Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Palaeo-Environments Gallery

Happy New Year's, palaeo-artists! It's once again time to open another of Life's Time Capsules here at ART Evolved! This time it's...

That's right! Our first Time Capsule of 2010 isn't a prehistoric critter! So, what is a Palaeo-environment? It's a reconstruction of a prehistoric ecosystem based on geologic and fossil evidence.

Start with a fossil site, determine what animal and plant organisms existed through fossils and trace fossils, then use the rocks to determine the depositional environment, the average temperature, oxygen and moisture levels. From this data, relationships can be inferred - predator/prey, food chains, behaviours, migration patterns...

All this research to bring you these final reconstructions: palaeo-environment restorations! From prehistoric Cyprus and Germany to ancient China to New Zealand, this Gallery traverses the World and explores rich fossil sites through art. It also dips into the abstract, where the fossil becomes the environment! (Click on the pics to enlarge them!)

ART Evolved invites you to enjoy this month's Time Capsule: Palaeo-Environment Galley!

A Tarbosaurs attacking a Shantungosaurus by Brett Booth

Late Pleistocene Cyprus by Mo Hassan

An extinct species of genet, Genetta plesictoides, stalks a blue rock-thrush, Monticola solitarius, whilst dwarf elephants, Elephas cypriotes, a dwarf hippopotamus, Phanourios minutus, and a greater flamingo, Phoenicopterus roseus, enjoy an early spring morning in Cyprus about 12,000 years ago.

Oceans of Zealandia- Base of the Chain by Craig Dylke

Welcome to Cretaceous New Zealand, 69-70 million years ago. At this time New Zealand was part of a much larger land mass, a proper continent, half the size of Australia called Zealandia. By this time Zealandia was well in isolation from the rest of the world, having drifted away from Gondwana 83 million years ago. It would remain a giant landmass till well after the Cretaceous, but due to its lack of elevation and straddling a very active tectonic zone, Zealandia would eventually sink into the ocean leaving only the scattered remnants of many islands from its entirety. Of these Pacific islands today New Zealand is the largest.

For this gallery I present for you snap shots of life in the ocean throughout the history of Zealandia. Starting with some of the sealife that emerged near the beginnings of this short lived continent.

Off the shores of Zealandia we see a school of Belemnite swarm near the surface of the newly expanding Tasman sea. This activity attracts many medium level predators, the Cryptoclididae Kaiwhekea. The commotion caused by this level of the food chain attract even higher up predators that lurk on the edge of the school awaiting an opportunity. In this snap shot, one can just make out the silhouette of a rather large shark that has momentarily broken its cover.

For this piece I wanted something of an overall introduction to this ecosystem community, which included the food-chain ratios somewhat to proportion. I'd also like it noted that I'm not attempting to imply or convey social behaviour on the part of Plesiosaurs (in particular Kaiwhekea), but that rather like in nature large gatherings of prey would attract large numbers of their their predators.

Oceans of Zealandia- The Squid Eater (Kaiwhekea) by Craig Dylke

One of New Zealand's most spectacular and complete vertebrate fossil finds has to be the single type specimen of the Cryptoclidid Kaiwhekea. This short necked Plesiosaur is among the most unique of the whole group. For despite being one of the last of this group of marine reptiles from around 70 millions ago, it is surprisingly primitive and has a great deal in common with Jurassic forms.

The formal name Kaiwhekea means "Squid Eater" in the indigenous language of the Maori, and it is a very appropriate name. The skull of Kaiwhekea is superbly adapted to hunt and catch mid sized soft bodied prey. The jaws are lined with hundreds of small needle like interlocking teeth, and powered by strong muscles to snap the mouth closed quickly. Its eyes were large set far forward in the skull, and were most likely binocular in vision.

This scene here is based on the conclusions of Kaiwhekea's description, and the remains of fossil Belemnites from the same locality as its skeleton Shag Point (Shag being the local word for Cormorant birds... not what most people think. Though I still laugh every time I drive by the villa's sign!)

Oceans of Zealandia - Dangers Everywhere by Craig Dylke

Despite their fossil remains not being as complete as Kaiwhekea, New Zealand is known to have supported a vast and diverse array of Mosasaurs during the late Cretaceous some of which no doubt acted as the top of the food chain. Among the larger ranger of these marine reptiles was the Tylosaurid Taniwhasaurus. Known from the rear portion of the skull, this carnivore's jaws would be 3/4 of a metre long and had a body 10-12 metres long.

