The recognition that Shonisaurus death assemblages preserved in the Late Triassic aged Lunning Formation represent large-format self portraits created by hyper-intelligent Kraken like cephalopods marks the beginning of a dramatic paradigm shift in paleontology. This break-through insight requires cold reappraisal of 200 years of research and a thorough re-imagining of more than 200 million years of evolutionary history. Here, we report surprising evidence that minimalist artistic traditions were already deeply entrenched among cephalopod artists by the late Early Triassic. A single small ichthyosaur vertebrae set in a lime mud matrix confronts the viewer with ambiguous questions about mortality, corporeality, decay and emptiness. Although the precise social context of this work remains unclear, perhaps the single bone was placed in an unusual setting that undermined the “authenticity” of the piece, and underscored the inherent absurdity of art à la Duchamp’s Fountain (1917).
It seems surprising that this abstracted form antedates the highly figurative I, Kraken piece which dates to the earlier late (or perhaps later early) part of the Late Triassic. Assuming this work of understated irony is a response to bourgeois excess, widely emulated figurative traditions must have been developed by the Permian. Alternatively, perhaps the historical trajectory of of cephalopod aesthetics followed a very different course than that of 20th Century Western societies (human). The identification of hyper-minimalist tropes approaching the Suprematism of Malevich or the early works of Rauschenburg, could help to better establish the temporal polarity of the evolution of aesthetic movements in Mesozoic (and even Paleozoic) cephalopod art. Thus particular attention should be paid to works of cephalopod art that show no clear signs of being “made,” whether they be barren bedding planes, massive mudstones entirely devoid of fossils, or even paraconformities.