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Bringing dinosaurs to life with science and art + digital dinosaur endocranial casts

Ben Creisler

A number of recent (and not so recent) papers:

Marco Romano, Simone Maganuco, Stefania Nosotti & Fabio Manucci (2015)
Taking up the legacy of Waterhouse Hawkins and Owen: art and science
for a new Italian project to bring back dinosaurs to life.
Historical Biology (advance online publication)

Since their initial formal recognition by Richard Owen in 1842,
dinosaurs have always stood out in the collective imagination for
their size and unusual appearance. Therefore, these marvellous animals
are a source of curiosity and wonder for people of all ages, social
and cultural backgrounds. Thanks to improved research techniques,
palaeontologists have been able to work reconstructing the most
plausible appearance of dinosaurs. Starting with petrified bones, they
tried to make a dream come true – to bring the planet’s ancient
inhabitants back to life. The new Italian exhibition Dinosaurs in the
Flesh: Science and Art bring the Rulers of a Lost World Back to Life
reveals the marriage of science and art that brings back to life
animals that lived tens or hundreds of millions of years ago.
Palaeontologists and artists collaborate on reconstructing the
appearance of organisms from the distant past through study of the
fossils, often with the aid of new technologies. The new project,
which takes up the idea of Waterhouse Hawkins and Owen and their
legacy to restore these ancient vertebrates based on solid scientific
foundations, represents to date the only way to reanimate these
fascinating lost animals.

More info:



A paper on a related topic from 2012 (available as a free pdf) that
apparently has not been mentioned on the DML:

Lukas Rieppel (2012)
Bringing dinosaurs back to life: exhibiting prehistory at the American
Museum of Natural History.
Isis 103(3): 460-490
DOI: 10.1086/667969

Free pdf:

This essay examines the exhibition of dinosaurs at the American Museum
of Natural History during the first two decades of the twentieth
century. Dinosaurs provide an especially illuminating lens through
which to view the history of museum display practices for two reasons:
they made for remarkably spectacular exhibits; and they rested on
contested theories about the anatomy, life history, and behavior of
long-extinct animals to which curators had no direct observational
access. The American Museum sought to capitalize on the popularity of
dinosaurs while mitigating the risks of mounting an overtly
speculative display by fashioning them into a kind of mixed-media
installation made of several elements, including fossilized bone,
shellac, iron, and plaster. The resulting sculptures provided visitors
with a vivid and lifelike imaginative experience. At the same time,
curators, who were anxious to downplay the speculative nature of
mounted dinosaurs, drew systematic attention to the material
connection that tied individual pieces of fossilized bone to the
actual past. Freestanding dinosaurs can therefore be read to have
functioned as iconic sculptures that self-consciously advertised their
indexical content.

Digital reconstructions

Amy M. Balanoff, G. S. Bever, Matthew W. Colbert, Julia A. Clarke,
Daniel J. Field, Paul M. Gignac, Daniel T. Ksepka, Ryan C. Ridgely, N.
Adam Smith, Christopher R. Torres, Stig Walsh and Lawrence M. Witmer
Best practices for digitally constructing endocranial casts: examples
from birds and their dinosaurian relatives.
Journal of Anatomy (advance online publication)
DOI: 10.1111/joa.12378

The rapidly expanding interest in, and availability of, digital
tomography data to visualize casts of the vertebrate endocranial
cavity housing the brain (endocasts) presents new opportunities and
challenges to the field of comparative neuroanatomy. The opportunities
are many, ranging from the relatively rapid acquisition of data to the
unprecedented ability to integrate critically important fossil taxa.
The challenges consist of navigating the logistical barriers that
often separate a researcher from high-quality data and minimizing the
amount of non-biological variation expressed in endocasts – variation
that may confound meaningful and synthetic results. Our purpose here
is to outline preferred approaches for acquiring digital tomographic
data, converting those data to an endocast, and making those endocasts
as meaningful as possible when considered in a comparative context.
This review is intended to benefit those just getting started in the
field but also serves to initiate further discussion between active
endocast researchers regarding the best practices for advancing the
discipline. Congruent with the theme of this volume, we draw our
examples from birds and the highly encephalized non-avian dinosaurs
that comprise closely related outgroups along their phylogenetic stem