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Xitun - Life in the Early Devonian

By Gogosardina
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2004, acrylics on card (with subsequent digital overlay). A painting for The Big Picture Book (Allen & Unwin, 2005) with recent modifications to incorporate new fossil data.

ca.415,000,000 b.p. Earliest Devonian (Lochkovian), Yunnan, Peoples' Republic of China.

Over a shallow Devonian seafloor that will one day be part of southern China, a small predatory Psarolepis harasses a school of jawless Polybranchiaspis. All these creatures come from the Xitun Formation of Yunnan, a province that is full of fantastic fossil sites.

Psarolepis romeri - bigtoothed fish (about 15-20cm long) in left foreground. Either a basal osteichthyan or basal sarcopterygian. One of the most primitive of bony fishes and anatomically close to the common ancestor of the ray-finned and lobe-finned fishes. Retained archaic placoderm-like spines and dermal pelvic girdles.

Polybranchiaspis liaojiaoshanensis - galeaspid - the quintet of weird jawless fish. The hole that looks like a mouth in front of the eyes is actually a water intake leading to the internal nostrils and gills. The mouth is on the underside of the body.

Phymolepis cuifengshanensis - antiarch placoderm - pair of armoured fish in middle distance.

Youngolepis praecursor - big blue guy (about 50 cm long). Basal dipnomorph (group of lobe-finned fishes that include the living lungfishes and the extinct porolepiforms). Probably the most common fish fossil you find in the Xitun. Most remains are of juveniles (less than 15 cm long).

The well preserved fossil skulls of Youngolepis were pivotal in disproving the diphyletic model of tetrapod origins (the idea that salamanders had evolved independently from other tetrapods via porolepiform ancestors).

Nostolepis sp. - acanthodian - pair of little blue fishes.

Lingula sp. - these are brachiopods ("lampshells") that are still living today.

Uncatoella verticillata
Image size
3150x2130px 1.19 MB
© 2012 - 2021 Gogosardina
anonymous's avatar
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Scutterland's avatar
AMAZING this is sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo cool!!!
Gogosardina's avatar
Thanks - though I'd like to think my capabilities have evolved since way back then (er, since 2004, not the Early Devonian)
Scutterland's avatar

Most welcome!
Sauroctonus's avatar
Your style reminds me of my favourite prehistoric life painter Zdeněk Burian. You both are able to give your pictures a realistic natural look, with whole sceneries.
Good job, keep it up! :clap:
Gogosardina's avatar
Thanks and yes, Burian is one of my primary influences, especially in my earlier works like this one!
Gogosardina's avatar
Yes, seen it. Looked like a fossil turtle carapace in ventral view. But it is a jawless fish and thus beneath my attention.
avancna's avatar
You ever heard anything about the legendary Ningxia galeaspid?
Gogosardina's avatar
Yeah - I remember having a lot of fun splashing paint all over the place with this one.
Alexanderlovegrove's avatar
Lovely colours on this one!
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