Right at the start, I would like to credit Mark Brown of the Wold Newtonians for inspiring this article, and acknowledge a debt of gratitude and insight for his essay "Prehistoric Survivors in the Pacific."
Elsewhere, I've theorized that various 'lost world' landscapes of dinosaurs and semi-humans are actually remnants of Pellucidar on the surface. The idea is that Burroughs' Pellucidar, or inner world, is the actual repository of ancient life. From time to time, entrances between inner and outer world form as temporary vortexes. When these vortexes close, a sort of scar is left, a patch of land ringed by mountains and cliffs, often impassable, which contains a sampling of Pellucidar life.
To my mind, this is the best explanation for anomalies like Burroughs' Caprona and Pal-Ul-Don, Doyle's Lost World, Jongor's Lost Land, King Kong's Skull Island, and so forth. It's a good theory, and I'm still happy with it.
On the other hand, there are a lot of dinosaurs in the South Pacific Ocean. As Mark Brown points out, Pacific Island dinosaurs have been encountered by Doc Savage and other pulp adventurers, have been seen in movies ranging from King Kong to Lost Continent, show up in comic strips and radio and movies and serials ranging from Lost Continent to Dinosaur Island. Indeed, the region adjacent to the South Pacific seems to be a hotbed of dinosaur survivals - King Kong's Skull Island is in adjacent Indian Ocean. Burroughs' Caprona is in the near Antarctic regions of the Pacific. Jongor's Lost Land is in Australia. Doyle's Lost World is on the other side of the Pacific in South America. There are even dinosaur survivals found in heated valleys in Antarctica, as seen in the movie The Land Unknown.
Of course, these dinosaurs pose problems for us. In many cases, they seem to be larger than the fossil record for dinosaurs would allow for, often twice as large as their Mesozoic counterparts. And they're often found on islands and in small biomes or territories, where we'd expect that they should be reducing in size, not growing. Indeed, some of the islands are so small that the dinosaur population may consist only of a handful of breeding pairs or even single individuals. Biologically, these things seem impossible. Conceivably we could get super-sized dinosaurs, but we shouldn't be getting them in such tiny habitats.
But there's a bigger problem: these aren't the dinosaurs we know. It's not immediately apparent at first. After all, we don't have very definitive ideas of what the Mesozoic dinosaurs looked like. And to be truthful, when one of them is chasing you, you're probably not going to stop to make notes of subtle anatomical details. So the distinction between modern dinosaurs and their ancestors is likely vague.
Nevertheless, over the years, skeletal reconstructions have improved, theories of motion and posture derived from bone measurements and footprint strides have evolved, and we've even found bits of dinosaur skin. We're getting pretty good at figuring out what they were like.
The trouble is that when we get to movies like King Kong or Lost Continent, they're nothing like that.
Now, some of this is pretty arguable. Descriptions of dinosaurs in pulp adventure stories are often vague. They're done by adventure writers, not anatomists. By the same token, comic book or comic strip depictions of many dinosaurs are tainted by a bit of artistic license. Their dinos look as much like real dinos as their characters look like humans, often the wilder the one, the wilder the other.
But this still leaves us with movies and the depictions in films. Space forbids us from being exhaustive, but let's take a look at Skull Island, as depicted in King Kong and Son of Kong. Skull Island has dinosaurs we recognize as analogous to fossil remnants - there's a triceratops, a styracosaurus, a sauropod, and even a T-Rex/Allosaurus-like carnosaur.
But there's also creatures that have no fossil counterparts. A two legged man sized lizard creature which climbs out of the spider pit, and a serpent-like creature with vestigial limbs that Kong fights. Kiko, the son of Kong struggles with a strange creature that seems half sauropod and half dragon. Whatever these creatures are, we haven't seen them before.
But the real giveaway is the carnosaur that Kong fights. It's definitely a meat eating dinosaur. It's definitely a relative of T-Rex, Allosaurus and the bunch. It's also definitely not a T-Rex. It's much more heavily built, its hide is visibly armoured, it has too many fingers on its forepaws. So what is it, really?
Or for that matter, why are the dinosaurs of Lost Continent or other movies like Unknown Island or The Land that Time Forgot so stiff and bulky, resembling almost giant men in suits.
