an age where people take things reported or shown to them at face value. Type in Triassic Squid and read the results. There are a lot of articles giving the Ichthyosaur eating squid credence. That is the danger I’m talking about. Speculation that isn’t made clear or disclaimed, in this age of sensationalism gets taken as fact. Yes it is the public’s problem not ours, but we shouldn’t be ignoring it. We unfortunately need to bare it in mind, as we aren’t going to survive as a species if we take everything at face value.
    The only reason I’ve, from the vantage point of this blog, focused on Brian’s piece here (I’ve been talking with a few other people on G+) is it is something I know something about (Zealandia and glowworms). I’m using this rare time where I know more than “beginner” to testing the waters of what Yesterdays people’s philosophy is, and how they are approaching their speculation choices. I’m worried about the push towards more speculation going too far.
    I am being nitpicky with Brian’s piece here, yes. The reason is through combining Sauropods and glowworms he is unintentionally misrepresenting one of them to the point of them being a made up creature… So since the official stance here is that the Sauropods are plausible I’ll show you the glowworm perspective. As they have always been my point of contention since the beginning of this discussion/argument.
    (New Zealand and Australian) Glowworms are insect larva of the Fungus Gnat. They glow to attract insects at night to eat. If they don’t get enough insects they eat each other (reducing population density… important for my conclusion). They frequent habitat that bottlenecks or drives insects to them. This more often takes the form of over grown deep banked streams and rivers, but as insects can escape through the foliage (compared to the roof of a cave) the glowworms do not attain as large as dense a population per square whatever unit you want as Brian’s piece (though the worms are still pretty).
    With caves Glowworms only thrive in deep narrow bottlenecking caves, as it restricts insects exiting options, and fools the prey into thinking the mass glow on the ceiling is an opening to the sky. If the glowworms are too close to the entrance or are in a wide open cave, the fresh air from the outside ruins this effect and the majority of insects escape through the entrance of the cave (and the glowworms just end up eating each other).
    Glowworms glow is not overly bright. They cannot be seen in daylight, and if in a cave would have to completely removed from the entrance to remain active in the day.
    When I say bottlenecking caves, I mean the majority are uncomfortable or impossible for humans. There are only two huge major non splunking cave tours available in New Zealand that JUST fit people inside them (and given how key tourism is to the Kiwi economy, they’d open up anymore that were big enough for people. The Te Anua cave is in a protected park area, and they still developed it. The third tour I was on was as much a cave splunking experience as seeing glowworms).
    A cave that a Sauropod could walk into is going to have a pretty big entrance and continuous tunnel. There’d be too much air flow, and the glowworms would lose all their prey. You certainly could have a few, but their density would be pathetic.
    I would also call into question why the Sauropods were venturing into such a cave at night, OR why they had to venture that deep into the cave? Modern glowworm frequent uniform layered limestone [Te Anua cave has two horizons containing Oligocene shellfish), there is no nutrient difference in rocks at the (glowwormless) entrance as deep inside it. Sure Zealandia’s geology and geography was completely different, but that calls into question whether glowworms had evolved or lived there yet at all.
    Which means we’re either accepting modern glowworms biology when using them (and thus making commentary on how their biology and Sauropod’s were compatible, which I still argue they are not), OR we are making up a make belief animal. This made up animal basically exists for no reason other than to decorate a cave like Xmas lights to make a pretty picture of a Sauropod. There is no science in glowworms in a cave of this size (and implied structure) at this population density.
    Yes you can argue this is just a generalization. I’ll concede a Sauropod probably ended up in a cave with a glowworm if they were around back then. What I won’t concede to is it would have encountered the glowworms at the depicted population density.
    While this is certainly a nitpick, it should be noted that demanding Sauropod feet not be depicted like an Elephant’s is a nitpick too. If we say a piece that captures the general essence of a prehistoric animal, its general environment, and random behaviors it might have occasionally done is good scientific illustration, then swamp dwelling Sauropods should still be encouraged palaeo-art. Surely a Sauropod was in a swamp at some point.
    Now do let me clarify.
    This is meant as a thought engaging comment. Not an attack.
    As a one off Brian’s piece is lovely. I only have hesitations about the glowworms. With some major decimation of their density I would happily endorse this piece.
    Where I worry is the overall rhetoric I’ve been hitting from people that imagination trumps all facts. Imagination fuelled by facts are way more powerful when communicating prehistory than imagination grabbing facts after the fact.
    I know Brian meant well with his piece, and he did do research. I am only offering my opinion to help him improve his research in the future, as this is one of those few occasions again where I’m not the guy on his end of this discussion. I actually know something about the setting of the picture, and sadly as presented it is not right (unless of course someone knows of peer reviewed research about glowworm and glowworm caves to trumps me… I honestly would welcome learning more about the topic… However soft research based on New Zealand tourism photos [the public isn’t allowed to take photos in the tourism caves] doesn’t trump my time in the caves or all the reading I’ve done of semi technical popular books on New Zealand natural history… I would even pull out my technical NZ natural history volume, but it is sadly with all my books in storage in Canada  ]
    I’ve had tons of similar nitpicky feedback myself about my art (and some not in as {intended anyway} friendly a manner). It has only improved my skill set as a palaeo artist. I have a long way to go myself. I was only meaning to pass the favour on to Brian.
    I also as a result of other people’s replies wished to gauge the Yesterdays movement. I have to say outside of the book I’m still on the fence. Only time will tell I guess.
    The only time Brian’s piece would be dangerous, to tie up all the ends, is if some popular book publishers had one of its illustrators copy this. Aka it became a meme. Or the media picked it up and flew with it as proof Sauropods and glowworms coexisted.
    To me the danger is not this single piece or any other single piece art, but rather a whole generation of palaeo-art that embraces nothing but speculation, as we will “never know” anything from the fossil record. Speculation based on lines of evidence are far more powerful in my opinion. Which I fully state is just my opinion. I will now keep it to myself. Especially as I seem to be only bugging Matt (again based on inflammatory language use)

