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Duria Antiquior - A more Ancient Dorset is a watercolour painted in 1830 by the geologist Henry De la Beche based on fossils found by Mary Anning, and was the first pictorial representation of a scene from deep time based on fossil evidence.

Paleoart (also spelled palaeoart, paleo-art, or paleo art) is any original artistic work that attempts to reconstruct or depict prehistoric life according to the current knowledge and scientific evidence at the moment of creating the artwork.[1] The term paleoart was introduced in the late 1980s by Mark Hallett for art that depicts subjects related to paleontology.[2] These may be representations of fossil remains or depictions of the living creatures and their ecosystems. The term is a portmanteau of “art” and the ancient Greek word for old.


The work of paleoartists is not mere fantasy of an artist's imagination but rather consists of cooperative discussions among experts and artists.[3][4] When attempting to reconstruct an extinct animal, the artist must utilise an almost equal mixture of artistry and scientific knowledge. The artist James Gurney, known for the Dinotopia series of fiction books, has described the interaction between scientists and artists as the artist being the eyes of the scientist, since his illustrations bring shape to the theories; palaeoart determines how the public perceives long extinct animals.[5]

Scientific impact[edit]

Extinct marine animals were some of the first to be restored as in life.[6] Art has been important in disseminating knowledge of dinosaurs since the term was introduced by Sir Richard Owen in 1842. With Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, Owen helped create the first life-size sculptures depicting dinosaurs as he thought they may have appeared. Some models were initially created for the Great Exhibition of 1851, but 33 were eventually produced when the Crystal Palace was relocated to Sydenham, in South London. Owen famously hosted a dinner for 21 prominent men of science inside the hollow concrete Iguanodon on New Year's Eve 1853. However, in 1849, a few years before his death in 1852, Gideon Mantell had realised that Iguanodon, of which he was the discoverer, was not a heavy, pachyderm-like animal,[7] as Owen was putting forward, but had slender forelimbs; his death left him unable to participate in the creation of the Crystal Palace dinosaur sculptures, and so Owen's vision of dinosaurs became that seen by the public. He had nearly two dozen lifesize sculptures of various prehistoric animals built out of concrete sculpted over a steel and brick framework; two Iguanodon, one standing and one resting on its belly, were included. The dinosaurs remain in place in the park, but their depictions are now outdated in many respects.

A 2013 study found that older paleoart was still influential in popular culture long after new discoveries made them obsolete. This was explained as cultural inertia.[8] In a 2014 paper, Mark P. Witton, Darren Naish, and John Conway outlined the historical significance of paleoart, and lamented its current state.[9]


Since 1999, the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology has awarded the John J. Lanzendorf PaleoArt Prize for achievement in the field. The society says that paleoart "is one of the most important vehicles for communicating discoveries and data among paleontologists, and is critical to promulgating vertebrate paleontology across disciplines and to lay audiences".[10] The SVP is also the site of the occasional/annual "PaleoArt Poster Exhibit", a juried poster show at the opening reception of the annual SVP meetings.

The Museu da Lourinhã organizes the annual International Dinosaur Illustration Contest[11] for promoting the art of dinosaur and other fossils.

Notable, influential paleoartists[edit]

Leaping Laelaps by Charles R. Knight, 1896
Skeletal restoration of Brontosaurus excelsus, now Apatosaurus, by Othniel Charles Marsh, 1896
Miocene fauna by Jay Matternes, 1960s
Staurikosaurus and rhynchosaur are animals of Geopark Paleorrota produced by paleoartist Clovis Dapper.
Velociraptor and Protoceratops locked in mortal combat, by Raúl Martín 2003
Megalodon pursuing two Eobalaenoptera whales by Karen Carr
Ice Age fauna by Mauricio Anton, 2008
Restoration of Anatosuchus by Todd Marshall, 2009
Quetzalcoatlus models in South Bank, created by Mark Witton for the Royal Society's 350th anniversary, 2010

Past 2D paleoartists[edit]

Post-Renaissance, published 2D paleoartists[edit]

  • Christopher Srnka 2000s

Current 3D paleoartists[edit]

Past 3D paleoartists[edit]


  1. ^ Ansón et al., (2015) Paleoart: term and conditions (A survey among paleontologists) in: Current trends in Paleontology and Evolution, 28-24 pp.
  2. ^ Hallett M (1986) The scientific approach of the art of bringing dinosaurs back to life, in: Czerkas SJ, Olson EC (Eds.), Dinosaurs Past and Present 1. Natural History Museum of Los Angeles Count in association with University of Washington Press, 97-113 pp.
  3. ^ Catherine Thimmesh: Scaly Spotted Feathered Frilled: How Do We Know What Dinosaurs Really Looked Like? Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013, 57 pages with paleoart illustrations by John Sibbick, Greg Paul, Mark Hallett et al., ISBN 978-0-547-99134-4.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Gurney J. (2009) Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist. Andrews McMeels Publishing. p. 78.
  6. ^ Davidson, J. P. (2015). "Misunderstood Marine Reptiles: Late Nineteenth-Century Artistic Reconstructions of Prehistoric Marine Life". Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science. 118: 53–67. doi:10.1660/062.118.0107. 
  7. ^ Mantell, Gideon A. (1851). Petrifications and their teachings: or, a handbook to the gallery of organic remains of the British Museum. London: H. G. Bohn. OCLC 8415138. 
  8. ^ Ross, R. M.; Duggan-Haas, D.; Allmon, W. D. (2013). "The Posture of Tyrannosaurus rex: Why Do Student Views Lag Behind the Science?". Journal of Geoscience Education. 61: 145. Bibcode:2013JGeEd..61..145R. doi:10.5408/11-259.1. 
  9. ^ Witton, M. P., Naish, D. and Conway, J. (2014). State of the Palaeoart. Palaeontologia Electronica Vol. 17, Issue 3; 5E: 10p
  10. ^ Lanzendorf PaleoArt Prize. Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. Retrieved on February 14, 2014.
  11. ^ International Dinosaur Illustration Contest

External links[edit]