The answer, when it comes, is blindingly obvious. It comes from Weta Works, the special effects technicians and artists who did Peter Jackson's 2005 version of King Kong. What happens, you see, is dinosaurs evolved.
That is, they didn't stand still any more than the mammals did. Dinosaur survivors, if they made it down through 65 million years, managed to continue to evolve. We're not encountering T-Rex and Triceratops, we're encountering their relatives and descendants, animals that may resemble their ancestors, but are anatomically distinct.
But we come back to where these dinosaurs come from in the first place, and why so many of their populations seem to be concentrated in the Southern Pacific region. If we set aside Pellucidar, what's the explanation?
What if, in the Wold Newton Universe or the 1930's Pulp Adventure Universe, dinosaurs did not become completely extinct at the Mesozoic Boundary? What if somewhere, some of them managed to cross that boundary?
In our world, not a chance. There's no fossil evidence anywhere for any dino crossing the line of death (birds being the sole exception).
But... work with me here. Why did the dinos get it in the neck? Well, basically, the dominant theory seems to be the Big Asteroid - most likely the monster that created the Chiculuxub (sic) crater in the Yucatan. The impact would have created worldwide super-tsunami, flash fried a few million square miles, and then kicked up so much dust and debris that the planet went into a nuclear winter that only the most marginal species - rats, turtles, lizards, birds, etc., survived.
Okay, so if dinos survived, where would they be most likely to survive, and what kinds were most likely to make it through?
In answer to the first question: far away from Chicu. That's tricky, what with continental drift and stuff, but the most remote locations would have been central Asia in the Northern Hemisphere, literally on the other side of the world, and deep, deep down in the Southern Hemisphere, say around the pole.
And there was a healthy cluster of continents down that way. I think that around that time, Gondwanaland was still around, or was just breaking up. So you had India, South America, Australia, Southern Africa, Madagascar, Antarctica and Zealandia all still somewhat associated.
Now, here's where it gets interesting. What sort of dinosaurs might survive a 'nuclear winter' caused by an asteroid strike?
Dinosaurs already adapted to surviving a long harsh winter.
We're starting to see fossils coming out of the Antarctic and Southern Australia (within the Antarctic circle in dinosaur times) and the far arctic which showed that dinosaurs lived in the polar regions. And there are signs that they were adapted or adapting to the polar regions --larger eyes, larger brains, smaller forms, cold temperature adaptations, signs of burrowing and hibernation, signs of migratory behaviour.
In the time of the dinosaurs, Antarctica wasn't glaciated. It didn't become glaciated until about 25 million years ago (there's a story there). The climate of the South Pole was probably no worse than the climate in Canada or Siberia, essentially, an environment that sported forests and green space (verified by fossils). But it's still the south pole, so with axial tilt, you'd still get six month days and six month nights...
So, the Antarctic dinosaurs would already be adapted to Months Long Dark Winters. They're used to six month nights, and all the plants dying and everything getting cold. They're halfway adapted to nuclear winters, right then and there.
And of course, the upper atmosphere deep in the southern hemisphere would probably be the last area affected by the covering dust cloud, the least worst affected, and the first area to clear.
Although light would be diminished during the day and temperatures would be cold, a six month day would let enough cumulative light come through for at least some vegetation to grow and a brutalized ecosystem to emerge at low level.
Let's be clear. The Antarctic dinos probably wouldn't be happy about the situation. They're used to six month nights, but not nights that run for years. They'd be built for a life cycle that included migrating to nicer places, or coming out in spring and getting fat. Well, there'd be no getting fat, and not much in the way of nicer places. So I wouldn't be surprised if the vast majority of the Antarctic population died off, just like they did everywhere else.
But here's the thing, unlike everywhere else, some of them would survive. Dwarf dinos from the poles wouldn't need as much food to sustain themselves, they'd be adapted for more rugged conditions, they'd be adapted to travelling great distances looking for food, or hibernating through the worst for weeks or months. If 90% of the animals in a species died off, then the remaining 10% were still able to eke out a living in this impoverished environment.
Of course, it wasn't necessarily happy times even then. The Gondwanaland continent was already breaking up, Africa had split 160 million years ago, South America 130, India 110.
