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Champsosaurus: The Croc-Lizard of the Cretaceous

When most people hear the words “aquatic reptile”, they usually think of two things: turtles and crocodilians. Some clever people might mention sea snakes, and others might mention marine iguanas. Those who are keen on impressing you may bring up some obscure species like the water monitor, the basilisk lizard, and other species of snakes which venture into water.

In prehistoric times, the list of options that you could choose from was much more expansive. In fact, there were animals around then which aren’t around today which fit into this category. One such group of prehistoric water-going reptiles was known as the “choristoderans” (pronounced as Kore-RISS-toe-DEER-rans).

The choristoderans were a group of semi-aquatic reptiles which lived during the Mesozoic Era. Although not as well-known as other non-dinosaurian reptiles of the Mesozoic such as pterosaurs and ichthyosaurs, they nevertheless shared their environments with dinosaurs for a span of approximately 110 million years and even survived the dinosaur extinction. Choristoderans first appeared during the middle of the Jurassic Period about 175 MYA. The oldest-known genus which is recognizably a choristoderan was Cteniogenys, which measured just one and a half feet long and was very lizard-like in appearance. In life, it probably resembled a small monitor lizard and it likely filled a similar ecological niche. However, the heyday for the choristoderans occurred during the early Cretaceous Period from about 144 to 100 MYA, after which they went into decline. They were fortunate to survive the K-T Extinction, but they were always second fiddle to their crocodile neighbors. Most of the surviving species went extinct about 50 MYA, with the remainder just barely hanging on. The last of the choristoderans completely went extinct around 20 MYA.

The choristoderans belonged to a group of vertebrates called the “diapsids”, meaning that they had two holes in their skull behind each eye socket. Lizards, snakes, crocodilians, pterosaurs, dinosaurs, and birds are all classified as diapsids.

At first glance, choristoderans might be mistaken for crocodiles. However, despite their crocodile-like appearance, they are more closely related to lizards than to crocodiles, at least according to a study made by Mike Lee in 2013 (“Turtle origins: insights from phylogenetic retrofitting and molecular scaffolds”). Their placement in the reptile tree is primarily based upon the structure and arrangement of their ear bones, which is more advanced than those seen in lizards but not as advanced as those seen in crocodilians and birds. Also, the skulls of choristoderans are structurally more lizard-like than crocodilian.

The order Choristodera is divided into four families: Champsosauridae, Hyphalosauridae, Monjurosuchidae, and Simoedosauridae. The more primitive the species, the more lizard-like it is in form. The more derived, then the more crocodilian it is in appearance. The most primitive choristoderans were the monjurosuchids, which looked similar to the modern-day Water Monitor Lizard (Varanus salvator). Even at this early stage in their development, there is fossil evidence that some species like Monjurosuchus possessed webbed fingers and toes. Already, they were adapted to living a semi-aquatic lifestyle.

Skeleton of Monjurosuchus splendens, a primitive choristoderan from China. Photograph by Jonathan Chen (June 13, 2019). Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Monjurosuchus-Beijing_Museum_of_Natural_History.jpg

Even more advanced were the hyphalosaurids, which bear a remarkable resemblance to the earlier nothosaurs and thalattosaurs of the Triassic Period. Form tends to follow function in evolution, and these creatures almost certainly led a similar lifestyle. The act of species from completely different groups evolving into more-or-less the same shape is called “convergent evolution”.

The champsosaurids and the simoedosaurids are the most crocodile-like in appearance, and together they form the super-family Neochoristodera. Like crocodiles, these creatures were almost certainly living as shallow-water ambush predators, fitted with long slender jaws lined with small conical teeth. Like modern-day gharials, they may have been primarily or even exclusively fish-eaters.

Probably the most famous choristoderan genus was Champsosaurus (pronounced as CHAMP-so-SORE-us). It first appeared about 90 MYA during the Turonian Stage of the late Cretaceous Period, persisted through the K-T Extinction, and finally went extinct during the Paleocene Epoch of the Tertiary Period about 56 MYA. Impressive. Most genera don’t last that long.