  54. Matt Wedel Says:

    I’m sorry to have bothered you so much by a discussion of palaeontology. I thought that is why you are here.

    Cute. Does that work on your kids?

    We are here to discuss paleontology, but we prefer to do it with people who are amenable to evidence and reason.

    For example, the rest of your comment is mostly about how glowworms are only found in caves that are too small and dark for sauropods. This is factually incorrect. Way back up in this comment, Brian wrote (and linked):

    Furthermore, there are several species of Arachnocampa (fungus gnat with bioluminescent larvae) alive today, and they colonize a variety of habitats, not just small caves.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arachnocampa
    Some even live totally outside caves, as seen here on a vegetated cliff:
    http://mrietze.com/images/Neuseeland12/NZ121932D6.jpg
    Point is, they’re actually a rather adaptable group, so who knows what their ancient ancestors were up to.

    There you have photographic proof of these things living not just in larger caves, but outside of caves entirely. I mean, the roof of a cliff is, like, space. So your position on the glowworms is completely destroyed, and has been for a month now.

    So, yes, if you are going to continue to be ignorant about natural history, and if you are going to ignore contrary evidence when it is presented, then I am going to keep not taking you seriously.

    Speculation based on lines of evidence are far more powerful in my opinion.

    We’ve explained the evidence for this repeatedly. Animals go in caves. Glowworms live outside of them. You just keep ignoring that evidence. We do try to be as welcoming as possible on this blog, but there is nothing in our charter that says we have to be infinitely patient with people when they are wilfully ignorant and combative. (And yes, comparing Brian’s work to creationism and the Triassic kraken counts as combative.)

    Have a nice day.

  55. brian engh Says:

    The photos in Matt’s post above aren’t from the New Zealand tourism industry. They’re from an independent professional nature photographer. Here is his website:

    http://mrietze.com/

    I encourage you to contact him and ask if his photos are doctored.

    To your point about the density of the glow-worm populations in my illustration: food web and energy flow analysis of many mesozoic ecosystems have indicated that nearly all levels of the mesozoic food web were more productive than food webs are today. Insects are a big part of that equation, and in the Mesozoic insects were highly abundant. With the warmer year-round temperatures of the cretaceous paleoclimate many species that now only multiply seasonally likely multiplied year round. That would have increased the available food supply for predatory glow worms, as well as their maximum potential population density.

    Although these aren’t specifically about Australian paleoecology, here’s a few articles related to the productivity of mesozoic ecologies in general:

    http://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/70030591

    http://repository.lib.ncsu.edu/ir/bitstream/1840.16/5826/1/etd.pdf

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0037073804000090

    Once again, the sauropods in my illustration aren’t necessarily deep in a cave, nor as big as you seem to think they are (my intention was to make them look 8-10m long or so). Again I refer you to my original un-colored pencil drawing (which I’ve amended to the bottom of my original post), in which the cave entrance can be seen in the background (much like the photograph in the SV-POW post).

    http://dontmesswithdinosaurs.com/?p=833

    I am comfortable with the idea that I’ve invented a species of prehistoric glow worm that can exist in the density and cave architecture I illustrated above (which I think I’ve shown isn’t that far-fetched or unreconcilable with modern glow worms). I am also comfortable with the idea of inventing behavior and anatomy (inspired by a decent understanding of modern animals) to complete an extinct animal that is represented by fragmentary remains in the fossil record (such as diamantinasaurus). I do not agree with you, however, that this is on the same level of speculation as inventing an animal that neither left direct physical remains, nor exists today (as in the triassic krakken which is pretty drastically different from modern octopi and squids). Also I maintain my objection to your equating my art to your illustration of dromeosaurs playing basketball as you did on your blog. I also maintain my stance that your illustration would make a rad video game.

    In conclusion, I do not think it is the responsibility of an artist or a scientist to limit the scope of their work because of lazy reporting, or the inevitable misinterpretation that will happen by others. I do however think it is my responsibility to present my work as speculative where it is speculative, as well as to furnish the scientific research that went into it… and I’m doing that as much as I can afford the time for…

  56. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thanks for this very clear and compelling final statement, Brian.

    And with that, I declare this conversation complete. No more on this thread, please, unless someone has something genuinely new to add.


  57. [...] behaviors. I dealt with that in this post, and also in the comment thread to this one. But that’s not what I want to talk about [...]


  58. […] of his friends in LA. You may remember Brian from this, this, this, this, and, most notoriously, this. We got to drawing dinosaurs, […]


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