Australia, Antarctica and Mu (Zealandia) broke apart somewhere between 85 and 60 million years ago, so it was right at the cusp. The dinos were short of living space and real estate. You need places to migrate too.
So, the dinos may have survived and recovered, but it was tough sledding. They may not have made it in Australia, or they might have died later off due to different climactic conditions there. Instead, their best chances to prosper and recover were in Mu and Antarctica. And wouldn't you know it, Antarctica glaciated and Mu sank.
What's this you say? Mu was an imaginary continent? Tish, tush. Even in our universe, Mu was real. Here's a picture of it:
It's about half the size of Australia, located in the South Pacific, it would have been an extremely fertile and well watered continent. It sank about 25 million years ago. Nowadays, its remnants are known as New Zealand and New Caledonia in the North and South, and the whole thing is called Zealandia (ick). I call it Mu because it's a sunken continent in the Pacific Ocean, seriously, what better name?
One of the interesting things about Mu, or Zealandia, is its geographic spread. It's a small continent as we've noticed. But if it were in the northern Hemisphere, it would stretch from Norway to Sudan, or Hudson Bay to Cuba. That's an immense range of latitudes, and by the same token, a major series of climate and rainfall shifts. It's also mostly a series of mountainous peninsulas, so overall, it would likely get a lot of rainfall and be quite fertile.
Sixty five million years ago, during the age of the dinosaurs, it would have probably extended much nearer the south pole. So the dinosaurs in its southern extremity would have been polar dinosaurs, hardy dwarfs adapted to six month long nights, harsh winters, hibernation and migration. And, in the case of Mu, with its immense latitudinal spread means that the polar dinosaurs would have had places to migrate too in the event of a disaster. Mu, together with Antarctica and Australia, would have been the last, best hope for the dinos.
Zealandia sank 25 million years ago, so if any dinosaurs managed to survive there, well, that was it for them. But in Wold Newton land, or the pulp fiction era and other hypothetical pulp universes, it may have lasted well into the human era.
Okay, now stay with me. Supposing that a population of little dwarf species did manage to survive the big extinction event... what do they do? Well, as times get better, they rebuild their populations, diversify, occupy new niches, and get bigger and bigger.
In our universe, the South American sauropods were the biggest dinos ever. And the South American sauropods survived the Jurassic era and prospered into the Cretaceous. So, it's not unreasonable that the dwarf species whose genomes already contained the adaptations and features of much larger animals would get bigger and bigger. Even lots bigger in some cases than the fossil record shows.
But one interesting corollary is that the new recovered species of dinosaurs wouldn't be the species that we know. T-Rex is extinct. Brontosaurus is extinct. Boo hoo.
But dwarf carnosaurs and sauropods and ceratopsians reproduce new versions, bigger and badder versions of themselves that fit into the niches of T-Rex and Brontosaurus and would be confused with these creatures by laymen.
That's why the dinosaurs in King Kong, which we thought were allosaurs or T-rex, or brontosaurs, don't match what we now know about these animals. They're not really T-Rex or brontosaurus, they're a later edition that we've simply mistaken for the originals. The new dinosaurs are different from the old ones, and we've simply mistaken them.
It also explains some of the morphological changes that we've seen in modern dinosaurs, as opposed to their Mesozoic counterparts. We know that the Southern Hemisphere sauropods tended to be armoured, they had bone plates embedded in their skin. It seems that thick rough hides seemed to be de-rigeur for southern hemisphere dinos, and we can readily assume that the polar varieties would have needed even thicker and tougher hides to survive in their Antarctic homes.
But more than that, one of the well defined evolutionary trends is giantism. Basically, species or lines, as they age, tend to produce bigger and bigger animals. It's pretty simple. As you evolve, you get better at occupying your niche, you get better and better at your job. Being more efficient allows you to have a larger population of your species, but a larger population of your species means more competition for food, resources and reproduction. Being bigger allows you to muscle out the competition. So over time, species select for size, getting larger and larger to the limits of their environment. The surviving polar dinosaurs have had 65 million extra years to develop in their isolated lost continents. On average, the dinosaurs and dinosaur lineages jumped in size from the Triassic to the Jurassic, and then jumped again in size from the Jurassic to the Cretaceous. Arguably, the modern dinosaurs have had the time for two more evolutionary 'size' jumps. So it's not necessarily a surprise to see lines of carnosaurs, stegosaurs and ceratopsians moving into sauropod size ranges.
