Maybe it’s because I write too much, but I am frequently surprised and sometimes a little freaked out at the strange coincidences that have so often cropped up during my time here at Tet Zoo. Long-time readers will recall the several occasions when we’ve looked at hypothetical intelligent dinosaurs: it started back in 2006 with my contention that ground hornbills (bucorvids) should be regarded as the dinosaurs most convergent with hominins (here). Humanoid dinosaurs like Dale Russell’s hypothetical big-brained troodontid – the ‘dinosauroid’ – are (in my opinion) utterly unrealistic, relying more on the notion that humans are the bestest animals ever, rather than on what we might really infer from dinosaur evolution. Inspired by all of this, my good friend Nemo Ramjet (blog here) designed a new-look dinosauroid, the bucorvid-like post-Cretaceous deinonychosaur Avisapiens saurotheos (here). Nemo went on to create a culture and society for Avisapiens, with cave art and everything (here)…
Perhaps partly because of this – but partly because of coincidence – two new articles have recently appeared on big-brained hypothetical dinosaurs. The first was by Jeff Hecht: Jeff is best known in the zoological world for the reporting he does in New Scientist on new palaeontological discoveries, but he’s best known globally (so I understand) for his writing on lasers and fibre optics. Jeff’s new article (Hecht 2007) highlights the fact that, 25 years on, palaeontologists are still interested in the thought experiment initiated by Russell & Séguin (1982), but think that ‘Russell’s dinosauroid needs updating’.
Jeff spoke to theropod expert Tom Holtz, who is quoted as saying that the dinosauroid looks too human, and that – if troodontids were to evolve primate-like braininess – they would retain the long tail and horizontal body posture common to theropods (Hecht 2007). This might sound familiar, because it’s the same argument I used when writing about dinosauroids at Tet Zoo. I’m not implying there that Tom stole my idea: he probably thought these thoughts before I did. I’m also quoted in the article, again making the point that, if theropods were to evolve big brains and sentience, there is no reason other than anthropocentrism to think that they might resemble us physically. Exhibit A: parrots.
Ah, Simon Conway Morris would be proud
A second article, this time on the subject of brain size and intelligence in dinosaurs, appeared in a 2008 issue of the Czech magazine Sv?t. The article, by Vladimír Socha (and written in Czech of course), includes a discussion of hypothetical intelligent dinosaurs [this section shown below], and what will interest Tet Zoo readers in particular is its reference to Nemo’s Avisapiens. This is the first time Avisapiens has appeared in print if, that is, you don’t count Nemo’s portfolio (available here).
In another curious and totally unconnected coincidence, Tet Zoo regular Steve Bodio (of Querencia) recently sent me a copy of an article that I was totally unaware of: John C. McLoughlin’s ‘Evolutionary bioparanoia’, published in Animal Kingdom magazine in 1984. Most of you will know of John because of his 1979 book Archosauria: A New Look at the Old Dinosaur (less well known is its 1980 follow-up Synapsida: A New Look into the Origin of Mammals). Written back when everyone was getting all excited about Robert Bakker’s dynamic, hot-blooded view of the dinosaurian world, Archosauria was one of the first works to visualise dinosaurs as active, alert animals with boldly patterned, sometimes feathery, bodies. John depicted his dinosaurs chasing, trotting and foraging, and many were much-copied by other artists and proved highly influential (many of the dinosaurs in David Lambert’s 1983 Collins Guide to Dinosaurs, for example, are copied from those that appeared in Archosauria).
John’s 1984 article describes his contemplation of a new psychiatric disorder he recognises in himself: evolutionary bioparanoia. It is ‘an acute, often immobilizing sense of dread generated by fatigue in persons interested in both the current state of world affairs and the evolutionary history of life on Earth’ (McLoughlin 1984, p. 25). The article begins by considering the probable short lifespan of technologically advanced societies, the (alleged) short-lived nature of anthropogenic artefacts, buildings and other constructions, and the fact that humanity’s rise to global dominance and massive impact on the global biota will be all but geologically instantaneous. John notes that, in a global biota with a horribly impoverished large animal fauna, the most abundant large non-humans animals are domesticated cattle. We imagine what non-human geologists, living in the far distant future 60 million years hence and looking back at the Holocene fossil record, will see if human society obliterated itself by way of nuclear war. A layer of unusually concentrated elements; massive erosion caused by agriculture and war; a time of massive dying.
Here’s where the evolutionary bioparanoia kicks in. Noting that this sort of thing is, pretty much, what we see in the fossil record of the latest Late Cretaceous, John explains how comparatively big-brained maniraptorans like the dromaeosaurs might perhaps have evolved their very own sentient tool-maker: ladies and gentlemen, I give you McLoughlin’s smart tool-making maniraptoran, yet another hypothetical big-brained sentient theropod. He doesn’t name it, but I’m going to call it Bioparaptor macloughlini (bioparanoia + raptor, ‘macloughlini’ isn’t a typo: the ICZN recommends that ‘Mc’ spellings become ‘mac-‘ names).
Depicted as a swell-headed deinonychosaur that wears jewellery and has invented nuclear weapons, Bioparaptor recalls Russell’s dinosauroid in having a short-jawed, big-brained skull and in having lost its pedal sickle-claw, but differs from it in being long-tailed and overall more dinosaur-like. Its nefarious activities not only resulted in a nuclear conflict that caused the end-Cretaceous event, but its domestication of herding cattle-like herbivores (Triceratops and kin) resulted in an impoverished terrestrial fauna where other big animals were rare or absent. I’m shocked that no-one has brought this to my attention earlier, and am surprised that John’s Bioparaptor hasn’t been mentioned more often. McLoughlin (1984) makes no mention of Russell’s dinosauroid (published in 1982): while I’m sure that John was aware of it, the fact that Bioparaptor looks so different implies that it ‘evolved’ convergently, the product of a different thought experiment.
