Reconstructing Palorchestes


I’m a palaeo-illustrator and my role here is to actually figure out the appearance of an extinct animal.

Now the animal that I’m working on here is an animal called Palorchestes.

This is the skull of Palorchestes and, as you can see if I revolve this around, it’s a remarkably fragile piece of specimen — it’s made up of incredibly large chambers and thin walls of bone. This is the sort of source material that I’m dealing with to understand the anatomy of the animal.

From those fragments I do a series of notes and drawings and take measurements, build up an entire picture of the animal in all the detail that I need to understand the anatomy so, at the end, I end up with a reconstructed drawing of this nature. So you can see here, there’s the complete skull fully assembled.

Building the skeleton up in this way I do it in a series of views and, for example, there is the front view of the face of this animal. Once again the eyes are actually right up on the top of the animal’s head, and another view —just to show you what the skull shape was like in profile — is here and you can see the built up picture of the skull with the lower jaw attached in the way it would have articulated.

So now I have a very good understanding of the total three-dimensional shape of the skull. From this I can now compare it to modern animals to start to understand the types of muscle systems that attached and operated over these bone surfaces of the head.

So gradually, I’m piecing together the muscles to flesh out this animal to give you an idea of the shape of the living animal.

Now that I’m starting to sort out the muscle structures of Palorchestes, it’s really being impressed upon me what an unusual animal it was with this strange large flexible nose, probably quite manipulative lips, and these were all part of its feeding adaptations. But there’s more to the story than that in a sense because we don’t fully understand the function of the nose; it may have had an increased sense of smell, it may have been to produce interesting vocalisations, there’s a variety of possibilities.

About this Video

Scientific artist Peter Trusler explains how he reconstructed the head of Palorchestes from fossil evidence.
Length: 02:29