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A Palaeontologist Writes



Being an occasional series in which a leading palaeontologist answers questions posed by a member of the public:


#28 A Million Years BC


Science is increasingly certain that these creatures were not always as loveable as we have formerly pre-supposed.

As a palaeontologist, I am often asked: why did the dinosaurs die out and is my cat related to Anubis the Egyptian God of the dead [or to be more precise the heart/feather-weighing scale-bearer who determined the fate of the recently embalmed]*. These are not easy questions to answer.





*Hence the patron saint of solicitors, dieticians and wet-fish merchants


Dinosaurs [combining the Greek words “deinos”, which means "to dine in fine style", and “sauros”, which means "lizard" - hence "well-fed lizards"] - are an ancient variety of creature famously animated by Ray Harryhausen [in, for example, the entertaining but chronologically inaccurate 1 Million Years BC [see below]]. They roamed the Earth for millions of years but disappeared quite suddenly [some believe overnight] - on, almost certainly, January 16th 66,000,001 BCE. Several theories have been advanced to explain their sudden demise including [a] extinction resulting from a meteorite hit [as inquisitive and sometimes intelligent creatures they were drawn to investigate the large crater and fell into it] [b] the act of a vengeful god seriously displeased by their humanistic turn c66,000,400 BCE [aka evolution though there is little evidence pace Darwin that humans actually evolved from dinosaurs though some almost certainly inherited their table manners] and [c] a shortage of food following a particularly spectacular Christmas “do” [often erroneously described as "a paleontological conference or prehistoric coprolite-eating contest/party"] on 25 December 66,000,000 BCE*


Easily Confused: [from Left to Right] Anubis [Patron Saint of Solicitors], Bastet [Goddess of Pleasure], and Horus [God of "Ladies of the Night"].

* NB this explanation is incompatible with “overnight extinction” theories since even a condition as serious as night starvation [see any Horlicks advertisement from the late 1960s for the disturbingly graphic details] takes some time to produce a fatal outcome. NB also: a variant of this - essentially Malthusian - argument is the so-called climate change explanation. This is largely discounted by experts in the field, however, since the disappearance of dinosaurs predates, by some decades, the invention of the internal combustion engine.

Being a male deity, the God Anubis his often depicted sitting down. In a slightly different guise, he is sometimes known as "the Sphinx" - a name with strongly male connotations from which the word "sphincter" or, more colloquially, arsehole is derived.

Whilst none of these explanations are wholly satisfactory and are, therefore, unlikely to stand the test of time [rather like dinosaurs themselves] they do nonetheless hint at useful and appropriate “directions of ontological travel” ie "category explanations" such as [i] an external random event generated in another universe [science or pseudo science/science-fiction], [ii] a teleological meta-narrative involving an external force, power or deity [theology] and [iii] a self-inflicted and otherwise avoidable catastrophe [politics]. But, as the actress said to the bishop on being presented with home-made cling film based prophylactics, they will do for now.


Often Confused: Bastet [LEFT] and Bastard [Right]

In the meantime we can safely say that Little Timmy or Mr Claws are not related to Anubis - the Egyptian god of jurisprudence - who was in fact a jackal, but more likely to Bastet, the Egyptian goddess of protection, pleasure and good health [not to be confused with her male equivalent Bastard, the god of aggression, pleasuring and special clinics] who was indeed a cat or at least cat-like. To suggest the former is to confuse a puppy with a kitten [or worse a polecat with a pole dancer] - a matter of elementary typological confusion better dealt with by a taxonomist [or animal stuffer - see Bastard above], zoologist or psychiatrist depending on the seriousness of the owners mental condition and the state of the animal's pelt. Even my pet hamster Peter Rabbit knows better than that.

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