Of course, growth like that has consequences for anatomy. Basically, the heavier an animal is, the more its legs have to function like pillars. A deer or a dog can walk and run as 'bent legged' animals. Their weight is light enough that their bones and muscles are able to flex. On the other hand, as an animal gets heavier -- humans on two legs, horses and cows, or elephants on four legs, the legs have to stand straight to bear weight.
Here, I'll show you. Stand up, straight up, and count to sixty.
No problem, right?
You were standing straight, all the weight of your body was resting on your legs, and your legs were two pillars with the bones locked and bearing the load.
Okay, now stand in a crouch, bend your knees far forward. Hold that position and count to sixty.
A lot harder, right? Both your bones and muscles were stressed from that position, you were fighting gravity, not letting it flow through you.
That's why elephants, giraffes and rhinos tend to look very stiff legged as they walk or run. They don't gallop or trot. They can't. They go with loping, stiff legged gaits. Their anatomy, and their motion, has to support their weight.
So now, let's take a 15 foot tall T-Rex and double its size to 30 feet tall. Double its height, it has to weigh four times as much, the old square cube rule. That's a lot of weight to support.
So, our Super-Rex can't afford to trot and gallop. He becomes a stiff legged walker, even stiffer than old T-Rex. He's big, so he can probably move very fast when he needs to. But he won't be dancing.
Of course, normal size T-Rex walks and runs bent over, using his tail to counterbalance the rest of the weight of his front part. This can make him very agile. On the other hand, Super-Rex weighs four times as much. That's four times as much stress on his skeleton and spinal column as regular Rex.
Super-Rex has to adapt to this by straightening up his posture. The spine moves from a near horizontal flexible posture, to a much more vertical posture. A more vertical posture makes it easier to simply pile the bones on top of one another, to have the skeleton support the weight. The horizontal posture means that each bone is fighting its own battle with gravity and the muscles have to work constantly.
So, Super-Rex has to be far more upright and straight backed than his ancestors. Of course, he'll have to bend over frequently to feed or attack. So that means he'll keep his massive heavy tail for balance.
But those forelimbs will start to grow again. T-Rex's forelimbs tended to reduce because they were evolutionary extra weight. T-Rex's body was like a teeter totter, with weight balancing on its hips, between its front part and its tail. The more weight on the front, the more weight there had to be in the back, which was more drag. The other way to keep balanced was to reduce drag on the front end, so the forelimbs got smaller. Super-Rex's posture is different, the front limbs are no longer hanging down from the front of a body under constant balance stress, so they're no longer a problem. On the other hand, as the Super-Rex bends, it needs to use forelimbs for balance or attack, so they grow larger again.
And of course, as Super-Rex's head grows larger and more massive, the bones needed to support that head grow disproportionately thicker and more resilient. The head becomes less mobile on the neck. Super-Rex's neck, head and jaws are simply not as flexible or mobile. They still deliver devastating killing bites, but now Super-Rex has to use its forearms to help maneuver prey to its jaws.
The result is a thirty-five or forty foot tall monster with a large inflexible head on a thick neck, long grasping forearms, and extremely upright posture dragging a heavy tail. Except for their gigantic size, they might well be mistaken for men in suits. They've probably reached the upper limits of size for two legged creatures.
Of course, this model is not universal. The carnosaur that King Kong encounters [called The Tyrant King by some-CN] clearly didn't follow the 'man in suit' plan. However, we can see a different set of adaptations as its legs and hips become massive platforms. The Kong carnosaur is very nearly as wide at the hips as it is tall. With these immensely broad hips and thick legs to anchor its weight, it hews closer to a more typical carnosaur plan.
So that explains the peculiar appearances of modern dinosaurs. It's a mixture of south hemisphere/polar traits and excessive size. *
So how do the Dinosaurs get around the Pacific to all these little islands?
This is a bit of a mystery. Many of these islands are relatively small and shouldn't be able to support the population of giants. Certainly they shouldn't be able to support the population of giants at their gigantic sizes. And even if we assume that the dinosaurs survived into modern times in a continent of Mu that survived to our era and didn't sink 25 million years ago.... well, we have the impression that a lot of these dinosaurs are found on Islands far removed from Mu, or Antarctica or Australia. So how did they make it out there?
