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Dimorphodon and the Reverend George Howman's noctivagous flying dragon: The earliest restoration of a pterosaur in its natural habitat

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Dimorphodon and the Reverend George Howman's noctivagous flying dragon: The earliest restoration of a pterosaur in its natural habitat

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Abstract

A framed water colour of a noctivagous pterosaur by the Reverend G. E. Howman displayed on a wall on the first floor of the Philpot Museum, Lyme Regis, Dorset is the earliest depiction of a restored pterosaur in its life environment. The image is a naïve effort based more on mythology than on fact, but its haunting mood was a harbinger of antediluvian depictions by artists that were to become icons of prehistoric restoration. It predates Henry de la Beche's famous Duria Antiquior by just one year.

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... These preserved soft parts inspired him to produce the first life reconstruction of an extinct vertebrate in its environment ( Figure 3) to be published in a scientific journal, the Nova Acta Leopoldina (Goldfuß, 1831). This fact is generally known to the scientific community (Rudwick, 1992;Martill, 2014), but Goldfuß also offered an extensive and strikingly modern discussion of the paleobiology of pterosaurs that is largely forgotten (despite the translations text box in Rudwick, who chose not to translate the crucial parts on soft tissues). Outspoken scepticism by the leading German reptile paleontologist of the 19th century, Hermann von Meyer (1846Meyer ( , 1859, seemingly eclipsed Goldfuß' revolutionary research, and only new pterosaur finds in last decades of the 20th century confirmed his observations and interpretations. ...
... Numerous copies of Duria Antiquior were printed to be sold in support of Mary Anning, but the prints were not accompanied by a written explanation, let alone a scientific text providing justification for the paleobi-ological hypotheses visualized by De la Beche and Buckland. A slightly earlier life reconstruction of a flying pterosaur was produced as a painting by a Reverend Howman, but reconstruction was neither scientific nor was it published (Martill, 2014). Goldfuß (1831): Life reconstruction of Scaphognathus crassirostris. ...
... This is evident from Buckland's 1836 book for laymen "Geology and Mineralogy" (Buckland, 1836), one of the Bridgewater Treatise volumes. In it, there is an obvious copy of the Goldfuß/Hohe illustration (Rudwick, 1992, figures 21 and 29;Martill, 2014, figure 13), without mention of Goldfuß, however (Martill, 2014). Buckland's pterosaurs are now clearly hairy (after being naked in Duria Antiquior), a fact that is only hinted at in the grainy lithograph by Hohe (Goldfuß, 1831, plate 9). ...
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Extract In the same blue lias formation at Lyme Regis, in which so many specimens of Ichthyosaurus and Plesiosaurus have been discovered by Miss Mary Anning, she has recently found the skeleton of an unknown species of that most rare and curious of all reptiles, the Pterodactyle, an extinct genus, which has yet been recognized only in the upper Jura limestone beds of Aichstedt and Solenhofen, in the lithographic stone, which is nearly coëval with the chalk of England. The history of the only two perfect specimens that have yet been found of this most anomalous genus of extinct reptiles, is familiar to all geologists from the minute and detailed descriptions which Cuvier has given of them: and the Pterodactylus longirostris and Pterodactylus brevirostris are pronounced by him to be incontestably the most extraordinary of all the extinct animals which have come under his consideration; and such as, if we saw them restored to life, would appear most strange and most dissimilar to any thing that now exists. “ Ce sont de tous les êtres dont ce livre nous révèle l’ancienne existence, les plus extraordinaires, et ceux qui, si on les voyait vivans, paroîtroient les plus étrangers à toute la nature actuelle*.” In size and general form and in the disposition and character of its wings, this fossil genus, according to Cuvier, somewhat resembled our modern bats and vampyres, but had its beak elongated like the bill of a woodcock, and armed with teeth like the snout of a crocodile; its
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