In my piece we see the Mosasaurid ambushing a young Kaiwhekea as it tried to catch squid. To me this is most likely the largest marine reptile prey a Mosasaur would be likely the catch. For one Mosasaur jaws have built in mechanics that do not allow prey to escape being swallowed, meaning they (like snakes and monitor lizards) had to swallow their prey whole. If like in TV shows and sensational media they attacked full grown adult prey animals they'd choke and die.

Benthonic Upper Ordovician Seascape by Sarah Snell-Pym

Stegosaurus of the Morrison Formation by Peter Bond

Sauropods of Dashanpu Quarry (Lower Shanximiao formation, Bathonian epoch, Middle Jurassic Sichuan province, China ~165 mya)  by Nima Sassani

Herds of Shunosaurus lii and "Omeisaurus" tianfuensis feed near the landlocked lake that will one day become the quarry. Both were lightly built compared to later sauropods, and thus had small tail clubs and extremely large thumb claws for additional defense.

A Paleo Environment by Albertonykus

The setting is Late Jurassic, approximately a hundred sixty million years ago, in China. A pair of Anchiornis huxleyi attempt to protect their nest from a Tianyulong confuciusi. To the right, one sends out an alarm call and the other swoops down on the nest raider. Opportunistic ornithischians are by far not the only dangers the tiny troodonts have to face. From the left, a Darwinopterus modularis flies over the scene, a third Anchiornis huxleyi captured between its jaws.

Oceans of Zealandia: The First "Killer" Whale by Craig Dylke

We return once again to prehistoric New Zealand, still in the form of the continent Zealandia, but only just. By Oligocene 25 million years ago, the majority of Zealandia had sunk below sea level, and was not to resurface again. Not that this effected sea life adversely. In fact rather the opposite. Due to the remaining elevation provided by the sunken continental landmass (compared to the off self sea floor) Zealandia provided the basis for a large swallow sea during this time.

This supported a vast array of sealife. comprised of types we're familiar with today. Only much more primitive and ancestral forms. Among these were penguins, which had been thriving in the Southern oceans since the KT extinction event. These early Penguins were much more gracile then those we know today, as the Antarctic was temperate at this time.

The expansion of the Southern Ocean around Antarctica at this time was creating a vastly new and dynamic ecosystem to form with the strong currents that started to whip around the continent stirring up large quantities of nutrients. The drastic increase in avaliable food caused a major radition of Whales in the south.

Among these were the somewhat terrorifying Squalodons, or "Shark Toothed" dolphins. Some of these animals grow to nearly the length of the modern Orca, and would likely have preyed on most medium sized animals it encountered (though fossil evidence hasn't yet be presented).

Despite its large size and furious desposition, the Squalodon was not the appex predator of these swallow Zealandia seas. A far bulkier 9 metre ancestor of the Great White Shark prowled these waters, and most likely would have preyed on (young at least) Squalodons.

Archaeopteryx of Prehistoric Bavaria by Peter Bond

A Quiet Drink by Craig Dylke

Last March of the Breviparopus (?Barremian? epoch, Early Cretaceous Morocco ~ 125 mya) by Nima Sassani

A male and female Braviparopus trek across hot, sunbaked ground in search of water and food. A drought has plagued the area for decades, slowly getting worse each year. The rains themselves sometimes fail to come at all, leaving rivers a muddy trickle, and the land unable to sustain many of these creatures, and most have died since the drought began. These two massive giants are some of the last of their kind, their fat reserves depleted, desperate to survive by eating drying foliage, tree resin, and even the occasional mammal. This is a snapshot from their last few hours on this planet.

Breviparopus was a huge brachiosaur, perhaps even larger than the 100-foot (30m) Sauroposeidon, and is known only from narrow-gauge footprints nearly a meter wide. It may be the same animal as the equally enigmatic giant "Brachiosaurus" nougaredi, which is known from a huge partial sacrum found in Algeria.

Mountain Discovery by Glendon Mellow
"We're gonna need another Order of trilobites!"

For this paleo-environment time capsule, I came up with a number of ideas. This gallery had my mind ticking overtime. I worked for hours on two other pieces, but I'll save them for another time - they'd make a good kids book.

