20 billion-year-old dinosaurs?!

10 Jun

Well, that’s what I get for complaining.

Geological time is so vast that we, as creatures that live only about 100 years or so, struggle to comprehend it. One unfortunate effect of this is our tendency to compress the past into a hazy, mysterious “prehistory” in which humans and dinosaurs coexisted mere thousands of years ago. In reality dinosaurs and our earliest hominin ancestors are separated by about 60 million years! And that is why archaeologists, who study the human past, don’t dig dinosaurs (even though dinos are really cool).

Human-dinosaur interactions are so common in pop culture (toys, games, TV, etc.) that I barely notice anymore. But today I saw something that truly surprised me. If you look closely at my two-year-old son’s pajamas, you’ll see that they feature a dinosaur print with the words “20 billion years ago.”


I guess that’s progress; instead of compressing prehistoric time, they’ve extended dinosaurs back beyond the age of the earth (4.6 bya) and even the universe (13.7 bya)!

2 Responses to “20 billion-year-old dinosaurs?!”

  1. jayfancher 06/13/2013 at 1:49 pm #

    I just read a 2009 study by the California Academy of Sciences showing that 59% of American adults know that early human ancestors and dinosaurs did not live at the same time: http://www.calacademy.org/newsroom/releases/2009/scientific_literacy.php

    The press release, titled “American Adults Flunk Basic Science,” laments “Only 59%,” but I’m pleasantly surprised by that number. Here’s hoping the percentage steadily increases. It’s a simple, but exceptionally important, fact about the past!

  2. jayfancher 08/03/2013 at 7:17 pm #

    “No man keeps lithified company with a dinosaur, because we were still 60 million years in the future when the last dinosaur perished” (Stephen Jay Gould 1984:132. The Flamingo’s Smile).

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