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75th Anniversary of an Iconic Book on Life in the Past

By Dr. Rowland, Paleontologist & Las Vegas Natural History Museum Lab Manager

Seventy-five years ago, in 1946, an American artist named Charles R. Knight published a book titled, Life Through the Ages. You may not have heard of him, but almost certainly you have seen examples of his work. He is the most famous American paleoartist.

During the early decades of the 20th century, Knight created many images of life in the past for displays in museums such as the American Museum of Natural History in NY and the Field Museum in Chicago. He also illustrated many books and magazine articles.

1) The first image shows the cover illustration of Knight’s 1946 book, depicting an Ice Age hunter being tossed into the air by a woolly rhinoceros. 2) The second image is perhaps Knight’s most famous painting, showing two theropod dinosaurs in mortal combat. The dinosaurs in this painting are Dryptosaurus, a little known member of the tyrannosaur family, discovered in New Jersey. It was among the first theropod dinosaurs known to science.

Knight’s 75-year-old book, Life Through the Ages, is a wonderful example of a distinctive genre of paleontological art, called “the pageant of life through time” genre. In this genre an artist or museum designer uses a series of images and/or dioramas to transport the viewer back through millions of years of geologic time, with stops along the way to observe the animals and plants that lived at a particular time. You can experience this genre of paleoart yourself in the Engelstad Family Prehistoric Life Gallery at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum.

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