Rats Amongst the Dwellings
by Peter Jekel
"There is no place in nature for extinction." Licretius
Dinosaurs have always fascinated people. Most young children have asked a question about dinosaurs. Often the first book that a child will read on his/her own happens to be about dinosaurs. Jurassic Park and its sequels were some of the highest grossing movies of all times. When Toronto got its first National Basketball Association franchise, they held a contest to determine the name of the new professional team. The public overwhelmingly chose “raptors” as the name of the team, after the enormously popular predator of Jurassic Park. Needless to say, dinosaurs trigger an emotional response in most people, whether it be awe, fear or scientific curiousity.
In spite of Jurassic Park being such a big hit at the box office and a bestselling novel by Michael Crichton, dinosaurs were far from being new to fictional literature.
In 1920, Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the world’s greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes, wrote The Lost World, a world where dinosaurs survived to the modern day atop a plateau in South America. Greg Bear, more recently, took the story up where Doyle left off in Dinosaur Summer, in which the dinosaurs of Doyle’s The Lost World have been captured and placed on display at a Dinosaur Circus. Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of the highly successful Tarzan series of books, populated several of his fantasies with dinosaurs including some of his Tarzan novels. He also wrote in 1924 The Land that Time Forgot, which has a similar premise as Conan Doyle’s novel. Some have argued that it was Jules Verne, in his 1865 Journey to the Centre of the Earth, that first brought dinosaurs into a story; however, the two large reptiles doing battle in the story are just that, large reptiles that appear dinosaur-like.
Other writers have taken up Doyle’s and Burroughs’ trailblazing with stories about dinosaurs with a different twist. Will Hubbell’s Cretaceous Sea is a time travel story that brings a group of tourists back in time to witness the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction. Robert Sawyer wrote a tale with a similar theme, End of an Era, a story of a paleontologist who travels back in time to witness the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction, also known as the K-T event or extinction.
How do you get the abbreviation for Cretaceous-Tertiary out of K-T? Ever ready to protect their domains with a wall of terminology, geologists, like other scientists, chose the word, “Kreideszeit,” which is simply the German equivalent of Cretaceous. The “T” is an abbreviation of the word, “Tertiary.” The K-T extinction was the mass extinction of all dinosaurs and other large reptiles such as pterosaurs and mososaurs. The event is marked geologically by a thin layer of sedimentation around the word dating around 65 million years ago. The layer made up of the rare metal, iridium, could have several origins with the Chixulub impact beneath the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico being the most likely candidate. The plume of dust raised from this enormous impact would have settled out the world over. Iridium is rare in the Earth’s crust because it is a siderophile; that is, the metal will have traveled with the iron to the Earth’s core during planet differentiation. Another cause could have been several large volcanic eruptions distributing volcanic dust around the world. A large asteroid impact like the impact that caused the Chixulub crater could also have set off a chain reaction of volcanic eruptions which would have compounded the effects of the original impact.
Simply put, something happened around 65 million years ago that caused a worldwide distribution of a rare crust metal, iridium, which could have been either an impact with an extraterrestrial object or a series of volcanic eruptions. Such a worldwide distribution of dust would have affected the world’s ecosystem at the time. Photosynthesis would have been effectively shut down which would, in turn, affect the plant eaters which in turn, affected the meat eaters. Estimates of a ten to twenty percent reduction in sunlight have been calculated.
Other authors have written about dinosaurs from a different angle. Piers Anthony wrote Orn, a story about a group of scientists who are sent to explore an alien planet’s flora, fauna and geology. They are confronted by a world that bares a resemblance to Earth of seventy million years ago, with a notable cast of dinosaurs as well.
Raptor Pack (co written with Michael Skrepnick) and Raptor Red were written by renowned paleontologist Robert Bakker. Bakker was the first to postulate, along with his mentor, fellow paleontologist John Ostrom, that some dinosaurs were homeothermic, a fancy way of calling them, warm-blooded like mammals and birds. His stories are told from the dinosaur’s (Deinonychus and Utahraptor respectively) point of view.
However, it was Crichton who launched dinosaurs into the literary mainstream with his Jurassic Park and its sequel, The Lost World. Crichton was a master of creating bestselling novels. What probably made Jurassic Park and its sequel such a hit was the placement of dinosaurs into a world attainable by the everyday person. The world of dinosaurs was just an airplane ride away in a “civilized controlled setting.”
