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Dinosaurs In Literature, History and Art:
Pterosaur Depictions in Ancient Art: Contenders or Pretenders? ....Page 47

Here we present several pieces of ancient art, which we believe may depict examples of several types of pterosaurs, an indication that these creatures lived with the artists that recreated them.

Finding these crratures in ancient art isn’t easy (if we’ve found any) because the modern likenesses of these creatures have been guess-timated from mostly incomplete fossils.

It’s quite possible that some depictions from ancient art could be entirely accurate but go unnoted because the modern depiction is in fact, inaccurate.

For instance, Pterodactylus Kochi, one of the most common pterosaur fossils is most often drawn without a head crest. However, as can be seen from a fossil example below, recently it has been surmised that they did in fact have a head crest.

You can find both versions on the internet, but we think the version with a head crest might be the pterosaur represented by the Cameroun and Scrimshaw pieces below. (on the article page) It’s of course entirely possible that some of them were crested and others were not.

There are so many types of pterosaurs, that making an identification of a particular “type” is difficult. As we’ve said, they are apparently like dogs in their variety of size, shape and physical characteristics.

Also, of course, there are possible misidentifications because of birds with similar characteristics. Among the “pretenders” are pelicans and herons. If the ancient art under examination includes a distinctive head crest or batlike wings, it certainly assists with the identification of a pterosaur. We are not aware of any birds (at this time) that have a distinctive prong or notch on their hindskulls as we find on some of these pieces.

We present here a few more pieces of ancient art and let you determine if they in fact are pterosaur contenders-or pretenders.

Pterodactylus Kochi or Germanodactylus Depiction?

Pterodactylus antiquus + Pterodactylus kochi + Germanodactylus, form a monophyletic group within Archaeopterodactyloidea, sharing the following features: nasal process present on the lateral side of the skull straight and directed ventrally (not connected with the maxilla) and more than 15 peg-like teeth on each side of the jaws.

Germanodactylus is known by two species, Germanodactylus cristatus and Germanodactylus rhamphastinus that form the Germanodactylidae and share a low premaxillary sagittal crest, displaced backward near the anterior margin of the nasoantorbital fenestra reaching the skull roof (but not extending backward)…Wikipedia

On top is a Cameroun Piece from the 17th century (1600's). On the bottom is a current drawing of Germanodactylus, which is thought to be closely related to Pterodactylus Kochi, right. Click and Drag Photo to resize. .
On top is another Cameroun Piece from the 17th century (1600's).

Click and Drag Photo to resize.

Below:Top; is a "scrimshaw" piece. Mostly from the 1800's the were made by sailors in their spare time while out to sea. The caption identified the piece as a "frigate bird", but we note its similarity to the pterodactylus kochi and germanodactylus. Bottom: Left is a fossil of the pterodactylus kochi. Note the faint outlines of a possible crest.

Click and Drag Photo to resize. .
Click and Drag Photo to resize. .


Azhdarchids (from the Uzbek word for "dragon") were a family of pterosaurs known primarily from the Late Cretaceous period which included some of the largest known flying animals of all time.

Originally considered a sub-family of Pteranodontidae, Nessov (1984) named the azhdarchinae to include the pterosaurs Azhdarcho, Quetzalcoatlus, and "Titanopteryx" (now known as Arambourgiania).

Azhdarchids are characterized by their extremely long necks, made of elongated neck vertebrae which are round in cross section. Most species of azhdarchids are still known mainly from their distinctive neck bones and not much else. The few azhdarchids that are known from reasonably good skeletons include Zheziangopterus, Quetzalcoatlus, and the closely related family Tapejaridae.

Azhdarchids are also distinguished by their reletively large heads and spear-like jaws adapted for skimming (Osi et al., 2005). Their wings were short compared to some other pterosaurs, and might have looked disproportionately short in the larger headed, longer necked species. Wikipedia

Mayan Piece:

Caption: Basal Flange Vessel. Description: Maya. painted clay. height 21.5 cm Early Classic covered bowl with 4 abstract peccary legs. The wings, tail, and the fish for its beak are painted on the cover. Published The Face of Ancient America p. 90. FAMSI Research Materials

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Click and Drag Photo to resize. .

Kalimantan, Dayak culture. 19th century (1800's). More info.

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Mayan Piece:Tripod Bird Bowl, 3rd-4th century Guatemala; Maya Ceramic; H. 9 3/4 in. (24.8 cm) Gift of Carolyn C. and Dan C. Williams

The bottom jaw is on the jar. The creature has something, perhaps a nut in his beak. The notch on the beak is a feature of some pterosaurs. FAMSI Research Materials

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Click and Drag Photo to resize. .


Bony crests

There are not many birds with the pronged hindskull and not many pterosaurs either. Virtually all pteranodons do but usually they are even more pronounced than the one shown in this piece. An Isel of Wight pterosaur called an ornithocheirid does have this feature as does a similar specimen found in Brazil. We're of course speculating whether or not this is even a representation of a pterosaur and if it is, what type it might be.

"The Isle of Wight specimen is even more remarkable, however, in possessing not only a keel-like snout crest but also a backward-projecting bony crest. This is similar to that of the famous North American Pteranodon (itself not an ornithocheirid but a distant relative).

No ornithocheirid was thought to have a crest like this until 2000, when a new Brazilian species showed that some of them did. The Isle of Wight ornithocheirid appears to be a close relative of this Brazilian form, so we now have two ornithocheirids with Pteranodon-like crests.

It's odd that, while ornithocheirids have been known since 1859, these two new kinds, both with the same kind of crest yet separated by thousands of kilometres, have each been discovered within the space of just two years (since 2005).

Mayan Piece: Caption: Maya Water Bird Vessel Description: Maya. Painted and burnished clay. height 35 cm. Early Classic lidded bowl on four peccary legs. The cover is a water bird with fish in beak. FAMSI Research Materials

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Click and Drag Photo to resize. .

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