Monday, 1 August 2016

Dinosaur Civilisation

I've often wondered: if a dinosaur civilisation developed would there still be evidence of it? If there is then we would have found it by now, wouldn't we?

Not necessarily.

If there was a dinosaur civilisation it would have ended at least 65 million years ago when climate change and the asteroid impact caused the major extinction event that killed off half of all life on Earth, including all of the non-avian dinosaurs. After so much time there would be very little of their civilisation left for us to find.

A decade after the asteroid hit


Amazingly, there are artifacts found in coal seams that could be evidence of a dinosaur civilisation. Coal takes 30-300 million years to form, so anything found within it must fall within that age range.  A gold chain and iron pot have been found in such seams, but the most interesting by far is a bell with a handle. The coal seam in which it was found is said to be up to 300 million years old, which would place it in the early part of the dinosaurs' reign. The bell was examined at the University of Oklahoma. It was found to contain an unusual mixture of metals, quite different from any modern usage.

The most intriguing feature of the bell is the figure on top of the handle. The figure's face is certainly not human.  Instead it looks like it could be reptilian, or avian in nature (the small wings make the avian link much more likely).

The figure on top of a 300 million year old bell handle - a sentient dinosaur?

It could be that when we look at the face of that figure we are looking at the likeness of an intelligent dinosaur, one of high-importance to its civilisation: perhaps an emperor, a great priest, a famous historian or philosopher, or a warrior. It could even represent a deity. That is quite a profound thought.

It's sad to think that thousands of such artifacts may have been destroyed in the furnaces of power stations around the world. Ideally coal mining facilities should be updated to detect metallic artifacts before the coal is transported away. If that was done we could soon find conclusive evidence of a pre-human civilisation that once thrived on Earth during the time of the dinosaurs.


The fossils we have found show us just a small percentage of dinosaur species. Fossilisation is a rare process indeed, and fossils of the intelligent dinosaurs that could have created such a civilisation may never be found.

Dinosaurs certainly had ample time to develop intelligence and civilisation. Humans have only been around for about 1.6 million years, and it's only about 4 million years since our ancestors first stood upright. Human civilisation developed only 10,000 years ago. Dinosaurs were the dominant lifeforms on Earth for 165 million years. The limited fossil record shows an incredible diversity of dinosaur species, each adapted to specific roles and environments. It seems likely to me that in all that time there should have been at least one dinosaur species that evolved intelligence to a similar level as our own, especially when you consider the brains of their direct descendants: birds.

The face of an intelligent dinosaur

In general the dinosaur fossil record shows that dinosaurs had small brains, but recent studies show that bird's, the descendants of dinosaurs, have much more intelligence than previously thought. Their brains have neurons that are much more densely packed than those of mammals.  In fact, some relatively small birds can have a similar number of neurons to primates. Theropods, the dinosaur ancestors of birds, were present throughout the reign of the dinosaurs, from the early Triassic to the final days of the late Cretaceous. Like birds, their brains, although much smaller than human brains, would have contained a much denser collection of neurons. It's possible that they could have reached a similar level of intelligence to our own with a much smaller brain than ours. The smaller brain size could even have lead to faster thought and reasoning processes which could have hastened the development of civilisation, and possibly to an even higher degree than our own.

There is a remarkable amount of evidence already found within coal and rock that suggests civilisations existed on Earth long before modern human civilisations developed, with some discoveries even hinting at advanced technology. I suspect that the most astonishing discoveries are yet to be made.

Perhaps we will one day find evidence of a space-faring civilisation that existed on Earth millions of years ago, one that managed to send some of its population away on an interstellar voyage to escape one of the many mass extinction events that have plagued our planet. The descendants of that civilisation could be living quite happily right now on another Earth-like world many light-years away.

And they could be dinosaurs.