Champsosaurus was named by the famed paleontologist Edward D. Cope in the year 1877. Despite not having an easily-recognizable name (most members of the general public have likely never heard of it), it has been rigorously studied by paleontologists ever since then. For example, three academic articles were published about it just in the year 2010, and another article was recently published in April 2020. So, from an academic standpoint, interest in this animal has been pretty consistent.

There are seven species which have been ascribed to the genus Champsosaurus. Most of them measured 5 feet long or thereabouts, but the largest, which was appropriately named Champsosaurus gigas, reached 10 feet long. Most Champsosaurus fossils have been found in south-central Canada and the north-central United States within rocks dated to the late Cretaceous Period from 90 to 66 MYA, but a few have also been found in Belgium and northern France in rocks dated to the Tertiary Period.

Champsosaurus skeleton from Montana, USA on display in the Royal Ontario Museum. Photograph by Daderot (November 21, 2011). Public domain image, Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Champsosaurus_sp.,_Montana,_USA,_Late_Cretaceous_-_Royal_Ontario_Museum_-_DSC00088.JPG.


Upper jaw of Champsosaurus, above view (left) and underside view (right). The skull’s length measures about 13 inches. Illustration by Samuel W. Williston. From The Osteology of the Reptiles (1925). Public domain image, Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Osteology_of_the_Reptiles_p76.png.

Champsosaurus appears to have been able to tolerate both freshwater and saltwater environments. Fossils of a species called Champsosaurus laramiensis have been found in rocks from the Fox Hills Formation, a geological layer which represents a coastal or estuary environment on the edge of the Western Interior Sea. Fossils of mosasaurs and dinosaurs including Tyrannosaurus have also been found in these rocks.

Preserved skin impressions show that, unlike many lizards, choristoderans like Champsosaurus did NOT have overlapping scales. Instead, the skin consisted of tiny non-overlapping scales, with no crocodile-like dorsal scutes, giving it a very smooth-skinned appearance when seen from a distance.

Unlike crocodiles, which have their nostrils on the top of their upper jaw, Champsosaurus had its nostrils on the front tip of its upper jaw. Perhaps they would use their long nose like a snorkel, sticking just the tip out of the water’s surface in order to stay as concealed as possible.

Champsosaurus had a pair of long thin gharial-like jaws lined with tiny conical teeth. Because of its close affinity towards lizards than to crocodiles, it is highly likely that Champsosaurus had lips and a fully enclosed mouth. But that’s just speculation based upon phylogenic relationships to other reptiles. In terms of hard physical evidence, the teeth themselves are quite small, and are inset from the edge of the jawline rather than standing on the rim of the jaw like a crocodile. This suggests that Champsosaurus had lips covering its teeth like a lizard, unlike crocodiles which don’t have lips.

Compared with crocodilians, the eye sockets of choristoderans are positioned much further forwards on the skull, located halfway or two-thirds of the way back from the tip of the snout. This provides more space for jaw muscles, and the temporal fenestrae (the holes in the back of the skull that accommodate the jaw muscles) were very large in proportion with skull size. Champsosaurus, in particular, had very large temporal fenestrae, which indicates that it had strong jaw muscles and could quickly snap its mouth shut within a fraction of a second – an important adaptation if your diet consists primarily of small fish.

Unlike lizards, Champsosaurus might not have had external ears. Analysis of its skull structure shows that Champsosaurus had internal ears, similar to turtles. This is an important adaptation if you are spending much of your life in the water. Therefore, you would not have seen a pair of ear holes on a Champsosaurus head. Instead, there likely just would have been a slight depression (or maybe not even that) on the side of the head marking where the tympanum (the part of the ear that vibrates in order to make a sound) would have been.

