My contribution to Evolution: The Whole Story: sauropods

March 27, 2017

This is very belated, but back in the summer of 2014 I was approached to write a bunch of sections — all of them to do with dinosaurs, naturally — in the book Evolution: The Whole Story. I did seven group overviews (Dinosauria overview, prosauropods, sauropods, stegosaurs, ankylosaurs, marginocephalians, and hadrosaurs), having managed to hand the theropod work over to Darren.

My author copy arrived in February 2016 (which, yes, is over a year ago. Your point?) It’s really nice:


And at 576 heavy, glossy pages, it’s a hefty tome.


My contribution was fairly minimal, really: I provided about 35 pages. Darren wrote a lot more of it. Still, I’m pleased to have been involved. It’s nicely produced.

Here a sample spread — the first two of a four-page overview of sauropods, showing some nice illustrations and a typical timeline across the bottom of the page.


And here’s one of the ten “highlights” sections I did, mostly on individual dinosaurs. This is the best one, of course, based on sheer taxon awesomeness, since it deals with Giraffatitan:


Unfortunately, not all of the artwork is of this quality. For example, the life restoration that graces my spread on Argentinosaurus makes me want to stab my own eyes out:


Still, putting it all together, this is an excellent book, providing a really helpful overview of the whole tree of life, each section written by experts. It’s selling for a frankly ludicrous £16.55 in the UK — it’s easily worth two or three times that; and $30.24 in the US is also excellent value.

Highly recommended, if I do say it myself.

15 Responses to “My contribution to Evolution: The Whole Story: sauropods”

  1. Andrew Stuck Says:

    What is it with publishers muscling in horrid dinosaur reconstructions against the author’s wishes?

    I like that you worked in a photo of Werner Janensch in the Giraffatitan spread. The Tendaguru Expeditions deserve more love. Seriously, stop re-telling the story of the Bone Wars again and again, everybody.

  2. LeeB Says:

    Yeah if you want a really interesting Cope story how about the mystery of the thirty nine crates.
    The remains of about 150 marine reptiles from New Zealand were packed up in the aforementioned crates and sent off to Cope to study.
    They had been dynamited out of very hard limestone concretions and apparently sat around for years in America without anyone doing anything with them; probably put in the (literally) too hard basket.
    When Cope died his collections were sold off; and no-one has ever (knowingly) seen the crates or the fossils therein ever again.
    They are probably sitting in a museum basement somewhere all forgotten.
    Which is a great pity because nowadays the fossils could be dissolved out of the limestone concretions with acid; and we need to know more about the Elasmosaurs and Mosasaurs of New Zealand.

    If anyone has access to the accession records for the museums that purchased Cope’s collections it would be worthwhile looking for the words “marine reptiles” and “Amuri Bluff” which is what they called Haumuri Bluff in the 1880’s.


  3. Brad Lichtenstein Says:

    I’ll bite – given how little argentinosaurus pieces were found, why is that life restoration so bad as a representative titanosaur? Didn’t they allow/ask for artwork as well as words (didn’t you have to caption it however it was chosen?)

    While thinking about missing necks and heads, it seems like the best way for a (large) theropod to dispatch a sauropod would be via the neck, like mammal carnivores know to bite the throat. If they could be reached at adult size (I assume sauropods had to sleep standing like cows – or like birds, sleeping half the brain at a time if necessary for lookout – or have the models indicated they could get up? Cows often can’t). Or did theropods just prey on the juveniles and scavenge the adults?

    Anyway, would seem unlikely something so large could be fossilized intact. That’s a lot to bury all at once.

  4. Mark Robinson Says:

    Yeah, yeah. So, are we gonna have to wait until 2018 to hear your thoughts on Baron, Norman & Barrett 2017? :-)

    I know everyone is talking about it but I’m still interested in SV-POW!’s perspective. Especially given that, if their new phylogeny becomes accepted and Dinosaurs = (Megalosaurus+Iguanodon+Hylaeosaurus), it’ll mean that you haven’t been studying dinosaurs after all.

    Still…”Sauropods – bigger than the largest dinosaurs!”

