Nightmare Mouths of The Permian

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Did you know that some prehistoric amphibians have terrifying teeth covering the entire roofs of their mouths?? Prehistoric monster teeth experts from the University of Toronto Bryan Gee, Yara Haridy and Dr. Robert Reisz have determined how the bizarre teeth covering the roof of the mouth of some prehistoric amphibians such as the chihuahua sized Cacops pictured above developed. It turns out, all of the thousands of tiny teeth these bizarre creatures used to capture and perforate their prey were made of the same ingredients as the teeth around the rim of their mouths, but bizarrely these teeth are not on the jaws, but rather on tiny plates of bone embedded in a flexible layer of tissue on the roof of the mouth. To make things extra nightmarish these tooth-carpets covered empty spaces in the roof of the mouth that their eyeballs would push down into when they swallowed, just like a modern frog. Except unlike a modern frog their eyeballs pushing into their skull would press the teeth down into the prey like a godawful amphibious iron maiden that can swallow you (if you’re a small animal).

ToothPlatesSkullUndersideLabeled

You can read and download their scientific paper for free here (shoutouts open access!)
https://peerj.com/articles/3727/
And you can check out the University’s official press release with a video of David Attenborough feeding a bug to a giant monkey frog (with psychadellic skin secretions btw).

One of the things that really hooked me (puns intended) into doing this quick reconstruction of this wondrous little horror from deep time was the environment. Mark MacDougall et al 2017 describe the strange depositional environment that the skeletons of the creatures pictured in my reconstruction were found in. Turns out these fossils were deposited in an ancient limestone cave system, and some of the skeletons were found with calcite cave formations grown into and around them!
Captorhinid skull with cave calcite growing around it!
It’s unclear at this point whether the animals were actually living in the upper parts of the cave and got trapped deeper down, as well as washed in by seasonal storms from some outside environment, but the area around these caves in the Permian would have been semiarid, so we thought it was reasonable to speculate that these armored amphibians would’ve been hiding amongst the limestone boulders and crevices that were likely found around the entrances to these caves.
CacopsPaleoEnviron
A few months back I just so happened to be exploring a similar modern environment in Nevada, where upthrust limestone has been eroded by water to form numerous caves of various sizes.
Caves
One of the things that struck me was how much cooler and more moist the caves were than the surrounding desert – even just a few feet within the entrance. I also found evidence of animals using the caves, from birds and small invertebrates to mountain goats and puma, who had littered the floor of one of the larger cave entrances I explored with a thick mat of goat poop and goat skeletons, one of which had been recently fed on by a puma.
CaveView
Thus I thought it would make sense to show a similar dynamic happening at the entrance to a small cave in the permian, with both predator and prey utilizing this uniquely productive micro ecological space to survive in a harsh desert environment…
Environ1

Just a reminder that if you are time traveling and exploring small limestone caves in Oklahoma about 289 million years ago, be careful when putting your hand into small crevices. A Cacops biting you would feel like the world’s slimiest/toothiest bear trap clamping down on your hand and mashing it’s toothy mouth-roof into your flesh by pulling in its damn eyeballs.

REFERENCES, YO:
Gee, Bryan M., Yara Haridy, and Robert R. Reisz. “Histological characterization of denticulate palatal plates in an Early Permian dissorophoid.” PeerJ 5 (2017): e3727

MacDougall, Mark J., et al. “The unique preservational environment of the Early Permian (Cisuralian) fossiliferous cave deposits of the Richards Spur locality, Oklahoma.” Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 475 (2017): 1-11.

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Valley of the Mastodons exhibit now open

SmashtodonsFINAL WebSIZED WM

Just last week the Valley of The Mastodons exhibit at the Western Science Center in Hemet CA opened, and it features my first paleoart mural. The mural depicts 2 full sized male Mastodons battling, and the older male on the right is based on the fossils of a Mastodon at the museum named “Max” who has several injuries to the right side of his jaw that are consistent with tusk strikes. The exhibit features more Mastodon fossil material on display than any Mstodon exhibit in the history of Mastodon exhibits and if you’re in southern California between now and early 2018 you should definitely check it out. After the Valley of the Mastodon exhibit closes, my mural will still be on display in the main gallery of the museum, right behind Max’s mounted skeleton.

MaxArtInGalleryMockup

I shot a bunch of reference footage and footage of me drawing/painting this mural which I plan on editing together as a video for my paleoart youtube page as soon as I can find the time.

SkullToDukeProgression

As always, supporting my art on Patreon enables me to do the best job I can on projects like this and also makes doing behind the scenes posts and videos possible, so consider kicking me a few bucks on there if you can spare it and want to help me make the best art I possibly can. As a thank you to my patrons 9″x18″ poster prints of this piece are now available to my top-tier supporters or any supporters who have had my back for a while and haven’t requested a free print from me recently. Thanks yall.

