Episode 64 – Paleoart

Listen to Episode 64 on PodBean, Spotify, YouTube, or your favorite place for podcasts!

What would our science be without art? Fossils make for great photos, but a key part of paleontology is our ability to reconstruct long-dead organisms as living, functioning beings. In this episode, we’re joined by paleoartist and herpetologist Gabriel Ugueto as we discuss the many ways artists attempt to recreate ancient species through Paleoart.

In the news
Arctic hyenas fill in a gap in the record of hyena evolution and dispersal.
Dinosaur bone is home to unusual microbe communities
Using a “croc climate clock” to understand past environmental change.
A new species of large trilobite hiding in plain sight.

Paleoart: Reconstructing the Past

Paleoart is a subset of scientific illustration that aims to use scientific data from fossils and living animals to recreate ancient organisms and ecosystems. Paleoart can include sprawling paintings of past ecosystems, detailed sculptures of extinct species, 2D and 3D animations of ancient creatures in motion, and so on.

For as long as people have been digging up fossils, there have been attempts to artfully recreate the creatures that left them behind. Here are some of the biggest names in the history of paleoart:

Charles R. Knight (1874-1953)

Charles R. Knight might be the most famous paleoartist in history. His work established themes in the depiction of ancient life that inspired scores of other artists, including those working on the earliest dinosaurs in film! Much of his work would be considered inaccurate today, but was foundational to the world of paleoart.

Rudolph F. Zallinger (1919-1995)

Zallinger is probably best known for the incredible mural, “The Age of Reptiles,” which adorns this wall in the Peabody Museum at Yale University. Another foundational piece of paleoart, this one depicts creatures across geologic time from the Devonian to the Cretaceous. Photo by Jerrye and Roy Klotz via Wikimedia Commons.

Gregory S. Paul (1954-Present)

At a time when paleontologists were coming to understand dinosaurs in a whole new light (the Dinosaur Renaissance), Gregory Paul’s art helped bring this new vision to life through art. His work not only inspired numerous other artists, but also – famously – the creators of Jurassic Park!

Nowadays, there are more paleoartists than ever before, including our special guest, Gabriel Ugueto:

Crocs and snakes by Gabriel! Left: Size comparison of a group of extinct croc-cousins called poposauroids, including the genera Effigia, Shuvosaurus, Poposaurus and Sillosuchus. Right: Three variants of the modern-day coral snake mimic Oxyrhopus melanogenys. Art used with permission from the artist.
The ecosystem of the Kristianstad basin, including a mosasaur preying on a polycotylid plesiosaur, plus numerous fish and birds. Art by Gabriel Ugueto, used with permission from the artist.

Find Gabriel at his website, on Twitter, and on his own podcast, SquaMates!

There are many, many amazing paleoartists out there. Here’s a short list, including several named in the episode!
John Conway (Twitter)
Darren Naish (Twitter)
Emily Willoughby (Twitter)
Mark Witton (Twitter)
Danielle Dufault (Twitter)
Matthew Martyniuk (Twitter)
Julius Csotonyi (Twitter)
Andrey Atuchin (Twitter)
Jed Taylor (Twitter)
James Gurney

This list is nowhere near complete. If you have a favorite who isn’t on the list, name them in the comments!

For more about paleoart in general, check out these links:
New Visions of Ancient Creatures, Science Friday (featuring Gabriel!)
How dinosaurs are brought back to life – through art, National Geographic
Paleoart: the strange history of dinosaurs in art, The Guardian

If you enjoyed this topic and want more like it, check out these related episodes:

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One thought on “Episode 64 – Paleoart

  1. Ed Culver July 3, 2019 / 8:51 pm

    Kristina Zalinger, one of Rudolph’s three children, is currently an active artist.


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