Aeon (by Ross Andersen)
There are good reasons for any species to think darkly of its own extinction.
Sometimes, when you dig into the Earth, past its surface and into the crustal layers, omens appear. In 1676, Oxford professor Robert Plot was putting the final touches on his masterwork, The Natural History of Oxfordshire, when he received a strange gift from a friend. The gift was a fossil, a chipped-off section of bone dug from a local quarry of limestone. Plot recognised it as a femur at once, but he was puzzled by its extraordinary size. The fossil was only a fragment, the knobby end of the original thigh bone, but it weighed more than 20 lbs (nine kilos). It was so massive that Plot thought it belonged to a giant human, a victim of the Biblical flood. He was wrong, of course, but he had the conceptual contours nailed. The bone did come from a species lost to time; a species vanished by a prehistoric catastrophe. Only it wasn’t a giant. It was a Megalosaurus, a feathered carnivore from the Middle Jurassic.
Plot’s fossil was the first dinosaur bone to appear in the scientific literature, but many have followed it, out of the rocky depths and onto museum pedestals, where today they stand erect, symbols of a radical and haunting notion: a set of wildly different creatures once ruled this Earth, until something mysterious ripped them clean out of existence.
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