November 19, 2009
We just can’t let dinosaurs stay dead. They were real dragons that (notwithstanding their bird descendants) lived and died millions and millions of years before our species evolved, and they are so fascinating that we keep finding new ways to bring them into our world. Among the various ways humans and dinosaurs have been brought into contact, the idea that some dinosaurs might have survived in some pocket of unexplored wilderness has been a staple of science fiction and adventure stories for some time. Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World is the classic prototype for this subgenre, but one of the lesser-known variations on the theme was a 1908 story by Henry Francis called “The Last Haunt of the Dinosaur.”
While not an outright copy of Doyle’s story, Francis’ tale is another “Lost World” type of adventure that was standard for pulp magazines of the time (which included, I am sorry to say, racist undertones). Where Francis had a bit of trouble, though, was deciding what kind of dinosaur should menace the intrepid English explorers central to his story. It was a carnivorous dinosaur, the salacious descriptions of gore in the story make that clear, but Francis gave his dinosaur a long neck and small head like that of a sauropod. A case could be made that early sauropodomorph dinosaurs like Aardonyx would fit Francis’ description for body type if not dietary habits, but I am not feeling so charitable. It seems to me that he was confused and combined features from several dinosaurs to make a monster. (Francis covers his own tracks later on by having the scientists revise a restoration of a dinosaur skeleton they had been working on to fit the creature they saw in the jungle.)
Contrary to Francis’ imaginary tale, however, there is no reason to think that there are non-avian dinosaurs still inhabiting tropical jungles. Even if some lineages managed to survive the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous 65 million years ago, their descendants would have continued to evolve and would probably look very different from their Mesozoic ancestors. Nevertheless, “Lost World” type stories give us an excuse to wonder what life would be like if the dinosaurs we know only as fossils actually lived alongside our species, and I have little doubt that this kind of tale will be around, in one for or another, for some time to come.
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