Scenes from Deep Time: Early Pictorial Representations of the Prehistoric World

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9780226731049: Scenes from Deep Time: Early Pictorial Representations of the Prehistoric World

How did the earth look in prehistoric times? Scientists and artists collaborated during the half-century prior to the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species to produce the first images of dinosaurs and the world they inhabited. Their interpretations, informed by recent fossil discoveries, were the first efforts to represent the prehistoric world based on sources other than the Bible. Martin J. S. Rudwick presents more than a hundred rare illustrations from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to explore the implications of reconstructing a past no one has ever seen.

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From the Back Cover:

How did the earth look in prehistoric times? Our images of the remote past, museum displays of dinosaurs and book illustrations of exotic plants and animals, are based on fragmentary evidence, yet these depictions are realistic enough to suggest that we can know exactly what the earth looked like millions of years ago. Today depictions of the earliest stages of the earth - deep time - are so common that we take them for granted, but less than 200 years ago no such pictures existed. In Scenes from Deep Time, Martin J. S. Rudwick traces the earliest attempts to reconstruct the past no one has ever seen. With over 100 stunning lithographs and engravings from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many reproduced here for the first time since their original publication and accompanied by portions of the original explanatory texts, Rudwick argues that scientists and artists made earth history visually compelling as evidence from nature supplanted the biblical view of the distant past. Until 1820, the only pictorial reconstructions of earth history were illustrations of the biblical creation story. During the following decades, geologists and biologists gathered and interpreted fossil evidence that suggested the earth was millions of years old. Fossil finds inspired a new collaboration between scientists and artists, and as they became more confident in their visions of the past, they produced increasingly realistic portrayals of deep time. By 1870, the prehistoric past was depicted in the same style as the scenes we see today, and these representations continue to reflect and often shape scientific as well as public views. Because we can never completely know what life was like in deeptime, these images fascinate scientists and laypeople alike.

About the Author:

Martin J. S. Rudwick is professor emeritus of history at the University of California, San Diego and affiliated scholar in the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge.

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