If you spend much of your life in the water, walking really isn’t an issue. Therefore, the limbs of choristoderans are not well-developed. In fact, the more “advanced” the species, the weaker its limb bones appear to be. Champsosaurus is no exception to this – its legs are downright puny in comparison with its body. The bones that make up the arms and legs are short and stumpy, and the hands and feet are small, although the feet are noticeably bigger than the hands. The fingers and toes are thin and end with very tiny claws. This was an animal that would have had a hard time pushing itself onto land. However, there is some evidence that females had more robustly-built limbs than the males due to the need to haul themselves onto land in order to lay their eggs.

The tail of Champsosaurus was flattened, and looked more like that of a crocodile or even a mosasaur than to a lizard. Even so, this animal was definitely not a power-swimmer. If it was, then one would expect the tail to be both longer and broader. Instead, the tail seems to be peculiarly under-developed. Keep in mind, though, that this was likely not an animal that was actively chasing after its prey. If all it was doing was hunkering down on the bottom of a lake or river and waiting motionless for fish to carelessly swim by, then it doesn’t need a well-built tail that’s designed for plowing through the water.

Skeleton of Champsosaurus laramiensis. From “The Osteology of Champsosaurus”, by Barnum Brown (1905). Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History, volume 9, part 1. Public domain image. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Large_williston_champsosaurus.jpg.

Below is a drawing made of Champsosaurus laramiensis drifting about in a murky pond or stream somewhere in Montana during the late Cretaceous Period. This five-foot-long piscivore would have shared this environment with alligators, crocodiles, turtles, large freshwater fish like gars, sturgeons, and bowfins, and of course dinosaurs like Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus. The drawing was made with No.2 pencil on printer paper.

Anyways, keep your pencils sharp.

July 15 – The Equitum Romanorum Probatio and the Lusus Troiae: The Public Exhibitions of the Ancient Roman Knightly Class

July 15 was the date for the Equitum Romanorum Probatio, “the Roman Knight Exhibition”. This event commemorated the anniversary of the Battle of Lake Regillus, in which the Roman Republic fought against its Latin neighbors during the 300s BC. Legend states that the divine twins Castor and Pollux fought on the Romans’ side, and under their inspirational leadership, led them to victory over their enemies. Afterwards when the battle was won, they rode back to Rome and informed the citizens of their victory. Ever since then, Castor and Pollux served as the mascots of the Roman knightly class.

As the Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus relates…

“It is said that in this battle two men on horseback, far excelling in both beauty and stature those our human stock produces, and just growing their first beard, appeared to Postumius, the dictator, and to those arrayed about him, and charged at the head of the Roman horse, striking with their spears all the Latins they encountered and driving them headlong before them. And after the flight of the Latins and the capture of their camp, the battle having come to an end in the late afternoon, two youths are said to have appeared in the same manner in the Roman Forum attired in military garb, very tall and beautiful and of the same age, themselves retaining on their countenances as having come from a battle, the look of combatants, and the horses they led being all in a sweat. And when they had each of them watered their horses and washed them at the fountain which rises near the temple of Vesta and forms a small but deep pool, and many people stood about them and inquired if they brought any news from the camp, they related how the battle had gone and that the Romans were the victors. And it is said that after they left the Forum they were not seen again by anyone, though great search was made for them by the man who had been left in command of the city. The next day, when those at the head of affairs received the letters from the dictator, and besides the other particulars of the battle, learned also of the appearance of the divinities, they concluded, as we may reasonably infer, that it was the same gods who had appeared in both places, and were convinced that the apparitions had been those of Castor and Pollux. Of this extraordinary and wonderful appearance of these gods there are many monuments at Rome, not only the temple of Castor and Pollux which the city erected in the Forum at the place where their apparitions had been seen, and the adjacent fountain, which bears the names of these gods and is to this day regarded as holy, but also the costly sacrifices which the people perform each year through their chief priests in the month called Quintilis, on the day known as the Ides, the day on which they gained this victory” (1).

