Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

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Sunday, 2 March 2014

IN SEARCH OF PREHISTORIC SURVIVORS - HOW IT CAME TO BE, AND WILL BE AGAIN (CRITICS NOTWITHSTANDING!)



Of all of my 20 books, none has attracted such acclaim but also such controversy as In Search of Prehistoric Survivors. Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of its original publication in 1995, and having received countless requests from readers over the years for its republication (after having been out of print for a number of years now), I am happy to say that following a protracted period of time doing the rounds of prospective publishers, it was accepted for publication just over a year ago, and I am working upon it with a view to its achieving a timely 2015 reappearance.

Having said that, I am still uncertain as to whether to prepare a straight reprint of the text but with additional illustrations (courtesy of the many wonderful ones that have become available to me since 1995), or whether to update it – and, if I do, how extensive that update should be. Mindful of the book's enormous scope of cryptids (the only major group not represented in it are the man-beasts, and that itself was only for reasons of limited space), a major update would see the book's size grow dramatically, to the point where it might simply be financially unviable to produce it. So I need to reflect further upon that. Nevertheless, after having received so many enquiries, I can definitely confirm that Prehistoric Survivors will be returning, so watch this space!

Meanwhile, and after having given the matter much thought, I feel that it may be instructive to reveal precisely how this particular book of mine came to be, because ever since it appeared in 1995 there has been a degree of confusion and controversy in some quarters as to where I stand in relation to its theme and contents. Consequently, I hope that the following explanation (which I have already outlined privately to various colleagues down through the years but have never got around to disclosing publicly before) elucidates all of this satisfactorily.

In many ways, this book is the most unusual of any of mine, inasmuch as its final, published form was not how I had originally conceived it at all. Let me explain. Following the publication in 1991 of my second book, Extraordinary Animals Worldwide, I was planning a major book on herpetological cryptids – everything from alleged living dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and plesiosaurs, to mystery lizards of many kinds, giant snakes and crowing serpents, chelonian cryptids of all shapes and sizes, anomalous amphibians, and even a major section devoted to the possible origin of and inspiration for the world's plethora of legendary dragons.

A synopsis of this proposed book did the rounds of publishers (during which time, incidentally, my third book, The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century, was published, in late 1993), with Blandford Press being particularly interested in it (and ultimately publishing it two years later). Mindful, however, of the enormous worldwide popularity of Steven Spielberg's blockbuster movie Jurassic Park at that time (the first film had been released in 1993), they suggested a fundamental change to the contents and slant of my book. Instead of confining it to herpetological mystery beasts, they proposed that I should expand its range of subjects to that of cryptids spanning the entire zoological spectrum, but concentrate exclusively upon those that have been suggested at one time or another by cryptozoologists to constitute prehistoric survivors.

It was certainly a most intriguing brief (albeit very different from my original concept), and one that I therefore decided to accept, even though – and I must emphasise this unequivocally here - I did not personally consider it likely that all of those cryptids truly were prehistoric survivors. But my personal opinion was irrelevant as far as the book's brief was concerned. What was required was for me to present for each cryptid a dossier of reports and native traditions, and then assess them in the context of whichever prehistoric creature(s) it had been likened to in the cryptozoological literature (with theories not appertaining to prehistoric survival receiving only minimal treatment, as they were not the focus of this study). So that is precisely what I did. Consequently, out went most of the mystery lizards and amphibians as well as the snakes and also the dragons section, and in came putative mammalian methusalehs like chalicotheres, thylacoleonids, amphicyonids, and sabre-tooths, alleged lingering avians like teratorns and Sylviornis, the giant carnivorous shark megalodon, and even some reputed eurypterid survivors.

A stunning cover design prepared by cryptozoological artist William Rebsamen for a proposed updated, retitled edition of In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (© William Rebsamen)

During the years that have followed, the concept of prehistoric survivorship – or what British palaeontologist Dr Darren Naish refers to as the Prehistoric Survivor Paradigm (PSP) - has received some harsh criticism from cryptozoological sceptics. And indeed, I am the first to concede that such survival becomes increasingly untenable the greater the span of time that exists between any modern-day cryptid and its most recent alleged fossil antecedents (i.e. its so-called ghost lineage, with the cryptid itself thereby constituting a Lazarus taxon). However, as my trilogy of books on new and rediscovered animals have disclosed time and again, some truly extraordinary, spectacular, and entirely unpredictable, unexpected zoological discoveries have been made in modern times.

