UK dinosaurs - such as Hypsilophodon - are often overshadowed by their cousins from North America and elsewhere.
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Photo by Brian Switek.
UK dinosaurs - such as Hypsilophodon - are often overshadowed by their cousins from North America and elsewhere.

Book in Brief: Dinosaurs of the British Isles

A few months back I finally got a chance to visit one of the dinosaur museums that I had been longing to see since childhood – London’s Natural History Museum. Familiar fossil faces greeted me as I made my way through the historic halls. “Dippy” the Diplodocus stood at attention near the museum entrance, a Camarasaurus loomed in the dark doorway of the dinosaur hall, the claws of Allosaurus cast long shadows against the wall in the upper gallery, and an animatronic Tyrannosaurus – who else could it be? – snarled in a shadowy alcove.

None of these dinosaurs are found in Britain. Cast, bone, and robotics, they all represent creatures from the deserts nearer to my present home. It felt strange to be walking through a museum once overseen by Richard Owen, the anatomist who coined the word Dinosauria in 1842 from a trio of British finds, and have to look hard to spot the local fauna (Hypsilophodon tucked behind the bulk of Canada’s Scolosaurus, a reconstruction of Baryonyx on the bottom floor, the Maidstone Iguanodon propped up in an alcove near the exit). You’d think that England was depauperate of dinosaurs, or at least hosted meek species easily overshadowed by those found elsewhere. Maybe this can be fixed when the museum eventually updates its exhibits. As paleontologist Dean Lomax and artist Nobumichi Tamura demonstrate in Dinosaurs of the British Isles, fossil hunters have dramatically increased the number of UK dinosaurs since the days of Owen.

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The first portion of the book covers standard territory for dinosaur titles. What a dinosaur is. Early dinosaur discoveries. How fossils form. But what really makes Dinosaurs of the British Isles an essential title for any Mesozoic fanatic is its exhaustive exploration of dinosaurs unique to the UK. Starting with the Late Triassic maybe-dino Saltopus, the book moves upwards in time through the Late Cretaceous,  listing dinosaurs according to the rock units in which they are found. Each of these sections are absolutely packed with photos of fossils, skeletal reconstructions, and life restorations by Tamura, who continues to improve as he draws his way through the tree of prehistoric life. There’s no better single resource for catching up with Britain’s dinosaurs.

That’s why it’s truly a shame that the book’s formatting is chaos. While the content is excellent, the chapter and section breaks are often unclear. The yellow caption boxes set amongst photos of skeletons scattered across many pages are also distracting. Fact boxes, bone photos, restorations, and text are strewn through the pages in a way that left me feeling that I was looking at a printed out webpage rather than a true book. This is the only major criticism I have of the book, and, if it gets another edition in the future, I hope that the informative details within can be arranged in a more user-friendly way.

In the end, however, it’s the scientific details and illustrations that makes books like these. Lomax and Tamura certainly dug deep to provide those, creating a book that will be a rich resource for specialists and amateurs alike. Whether you’re particularly interested in Britain’s dinosaurs – be they classics like Iguanodon or newer discoveries such as Juratyrant – or you’re a dinosaur completist, Dinosaurs of the British Isles is a must-have reference for understanding how these animals have helped establish and altered our appreciation of past life.

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