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Literature / All Yesterdays

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So who do we call? The Natural History Museum or the Fire Department?
What if my bones were in a museum
Where aliens paid good money to see 'em?
And suppose that they'd put me together all wrong
Sticking bones on to bones where they didn't belong!

All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals is a 2012 book, written by paleontologist Darren Naish and artists John Conway and C. M. "Nemo Ramjet" Kosemen. The latter two also illustrated the book.

The premise of the book is that, while we can be sure of some aspects of dinosaur anatomy and behavior, a significant amount of morphological and behavioral characteristics are forever lost to time. As such, artists seeking to reconstruct extinct animals should not be afraid to speculate, even speculate wildly, about certain aspects regarding the life appearance and behavior of extinct species. In the case of All Yesterdays, the end results of this speculation are over 60 illustrations of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals looking and doing things that, while they may appear very unusual compared to how these animals are normally depicted, are fully in keeping with what is known about them, and what is known about modern animals as well. For example, the cover image depicts the dinosaur, Protoceratops, climbing trees. Protoceratops does not have any anatomical specialties that suggest a tree climbing lifestyle. However, the same is also true of goats, but that doesn’t stop some of them from doing it anyway.


After treating the viewer to many bizarre images of extinct animals, the book then indulges in a bit of fun speculation regarding living species. It imagines a scenario in which non-human, non-mammalian paleontologists of a distant future uncover the scrappy, fossilized remains of modern animals. These paleontologists then try to imagine what many familiar animals would look like when alive, using many of the same methodologies used by scientist and artists today. The result is a series of utterly weird, sometimes scary depictions of animals like cats, cows, baboons and swans.

Overall, the book attempts to make the reader think about how and why we reconstruct extinct animals the way we do. It is a mix of what is known, what is unknown, and what can never be known (barring the unforeseen invention of time travel).


A free digital sequel is available, compiled from entries received by the authors as submissions for an All Yesterdays style contest they held in early 2013.

This book provides examples of:

