Nov 26 2011: Dinosaur Fights, Early Humans and Trilobites: Drawings from Purnell’s Book of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Animals (1977)

Alongside the photographic dioramas seen in yesterday’s selection are these curious drawings, sometimes designed to show sizes of dinosaurs relative to, say, a human pyramid or a horse, but more often as a means of staging the fights that (let’s face it) any small child reading the book will want to see visualised on the page. So we get such classic face-offs as the Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus (the heavyweight championship of paleontology) sitting close to other, similar struggles to the death: Stegosaurus takes on Ceratosaurus in the middleweight rankings, while Plesiosaurus and Pteranadon bring the conflict to a meeting of ocean and air dwellers. We even get a Trilobite and Nautilus squid giving it a go. Maybe there’s always a certain propaganda notion to this, given that individual competition is the ruling ideology of our society, and so the projection of a kind of Darwinian fight for survival back into unknown prehistory makes that present belief seem more natural than it actually is. Much recent research into dinosaurs and other animals has suggested that predators operate in groups, co-operating to separate species far larger than themselves from herds and take them down together, in much the same way that their prey survive by gathering in large numbers in the first place. While there is a degree of Darwinian survival in nature, species that operated entirely as individuals, in isolation from the rest of their kind, wouldn’t last very long. Perhaps it’s worth remembering that next time ‘the survival of the fittest’ is invoked by yet another well-upholstered executive who wouldn’t last five minutes running a provincial market stall on a wet Wednesday, let alone be up to taking on a wilderness without lawyers and consultants at his side. Sometimes, the belief in our own no-nonsense realism is the most delusional fantasy we humans have.

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