The Stolen Nutcracker


Of all my work, the most popular seems to be that of the leptoceratopsid Udanoceratops tschizhovi (Kurzanov, 1992). This is not because this is some supreme piece of masterwork, my open or of any quality of the piece itself, but because it was, at the time I produced it, the only illustration of a complete skull of Udanoceratops (whom I’ve lovingly nicknamed “the Nutcracker” for the massive jaw) available. Originally posted to the now defunct Dinosauricon website, hosted by T. Michael Keesey for the purposes of collected a massive database of illustration on dinosaurs well over 8 years ago, the skull essentially went viral.

Skull of Udanoceratops tschizhovi. On the left, a copy of my original; on the right, a digitially modified variant.

Several discussion groups are abuzz over the stance of Greg Paul, who has felt marginalized and indeed plagiarized by the options of some artists who have borrowed (sometimes extensively) from his body of work and sometimes outright copied his, and been paid for it. While Greg’s stance was primarily on the adoption a particularly notable pose for skeletals (see below, and reference my earlier post on this topic), it extends further.

When I placed “the Nutcracker” up there onto the web, I knew people would take it, copy it, keep it to themselves for their own purposes. What I did not expect, but should have, was that someone would modify if, refuse to attribute it to me, and then that copy would become the only version of this skull to become popular, rather than the original. It, for example, appears on the Wikipedia article on the taxon, from which fellow blogger Darren Naish borrowed his link (here; Darren, however, was familiar with the original, and correctly attributed the modified form to my original). This tends to leave a lot of the original out, especially since the more accurate version of the skull, also made available, was ignored.

Not all of the skull is preserved, limited to a dentary, premaxilla, maxilla, jugal, and other fragments. This leaves much of what I illustrated to guesswork, a concern that is not explained with the completed skull. It may be relatively educated  — I speculated that the skull, on the basis of the dentary, was similar to Leptoceratops gracilis (Brown 1914), and compared it based on Kurzanov’s ambiguity in regards to the placement of the taxon to Montanoceratops cerorhynchus Brown & Schlaikjer, 1942 (Sternberg, 1951), which would eventually be found to be a close relative of Leptoceratops (see Makovicky, 2002), a reversion back to the Brown and Schlaikjer original reference of cerorhynchus to Leptoceratops.

Heinrich Mallison notes to me on the DML that the vectorized image of the skull from Wikipedia was created using my permission. This is possible, although I am wary: Before Wikipedia, I had found a vectorized version of the skull on a Russian website; subsequent to this, viewers of the Dinosauricon contacted me to modify the work. While it is possible the artists were the same, I suspect otherwise, and cannot discriminate at this point, as the original version of the vectored image is more obscure. This doesn’t relieve fault for the artists, because a copy of my original skull is also floating around the web (such as here) without attribution.

I have largely left this issue alone, aside from attempting to pursue a “cease and desist” order the first time I found the modified image on a website. The reason is fairly concrete: My art is styled for scientific purpose and scientific use, and demanding artistic credit is largely as far as I go. Preventing dissemination of scientific art conflicts with scientific purpose, that of increasing information devoid of greed, an objective that is ideal, but not prevalent. I wonder what is the better ideal?

Edit: The below illustration was included without context, although mentioned above. This describes both a basal ceratopsian, and a leptoceratopsid, of which the latter is related to Udanoceratops tschizhovi. While the latter represents closer to the current state of where I will bring skeletal diagrams in the future, and the former is the “traditional” style I will abandon, it should be noted that neither of these are without flaw: both of them are shown with limbs far more flexed than I needed them, and indeed, the first skeleton was inordinately flexed in order to create an illusory quadruped. Based on limb anatomy, we cannot know whether Archaeoceratops oshimai was quadrupedal, as the forelimbs are not completely preserved; Leptoceratops gracilis, on the other hand, bears a well-preserved and robust limb with a small manus, and was likely a faculative quadruped.

Both skeletal diagrams show all of the proposed material, and this misleads the viewer into thinking the animals are fully known, as well that the reconstruction purports a fundamental level of knowledge we can extrapolate from the material, such as stance, posture, etc. I think none of this has been analyzed, and thus none of this is “true.” The skeletals are Art in this sense, not Science, and this is like the completed skull above.

In a little bit, I will begin a series detailing how I do my skeletal diagrams, and what details should be known beforehand.

Skeletal diagrams for Archaeoceratops oshimai (top) and Leptoceratops gracilis (bottom).

Brown, B. 1914. Leptoceratops, a new genus of Ceratopsia from the Edmonton Cretaceous of Alberta. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 33(36):567-580.
Brown, B. & Schlaikjer, E. M. 1942. The skeleton of Leptoceratops with the description of a new species. American Museum Novitates 1169:1-15.
Kurzanov, S. M. 1992. A giant protoceratopsid from the Upper Cretaceous of Mongolia. Palaeontological Journal 1992(3):81-93.
Makovicky, P. J. 2010. A redescription of the Montanoceratops cororhynchus holotype with a review of referred material. pg. 68-82 in Ryan, Chinnery-Allgeier & Eberth (eds.) New Perspectives on Horned Dinosaurs: The Royal Tyrell Museum Ceratopsian Symposium. Indiana University Press (Bloomington).

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This entry was posted in Art, Paleontology, Philosophy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Stolen Nutcracker

  1. carniman says:

    good job.
    you have made a quite interesting post.
    keep up the good work. :)

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