DGV2E-iVYAATeAm

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Earth Beasts Awaken update on patreon

TerrorsoarForUpdate

An in depth update on Earth Beasts Awaken is long overdue, and in the last couple months I’ve managed to make a little progress. A new practical effects behind the scenes update is now up on my patreon. Yeah, it’s for supporters only, but a measly $1 pledge gets you access to it and a gaggle of other exclusive content, and that buck helps me immensely to make progress on these ambitious and often difficult projects.

Thanks again to all of you who have supported my art in various ways over the years. I have not stopped. There is a small cauldron of historian projects (music & music videos) simmering over the old hungry fire as we speak. I will however be dedicating my time to paleoart again this summer and fall, as I have landed several huge commissions. More on those later.

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Aquilops Revisited

Ever since reconstructing Aquilops in 2014 I’ve been wanting to revisit it to explore another idea for it’s life mode and role in the ecology. Spurred by the request of Dr. Andrew Farke and Gabriel Santos to do a talk about making monsters and reconstructing prehistoric animals, I finally got around to illustrating this new interpretation. Check it out:

If you’d like to support my paleoart and my ability to keep making these videos, SUPPORT ME ON PATREON or purchase a poster print of either of these illustrations:





CrypticAquilopsWeb

And here’s my 2014 Boldly Displaying Aquilops (purchase button below):

Aquilops americanus a new species of basal ceratopsian dinosaur.

Aquilops americanus, a new species of basal ceratopsian dinosaur.

Click HERE for a “field guide” to everything in the above image.

Buy a 12″x18″ poster print here:





Also, subscribe to the Alf Museum’s Youtube page for a video of the talk I gave at the museum on this art.

Oh! And Support the Utahraptor Project here:
http://utahraptors.utahpaleo.org/

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The Dinosaurs of Copper Ridge

Be sure to subscribe to my new paleoart youtube channel and I hope you’ll help make future videos possible by purchasing poster of my illustrations:

Copper Ridge Diplodocus

Copper Ridge Diplodocus

Copper Ridge Diplodocus


Purchase a 9″x18″ (22.86 x 45.72cm) poster print of my copper ridge DIPLODOCUS illustration. Posters are $20 each and the price includes shipping within the US. International orders will be contaced to arrange payment for additional shipping costs.





Copper Ridge Allosaurus
Not to spoil the reveal, but here is the other illustration I did for the Copper Ridge Dinosaur Tracksite. It depicts an Allosaurus and it will be the focus of my next youtube video on the site.

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Purchase a 9″x18″ (22.86 x 45.72cm) poster print of my copper ridge ALLOSAURUS illustration. Posters are $20 each and the price includes shipping within the US. International orders will be contaced to arrange payment for additional shipping costs.





Also, for a limited time I’m offering copies of my 2016 Paleoart Portfolio ONLY to Patreon supporters. Pledge $20 to receive a copy (you can edit or delete your pledge after your first month), and if you send me a message saying you’re willing to support me for 2 months or more at $20 I will draw your favourite prehistoric creature (heck, or living animal if you prefer) in the incover of your book.

Artbook CoverArtbookIncoverArtbookOpen2

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New Paleoart Youtube Page

In order to grow the audience and confuse Youtube’s algorithms less I have created a new youtube page specifically for paloeart, natural history and wildlife videos. Basically I just realized I have a TON of footage on my hard drives that I’ve shot of various plants and animals and environments which I frequently reference or draw inspiration from for paleoart and other projects. So I figured I’d put it to use to help communicate the science that went into my various paleoart pieces as well as promote my art etc. Here are the first two videos in what I intend on making a fairly regular thing. I hope you’ll subscribe to the page: http://www.youtube.com/DinosaursReanimated

These videos were made possible by support from my Patreon supporters. You can find my patreon page (stocked with a lot of top secret stuff you can’t see anywhere else) here:
http://www.patreon.com/historianhimself

Thanks for the support yall. Let me know what you think.

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2016 Director’s Reel

A long overdue update of my reel featuring some of my more recent projects…

The narrative is from an audio short story that supplements Gather Bones, and is available for download to my patreon supporters.

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Paleoart timelapses

I’m working on some art for some more interpretive trail signage in Utah commissioned by Rebecca Hunt-Foster and I’ve been shooting time lapses of the process for my patreon page.

If you enjoy my work and aren’t already supporting me on patreon, I hope you’ll consider it. For only $1 a month you get access to a raft of behind the scenes content, exclusive downloads and first looks, and I’ll be adding more in the coming months.