The first Equitum Romanorum Probatio was held in 304 BC, and was established by Quintus Fabius Rullianus. As the Roman historian Titus Livius (more commonly known by his Anglicized name Livy) states, “It was [Quintus] Fabius…who instituted the parade of the knights on the fifteenth of July” (2). As many as 5,000 mounted knights participated in the festivities. In a lavish parade, all of the knights with olive wreathes garlanding their heads rode white horses caprissoned in red and purple. The parade route lay along the Via Appia, travelling from the Temple of Mars, riding past the Temple of Castor and Pollux, and finally ending at the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline Hill.

“There is the procession performed after the sacrifice by those who have a public horse and who, being arrayed by tribes and centuries, ride in regular ranks on horseback, as if they came from battle, crowned with olive branches and attired in the purple robes with stripes of scarlet which they call trabeae. They begin their procession from a certain temple of Mars built outside the walls, and going through several parts of the city and the Forum, they pass by the temple of Castor and Pollux, sometimes to the number even of five thousand, wearing whatever rewards for valour in battle they have received from their commanders, a fine sight and worthy of the greatness of the Roman dominion. These are the things I have found both related and performed by the Romans in commemoration of the appearance of Castor and Pollux; and from these, as well as from many other important instances, one may judge how dear to the gods were the men of those times” (3).

This festival gradually fell into obscurity, but was eventually brought back by Caesar Augustus as part of his numerous ways to bring favor to the Equestrian Order.

Another event which is somewhat related to the Equitum Romanorum Probatio was known as the Lusus Troiae, “Playing at Troy”. The ancient Roman calendar had many days which were dedicated to sporting events, including chariot races and athletic sports. However, unlike other major sporting events, the Lusus Troiae did not occur on a fixed calendar date. In fact, there were some years when it didn’t occur at all. This was an event that usually took place in association with another major event such as the dedication of a major temple, a triumphal parade, or the funerals of important government officials (4).

Roman tradition holds that this festival was first held by Prince Aeneas, the former Trojan Prince who fled to Italy following his home city’s fall to the Greeks. In the Aeneid, the poet Virgil states that it was held in commemoration of the funeral of Prince Aeneas’ father Anchises (5).

As files in the three squadrons all in line
Turned away, cantering left and right; recalled
They wheeled and dipped their lances for a charge.
They entered then on parades and counter-parades,
The two detachments, matched in the arena,
Winding in and out of one another,
And whipped into sham cavalry skirmishes
By baring backs in flight, then whirling round
With leveled points, then patching up a truce
And riding side by side. So intricate
In ancient times on mountainous Crete they say
The Labyrinth, between walls in the dark,
Ran criss-cross a bewildering thousand ways
Devised by guile, a maze insoluble,
Breaking down every clue to the way out.
So intricate the drill of Trojan boys
Who wove the patterns of their prancing horses,
Figured, in sport, retreats and skirmishes.

 – The Aeneid, 5.580-593. Translation by Robert Fitzgerald. (6)

It’s certainly possible that this event has archaic origins, since an Etruscan vase found in Tragliatella, Italy dated to the late 7th Century BC depicts what might be a portrayal of this festival. You can see this vase here. This event fell into obscurity for some time during the middle republican period. Then, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who served as the Roman Republic’s military dictator during the 80s and 70s BC, brought back this festival after a long period of dormancy. As Rome was further consumed by civil wars during the late republican period, Julius Caesar ordered the games to be held as part of his victory triumph in 46 BC. Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa also sponsored the Lusus Troiae in the years 40 and 33 BC (7).

