January 12, 2010
Even though there has never been any evidence that humans and non-avian dinosaurs lived alongside one another (the first hominids, after all, did not evolve until about 6 million years ago), there have been many fictional stories that pit “cavemen” against dinosaurs. Indeed, it is difficult to look at a dinosaur and not wonder what it would be like to see the living thing, and how much scarier would it be if we had only stone tools to defend ourselves? Charles Roberts drew on this question for one of his stories, “In the Morning of Time,” which appeared in an issue of the magazine Sunset around 1913.
Scientifically speaking, the story does not get off to a particularly good start. In an introduction, the editor of the magazine tells us that humans have been evolving for such a long time (just how long he cannot say) that surely our ancestors must have overlapped with some of the last dinosaurs. In a broad sense this is true, our shrew-like mammalian ancestors did live alongside dinosaurs, but this is not what the editor means. Instead the magazine asserts that humans much like us began to walk around on the ground in the waning days of a Cretaceous world still ruled by reptilian monsters. Roberts himself introduced such human ancestors this way:
A brown slim creature, a woman apparently, but with arms so long that they reached below the knees, and covered all over, except for the face, with short dark hair like fur, stood at the foot of a slender palm-like tree. The hair of her head was a true hair, not like fur, but shaggy and matted. Her eyes were wild and alert like those of a suspicious doe. In the crook of one arm she carried a small light-brown absurdly downy baby. She was apprehensive, because she was at some distance from the great trees which were her home. She had ventured so far to gather plantains, the fruit that she loved best.
Things do not go well for her. No sooner is our protagonist introduced than she comes face-to-face with a menacing Triceratops:
A slight sound behind her, and she turned her head. There was the gigantic and horrifying bulk of a monster Dinosaur half out-thrust from a thicket, its cold fish-like eyes fixing her implacably from their immense goggle rims. The three gigantic horns, two standing out from the forehead and one from the crest of the nose, pointed straight at her, the dreadful mouth, shaped like a parrot’s beak, was open, and reaching for her.
Now horned dinosaurs might not have been as nice and gentle as they are popularly portrayed, but it is difficult not to snicker at the thought of a Triceratops with a taste for humans. The woman in the story has nothing to laugh about, though. There is not only one Triceratops, but two, and they both send her scurrying up the tree. This attracts the attention of her mate, who comes running to help, but will he be able to stop the dinosaurs? You will have to read the rest of the story (the first part of a series) to find out.
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