Big thanks to those of you who do support my art. Don’t hesitate to let me know what you think about the bonus conent I’ve been posting & if there’s anything else you’d like to see!!

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2015 in Review

2015 was a busy year. Here’s some of the stuff I finished during our last rotation around the sun…

Sort of as an experiment in minimalism, I made this music video for a track in collaboration with beatmaker BLAQ MASQ

I also recorded several other verses for musical collaborations, such as this one (the others have yet to be released):

I also designed and animated several minutes of animation for a TV documentary about viking mythology. Here’s a short clip of some of my animation. I plan on assembling all of it as a standalone short as soon as I can find the time:

On the front lines of paleoart, I launched the #buildabetterfaketheropod hashtag along with a pile of art poking fun at the dinosaurs/science of some dinosaur movie that came out this year and was sorta big.
FTCryponychusWeb

Somewhere around that same time I went out to Moab Utah to photograph and explore the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trackway, which I then created an illustration of for an interpretive sign commissioned by Utah BLM Paleontologist Rebecca Hunt-Foster.

MCDTPaleoscape-MediaSauropod

Later that summer I traveled out to Utah again to participate in my first paleontological field expedition, again with ReBecca Hunt-Foster, her husband John Foster, Sharon McMullen, Mikey Schiltz and Matt Wedel to survey a newly discovered secret site, cluttered with mid mesozoic dinosaur fossils and giant petrified trees! That was awesome. But I can’t say more because it’s all still super secret and I’d be beheaded in sacrifice to our great archosaur overlords if I said any more.

Sometime after I got back from that trip I did these two drawings for an upcoming paper on Apatosaur combat I’m a coauthor on with Matt Wedel, Mike Taylor and Darren Naish.
Apato neck shove matchApato neck smash!

I then finished a mixtape of new raps about fighting you with animals in the jungle called JUNGLECAT TECHNIQUE, and a new self produced album called Gather Bones. If you like my music, I hope you’ll consider supporting it on bandcamp.

wise men

Also at some point I did this reconstruction of an early Cretaceous angiosperm called Frenelopsis for Nathan Jud’s paper re-describing the taxa:
TenontoFrenelopsisWebBoosted

And I also did a bunch of drawings and concept art for Earth Beasts Awaken part 3, and a pile of sketches as rewards for my Patreon supporters, many of which can be seen in the photo galleries over on the historian facebook page
Cavern Glower

And now (like right now) I’m working on another illustrated sign for another Utah BLM dinosaur trackway site commissioned by ReBecca Hunt-Foster. I’m not going to share it right now though, because you have to support me on Patreon to see the behind the scenes stuff that isn’t finished yet, as well as special bonus content videos like this B-reel footage of the Snow Painter creature from Earth Beasts Awaken part 1 that I put together for my new Patreon supporters:

For those of you who have supported my work by buying art, making a donation or just sharing and hyping the hell out of it, thanks for the support!!!

Oh yeah, and I also put a ton of art up on my new Redbubble store, so you can even support my art by rockin’ it in the forms of various interdimensional style armors!!

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Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trackway

As some of you know, I’ve been doing paleo art work in addition to finishing albums and developing the next Earth Beasts Awaken videos, and I’m excited to finally announce my most recently finished paleo project: an illustration of the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trackway commissioned by Utah BLM Paleontologist Rebecca Hunt-Foster for an interperetive trail sign overlooking the dinosaur trackways near Moab Utah. Here it is on site.

Photo by Rebecca Hunt-Foster

Photo by Rebecca Hunt-Foster

The printed sign you see above is pretty big, 30″x36″ (about a square meter), and the tracks drawn in my illustration had to match the view from where the sign was placed. So the finished illustration had to be really really detailed. In addition to that, the trackway preserves a huge number of footprints from an awesome diversity of animals – at least ten different kinds of footprints and other traces are present – and ReBecca wanted me to depict as many of these animals as possible without making the composition seem to unnaturally crowded, as the animals weren’t likely all there at the same time. Oh, and just to make things extra difficult, basically no good skeletal fossils are known from the same strata as the footprints (the Ruby Ranch member of the Cedar Mountain Formation – Early Cretaceous), so the animals all had to be reconstructed based on close relatives and specimens known from strata a few million years older or younger. All in all this illustration represents my largest, most challenging illustration to date.

Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trackway Paleoscape by Brian Engh

Extravagant Iguanodonts and distant large TheropodEarly NodosaurSauropod and ornithomimids

You can buy a 12″x18″ Print of my illustration here for $25. Price includes shipping within the US. International buyers will be contacted to arrange additional payment through paypal.