It was during the early imperial period, and specifically during the reign of Rome’s first emperor Caesar Augustus that the Lusus Troiae had its heyday. Caesar Augustus was an enthusiastic sponsor of the games. He first held the games in 29 BC to commemorate the dedication of a temple to Julius Caesar (8). The games were held again in 11 BC to mark the dedication of Marcellus’ theater. As Cassius Dio says, “He (Augustus) next dedicated the theatre named after Marcellus. In the course of the festival held for this purpose the patrician boys, including his grandson Gaius, performed the equestrian exercise called ‘Troy,’ and six hundred wild beasts from Africa were slain” (9). The event was always held in the Circus Maximus, where, according to Suetonius, Caesar Augustus “exhibited charioteers, runners, and slayers of wild animals, who were sometimes young men of the highest rank. Besides he gave frequent performances of the game of Troy by older and younger boys, thinking it a time-honoured and worthy custom for the flower of the nobility to become known in this way. When Nonius Asprenas was lamed by a fall while taking part in this game, he presented him with a golden necklace and allowed him and his descendants to bear the surname Torquatus. But soon after he gave up that form of entertainment, because Asinius Pollio the orator complained bitterly and angrily in the senate of an accident to his grandson Aeserninus, who also had broken his leg” (10).

After Augustus’ death, this ritual was performed very rarely. There do not seem to have been any circumstances in which the games were conducted under Augustus’ successor Emperor Tiberius. The games were once again performed in 38 AD during the reign of Gaius Caligula to mark both the dedication of a temple to Caesar Augustus as well as the funeral of his sister Drusilla. During the reign of Claudius, it was held in 47 AD to mark the 800th anniversary of the founding of Rome by the divine twins Romulus and Remus. After this it was performed rarely and sporadically, and it gradually fell out of favor with later monarchs of the Julio-Claudian Dynasty. We know that it was held in 204 and again in 211 AD in conjunction with the funeral of Emperor Septimius Severus (11).

What exactly happened during these events? All of the ancient sources agree that the Lusus Troiae was primarily an equestrian exhibition in which only young men of the Equestrian Order could participate, but aside from that, there isn’t much to go on, and this has caused disputes amongst scholars of ancient history. One of the problems is that this event was performed only on special occasions as opposed to a fixed date, be it every year or every few years. Another problem is the historical records can be misleading regarding the purpose behind this event.

In the Aeneid, Virgil describes the Lusus Troiae as pugnae simulacra, “a simulation of fighting”. This has given some a false impression of what this event entailed. On the face of it, the term that Virgil uses may evoke images of an ancient Roman version of a medieval tournament. However, there is no evidence of athletic competitions between the knights like you would see at a medieval tournament or any other horse-related shows: no fence-jumping, no ring-spearing, no javelin throwing, no jousting, no foot combat, nothing. Furthermore, if this truly was some sort of martial exhibition which was meant as a way for the young men of Rome’s knightly class to demonstrate their skills and show off to the crowds, why not make such an event a regular mandatory occurrence? Some other explanation is needed.

The physical evidence provided in the 7th Century BC Etruscan vase found in Tragliatella, Italy is just as perplexing. The design upon it might show one of the contests held during these festivities – riding the horse through an elaborate maze-like racetrack, full of curves and tight hair-pin turns. This “labyrinth” is referenced several times in secondary interpretations, with some claiming that it’s a track or perhaps an exercise performed by the riders to dexterously weave their horses in and out of various obstacles. However, it would appear that this “labyrinth” is not a prepared obstacle course or trotting course, but rather described the elaborate evolutions of the horsemen weaving in and out amongst each other as part of the spectacle (12).

Several hypotheses have been proposed by modern scholars as to what exactly the Lusus Troiae was, some sensible and others perplexing. Mark Petrini says that the purpose of the games was to prepare the youth of Rome’s knightly class for war, while John Scheid and Jesper Svenbro state that the purpose of the games ostensibly appeared to have been to put the knightly youth of Rome through their paces in a public exercise, but also contained deep-rooted symbolism, and David Ross elaborates on this by saying that the event changed from a commemorative funeral procession to being an event of high nationalistic importance to the Roman culture (13).

It would therefore appear that the most likely explanation of the Lusus Troiae would be that it was an elaborate dressage exhibition with synchronized movements of multiple groups of horsemen, their riders armed and armored for battle and making deliberate flourished choreographed motions with their weapons. This does not bear the description of an athletic exhibition, but rather of a scripted theatrical performance. It has even been described as an ancient Roman version of a war dance or a militarized ballet performance. It is most similar to the pyrrhiche, or Pyrrhic Dance, which was “a Greek choral dance performed by young men with weapons and full armor” (14). The major difference between the ancient Greek pyrrhiche and the ancient Roman Lusus Troiae was that the participants performed on horseback (15).