Crichton’s stories may have brought dinosaurs to the mainstream by placing them in an amusement park, but science fiction; however, had other tales of dinosaurs. Science fiction is a genre of literature that asks a basic question, “What if?”
For example, “What if the K-T event never happened?”
Some science fiction authors have speculated that time-travellers caused the extinction of dinosaurs. Arthur C. Clarke once mused, “Big-game hunters from the future may have caused the extinction of dinosaurs.” Isaac Asimov in his short story, "Big Game" (1941) wrote of an explorer who heard a drunken tale of a how time travel killed the dinosaurs. Ironically the story was first rejected by John W. Campbell, the famous editor of Astounding Stories magazine which has since morphed into the magazine Analog Science Fiction and Fact. L. Sprague de Camp and Ray Bradbury, in their short stories, "A Gun for Dinosaur" (1956) and "A Sound of Thunder" (1952) respectively, tell of future travelers who travel back in time to hunt dinosaurs.
John Stith, in his One Giant Step, (1993) takes the concept of time travelers meeting the dinosaurs a step further. Here, intelligent dinosaur descendants are the time travelers. They go back 65 million years ago to the extinction event. One of the travelers named Ektor has smuggled back some bombs with him and uses them to wipe out his species because of all of the suffering and mass extinction of other species that the reptile overlords have caused. “Reptiles were not meant to rule the Earth…let some other species take over,” he announces before detonating.
Jeff Hecht, in Extinction Theory (1989) also speculated that the evolution of intelligent dinosaurs caused the mass extinction.
Toolmaker Koan, by John McLoughlin, is a complex novel that attempts to explain the band of iridium at the K-T boundary. The central theme of the novel is quite bleak. Essentially it postulates that the evolution of intelligence will result in a global destructive war. The “koan” is that the intelligence allows a species to reach for the stars is also the intelligence that causes its eventual destruction.
What about aliens having caused the dinosaur extinction? It appears to have some appeal in several television series including Dr. Who and Animorphs, but is not nearly as common in science fiction literature. Neil Gaiman did explore the theme however, in his short story, “I, Cthulhu,” which describes an ancient alien, Cthulhu, that causes the extinction of dinosaurs.
Other authors have looked at intelligent dinosaurs in a different way. What if the K-T event never occurred? Would dinosaurs have evolved intelligence?
Interestingly enough, it was not a science fiction author that first postulated this question of what would have happened had the K-T event never happened. In 1977, in his The Dragons of Eden, Carl Sagan speculated about the genus Saurornithoides evolving into intelligent forms in the absence of the extinction event. Saurornithoides is a dinosaur that was first described in 1924. It was a bipedal predatory troodontid (family of birdlike dinosaurs) dinosaur that lived during the late Cretaceous around 65 million years ago.
In 1978, Harry Jerison, an American psychologist, gave a presentation about dinosaurs at a meeting of the American Psychological Association, not a venue that you would expect such a talk. His lecture was entitled “Smart Dinosaurs and Comparative Psychology,” which was about the genus Dromiceiomimus evolving into an intelligent species. The species was a small ostrich-like dinosaur with a small head with beak-like jaws that also lived during the early to late Cretaceous.
In 1982, paleontologist Dale Russell, then curator of the National Museum of Canada in Ottawa described a partial dinosaur skeleton discovered originally in 1967. The skeleton was the basis of the first skeletal and flesh restoration of Stenonychosaurus, now known as Troodon, after comparisons with existing fossil finds. The original Troodon find was in 1855.
Russell went a step beyond just a description of a dinosaur. He recruited taxidermist and artist Ron Seguin to go beyond the simple restoration and pose the question: “What might these dinosaurs have evolved into if they did not become extinct 65 million years ago?” They published their idea in Syllogeous, 1982. The intelligent dinosaur was born through scientific extrapolation. They called their creation, “Dinoman.”
The pair chose that particular dinosaur, Troodon, for their thought experiment because it was probably one of the most intelligent dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous with an intelligence estimated to have been equal to that of an opossum. Not much to work with, but a far cry from their reptilian cousins. Troodon also possessed long folding arms with partially opposable thumbs on its hands.
Russell’s and Seguin’s Dinoman was a hairless, green-skinned creature with a bulging skull, catlike eyes and three-fingered manipulative hands. They stood about 4.5 feet in height and weighed about seventy pounds. It had the brain capacity of a human of similar stature. Instead of teeth, it has a beak-like mouth similar to turtles.
