Recreating an Age of Reptiles by Mark Witton

I was lucky enough to receive a PDF version of Mark Witton’s new palaeoart book, Recreating an Age of Reptiles, so I could review it. Before getting started, in full disclosure I will mention that Mark and I are good friends, and (much to my surprise!) my name even appears in the acknowledgements… so you may ignore anything I write.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, I would give this book a triple (!) thumbs up. First of all, he self-published this book using Lulu, meaning at just £25, this book is exceedingly affordable. The images look great, and I’m sure in printed form they are even better. Witton himself is a qualified palaeontologist who specialises on pterosaurs, but he is also a successful palaeoartist, and as such, every image in this book was produced by him. The premise of this book is pretty much as the name implies: a way of visually recreating the Mesozoic, AKA the Age of Reptiles, but not limited to reptiles. He reconstructs a large number of animals that lived during this time period, showcasing the diversity of both morphology and behaviours, as well as the environments and landscapes of this time, all over the world. Looking at everything from invertebrates (ammonites) to predatory dinosaurs, to mammals, and of course to pterosaurs, we get a unique view of what life may have looked like during the Mesozoic. Some posts are more based on scientific finds that are more uncontroversial (like the image of Machairoceratops which accompanied the recent description of the genus) while others are a bit more to the artist’s discretion (e.g. the dromaeosaur Achillobatar, known only from a pelvis).

Each image is accompanied by a description of the story behind the painting. Why did he make this painting? What evidence supports the claims made? Why did he do it that way instead of another way? These are all answered including images that were commissioned for scientific discoveries or individuals, and images that he just fancied making. The descriptions are often detailed, and in my opinion, sometimes too detailed. There are times that I would say I would like a bit less writing and a bit more painting – show me more pretty pictures! But I would say that’s the only thing I’d like different. Oh and the scientist in me wishes sometimes there were citations, but I recognise this isn’t a scientific book, so I guess I’ll forgive him.

In conclusion, I’d recommend anyone interested in palaeoart and understanding how palaeoart is developed to purchase this book. Personally, one thing I love about Witton’s artwork is that as he is also a palaeontologist himself, I don’t feel the need to double check the scientific accuracy of his work. If I need an image to accompany some research in a presentation, I know that his will be accurate, to the best of his ability, and there won’t be silly inaccuracies. I also know that he is generally happy for people to use his artwork in things like presentations as long as you ask him first and remember to credit him.

Many of his paintings could be argued as speculative, but I would argue they are unique and pushing the boundary. Why should all tyrannosaurs be reconstructed roaring with their big teeth showing or theropods all in a bloody fight? I love that not a single tooth is visible in the whole section on Tyrannosaurus. Why shouldn’t we show images of dinosaurs fighting common phenomena like fires or storms? Or curious juveniles? This is one of my favourite things about the artwork in this book. It is different and unique, and that’s what I love. There are a few things that I think are lacking a bit, like marine animals, but he does explain that a bit. I look forward to seeing more marine reptiles in the future! Also pointed out in another review, is a saddening lack of thyreophorans. I’d love to see some ankylosaurs by Witton. Maybe next time? But my 2 favourite dinosaurs are also missing – Carnotaurus (which I know Mark has painted in the past), and pachycephalosaurs. How about a little Stegoceras? Or maybe a Pachycephalosaurus? I’d really love to see some thick-headed dinos as I feel they are a bit underrepresented in the palaeoart scene…

Below are just a few of my personal favourites from the book.

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Eotyrannus looking for prey on the outskirts of a fire.
Yearling Allosaurus Witton low res
Yearling Allosaurus looking curiously at some prey. I think this image captures how you may imagine a young dinosaur to behave.
Sordes 2015 Witton low res
The pterosaur Sordes investigating a large snail. I love the colour and stance of this picture, and the curiosity of the little pterosaur.
Pachyrhinosaurus 2015 low res Witton
As my first ever research project, ceratopsians are still close to my heart. This “wooly” Pachyrhinosaurus is controversial due to the fact that there is no evidence they had any kind of hair-like covering. What I really like about this image is that it’s a less traditional view of dinosaurs living in a sandy, dry area, and shows that some did indeed live in colder, more polar latitudes and likely encountered snow.
Morganucodon 2015 Witton low res
And because we need a furry mammaliaform too… here’s Morganucodon, an early mammaliaform that I’ve also had the pleasure of working with!
Scleromochlus Witton web quality
This is one of my all-time favourite images of Witton’s, and in fact I own a print of it… This shows a few Scleromochlus, a possible pterosaurian ancestor, hopping around in the light of the moon. I love the colours and the plants and the hopping little dudes. So awesome.

All images found in this post are in Recreating an Age of Reptiles and are copyright of Mark Witton. If you want to know more about the book or about Mark, check out his blog post. And don’t forget to buy your copy today! Another thing I particularly liked was discovering an image that Mark produced for a paper that we have just had accepted, so it’s entirely new, and exciting. When that paper comes out, I will talk more about it 🙂

Edit: I should add that despite having read it already, I do plan on buying the physical copy at some point. Perhaps once I get paid… And if I’m lucky, I can get one of those editions that Mark occasionally sells which is signed. You can too if you pay attention to the Lulu store. He’ll even draw a picture for you!

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