In order to reconstruct the panoramic view in my illustration so that it would match the real-life view from where the sign is now placed I had to go to Utah and photograph the site. So I drove out there and camped nearby, and visited the site multiple times a day for 3 days in order to figure out when the best time of day the sunlight was best for viewing the tracks. I found that sunrise was not only the best time to view the tracks, it was goddamn gorgeous and revealed details to me I would’ve never noticed other times of day when the light was higher. So I shot this panorama of the trackway at sunrise, and Rebecca and her husband John Foster (also a Paleontologist) and even their daughter Ruby paced out the best preserved tracks in front of the camera so I could later trace them over my panorama image, which is how I made trackway “field guide” that’s under the main illustration on the sign.

Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trackway Panorama (pre-Boardwalk)

Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trackway Panorama (pre-Boardwalk)

Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trackway Field Guide

Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trackway Field Guide

The other reason I was there was to try and make some sense of this intensely complex site and to try to figure out what, of all of it, would be the focus of my illustration. In the process of checking out the site I noticed so many awesome little details that I simply can’t write about it all here, so for now here’s a gallery of some of my favourite tracks:

ornithopod slipsauropod manus with thumb clawSauropod back foot with ridgesThe big theropodBig theropod overprinted by sauropodTurtle crawlgorgeous ornithomimid tracksFatty Ankylosaur Stomper (pes)

But even after visiting the site, walking that ancient lakeshore, searching for details which might give a clue as to what was really going on there, I still found myself perplexed. What was this environment? Why were the tracks of a huge diversity of animals exquisitely preserved there, while no recognizeable plant fossils could be found anywhere nearby? What were all the big plant eaters eating? Fortunately renowned Paleontologists Dr. Jim Kirkland and Dr. Ken Carpenter offered me some great input, along with Elizabeth Montgomery, a graduate student working on the geochemistry of the ancient lake, and with their guidance the look of the lake and the surrounding landscape began to take shape. Ken and Jim explained most patiently to me that the tectonic activity in the area hadn’t yet produced any mountain ranges or big rock outcrops that would be visible in the background as they are in modern times, but the tectonics further west did play a role in forming the lake. It appears that the lake was in a foreland basin, which is basically the gradually sloping wash of sediments that forms behind a mountain range that’s being pushed up by tectonic activity.

ForelandBasinSystem

The lake, it appears, was the lowest point for many miles around, and at around 20 miles in length was likely the largest body of permanent water in the area. The ancient sediments in the area indicate a fairly arid environment, perhaps something like the dry open savannah in modern east-central Africa, which might explain why animals were converging on the shore of the lake. Perhaps most interesting though, is that Elizabeth’s geochemical analysis indicates that the lake was likely semi-saline with a unique alkaline water chemistry that caused it to precipitate dolomite, which is basically dissolved limestone, and that combo of dolomites and clay and algae on the shore of the lake made for a particularly resilient concrete-like mud that baked in the desert sun as the lake’s water level dropped, then became harder than the surrounding stone when it was eventually buried in sand by a big flood. According to Elizabeth’s work, there are only two lakes today with a similar water chemistry to that ancient Dinosaur lake: Lake Changara in the altiplano of Chile, and Bosten Lake in China.

Llamas grazing near the inflow to Changara Lake in Chile - Wikipedia commons

Llamas grazing near the inflow to Changara Lake in Chile – Wikipedia commons

Both of these lakes have something really interesting ecologically going on. Despite being semi-saline, lots of animals visit the part of the lake where fresh water flows into it, because the fresh water pushes a lot of the salt and lime deeper into the lake. The fresh water and rich nutrients mixing also support a profusion of soft water plants and algae, which feed various animals (and which may not fossilize readily). Intriguingly, while tracing the layer of rock that forms the lake shore I got the distinct impression that there may have been an inflow channel just alongside the most concentrated area of dinosaur tracks and crocodile slides…

Water lillies (early cretaceous!) and reeds (post mesozoic) near the inflow of Bosten Lake, China

Water lillies (early cretaceous!) and reeds (post mesozoic) near the inflow of Bosten Lake, China

Could it have been that the animals were converging on the one spot where they could find fresh water and perhaps even some aquatic salad during the dry season? While we may never know every detail of this ancient lake’s ecology and geology, it’s nonetheless awesome to be able to visit a place where you can still see the very specific movements of individual animals that lived and died over a hundred million years before our time, recorded in the landscape before you. I strongly encourage any of you who might happen to visit Moab Utah to check out the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trackway. I don’t think you’ll be dissapointed by all the work ReBecca and a handful of other paleoartists including Mark Witton and Jeffrey Martz and BLM staff put into the interperetive trail around the site, and if you’re tuned into the landscape and what it’s telling you, I gaurantee you’ll be blown away by some of the things you’ll see recorded in the mud of that ancient lakeshore…

Big pencil drawing wiht iguanodon thumbs up for scale

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