It is not that outrageous a theory if you think about it. Humans evolved their greater intellect, tripling their cranial capacity, in less than six million years, evolving from a knuckle-walking ancestor to placing humans on the moon and sending ships beyond the solar system.
Even NASA’s Chris McKay, a planetary scientist, speaking at a Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) conference in 2008, made the bold statement that the best place to look for dinosaur artifacts would be on the moon. Relics from a dinosaur civilization may have simply disappeared from the geological record on Earth; it would be difficult to say what remnants of human civilization may survive 65 million years from now.
Science fiction, ever ready to embrace new theories for inspiration, took this idea of the evolution of intelligent dinosaurs and ran with it. One of the first authors who effectively ignored the extinction of dinosaurs was Harry Harrison. He created the world of Eden in his trilogy that began with West of Eden followed by Winter in Eden and Return to Eden. Eden is a world of alternate history, a type of science fiction in which a key event of history is changed. In the case of Harrison’s Eden series, the changed event is the idea that dinosaurs never became extinct which allowed for the rise of the Yilane.
The Yilane is a race of intelligent lizards that evolved intelligence in their Eurasian home. To put conflict into the tale, Harrison had humans evolve simultaneously in the New World. When an ice age threatens the Yilane in their Eurasian home, they seek out new territory and the battle of the intelligences begins. The Yilane have evolved a technology that is highly dependent on genetic engineering, unlike the hunter-gatherer human group which relies on its primitive technologies to survive.
Unlike the thought experiment of Russell and Seguin, Harrison chose as the animal that gave rise to the Yilane as the mososaur which is not a true dinosaur, but a sixty foot sea-going lizard that lived during the time of the great dinosaurs, namely the early to late Cretaceous period. In fact, the mososaur has a greater affinity to modern monitor lizards and snakes than to dinosaurs. They were first identified in fossil beds near Maastricht, Netherlands in Europe in the late 1700’s almost fifty years before the discovery of the first true dinosaur fossil. Since that time, mososaurs have been discovered the world over. Though made up of several species, it was probably a top oceanic predator which fed on fish, squid and even other marine reptiles of the day such as plesiosaurs and even other mososaurs.
Robert Sawyer in his Quintaglio trilogy began with Far-Seer, followed by Fossil Hunter and finished with Foreigner. He imagines a world that is not Earth but another world altogether. The characters in the stories are descendants of dinosaurs transplanted by aliens to a moon orbiting a gas giant in another solar system. The Quintaglio trilogy presents a world in which many parallels to human civilization are envisioned, but with one key difference. It is hypothesized by many anthropologists that the forerunner to human civilization was agriculture. Sawyer uses his dinosaurs to look at how the world may have evolved if our civilization had evolved directly out of pack hunting behaviour rather than an agricultural based society.
His intelligent dinosaurs evolved from the Nanotyrannus, a miniature version of the giant and fearsome tyrannosaur. Subsequent research on the two known skulls of Nanotyrannus, though, indicates that they are nothing more than juvenile Tyrannosaurs. However, again, it should be emphasized that not all paleontologists are convinced that the finds were those of juvenile Tyrannosaurs either. The controversy is still going on today.
Another stab at creating intelligent dinosaurs is to have them survive to the present day in a world much the same as ours. In Eric Garcia’s Casual Rex and Anonymous Rex, not all dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago, in spite of the K-T event happening. Sixteen species survived. They mutated so that they now live among us, up to five percent of the population. The reader will be surprised by how many celebrities are actually mutated dinosaurs. The story follows the exploits of a private dinosaur detective and is written in a style that is reminiscent of the detective novels of yesteryear like novels by Raymond Chandler. As unusual as the idea seems, the novels are well-written and actually place the reader in suspended belief.
The suggestion in Garcia’s novels has a resemblance to a conspiracy theory by David Icke, former reporter, sport caster and British Green Party national spokesperson. He has, since 1990, become a full-time investigator of the true controllers of the world.
In 1999, Icke wrote The Biggest Secret: The Book that Will Change the World, in which he introduces the reader to his theory of an extraterrestrial race of reptilian humanoids that walk erect and appear to be human. Their mission is to take over the world. This race has interbred itself with humans creating hybrids who are, in turn, possessed by full-blooded reptilians. The hybrid DNA allows the hybrids to shape-shift from reptilian to human form but only if they consume human blood. Included among this reptilian race is almost every leader including Tony Blair, George W. Bush, Hilary Clinton and the late Queen Mother, to name just a few. Icke’s conspiracy theory has also an eerie resemblance to a former 1980’s television series called V in which the earth is being invaded by reptilian aliens that disguise themselves as humans.