I wanted to try some different things. I created this entire piece digitally, from sketch to completion. I feel I still need practice. This was mainly created in ArtRage 2.5 and a bit in Photoshop Elements 6, using my Intuos 3 tablet.

Inspired a bit by H.P. Lovecraft stories and Frantisek Kupka's The Black Idol, I turned the subject of this gallery on its head. Instead of creating a paleo-environment, I tried to create a make-believe gigantic trilobite fossil that is so huge, it is itself a paleo-environment.

That brings us around the world and back for ART Evolved's next Gallery...

JOIN US in our celebration of all things Therizinosaur for the next two months! If you'd like to partake in an ART Evolved Gallery, send your art along with a small blurb to We accept art from anybody and everybody!

So join us for the next Time Capsule March 1st 2010: the bizarre and beautiful Therizinosaurs!


Ian said...

Excellent! All of them are really neat.

Albertonykus said...

Mine got in! Mine got in! XD Of course, it is quite inferior to the others, which are,to put things simply, stunning!

I'm totally joining the therizinosaur one!

davidmaas said...

Great stuff guys. Craig - you monster! I thought you were wrapped up in a move!?
Have to lop off some work and rejoin the fray.

Brett said...

So doe this have to be new art for the paleo enviro thingy? I wanted to do some but I' not sure I'll have time for a whole scene.



Bruce Earl said...

OH SHOOT! i mist it! well i do like the art!

Weapon of Mass Imagination said...

Ian- On behalf of all the artists involved thanks for the kind words

Albertonykus- Yours certainly did get in, and why shouldn't it have? :)

We can not wait for your Therizinosaur

David- All I have to say is GRRRRRR than.

I was a monster, in November. Had to get all those done early as the move took over my life as of Decemeber.

I sort of cheated in making all of those, as I was getting triple mileage for the Zealandia pieces. There was this gallery of course, but I made these up for Dr. Fordyce's consideration, and in March I am doing a talk on New Zealand palaeo at a palaeo conference so I thought it'd be a great place to plug my palaeo-art to some scientists, so I needed to throw together some sample pieces to illustrate my talk.

Brett- Art submitted to ART Evolved does not have to be brand new pieces, simply ones that match the theme.

So in this case pretty much any old piece you have that can be consdiered a palaeo-environment we will gladly add to the gallery. Just send it to us at with any text you want accompanying it and any links to your website, online gallery, and or blog.

Cheers, and hopefully we'll see your new to us art soon ;p

Bruce- There is still time! We take late submissions, so if you get the chance you can still put something together for this gallery!

Albertonykus said...

Of course, there's no reason why mine shouldn't have gotten in. But it's still thrilling to contribute to these time capsules for a first time!

Peter Bond said...

CHECK OUT the great new additions to the Gallery from Brett Booth and Nima Sassani! Excellent work, guys!!!

It's not too late! Send your pieces to!

David and Bruce, I'm looking forward to seeing your Therizinosaurs in March!

Craig, you've improved so much in such a short time! Excellent stuff here dude.

Great work everyone!

Rachael said...

These galleries are always a breath of fresh air to me and this one's no exception.

(Mine still to come - just couldn't get it finished. Had the month from hell- sorry )

Great to see work from new artists- I really like Brett Booth's Tarbosaurus attack. Full of movement and violence.

Albertonykus's Paleo Environment is a lively scene that tells a great story. Lots of reasearch.

Sarah Snell- Pym has sent some lively sketches from the Bethnoic Upper Ordivian Seascape. Any more info on the content Sarah? i'd be interested to know what the creatures are.

As always some excellent draughtmanship from Nima. Check out Nima' website for framed prints of his work. Nima, why don't you send a link?

Glendon's massive trilobite! - brilliant and quirky as always! always makes me smile. ArtRage worked well- I thought it was painted at first. Glendon's work always tells a story and this one really draws you in.

Mo's Late Pleistocene is totally intrigueing. It's amazing to think that these creatures lived so very recently.

Peter - Wonderful Stegosaurus. You really need to click on it to zoom in on the detail and colour of the skin. Very natural and weighted movement. The archaeopteryx, similarly is very well drawn and confident.

