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An explanation for the gigantic scale of prehistoric life
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by Robert Bakker

The Dinosaur Heresies revolutionised our perception of dinosaurs. In the years before Bakker wrote The Dinosaurs Heresies the majority of people pictured the dinosaurs as giant slow plodding lizards with the largest dinosaurs living in water to support their massive weight. Bakker's book outlined his thoughts about the athletic ability of these gigantic creatures in such convincing detail that most people now believe the gigantic dinosaurs were as agile and active as our smaller modern day animals.

The book was first published in 1986 and has been so popular that it's still selling sufficiently well to have been reprinted several times. It needs to be part of any serious dinosaur enthusiasts library.

Some of Bakker's reconstructions have proved remarkable accurate in the light of more recent evidence. Deinonychus, the "two-hundred-pound Cretaceous predator with a wickedly enlarged hind claw for disembowelling prey" is drawn on page 312 with feathers. This was indeed heresy when the book was published. Bakker based this reconstruction on its "incredibly birdlike anatomical structure" which strongly indicated "it is probable that they had already evolved feathers".

When Bakker book was first published, many scientists were sceptical that meat-eating dinosaurs really were the ancestors of birds. They wanted to see proof that dinosaurs had feathers. In the last few years the fossilised remains of feathered dinosaurs have been discovered in the 124 million year old lake sediment of Liaoning, China. These dinobirds are preserved in remarkable fine detail firmly confirming Bakker's theory about the connection between birds and dinosaurs. With birds as the direct descendants of dinosaurs it becomes virtually impossible to see dinosaurs as slow lumbering creatures since the metabolic rate of birds is even higher than the mammals of today. So dinosaurs must have been fast and agile despite their large size - just as Bakker predicted in 1986.

The dinosaurs drawn on page 19 of Dinosaur Heresies indicates the problem that some other palaeontologists see with this theory. The 7 ton Tyrannosaurus matches the 5 ton elephant in size but Bakker's Tyrannosaurus is shown running with the agility of a much smaller animal.

The less athletic elephant is shown with an activity level similar to the 35 ton Brontosaurus and 20 ton Pelorsaurus. It is clear that the whole range of dinosaur life is 2 to 3 times the size of present day life with elephant sized carnivores and colossal vegetarians the size of a house.

If you are looking for an answer to this riddle of the dinosaurs massive scale you will not find it here, the problem is hardly ever mentioned, but you will find startling evidence that the whole range of dinosaur life was highly active despite their gigantic size. If you want to read about some of the problems of scale you will need to read other books such as Dynamics of Dinosaurs. It's not surprising that Bakker stifled the problems of scale since it was this issue which had established the old orthodox idea of slow moving dinosaurs unable to move fast because of their massive size. Perhaps it is better to suppress the other valid evidence of scale effects, and indeed there is only one theory that attempts to reconcile the two conflicting lines of evidence by suggesting that gravity was less in the past as presented in Dinosaurs and the Expanding Earth. Bakker avoids the scale problem by only presenting the ample evidence for agile, fast, warm-blooded, and intelligent dinosaurs. The book's whole objective was to overturn the old idea of slow plodding animals constrained by their massive scale and it achieves this objective supremely.

Bakker's book has now been transformed by the passage of time from a bold new look at the dinosaurs to the prevalent view of how dinosaurs moved and acted. Much of this was achieved by the convincing arguments supported by his 200 detailed illustrations which show in vivid detail the highly active dinosaurs feeding, mating, fighting, hunting, and dying. The book is excellent for the enthusiast who wants to know why the dinosaurs are now reconstructed as fast agile creatures, but anyone with only a slight interest in dinosaurs may find it too detailed. For a young reader the introductory style of books such as Walking with Dinosaurs might be a better choice. For a dinosaur fanatic Dinosaur Heresies is worth every penny.

Stephen Hurrell
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