The land before the beginning of time. What would the world look like today if dinosaurs had survived 66 million years ago?

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Earth before time. What the world would have looked like today if dinosaurs had survived 66 million years ago

An asteroid impact made human evolution possible. However, history could have developed very differently, scientists say.

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Everything changed 66 million years ago, when a giant asteroid crashed into the Earth with the force of 10 billion atomic bombs and changed the course of evolution, writes Inverse.

The sky darkened, life on the planet died from a lack of sunlight – the plants stopped photosynthesizing and soon died. Following them, herbivores also died – the food chain collapsed. As a result, the mass extinction wiped out about 90% of all species from the face of the Earth. The planet plunged into darkness, and when the dust settled, all dinosaurs, except for a group of birds, became extinct.

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However, the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs was the ticket to human evolution. As a result, the surviving mammals, including small protoprimates, flourished and eventually evolved into us.

However, the researchers offer to look into history and imagine a world in which an asteroid flew by and dinosaurs survived. Perhaps now these giant predators would become superintelligent, hoist their flag on the moon, and dinosaur scientists would discover the theory of relativity or find a way to stop global warming, and perhaps even discuss the possibility that someday mammals will take over the Earth. Sounds incredible, doesn't it?

This scenario may sound like mediocre science fiction, but it also raises deep philosophical questions – did humanity appear on Earth by accident or was evolution inevitable after all? Nicholas Longrich from the University of Bath took up the discussion.

Today, humans are the dominant species on the planet – more than 8 billion intelligent people live on 7 continents. We have changed half of the planet's land mass to feed ourselves and dominate the planet by developing brains, tools, language and large social groups.

Back in the 1980s, paleontologist Dale Russell proposed an unusual thought experiment – to imagine that a carnivorous dinosaur did not die from an asteroid 66 million years ago, but turned into an intelligent tool user. Let's imagine that upright dinosaurs with big brains and fingers roam the planet.

Such a scenario of the development of events is not at all impossible, although, of course, it is unlikely. The fact is that the biology of an animal limits the direction of its evolution – in other words, the starting point will always limit the end points. For example, if you drop out of college, you probably won't be able to become a neurosurgeon or a lawyer, but it's possible to pursue a career as an artist, actor, or entrepreneur. That is, the choices we make in life inevitably open some doors and close others. The same works for evolution.

According to Longrich, it is worth paying attention to the size of dinosaurs – starting from the Jurassic period, sauropod dinosaurs, brontosaurs and their relatives turned into giants, weighing 30-50 tons and reaching about 30 meters long. This happened on different continents, with different climates and at different times, but the end result was always the same for these dinosaurs – they became supergiants.

Researchers already know that the common thread for all supergiants was that they were sauropods. That is, something in their anatomy, whether it be lungs, hollow bones, metabolism or something else, served as an impetus for the disclosure of their evolutionary potential. As a result, this feature allowed them to reach incredible sizes and surpass any other species on Earth at times.

The evolutionary chain of carnivorous dinosaurs worked according to the same principle – they more than once turned into ten-meter multi-ton predators. However, according to Longrich, dinosaurs showed a slight tendency to increase in brain size over time. Jurassic dinosaurs had tiny brains, and 80 million years later, tyrannosaurs and platypuses developed larger brains. However, the brain of a tyrannosaurus rex, with its gigantic size, still weighed about 40 grams, and a velociraptor only 15 grams. For comparison, the average human brain weighs about 1.3 kg.

Over time, dinosaurs changed: herbivores became more common, birds more diverse, long-legged and faster individuals appeared, social life developed – dinosaurs lived in herds and developed complex horns for fighting and displaying strength. However, one way or another, evolution basically went in a circle – leading dinosaurs to giant herbivores and carnivores with small brains.

Longrich notes that the dinosaurs had almost 100 million years, but in all this time there is no hint that they would have taken any radical new path without a giant asteroid crashing into the Earth.

Scientist suggests that giant, small-brained dinosaurs still roamed the Earth. However, an important point is the fact that mammals would hardly have succeeded in displacing the dinosaurs without intervening in the history of the asteroid.

It is curious that mammals have never developed herbivorous or carnivorous supergiants, but have repeatedly demonstrated the development of a large brain – for example, killer whales, sperm whales, baleen whales, elephants, leopard seals and great apes.

It is curious that some descendants of dinosaurs, crows and parrots, for example, have highly complex brains. They can speak, count, and even use tools, but the largest brains and most complex behaviors have evolved in mammals.

Researchers believe that human evolution was anything but inevitable – this is evidenced by the evolutionary history of primates . It is known that when monkeys reached South America 35 million years ago, they simply evolved into other types of monkeys. At the same time, primates reached North America at least three times and each time died out for still unknown reasons. And only in Africa, primates were able to evolve into great apes, and after 7 million years to turn into modern humans.

That is, according to scientists, even after the destruction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, our evolution required the right combination of opportunity and luck .