Craig- What can I say? Beautiful. Oceans of Zealandia actually made my heart beat faster :-) I want these on my wall! The markings on the creatures are fantastic. Excellent compostional skills and use of limited palette really works.

Well done everyone.

Nima said...

LOL here's the link to the prints :)


Brett said...

Thanks Rachael and Peter:)


Zach said...

Well done, guys. Sorry I forgot about this. The job search has been eating up all my time and energy. I'd like to get SOMETHING up there, though, so I'll be working on an Alaskan scene this weekend. Craig, those are the best pieces you've ever done (IMHO) (that I've seen).

Weapon of Mass Imagination said...

Zach- First off, once again good luck with the job hunt! Hopefully with things settling in after Xmas and New Years businesses will be ready to hire and such again.

Also can't wait to see your palaeo-environment piece. You could ever just send in an old artwork if you have one. There is nothing saying submissions into the gallery have to be totally new works of art.

As for the very kind words about my pieces, thank you ever so much.

My alterior motives I mentioned to David a few comments earlier in the thread have just gotten a lot more epic.

At that conference in March, I'm starting off the talks for the day, but am then followed by followed by Marianne Collins (Burgess Shale artist of Gould's Wonderful Life), Darren Tanke, Scott Sampson, and finally Phil Currie...

So it is a chance to find out what stuff my art is really made of!!! *Nervous shake* I'm hoping to at least find out why I'm not cut out to be a palaeo artist with such big names looking at it.

On a sidenote I'm also hoping to get some interviews for ART Evolved with artists Marianne Collins and Brian Cooley (Dinosaur sculpture extrodinare). Possibly Phil Currie as well, as his talk is on Dinosaurs in science and art. Keep you posted.

Zach said...

Heh. Tell Dr. Currie hi for me and that I was too shy at SVP to introduce myself in England. ;-)

Rachael said...

Craig - Wow all that name dropping! I'm a real fan of Marianne Collin's work.

Hope the March conference goes excellently for you. Bit nerve wracking for you all the same but what a brilliant opportunity.I want to know everything that happens so please do a post on it after :-)

Zach- I know all about job hunting, mate. Best of luck. May the new year be fruitful for you. Looking forward to the Alaskan scene.

I've given up (for now)on my thecodontosaurus that I was going to submit. I've spent the latter part of last year putting its bones in boxes for the university and sketching bits of it, but I just cant seem to get it right yet. Not at all happy with it.Sometimes something is too important to you isnt it?

VasikART said...

Wow, wow!! Craig Dyke's Taniwhasaurus is almost too good to be true! Best on the net. that's what I'd say about his drawings, all of them.

I do like the idea of mixing Tarbosaurus and Shantungosaurus together, in fact, but were they anyhow together like that? Interesting idea.

VasikART said...

But how can I submit my own artworks? I submitted some through my E-mail address, but how long....does it take to be shown in this? I jsut got started o nthe site,'s me-needs an answer.

Traumador said...

VasikART- We did recieve your pics, and they are awesome. You'll just have to bare with us a day or two more. Sadly all us admins are busy with various life bits right now (I'm writing this at the airport inbetween bouncing around Australia having had no net otherwise).

We try our best to get up late submissions as quick we can, but we're not as geared up for laties as when a new gallery is scheduled. For the record we have no problem with late submissions, but you have to be a bit patient when you send them to us after the "due" date (espeically in summer). In good news you'll get a special post alerting people to check out your stuff in the old gallery!

As for my Taniwhsaurus (this is Craig) thank you very much! I am humbled by your praise. Hopefully some of up and coming work might knock your socks off as well ;)

VasikART said...

Ah, no worries at all! I'll wait, and anyhow, I'll submit something to the turtles gallery if I've got time on my own hands!

Thanks, y'all! And you're welcome!

Melanie said...

The first "killer" whale was Basilosaurus which lived in the Eocene.

Craig Dylke said...

Melanie- There certainly could be a case made for a Basilosaurus, but I wasn't being literal with that title. More just envocative.

Shark Toothed Dolphins don't get enough coverage or love, so I wanted to tag it to something people love today.

It was also a size consideration. Squalodon was actually about the size of an Orca. Basilosaurus was a bit big for a direct comparison to a Killer Whale. To me Basilosaurus is just a less picky Sperm or Beaked Whale :P