Since the dawn of palaeontology, researchers and artists have strived to reconstruct ancient extinct life forms. By combining the fossil remains with knowledge of anatomy or botany pioneers like Henry de la Beche (1796-1855) and Charles R. Knight (1874-1953) envisioned the forms and colours of prehistoric life on Earth (read more about palaeoartists here) and brought us the first ideas on what e.g. dinosaurs may have looked like.
Recently, palaeontological research have broken new ground by identifying melanin – a black, brown or red colour pigment that occurs in both animals and plants – in fossils. Since Jakob Vinther and colleagues published their paper “Plumage Color Patterns of an Extinct Dinosaur” more reports of preserved melanin-residues in fossils have surfaced. Two of the latest deal with: pigment in a 50 million year old fossil fish eye (Lindgren et al. 2012) and in a 160 million year old fossil squid ink sac (Glass et al. 2012).
The fossil record will never be the same 😉
However, we will always need reconstructions and paintings depicting the past. Check out this wonderful webpage with beautiful palaeo-scenery: Evolutionary routes