  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    Andrew, the authors got no say in the choice of artwork. I too am delighted that Janensch made it into the Giraffatitan spread, but that was none of my doing. So I accept no credit for the Janensch photo and no blame for the Argentinosaurus restoration :-)

    LeeB, that NZ marine reptiles story is new to me. You’d think 150 crates would be even harder to misplace than Amphicoelias fragillimus.

    Brad, the problem with the Argentinosaurus isn’t that it contradicts details of the osteology — as you rightly say, we have relatively little of that animal anyway — but its more general horribleness. In other words, it’s not that it doesn’t look like Argentinosaurus, it’s that it doesn’t look like a sauropod. There are now quite a few outstanding palaeoartists in the field; and a lot of a more than decent amateurs plying their trade at DeviantArt, who I am sure would be happy to contribute work to a book like this. Why they used truly nasty art like this instead baffles me.

    I agree that the neck would likely have been the most vulnerable part of most sauropods (though perhaps not for apatosaurus). As for how they slept: I’m not aware that anyone’s done any real work on this, and I can’t think of a way to approach the problem. I wish someone would.

    And yes, the large size of sauropods is of course major factor behind the poor record of complete specimens — especially of larger ones. See Brocklehurst et al. 2012.

    Mark, we might get to writing about the Ornithoscelida paper, but then we might not. There was a time a couple of a years into SV-POW! when we started to find it a bit of a burden to come up with a post every week. Rather than shut the blog down, we resolved to only ever write what we felt like writing, when we felt like it. That freedom is what’s kept it fresh for us (and alive for our readers). So no promises!

  6. LeeB Says:

    Actually only Thirty nine crates.
    It averages about four marine reptiles per crate so a lot of them probably weren’t very complete, especially after being dynamited out of concretions.
    But they must have weighed tonnes.
    Apparently they had sat in their crates in a courtyard for years; they were probably included in a sale lot of Copes specimens just to get rid of them.

    But you’d think that the buyer in the museum would have kept records of what they had purchased; those records must still be somewhere.
    And once they were in a museum storeroom the chances of anyone opening a crate to see what was in it wasn’t very high.


  7. Mark Robinson Says:

    Thanks Mike. Fully understand your and Matt’s position regarding the blog these days but thought I’d give you a nudge anyway.

    The Thirty Nine Crates – good title for a movie.

  8. David Marjanović Says:

    or have the models indicated they could get up? Cows often can’t

    …I guess that might be true for cows that spend their entire lives in a stable? I’ve seen plenty of cows lie down and stand up on a pasture, and I don’t even live in the countryside.

  9. cheryll Says:


  10. Late to the party, but…isn’t Argentinosaurus now considered an andesaurid, or at least an andesaur-like titanosaur similar to Sauroposeidon? And isn’t Sauroposeidon a brachiosaur-morph with a long, gracile neck relative to its stout, compact torso and legs (as indicated in the “Paluxysaurus” remains)?

    The popular “bigass camarasaur” depiction of Argentinosaurus and other titanosaurs relies on too many of the same unscientific assumptions. It’s like a formula now:

    Step 1: “Well it’s…big. Like, really big.”

    Step 2: “Well…it’s a titanosaur, so let’s sprinkle some osteoderms on its back.”

    Step 3: profit, because according to mainstream paleoart, all titanosaurs look alike regardless of chronostratigraphic or phylogenetic position.

  11. Mike Taylor Says:

    Lots of ifs and maybes here. Argentinosaurus may or may not be closely related to Andesaurus depending on whose phylogenetic analysis you follow. Same goes for Sauroposeidon, whose body structure we don’t know at all beyond the mid-cervicals.

  12. So Paluxysaurus isn’t a synonym of Sauroposeidon?

  13. Mike Taylor Says:

    We can’t really tell at this point.

    (I can’t find an SV-POW! post about this issue, which seems odd to me — maybe Matt and I have only discussed it in email. If that’s so, Matt might knock one together at some stage.)

  14. Mike from Ottawa Says:

    Other Mike,

    Your belated effort bringing the book to my attention has brought you a sale! Looks good (with some apparent exceptions) and remarkably reasonably priced.


  15. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thank. MfO, great to know! I think you will be very happy with it.

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