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For Your Bookshelf: Ancient Earth Journal Series

One of the benefits of being a palaeontologist is getting sent free stuff to review. Over the last couple of years, Quarto Publishing has sent me a couple of books from the Ancient Earth Journal series, co-authored by palaeoartists Juan Carlos Alonso and Gregory S Paul. These are presently the only two books in the series: the first details vertebrate faunas of the Early Cretaceous, and the second covers the Late Jurassic. Presumably, the series will continue to expand to encompass other time periods from the Age of Dinosaurs.

The Early Cretaceous, the first book in the Ancient Earth Journal series.

      The books are effectively designed as field sketch books (illustrated by Juan Carlos Alonso), where usually four pages are dedicated to anatomical and behavioural sketches of some prehistoric animal (for a total of 21 species in each book), with only the most basic biographical information provided. True to their portrayal as field sketches, the illustrations are quickly penned (though generally not at the loss of accuracy), and depict the animals feeding, caring for their young, fighting, and traveling in herds. Occasional anatomical close-ups further detail unique aspects of the species, such as the wide cropping machinery of Nigersaurus. Most of the sketches are also quite colourful, as though they were filled in using watercolours, which is quite nice. Still, the large size of the books (22.9 x 30.5 cm) detracts somewhat from their credibility as field “journals”.

      There’s a lot to like about these books. In addition to the beautiful artwork, the authors do a good job of presenting a variety of different animals (including not just dinosaurs, but birds, mammals, and pterosaurs) from all over the world. The books are also nicely prefaced with details relating to the state of the earth at the time, covering plate tectonics, climate, and ancient floras. The fossil plants are occasionally illustrated, usually as feed for the herbivores. The embossed covers are a great touch.

The Late Jurassic, the second book in the Ancient Earth Journal series.

      But the books aren’t flawless; they could have done with more careful editing. For example, in some of the sketches, the external ear occurs within the lower temporal fenestra of the skull, when it actually should occur behind it. Argentinosaurus is curiously lumped in with the Early Cretaceous dinosaurs, although it is technically known only from the Late Cretaceous. The horned dinosaurs are described as a sub-grouping of heterodontosaurs, which they most certainly were not! This also marks the first occasion where I’ve seen theropods misspelled as “theropauds” and not the perpetual “therapods”. These errors really stand out and detract somewhat from the final product.

      On the whole, though, I applaud the authors for their efforts. This was quite obviously a labour of love for Juan Carlos Alonso, and one that I think he can safely count as a success. The dinosaur book market is heavily saturated, but I think that Juan Carlos has carved himself out a nice little niche. Here’s hoping for more from the series.

Posted by Jordan Mallon, Canadian Museum of Nature

Posted: 9/26/2016 2:35:43 PM by mallonjordanadmin | with 0 comments
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