The bigger they are …

by Carl Wieland

Fall

People and dinosaurs living at the same time? Surely the creationists can’t be right about that, some people think when confronted with the evidence. After all, they reason, any such people would be helpless prey for huge meat-eaters like Tyrannosaurus rex, wouldn’t they?

In fact, dinosaurs probably had to steer clear of people, not the other way around. Humans may have even helped in killing off the last remaining ones of some kinds of dinosaur. A number of factors need to be taken into account.

First, man’s intelligence and ingenuity—present from the beginning—have always been far more formidable than any animal’s size or strength. People have consistently shown that, especially when they band together, they can outwit, trap, and/or kill even the biggest elephants, whales, or rhinos—or the largest meat-eating cats or bears, even with so-called ‘stone age’ technology. There is no reason to think that the dinosaurs would have been the exception.

In any case, some scientists now believe that T. rex could not have been the ferocious hunter-killer depicted in, for example, the film Jurassic Park. For one thing, its teeth seem to have been too shallow-rooted to chomp into a live Triceratops without risking leaving many of them behind.1 [Ed. note, 2016: this was based on the current paleontological thinking at the time of writing. However, more recent information suggests that the T. rex had an extremely powerful bite, about 50,000 N (6 tons), or 3.5 times stronger than the strongest biter today, the Australian saltwater crocodile. Therefore it would be inadvisable to use this argument today—see Putting the bite on T. rex.]

As if that were not demotion enough from its status as everyone’s favourite fierce monster, dinosaur expert James Farlow, of Indiana-Purdue university, now says that if you were attacked by a charging T.rex, simply tripping it up or getting its feet somehow tangled would have been enough to smash it into a lifeless heap.2

If you were attacked by a charging T. rex, simply tripping it up or getting its feet somehow tangled would have been enough to smash it into a lifeless heap

Farlow and a physicist colleague have calculated that the huge beast was so heavy and high that if it tripped and fell while running, a tumbling tyrannosaur’s torso would have slammed into the ground at a deceleration of 6g (six times the acceleration due to gravity). Its tiny front legs would have been inadequate to substantially break its fall.

This means that in dry soil, its body would have made an impact crater 20 centimetres (eight inches) deep! Its head would have hit with a brain-shattering impact of more than twice as much force.

Farlow states that it is unlikely that a big dinosaur of this type could have run anywhere near as fast as some have assumed, because the danger of a stumble would have been too great. He says a fall at any speed could have been lethal.3

Thus, hunters would only have had to have caused T. rex to trip, stumble, and fall in order to obtain an easy prey.

References and notes

  1. See Focus: T. rex a wimp?, Creation 18(1):9. The item states in part that in a new display the American Museum of Natural History now claims that T. rex was a scavenger, not a ferocious predator. Return to text.
  2. Farlow, J.O., et al., Body Mass, Bone "Strength Indicator," and Cursorial Potential of Tyrannosaurus Rex, J. Vertebrate Paleontology 15(4):713–725 | http://www.jstor.org/stable/4523665. Return to text.
  3. It has been claimed recently that a new dinosaur, very similar to a tyrannosaur but possibly even larger, has been discovered. By Farlow’s assessment, something even taller and heavier would have its brains splattered even more surely by a simple fall. Return to text.

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