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!