Magee’s Anthroposaurus sapiens
Moving on, here we come to the next coincidence as, while working with Jeff Liston in Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum during November 2007, I learnt that views essentially identical to those expressed by John had managed to get into the non-fictional literature elsewhere, thanks to an obscure little 1993 tome by one Mike Magee, titled Who Lies Sleeping: the Dinosaur Heritage and the Extinction of Man. Thanks to Jeff, I’ve since gotten hold of this book.
It’s very weird. As in McLoughlin (1984), the main thrust here is that sentient, big-brained dromaeosaurs – Magee calls them Anthroposaurus sapiens – evolved at the end of the Late Cretaceous and, via industrial pollution and a nuclear war, caused their own extinction as well as that of many of their contemporaries. On the way, Magee stops to look at Elaine Morgan’s aquatic ape hypothesis (I’m still not sure why) and generally agrees with it, and also spends a chapter examining the evidence for evolutionary saltation and super-rapid evolution (Magee 1993). He’s a big fan of Bakker’s The Dinosaurs Heresies and Desmond’s The Hot Blooded Dinosaurs (in fact they seem to be about the only dinosaur literature he cites). It is proposed that anthroposaurs evolved from arboreal primate-like theropods and that, like the aquatic apes of Morgan’s AAH, they went through an aquatic phase and hence convergently became human-like.
As in McLoughlin (1984), it is suggested that the low-diversity ornithischian assemblage of late Maastrichtian North America reflects the fact that the smart dinosaurs maintained Triceratops and Edmontosaurus as domestic animals: ‘herded on the great plains before being shipped to a Cretaceous Chicago for making into meat pies and hamburgers’ (Magee 1993, p. 110). Anthroposaur industry resulted in the evidence for iridium concentration, acid rain, rising global temperatures and so on seen in the late Maastrichtian record, and it is suggested that some dinosaur lineages actually evolved to cope with the chronic atmospheric pollution that resulted. Here we have the explanation for the elaborate cranial crests of lambeosaurs, the convoluted nasal passages of ankylosaurids and the big nose of Altirhinus (which wasn’t Maastrichtian, but let’s not worry about that).
The nuclear war that finished off anthroposaur society explains the evidence for global wildfires, the bits of stressed quartz and the tektites interpreted by others as evidence for asteroid impact. Mummified dinosaurs – like Sternberg’s famous Edmontosaurus from Wyoming [shown here] – surely owe their remarkable preservation to this global nuclear conflict: I think my favourite sentences in the whole book are ‘Dinosaur mummies are rare, but when found they are usually late Cretaceous hadrosaurs. Why should they have died so perfectly and been preserved? Because they died of gamma radiation and neutrons which preserved them as surely as it would preserve strawberries in a plastic bag?’ (Magee 1993, p. 148).
Equally if not more entertaining is Magee’s suggestion that the various man-like tracks reported from the Mesozoic are not the distorted genuine tracks, amorphous holes, or blatant fakes which examination has demonstrated them to be, but are instead actual anthroposaur tracks.
The book’s title refers to the idea, loosely ‘explained’ in the very last chapter, that anthroposaurs lay sleeping, though whether this is meant literally (that they are hiding under the ground) or figuratively (that they are somehow within our psyche) is never made clear. It might be both, as he writes of Typhon, Echidna, Tiamat and the serpent from the Garden of Eden as if they and other mythological semi-reptiles might be racial memories of smart dinosaurs, and of course there’s the fact (I use the term loosely) that H. P. Lovecraft had a telepathic connection with anthroposaurs, and that this explains his references to the Old Ones, the fallen city of R’lyeh, his loathing of immigrants, desertion of his attractive wife, and poekilothermic physiology. Err, yup.
A magazine article published in 1984 and a strange book published in 1993 are not exactly news, but Hecht (2007) and Socha (2008) clearly are. For me, it has been curiously coincidental, not only that both articles appeared within the last few months, but also that I only learnt about McLoughlin (1984) and Magee (1993) within this same space of time. Clearly, this is evidence that I too am in telepathic contact with the sleeping anthroposaurs. Or, wait, maybe I am an anthroposaur. I did always pretend to be a dinosaur when I was a kid, and I do generally prefer reptiles to people.
Thanks to Steve Bodio, Jeff Hecht and Jeff Liston for instigating it all. And to see what’s happening with Russell’s dinosauroid these days, visit Michael Ryan’s article here.
Refs – –
Hecht, J. 2007. Smartasaurus. Cosmos 15, 40-41.
Magee, M. 1993. Who Lies Sleeping: the Dinosaur Heritage and the Extinction of Man. AskWhy! Publications, Frome.
McLoughlin, J. 1984. Evolutionary bioparanoia. Animal Kingdom April/May 1984, 24-30.
Russell, D. A. & Séguin, R. 1982. Reconstruction of the small Cretaceous theropod Stenonychosaurus inequalis and a hypothetical dinosauroid. Syllogeus 37, 1-43.
Socha, V. 2008. Dinosau?i: hlupáci, nebo géniové? Sv?t 3/2008, 14-16.