Asteroid mining is quickly becoming a reality in the early 21st century, but the idea isn’t new. The first mention of asteroid mining in science fiction is probably Garrett P. Serviss’ story Edison’s Conquest of Mars in the New York Evening Journal in 1898, but are we 66 million years late to the Asteroid mining party? The 30,000 year long extinction of larger dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and many major aquatic creatures, could be seen as precursor to the 12,000 year long Holocene extinction of the larger mammals such as mammoths, major birds such as Haast’s eagle in New Zealand, and the virtual extinction of the whales. Did a space-faring civilization exist on this planet at the end of the Cretaceous? If it did, it might not have been extraterrestrial in origin.
Unlike in earlier eras when we have no indication of the possible evolution of an intelligent species, in the Cretaceous, we have clear evidence that at least one family of dinosaurs was on that evolutionary path, the Troodons. While no scientist could suggest that any dinosaurs did evolve into an intelligent creature back then without some evidence, several have hypothesized about the continued evolution of dinosaurs if the extinction event had not happened.
In his 1977 book The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence, astronomer Carl Sagan speculated about the genus Saurornithoides, a Troodon sub-species, evolving into ever more intelligent forms in the absence of any extinction event. A year later American psychologist Harry Jerison suggested the possibility of sapient dinosaurs as well. In 1978, he gave a presentation titled “Smart dinosaurs and comparative psychology,” at a meeting of the American Psychological Association. According to his speech Dromiceiomimus supposedly could have evolved into a highly intelligent species like human beings. Dromiceiomimus are now generally called Ornithomimus edmontonicus since scientists decided that the two identical looking species were really the same species. Ornithomimus edmontonicus and Troodon are different species, however generally similar in appearance, much like monkeys and apes.
In 1982 Dale Russell curator of vertebrate fossils at the National Museum of Canada in Ottawa, conjectured a possible evolutionary path that might have been taken by the Troodon had it not perished in the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event 66 million years ago, suggesting that it could have evolved into intelligent beings similar in body plan to humans. Over geologic time Russell noted that there had been a steady increase in the encephalization quotient or EQ among the dinosaurs. EQ is the relative brain weight when compared to other species with the same body weight. Russell had discovered the first Troodontid skull, and noted that, while its EQ was low compared to humans, it was six times higher than that of other dinosaurs. If the trend in Troodon evolution had continued to the present, its brain case could by now measure 1,100 cm³; comparable to that of a human. Troodontids had semi-manipulative fingers, able to grasp and hold objects to a certain degree, and binocular vision meaning both eyes faced forward, like a human and most other predators.(1)D. A. Russell and R. Séguin (1982) “Reconstruction of the small Cretaceous theropod Stenonychosaurus inequalis and a hypothetical dinosauroid” Syllogeus, Volume 37, Pages 1–43
Russell proposed that this “Dinosauroid” like most dinosaurs of the troodontid family, would have had large eyes and three fingers on each hand, one of which would have been partially opposed. As with most modern reptiles and birds, he conceived of its genitalia as internal. Russell speculated that it would have required a navel, as a placenta aids the development of a large brain case. However, it would not have possessed mammary glands, and would have fed its young, as birds do by regurgitating food. He speculated that its language would have sounded somewhat like bird song.(2)Darren Naish (November 2, 2006) Dinosauroids Revisited
While none of these scientists suggested that the Troodons or Ornithomimus edmontonicus did evolve into creatures with human-like intelligence, it is significant that they believed it was possible in time. Given that scientists have found very few continuous beds of fossil-bearing rock between several million years before the K–Pg extinction to a few million years after it,(3)N. MacLeod et al. (1997) “The Cretaceous–Tertiary biotic transition” Journal of the Geological Society, Volume 154, Number 2, Pages 265–292 and that the odds of a dinosaur bone fossilizing is one in a million to begin with, it is at least possible that intelligent dinosaurs could have evolved without us having found any trace of them yet.
The idea might seem preposterous, that something as significant as a highly evolved creature could be missing from the fossil record, however, we didn’t find our first chimpanzee fossil until 2005,(4)S. McBrearty and N. G. Jablonski (2005-09-01) “First fossil chimpanzee” Nature, Volume 437, Number 7055, Pages 105–8 even though chimpanzees are believed to have been around for 5 million years. Clearly we knew they existed, but if they’d gone extinct 10,000 years ago scientist would be debating what the new fossils are for the next century. These new fossils, so incredibly similar to human fossils would confuse the entire theory of human evolution. If it took a century of paleontology to find a few fossilized chip teeth, what are the odds of finding a highly evolved Troodon from 66 million years ago, from an era know for sparse surviving fossils?
If an intelligent dinosaur did evolve and cause a mass extinction most likely through hunting, and then an epic disaster through a failed asteroid mining scheme, it is possible that they had colonies on the Moon or Mars. Perhaps one day we will find some evidence of these dinosauroid precursors, if we don’t also kill ourselves first with our own asteroid mining scheme.
References [ + ]
|1.||⇑||D. A. Russell and R. Séguin (1982) “Reconstruction of the small Cretaceous theropod Stenonychosaurus inequalis and a hypothetical dinosauroid” Syllogeus, Volume 37, Pages 1–43|
|2.||⇑||Darren Naish (November 2, 2006) Dinosauroids Revisited|
|3.||⇑||N. MacLeod et al. (1997) “The Cretaceous–Tertiary biotic transition” Journal of the Geological Society, Volume 154, Number 2, Pages 265–292|
|4.||⇑||S. McBrearty and N. G. Jablonski (2005-09-01) “First fossil chimpanzee” Nature, Volume 437, Number 7055, Pages 105–8|