Thursday, 25 August 2022

"Hawkinspunk" Spinosaurus

Fig. 1: Another cursed Spinosaurus reconstruction to rival Spinofaarus.

I have recently been reading through The Art and Science of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs by Mark Witton and Ellinor Michel. It is an excellent piece that I recommend everyone should buy and read, not only because it is expertly written and researched, but also because all proceeds will go to fund the Friends of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs.

While reading I learned a lot of new things about the nature of the fossils which informed the famous statues, as well as Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins’ methodology in reconstructing the creatures and building the models. But I also got inspired. Being quite a fan of “retroactive paleoart” or whatever you want to call it, I had an idea in my mind that I could not get out of it until I put pen to paper: What if another famous megalosauroid besides Megalosaurus was discovered back then and reconstructed along similar guidelines for the park?

Here I therefore present you Spinosaurus, how it may have been reconstructed had its fragmentary remains already been known to British paleontology in the 1850s (in reality the genus would not be described until 1915 by German paleontologist Ernst Stromer). 

Fig. 2: The fossil chimaera used to make fig. 1.

To make this drawing I actually first produced an erroneous, fragmentary skeletal of real fossil remains, which you see here. You will probably notice that some of these bones do not belong to Spinosaurus at all. While a bit exaggerated, this is in-keeping with the Crystal Palace models, as some of them are actually quite chimeric in nature. The Iguanodon statues are modelled after the fossils of several different iguanodonts, all of which are today not actually classified as Iguanodon proper anymore, but either as Barilium or Mantellisaurus (Witton & Ellinor 2022). The Hylaeosaurus restoration included not just Hylaeosaurus but also jaw-parts of an indeterminate stegosaur and sauropod teeth. The “labyrinthodonts” consist of remains from Mastodonsaurus and Bromsgrovia, a ctenosauriscid archosaur.

Fig. 3: Probably the oldest reconstruction of the Spinosaurus holotype, with known remains blacked out, made by Stromer in the 1930s for the Paläontologisches Museum München.

 

Fig. 4: Known remains (in grey) of Carcharodontosaurus saharicus.

In this spirit, I imagined our hypothetical 1850s-paleontologist cobbling together the bones of at least three different dinosaurs in order to provide a more complete basis for a reconstruction. Though they are all from the Bahariya Formation. With the limited knowledge of the complete dinosaur skeleton at the time and the common practice of taxonomic overlumping, they may therefore have been mistakenly assigned to all belong to the same animal. The lower jaw, the spinal column and the ribs all come from BSP 1912 VIII 19, the holotype of Spinosaurus aegyptiacus discovered by Stromer (which was unfortunately destroyed in the Second World War, but excellent sketches of it remain). The upper jaw/skull, pelvis and hindlimbs come from the holotype of Carcharodontosaurus saharicus. The large humerus (upper arm bone) comes from the holotype of the sauropod Paralititan, which may have been added in lieu of both theropod specimens lacking forelimbs. If you think this is ridiculous, marrying sauropod and theropod remains together has actually happened around this time. The Swiss sauropod today known as Amanzia greppini was originally named Megalosaurus meriani, as its large bones were found together with Ceratosaurus teeth, leading its describer to think it was a large predatory dinosaur (Greppin 1870). Since here we are in a mindframe where all dinosaurs were thought to have been quadrupeds, giving a theropod such a large forelimb would not seem unlikely.

Fig. 5: Owen’s original Megalosaurus skeletal (possibly the oldest skeletal of a dinosaur) for comparison. Note that it actually differs in many aspects from the statue in the Crystal Palace Geological Court.

The resulting animal looks like the lovechild of Hawkins’ Megalosaurus and a Ctenosauriscus or, alternatively, like a Dimetrodon on steroids. My choice of encasing the bottom of the sail in a sort of fleshy or muscly hump was based off the Hawkins dinosaurs also having muscular shoulder-humps similar to rhinos or bovines, which, with these large spines, may then be extended along the whole back. My positioning of the forelimbs admittedly ended up looking quite awkward, as I tried getting the whole animal into a horizontal posture while the large sauropod foreleg would probably force it more diagonally upward. All in all, though, I do think it ends up looking like a plausible animal which may have existed at some point had evolution gone a little differently.

Tell me what you think and if you maybe have suggestions for other “hawkinspunk” dinosaurs to draw.

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References:

  • Greppin, Jean-Baptiste: Description géologique du Jura bernois et de quelques districts adjacents, in: Matériaux pour la carte géologique de la Suisse, 8, 1870, p. 1–357.
  • Owen, Richard: Geology and Inhabitants of the Ancient World, London 1854 (Facsimile Edition).
  • Stromer, Ernst: Ergebnisse der Forschungsreisen Prof. E. Stromers in den Wüsten Ägyptens. II. Wirbeltierreste der Baharije-Stufe (unteres Cenoman), Dinosauria, in: Abhandlungen der Königlich Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften Mathematisch-naturwissenschaftliche Abteilung, 28, 1915, p. 1 – 32.
  • Stromer, Ernst: Wirbeltierereste der Baharijestufe (unterestes Canoman). Ein Skelett-Rest von Carcharodontosaurus nov. gen., in: Abhandlungen der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Mathematisch-naturwissenschaftliche Abteilung, 9, 1931, p. 1–23.
  • Witton, Mark & Ellinor, Michel: The Art and Science of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs, Ramsbury 2022.

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