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Duria Antiquior, a more ancient Dorset

Duria Antiquior by Sam Brewster, 2016.

Duria Antiquior by Sam Brewster, 2016.

Duria Antiquior, a more ancient Dorset, was the first pictorial representation of a scene of prehistoric life based on evidence from fossils found on Lyme Regis' Jurassic Coast by Victorian fossil collector Mary Anning. The fossils discovered are of creatures that existed from the late-Triassic, all the way through to the Cretaceous period. In 1811 Anning's older brother Joseph discovered the four-feet long skull of what we now know as an Ichthyosaur. About a year later Mary discovered the rest of it and became a national sensation. These discoveries proved to be highly controversial as Victorians were mostly creationists. So the suggestion of 'fossilised' creatures on the beach brought into question the perfection of God's creation. Throughout her life Anning went on to make many more great discoveries, including the first complete Plesiosaurus in 1824, followed by the first complete Dimorphodon in 1828.

The original version was a watercolour painted in 1830 by the English geologist Henry De la Beche, with lithographic prints subsequently being made, based on the painting, to raise money for Anning who wasn't bestowed with riches unlike her male counterparts. Anning was born to a poor family, and her father Richard who was a carpenter, is credited with having taught her everything about fossils. As a child, Mary and her father would go fossil hunting by the cliffs in Lyme Regis, which are rich in fossils from the Jurassic Period. They regularly brought many back, subsequently selling them to tourists as curios.

The Duria Antiquior print was largely used for educational purposes and circulated in scientific circles. It influenced several other depictions, inspiring more contemporary versions also, forming the basis of a new genre, now known as paleoart, which is an artistic manifestation that attempts to reconstruct prehistoric life according to current scientific evidence.

- Duria Antiquior by Henry De la Beche, 1830. 

- Remakes of Duria Antiquior.

Our version, is perhaps the most contemporary reimagining of the vivid watercolour, as illustrated by Sam Brewster. We believed Sam would be perfect to collaborate with on this historic piece, because of our previous Late Jurassic screenprint collaboration, in which he illustrated a scientifically accurate scene from the late-Jurassic era. In Duria Antiquior, we've kept the essence of the piece, with the creatures depicted in violent interaction; this violent emphasis typical of pictorial styles in the 19th century: the Regency era. 

The composition, overall, has been maintained: the ichthyosaur biting into the long neck of a plesiosaur; the turtle and crocodile remaining in their original position. A striking featuring also, is that the composition shows life underwater, as well as on top. This is known as an 'aquarium view'. Duria Antiquior being the first known example to demonstrate this style, which then became common in the Victorian era. 

Eagle-eyed palaeontologists and prehistoric enthusiasts will even notice the plesiosaurus droppings (coprolites), sinking to the sea floor. The ichthyosaurs depicted are seizing various fish whose scales and bones had been found in coprolites and a couple are shown excreting the faeces that will become the coprolites of the future. It would be exactly these fossils and coprolites found by Mary Anning that would fuel the imagination of Henry de la Beche and painters and illustrators for years to come.

The Duria Antiquior notebook is available to buy exclusively from Eastern Biological.

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