The Equitum Romanorum Probatio was a public exhibition of horsemanship by Rome’s knightly class. By contrast, the Lusus Troiae was a well-choreographed equestrian parade with a lot of theatricality thrown in. It’s possible that the events of the Equitum Romanorum Probatio and the Lusus Troiae merged together since both involved public formalized equestrian exhibitions by Rome’s knights. However, there is no hard proof in any of the historical texts that these two events eventually merged together into a single event that took place on the same day. After all, it specifically says in the sources that the Equitum Romanorum Probatio was held every year on July 15, while the Lusus Troiae took place at the discretion of the reigning emperor. It is therefore certain that these were indeed two separate events, although of a similar nature.


Source Citations

  1. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, book 6, chapter 13.
  2. Livy, History of Rome, book 9, chapter 46.
  3. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, book 6, chapter 13
  4. Sinclair Bell, “Lusus Troiae”. In The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Ancient History, First Edition, by Roger S. Bagnal et al, eds. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. Page 4,172.
  5. Aeneid, 5.545-603; Sinclair Bell, “Lusus Troiae”. In The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Ancient History, First Edition, by Roger S. Bagnal et al, eds. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. Page 4,172.
  6. The Aeneid 5.5.580-593. Translation by Robert Fitzgerald. Early Church History. “Ancient Game of Troy”. https://earlychurchhistory.org/entertainment/ancient-game-of-troy/.
  7. Sinclair Bell, “Lusus Troiae”; John Scheid and Jesper Svenbro, The Craft of Zeus: Myths of Weaving and Fabric. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996. Page 40; David O. Ross, Virgil’s Aeneid: A Reader’s Guide. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2007. Page 102.
  8. John Scheid and Jesper Svenbro, The Craft of Zeus: Myths of Weaving and Fabric. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996. Page 41; Sinclair Bell, “Lusus Troiae”. In The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Ancient History, First Edition, by Roger S. Bagnal et al, eds. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. Page 4,172.
  9. Cassius Dio, Roman History, book 54, chapter 26.
  10. Suetonius, The Twelve Caesars, book 2, chapter 43.
  11. John Scheid and Jesper Svenbro, The Craft of Zeus: Myths of Weaving and Fabric. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996. Page 41; Sinclair Bell, “Lusus Troiae”. In The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Ancient History, First Edition, by Roger S. Bagnal et al, eds. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. Page 4,172.
  12. Sinclair Bell, “Lusus Troiae”; John Scheid and Jesper Svenbro, The Craft of Zeus: Myths of Weaving and Fabric. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996. Page 43.
  13. Michael Grant, The Army of the Caesars. New York: M. Evans & Company, Inc., 1974. Page 72. Mark Petrini, The Child and the Hero: Coming of Age in Catullus and Vergil. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997. Page 93; John Scheid and Jesper Svenbro, The Craft of Zeus: Myths of Weaving and Fabric. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996. Page 41; David O. Ross, Virgil’s Aeneid: A Reader’s Guide. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2007. Page 102.
  14. Lauren Curtis, Imagining the Chorus in Augustan Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Page 179.
  15. John Scheid and Jesper Svenbro, The Craft of Zeus: Myths of Weaving and Fabric. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996. Pages 42-43, 45; Lauren Curtis, Imagining the Chorus in Augustan Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Page 179.



