What is the point of palaeontology? Discussion Event & Pop-UP Exhibition

king's college london, 18:00-20:15, 18 december 2018


Palaeontology is currently one of the most high-profile sciences.  But how far does it actually help us to understand the world around us?  Does palaeontology give us an unparalleled window into nature, the changing environment and evolution?  Or does the way that palaeontological research has often been presented – in terms of prehistoric monsters, macho fieldwork and narratives of progress – detract from understandings of science?  And how should we research and talk about life's history in relation to the present and future of life?

In this one-evening pop-up exhibition and discussion, we’ll be thinking about these and other questions with some leading palaeontologists, artists, historians, and science communicators.  Join us to discuss how palaeontology has been used in the past, its place today in discussions of science and nature, and how the role of the field might change in the future.

Attendance is free, but registration required.  Please sign up here:  https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/what-is-the-point-of-palaeontology-discussion-event-pop-up-exhibition-tickets-52988326511  


Featuring Discussion with:

Joe Cain, Darren Naish, Elsa Panciroli, Mark Witton and Becky Wragg-Sykes.


And exhibits from:

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John Conway

Obscuring Palaeontology

Is an art-first approach to palaeontology interesting?

Is it any good? 

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Richard Fallon

As Dead as the Dinosaurs

This display shows how, between the late nineteenth and the mid twentieth centuries, dinosaurs became symbols of evolutionary backwardness. Palaeontologists no longer associate these dynamic animals with outdated ideas like ‘racial senility,’ but narratives and concepts developed in this period remain with us, from fiction in which dinosaurs are gunned down with hi-tech weaponry to the world of political cartoons, where dinosaurs remain one of the ultimate insults.

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Katrina van Grouw

A Two-way Mirror: back from the future, forward to the past

I’m not a palaeontologist.

My work’s concerned with living animals: bird groups still in existence, and very, very modern domesticated animals. Yet despite both feet being firmly planted in the present, palaeontology has, over the last few years, woven itself into the fabric of what I am and what I do. There’s no escaping it.

The modern animals I write about and illustrate can only be fully understood in the context of the far greater multitudes that came before. Likewise, the traits that we see in the living animals around us – even apparently ‘artificial’, made-made animals, like fancy pigeon breeds – can shed light on the morphology of those long extinct.

Palaeontology is not a separate discipline from the study of living animals; it’s an integral part of it.


Mark Witton

THEY CAME FROM PREHISTORY! The misrepresentation of extinct animals as monsters

Artistic portrayals of extinct species are often characterised by ‘monsterisation’ of their subject matter. In these works, illustrative choices are made to depict fossil animals as ferocious, intimidating-looking creatures with violent habits and savage behaviours. How credible are these takes on prehistory when compared to what we know of living and extinct animal behaviour and appearance? Where does this desire for palaeoartistic ‘monsterisation’ stem from? And what impact might portraying real (albeit extinct) species in this way have on our perception of the modern natural world?