It takes a bold, innovative mind to publish an exercise in speculative evolution pertaining to an alternative timeline. Dale Russell’s studies of the troodontid Stenonychosaurus and of ornithomimid theropods, published in 1969 and 1972, inspired him to consider the possibility that some theropod dinosaur lineages might have given rise to big-brained species had they never died out. By late 1980, Russell had considered the invention of a hypothetical descendant of Stenonychosaurus dubbed the ‘dinosauroid’. There is likely no specific inspiration for the dinosauroid given Russell’s overlapping areas of interest, but his correspondence with Carl Sagan and his involvement in the SETI programme were likely of special influence. The early-1980s creation of a life-size Stenonychosaurus model with Ron Séguin gave Russell the impetus to bring the dinosauroid to life. Authors have disagreed on whether the dinosauroid’s creation was an exercise in scientific extrapolation or one of speculative fiction, and on whether its form reflects bias or an honest experiment: Russell justified his decisions on the basis of the dinosauroid’s anatomy being adaptive and linked to efficiency, but he also stated or implied that the human form may be considered a predictable evolutionary outcome among big-brained organisms, and expressed a preference for directionist views which posit humans as close to the pinnacle of evolution. Both derided and praised at the time of its construction, the dinosauroid is undergoing a resurgence of interest. Given that its aim was to spark discussion and invite alternative solutions, it can only be considered an extraordinary success.
- Dale Russell
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)