Primary Sources


Secondary Sources


  • Bell, Sinclair. “Lusus Troiae”. In The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Ancient History, First Edition, by Roger S. Bagnal et al, eds. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. Page 4,172. https://www.academia.edu/1601485/_Lusus_Troiae._.
  • Burgersdijk, Diederik. “The Troy Game: The Trojan Heritage in the Julio-Claudian House”. In Troy: City, Homer, Turkey, by Jorrit Kelder et al, eds. https://www.academia.edu/2768810/The_Troy_Game_the_Trojan_heritage_in_the_Julio-Claudian_House.
  • Curtis, Lauren. Imagining the Chorus in Augustan Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017.
  • Grant, Michael. The Army of the Caesars. New York: M. Evans & Company, Inc., 1974.
  • Petrini, Mark. The Child and the Hero: Coming of Age in Catullus and Vergil. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997.
  • Ross, David O. Virgil’s Aeneid: A Reader’s Guide. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2007.
  • Scheid, John; Svenbro, Jesper. The Craft of Zeus: Myths of Weaving and Fabric. Translated by Carol Volk. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996.


Allosaurus, revised

Greetings, all. For those who regularly visit this website, you will know that this post has been a long time coming. Years ago, I mentioned that I was planning on re-doing my Allosaurus drawing so that it would be more accurate. However, that project always seemed to be shuffled onto the back-burner in place of other things that I was working on. Well not anymore. I recently completed a detailed drawing of an Allosaurus head (another one of the projects on my to-do list that I never seemed to get around to doing) which you can look at here, and I’m happy to state that after a long delay, I’ve finally completed my updated full-body Allosaurus.

Below is an Allosaurus drawing which I made in July of 2013 and which I posted to this website at that time. This portrays Allosaurus in a color scheme based upon that seen in the 1999 BBC series Walking With Dinosaurs. I must state that, as flawed as this illustration is, this piece was actually itself an updated version of a drawing that I had made a couple of years earlier. Even so, upon reflection, while it was an improvement on my previous work, it still needed more improvement.

And here is my revised Allosaurus drawing, made in July of 2020. This drawing was made in 1:20 scale, which is my preferred scale for illustrating prehistoric animals. From the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail, this drawing measures precisely 21 inches long, which would make the real-life animal 35 feet long; this measurement is regularly given as the maximum size for Allosaurus fragilis. This drawing was made with No.2 pencil on printer paper.

Finally, here is a colorized version of the new drawing. Again, the color scheme is based upon that seen in Walking With Dinosaurs, but the coloration and the color patterns differ slightly from the original image seen at the top. The picture was colored using Crayola colored pencils and No.2 pencil for re-shading.

Nearly everything about my previous drawing was altered in order to make this present artwork. This includes:

  1. The head was changed to be more accurate in appearance. Designing the head took most of the research time.
  2. The shape of the eye’s pupil was changed from a sort of oval slit to being a circle.
  3. The neck was made thicker, more muscular, and not as strongly S-curved.
  4. The body was made deeper.
  5. The arms were slightly enlarged and the hands were changed to be more anatomically accurate.
  6. The legs were thickened to provide extra weight support.
  7. The orientation of the hip bones was shifted.
  8. The tail was thickened to provide better balance to the front of the body. The previous drawing was conspicuously front-heavy.
  9. The tail was slightly elongated.

As you can see, one of the major changes to this drawing was the addition of dermal scutes along its back and sides. Unlike osteoderms, dermal scutes are scales which are enlarged and unusually thick compared to other scales on the rest of the body. There is evidence from preserved skin impressions from stegosaurs and ceratopsians that their skins possessed patterns of dermal scutes, sometimes arranged in lines, and it is therefore possible that theropods had such a feature to their outward appearance as well. It also gives this particular Allosaurus a distinctly reptilian look to it. I decided not to include any type of feathering or some other filamentous structures to the skin.

I also chose to portray this animal in a walking pose rather than running. I think that too many of my drawings of bipedal dinosaurs portray them running Gregory Paul-style, and I wanted to show something more natural. Also, unlike Scott Hartman’s illustrations, the legs are not splayed so widely apart from each other that they’re halfway to performing a split. Mostly, a normal walking stride is about three times the length of the foot. In fact, I actually practiced walking back and forth in front of a mirror, bending my legs theropod-style, in order to get a rough idea of how the leg position on this drawing ought to look.

Keep your pencils sharp, everyone.