  • Animal Stereotypes: The book explains how artists unconsciously assign roles to certain species by depicting them a certain way. It then goes on to subvert these roles. For example, Hypsilophodon, normally portrayed as an innocent herbivore, is shown eating a millipede.
  • Animal Jingoism: Deconstructed. Allosaurus and Camptosaurus are shown standing right next to each other with no animosity whatsoever. This sort of phenomenon has been observed in modern wildlife.
  • Animals Lack Attributes: Averted. In keeping with the reality of some species, both Stegosaurus and Citipati are depicted with gigantic genitalia.
  • Artistic License – Paleontology: Played with. On one hand, one of the authors is a paleontologist, and every reconstruction is consistent with all the known evidence about the animals in question. On the other hand, the reconstructions are all incredibly and unashamedly speculative regarding both life appearance and behavior. As the authors point out, these speculations are based on widespread characteristics of real animals that wouldn't/couldn't leave any fossil evidence. You could argue that the book is supposed to make the paleontologists of today cry, but also to inspire the paleontologists of tomorrow.
    Andrew Farke: One second I’d be thinking “What? There’s not evidence for that!” The next I’d be thinking, “Hmm... it’s not in the fossil record, but it’s certainly plausible.” Both of these thoughts on the same illustration, of course! I haven’t had this much fun reading a paleontology book in years.
  • Ascended to Carnivorism: The above mentioned case where the herbivorous Hypsilophodon munches on a millipede.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: A centipede catches an anurognathid pterosaur, inspired by giant modern centipedes that prey on bats.
  • Black Comedy Rape: The Stegosaurus illustration.
  • Chameleon Camouflage: The Majungasaurus and plesiosaur are both depicted with excellent camouflage abilities.
  • Future Imperfect: The future paleontologists' speculations tend to be... a little wide of the mark.
  • I Am Big Boned: For the Ouranosaurus with the fatty hump instead of a sail, the title reads, " not fat - it's the sail!"
  • Interspecies Romance: In the section on sexual oddities, the authors describe the fateful meeting of a very, uh, frustrated Stegosaurus and a very surprised Haplocanthosaurus.
  • Maniac Monkeys: How spider monkeys and baboons are interpreted by hypothetical future paleontologists. (Technically, they interpret monkeys as species of humans.)
  • Mistaken for Badass: Many of the restorations of modern animals. House cats are interpreted as being predators of humans (due to their fossils being commonly found in human dwellings), hummingbirds suck blood, spider monkeys are stealthy predators, baboons are venomous, hippos eat cars and bowhead whales specialize in prey their own size.
  • Prehistoric Monster: The book sets out to deconstruct the concept of the prehistoric monster and demystify the past. It decries the image of predators depicted in unending death struggles perpetually shrieking, and instead tries to portray them as actual animals with all the unusual anatomy and behavior that that entails.
  • Raptor Attack:
    • Averted. One of the most infamous memes in paleoart is to see the herbivore, Tenontosaurus, being attacked by a pack of usually-feather-less raptor dinosaurs - Deinonychus. The meme is so pervasive that it soon feels like Tenontosaurus exists for no other reason than to be ripped apart by the vicious raptors. The book averts this by showing a Tenontosaurus walking alone without a single Deinonychus in sight, explaining in the text why it's important for artists to be aware of cliches like this.
    • Another aversion is the naturalistic depiction of Microraptor, rather than the strange draconic lizard-bird hybrid creature it is often shown as.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: These poofy Leaellynasaura are much cuter than the traditional depiction. The beautifully bird-like Microraptors too.
    • Any maniraptoran chick, but especially the duckling-inspired baby Australoraptor.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The speculative elephant reconstruction brings to mind this online comic.
    • The Opisthocoelicaudia in a swamp is done in a similar style and atmosphere to Rudolph Zallinger's work, particularly his mural at the Peabody Museum of Natural History.
    • The title itself is a Shout-Out to Kosemen's earlier work, All Tomorrows, a speculative history of evolution of mankind in the future.
  • Shown Their Work: Not surprising, considering that one of the authors is Darren Naish, author of Tetrapod Zoology. The skeletal reconstructions are done by the very talented Scott Hartman.
  • Speculative Documentary: No matter how rigorous the science is, any book/movie/TV show/etc. that attempts to reconstruct extinct animals is this on some level. All Yesterdays is unique in the fact that, instead of shying away from this fact, it runs wild with it, while remaining as accurate as possible.
  • Spiritual Successor: The Cryptozoologicon, by the same authors, a book on various legendary beasts such as Bigfoot, Sasquatch and Yeti and El Chupacabra where they speculate on what their biology and evolutionary history might be like if they were real.
  • Starfish Aliens: The future paleontologists. We don't know what they look like, but they're not mammals and given how shaky their grasp of skeletal structure is, they're probably not even chordates.
  • Stock Animal Behavior: This book sets out to avert this. On the other hand, it also points out that certain stock behaviors now thought to be unlikely can still be made plausible under particular circumstances. Just because sauropods in general were not adapted to living in swamps, for instance, doesn't mean no sauropod ever hung around in swamps at least some of the time, and one artwork depicts the sauropod Opisthocoelicaudia wandering in a swamp reminiscent of a Rudolph Zallinger painting to make this point.
  • Stock Dinosaurs: There are plenty of examples of familiar dinosaurs doing unfamiliar things. For example, one painting by C. M. Kosemen depicts Stegosaurus committing unspeakable acts on a bewildered sauropod.
  • Take That!:
    • A lot of the restorations can be interpreted as Take Thats to paleoart memes and unrealistic portrayals of prehistoric animals.
    • The vampiric hummingbirds to David Peters's unorthodox ideas about the pterosaur Jeholopterus, the venomous baboons to the infamous venomous Sinornithosaurus hypothesis, and the straight-necked rabbits to the idea that sauropods couldn't raise their necks above their backs.
  • Tyrannosaurus rex: What dinosaur book is complete without it? But instead of appearing as a ferocious, eternally-roaring monster of the Cretaceous, Tyrannosaurus rex is portrayed doing something that you almost never ever see it do: sleeping!


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