There's a couple of possibilities.
One is that all these little Islands are the dying geological remnants of Mu, sinking one by one. That might explain 'Dinosaur Islands' in a relatively small area of the Pacific between New Zealand and New Caledonia. It wouldn't explain others.
Another is that these Islands were colonized by the dinosaurs.
How is that possible? Carnosaurs and sauropods can't fly, and they're not great swimmers, and they certainly didn't raft over. It's not like they built boats and moved out there.... Ah, but there's another possibility.
Muans. Or Muvians. (Or Muites, Muies, Mutts?) Let's assume that humans reached Mu. That's not a stretch. After all, humans made it to Australia, Indonesia, the Phillipines, and to North and South America.
Humans get to Mu, colonize it, and they're dealing with dinosaurs. Not fun.
Except that if dinosaurs are anything like modern birds, they lay eggs.
And when those eggs hatch, they imprint on the first thing they see and assume that it's their mom.
The Muans showing up in their dugout canoes are short of domesticated animals. In our world, the big horsepower are horses, oxen and camels, all of which are northern hemisphere critters, domesticated within the last 10 or 15 thousand years, and none of which travel by sea all that well.
There's also goats, dogs and pigs, which can be beasts of burden in a pinch, but aren't that great for horsepower.
We can take it for granted that the people who found and colonized Mu were short on beasts of burden -- they weren't carrying oxen or horses on their canoes, maybe a few dogs and goats, but probably not much of that.
But if they managed to find a few dinosaur eggs and get them imprinting on humans, well, they'd be pretty easy to domesticate. And it would happen pretty naturally, once the dinos became old enough to start getting ornery, you'd just eat them. The ones which were most docile longest would get to lay more eggs, and their descendants would inherit that long term docility. Hell, in addition to accidentally breeding for docility, you might also find yourself starting to breed for embigginess, if they aren't already big enough. Or they might breed for intelligence, sociability and friendliness to humans in some cases.
So the Mu civilization became the first to domesticate animals, and it domesticated animals which gave them more horsepower than any rival culture could hope to match.
Also, this was a domesticated beast of burden that was easy to transport. Loading a couple of eggs on a canoe is a lot easier than a full grown ox, or a calf. So, when the Muui people went out and founded their outposts and colonies, they took eggs with them. The result is several islands with dinosaur populations, including animals much larger than the environment would normally produce.
Didn't work so well on the continents. Just too many rats and egg eating mammals. So unless you were right on top, your dinos had one generation, maybe two. But on Islands without rats or nasty little scavengers and egg thieves, they'd do well.
Okay, but now you say: "Den, there's a flaw in your theory. It's one thing to strap a bronto or a triceratops in harness and use it to pull a plow or build a city. But what about the T-Rexoid? Surely those bastards are too mean for proper civilian purposes."
I reply: "Certainly, they were. But they'd be terrific for war, and the warrior castes! Also, even domesticated animals of great size and power can become ornery and uncontrollable. So you might want to have something waiting in reserve that can kill it right quick."
Anyway, Mu eventually sinks, the civilization falls, and all those islands of domesticated dinos eventually revert to wild dinos, without humans (or without enough humans) to imprint on. The dinosaur populations on these islands are only a few thousand years old, and simply haven't had time to downsize significantly. Of course, it's likely that on many other Pacific Islands, the Mu dinosaurs were transplanted and not ultimately viable, vanishing within a few decades or centuries. And of course, in most mainland or continental territories they also vanished. Nevertheless, in a handful if Islands, domesticated dinosaurs revert to the wild, even as the human population fades away.
Except possibly for the bunch in Dinotopia, which constitutes a functioning culture in which dinosaurs of various species seem to be well established in local culture.
And so, we have a worthy explanation for the Pacific dinos, I think.
Of course, it's more difficult to explain continental dinosaur populations, such as Australia's lost land, or Doyle's Lost World in South America. But then, if Polar dinosaurs might survive, we might allow for some South American and Central Asian relic populations in isolated spots to survive. And it doesn't explain the Giant Apes, but that's another fish to fry.
Return to Guest Section