And yes, these do indeed include some bona fide prehistoric survivors, taxa known only from fossils until living representatives were unveiled - e.g. the Chacoan peccary, mountain pygmy possum, Bulmer's fruit bat, kha-nyou, goblin shark, neoglyphean crustaceans, monoplacophoran molluscs, and of course the coelacanth. (And yes again, I am well aware that post-Mesozoic coelacanth fossils are now known, but these were only uncovered and recognised for what they were after the discovery in 1938 of the living Latimeria, when the unexpected resurrection of this ancient lineage of fishes no doubt acted as a significant spur to palaeontologists to seek post-Mesozoic coelacanth fossils that they now knew must exist if suitably preserved, and which would help to close up what could now be seen to be a very extensive and therefore anomalous ghost lineage for these fishes; so at its time of discovery, the modern-day coelacanth was definitely a valid prehistoric survivor.) Hence I remain reluctant to discount PSP out of hand.

Having said that, although I have often been accused of "believing" that a given cryptid is a particular type of prehistoric survivor, this is simply not true, for the simple reason that it is impossible to state definitely (although certain cryptozoologists habitually attempt to do so) what a given cryptid must be. Without tangible evidence to examine (and I am referring here to physical remains, not photographic evidence, which can be convincingly faked with alarming ease nowadays), all that can be done is pass a personal opinion as to how likely or unlikely a given identity appears to be. However, opinions are not facts, and should never be put forward, or be mistaken, as such. In short, therefore, I do not "believe" that any cryptid is any specific identity – I merely indicate what I personally consider to be likely (or unlikely) identities for it, nothing more.

Reviving this book has posed something of a dilemma for me, because doing so meant that its original brief (and also therefore my own misgivings regarding the plausibility of prehistoric survival for certain of its cryptids) would remain fundamental to its raison d'être. The only alternative would be for me to rewrite it completely, with an entirely altered slant, but the result of that would be not only a totally different but also a much more extensive book – so extensive, in fact, that (as with updating it even in its original form) I sincerely doubt whether it would be financially viable for any publisher to take on. Yet whatever one's own personal opinion may be concerning prehistoric survival in any capacity, the wealth of historical reports and cryptozoological coverage presented in its pages is such that it would be a tragedy for this book to remain out of print, especially when – as I have been made continually aware for many years – there is a very considerable demand among readers for it to reappear.

Consequently, now that I have outlined here how it came to be and why it is what it is, so that there can no longer be any confusion or contention regarding it, I am very happy to engage upon recalling back into existence what many people consider to be my finest cryptozoological volume. When complete, it may contain various updates and certainly some major new illustrations, but its basic context and content will otherwise remain unchanged.

Last, but definitely not least, I wish to thank most sincerely all of its numerous supporters for their kind words through all the intervening years, urging me to resurrect it - just like a veritable prehistoric survivor itself, in fact!

The eyecatching original cover design for In Search of Prehistoric Survivors, prepared by artist Kevin Maddison and featuring a very striking Queensland tiger or yarri (albeit one with enlarged canines like placental felids, rather than with enlarged incisors like thylacoleonids!), but which the publisher ultimately rejected in favour of the plesiosaur flipper cover – ah, well... (© Kevin Maddison)




11 comments:

  1. The book that totally fired my interest in cryptids. I read it at least 20 times cover to cover. Would love to read about some not in the 1st volume like the u r r on hour or ripen. Can't wait for it Karl!

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  2. Indeed, disregarding the PSP is like shooting yourself in the foot when it comes to Cryptozoology because a lot of ex-cryptids seem like relics from other eras (and you don't need really to go as far back as the Dino one).

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  3. I tried and failed to get hold of this book about a year ago, so I'm thrilled it's being republished. It would be grand to see an updated version, as much new evidence must have come to light in the twenty years since it first appeared, but perhaps the success of its return might allow you the opportunity to update a future edition. Very best of luck with the return of this important work, Karl! I look forward to reading it at long last.

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  4. I think that accepted assumptions about evolution as linear-progressive may have led to missing chances to find more recent fossils as in the case of the coelacanth. It is now much better recognized by science that evolution is not a linear progressive process. There are many possible theoretical approaches that have nothing to do with those usually criticized by the PSP critics. For example, evolution could involve some cyclical factors and convergent evolution could be involved.

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  5. BTW I hope that some serious researcher will look after the Yarri (cool name) rather than thylacines for a change, because the former has still a great potential to exist. Still related to the subject, I found a thought-provoking article on Giant's tracks involving Cope and Marsh :

    http://scienceblogs.com/laelaps/2009/10/20/repost-oc-marsh-and-the-nevada/

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  6. Dr Shuker, this is one of my very favorite books in my library. I'm looking forward to an updated version.

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  7. Thanks everyone for your kind words of encouragement and approval re the forthcoming reissue of Prehistoric Survivors - they are all very greatly appreciated, and it is wonderful to know that this book of mine still retains its popularity after almost 20 years since it originally appeared.

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  8. Never read the 1st book from 1995, but if this comes out I'm totally getting it! The possible new cover looks awsome, too!

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  9. Dr. Shuker, I am very appreciative of your open mind on the matters brought forth for discussion on your blog. This is an example of what science should and could be. Research, without a preconceived outcome.

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    1. Thanks very much - your encouraging words are much appreciated!

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