The idea of intelligent dinosaurs having survived the K-T Event has been taken a step further with Thomas Hopp. Hopp envisions a world where dinosaurs not only survived the K-T event, but had developed a technology that allowed them to escape their earthly home to settle on another planet before the K-T event happened on earth. In his novel, Dinosaur Wars and its sequel, Dinosaur Wars: Counterattack, dinosaurs left earth in the distant past only to return to Earth to reclaim it.
Barry Longyear, in The Homecoming, writes a tale of a race of dinosaurs that return to their beloved homeworld of Earth only to find that the dominant lifeform, humans, is what they knew as an edible tree animal.
Even Star Trek: Voyager had a story of an intelligent race of hadrosaurs, the Voth, that left Earth and settled at the far side of the galaxy. Hadrosaurs were a species of duck-billed herbivorous dinosaurs that lived during the late Cretaceous.
Is it possible that dinosaurs did indeed survive the K-T Event? Nothing is impossible, but it is improbable. However, it is fun to speculate on what might have been if dinosaurs had survived.
In reality, though, is there any possibility that dinosaurs could have evolved as Russell and Sequin showed in their thought experiment, especially if the K-T event never happened?
What about brain size? It took about six million years for the human brain to evolve from that of a present-day chimpanzee to the brain of modern humans. Therefore, with the time since the K-T event, the dinosaur certainly would have had time to evolve an advanced brain.
Didn’t dinosaurs have a really small brain though? Surely with such a small brain, they were at an intellectual dead end.
One scientist, Rebekah Wright of the University of Arizona applied the Encephalization Quotient to dinosaurs. The Encephalization Quotient is a rudimentary base for the measurement of intelligence making the assumption that increased brain size is related to intelligence. It is the ratio of measured brain size and the expected brain size. The measured brain size is the volume of the braincase and the expected size is a logarithm plotting of brain size and body size. If we use earlier studies that saw dinosaurs as nothing more than large reptiles, the ratio shows that dinosaurs were not even as intelligent as modern crocodiles. If one assumes that dinosaurs have a closer affinity to birds as is now believed, the Encephalization Quotient shows that many dinosaurs including Allosaurus, Tyrannosaurus and Troodon, all had intelligence within the ranges of ground birds such as ostriches and emus. Only sauropods like Brachiosaurus were less intelligent than modern reptiles. Therefore, we have some brain capacity beyond that of the reptiles and with 65 million years to work with, it is not inconceivable to envision the evolution of an intelligent brain.
Bakker and Ostrum advocated for a warm-blooded dinosaur which would have required an increased metabolism and therefore able to support a large, energy hungry brain. Another sign of intelligence in dinosaurs was made famous by the movie Jurassic Park in which the velociraptors hunted in packs. Co-operative behaviour and other socialization are seen by some anthropologists as being part of the key that led to human intelligence.
Bipedalism is another attribute that freed our hands and allowed us to manipulate our world by creating tools. Dinosaurs, especially the raptors, the Troodon and large carnivorous dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus were all bipedal. In large carnivorous dinosaurs, we see forelimbs that are almost useless, though this is becoming a disputed topic in paleontology, whereas in the raptors and Troodon, we see forelimbs that were quite functional in that they could grasp things; not like our hands, but grasping nonetheless. However, we must also be careful with the assumption that intelligence is merely defined by our standards. Dolphins, for example, appear to have some form of intelligence. Dolphins certainly are not bipedal nor do they make tools. However, they are very social and socialization may be the key to intelligence. Some dinosaur species had that key, especially the smaller carnivorous dinosaurs including Troodon. Recent evidence also points to the idea that even large carnivorous dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus were not solitary killers, but highly social animals.
If the Earth had been altered in its orbit 65 million years ago, by less than a degree due to a passing star or the pull of the moon, the asteroid that has been hypothesized to have caused the K-T event that exterminated the dinosaurs may have been one of many near-earth encounters with extraterrestrial objects. If the K-T event never happened and earth was missed by its impact, we may still be the rats scurrying amongst the dwellings of intelligent dinosaurs.
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