Artistic License Paleontology / Literature

  • Eric Garcia's Anonymous Rex series of novels is just odd but a few things stand out. The trilogy's premise is that talking animals walk among us disguised as humans, and that most of these are the few species of dinosaurs who survived the mass extinction at the end of the Cretaceous. They exist in the present day in exactly the forms they had on the other side of the K-T Boundary (though implicitly smaller or larger as the case may be). His protagonist is a Velociraptor — a Jurassic Park-style nekkid velociraptor with external ears — private eye. The other main characters tend to be obvious dinosaurs like tyrannosaurs and hadrosaurs. Garcia's only research (and he openly admits this) is to have read and watched Jurassic Park a lot, but there's so much Rule of Funny going on ("Manimal: the Musical!") that the lack of research actually serves to make the series funnier. (And did we mention the — ahem — interspecies romances?)
  • The Megamorphs book In the Time of Dinosaurs tried pretty hard to avoid this, with the only real anachronism given a Hand Wave (Tobias: "Who are you gonna believe, some scientist with a bunch of bones, or someone who was actually there?!") in the epilogue. (It was actually a case of Shown Their Work meets Rule of Cool - K.A. Applegate was doing her research, found out that certain dinos weren't around at the time of the extinction, then came up with the Hand Wave so she could get away with keeping them around.) Then again, it starts out with a nuclear explosion causing Time Travel and also had crab-aliens and ant-aliens in a minor war over the Earth at the same time, so...
  • The Jurassic Park novel actually doesn't commit this crime too much, as it tries to generally depict accepted theories on dinosaur behavior, and explains everything in a way that actually makes a lot of sense logically. The mix-and-match assembly of species from different periods is attributed to the fact that the geneticists who made the dinosaurs didn't care, and John Hammond, the guy in charge, was just relying on the Rule of Cool. The name of the park was chosen to appeal to investors, and to customers (had it opened for business), and not with any regard for accuracy. The whole "can't see you if you don't move" is actually attributed to all the dinos, not just the T. rex, as they had to fill in genetic gaps with the DNA of similar modern day reptiles and amphibians, many of which actually do have motion-based vision. The Velociraptors, though, are a lot closer in dimension, even in the books, to really large Deinonychuses. Partially justified in that Crichton was relying on a classification that called Deinonychus a kind of Velociraptor; but this classification was the sole opinion of the famous paleoartist Greg Paul, in his widely-read book, not backed up by paleontologists.
    • It uses this trope when the dinosaurs are in any way interested in the humans. The idea of a Tyrannosaurus chasing a human for food is like you chasing a mouse for the same reason. The novel does Hand Wave the idea for the Velociraptors, though. As Malcolm mentions, somewhere along the line, they must have realized that humans are easy prey — much as tigers tend to become man-eaters if they kill a human while starving. Easier to kill, that is, as long as they aren't the main characters.
      • Possibly justified if the dinos are smarter than the humans gave them credit for, and have learned to associate the appearance and scent of human keepers with their daily delivery of food. Might T. rex have kept chasing the little squealing scampering things because she was used to them depositing a few hundred pounds of prime rib in front of her?
    • Mentioned in Stephen Jay Gould's Dinosaur in a Haystack:
      Gould: Why did you put a Cretaceous dinosaur on the cover of Jurassic Park?
      Crichton: Oh my god, I never thought of that. We were just playing around with different cover designs and this was the one that looked best.
    • The sequel lampshades it with a character who points out several of the problems with the original, and comes up with a few guesses on what else could have caused things like the T. rex acting like it couldn't see them.
      • Then again the sequel also has its own share of bizarre mistakes and speculation, most memorably a scene featuring a pair of Carnotaurus who can change the color of their skin to such a detailed degree that they turn virtually invisible when standing still. While there are real creatures that can change colors, something that large being able to stand out in the open and just vanish to the naked eye is absurd. The notion that a large theropod evolved a natural camouflage system on par with the Predator's cloaking device is even more outlandish than Dilophosaurus having a frill and spitting venom, since at least the latter is based on traits of real animals.
    • All of the problems or errors in Jurassic Park are lampshaded by the characters. They repeatedly criticize John Hammond for his negligence and lack of attention to detail. Henry Wu explicitly points out that the dinosaurs are not authentic, but rather scientific mishmashes of DNA that approximate dinosaurs for the consumption of tourists. As with Hammond, Wu is also depicted as being disinterested in the details of his work, and with deadly results.
    • Not to mention that many of the species of dinosaur lived millions of years apart even from each other, never even having the chance to interact in the past — which just messes things up more in the park since they'd lack millenia-old instincts on how to interact with them.
  • Stephen Baxter's book Evolution. While most of the time he gets the science right, and the speculative leaps he takes are somewhat within the bounds of plausibility, a few examples must be mentioned. The story about primates coming to North America has some anachronism and Misplaced Wildlife in it. Not only does it have indricotherid rhinos (native only to Asia), camels (who were only found in North America at this time), and such, it has gastornithid birds inhabiting Oligocene-Miocene Africa... yes, even after these animals were supposed to have died out in the middle Eocene. The story involving Purgatorius has some flaws too. While Baxter does get it right by cloaking his troodonts in feathers, he leaves them off his dromaeosaurs. To add insult to injury, he makes the raptors cold-blooded, despite the fact that raptors are the very dinosaurs which ignited the cold blood, warm blood debate. In fact, even paleontologists who doubt endothermy in ornithischians and sauropods don't deny that raptors were most likely endothermic. And then there are the Giganotosaurus and Suchomimus in North America, many millions of years late and/or on the wrong continent; though this could be handwaved as them being different, not-yet-discovered species from those genera. In the story about the sapient Ornitholestes, he mentions that the only evidence humans had of these species is the disappearance of "the giant sauropods" in the Late Jurassic, since the sapient species bones and technology are too fragile to preserve. Now it's true that Diplodocus, the only species depicted in the story, did become extinct at the end of the Jurassic; but there were other giants, such as Sauroposeidon and Argentinosaurus, right through the Cretaceous.
  • Both used and lovingly averted in James Gurney's Dinotopia. Okay, yes, every prehistoric creature from Opabinia to woolly mammoths is coexisting in a continent the size of Australia, and the reason for this is hand waved, roughly anything that walks on land is smart enough to have a language and participate in a peaceful utopia alongside humans, large not-quite-lingual pterosaurs can take off and fly while carrying humans, and small ceratopsians can speak any language. But Gurney is also up-to-date on the world of paleontology, and although his raptors were naked in early books, he painted them with feathers in later ones. And everything has the right physiology. Dinotopia is a children's story with enormous detail in the dinosaurs.
  • While they aren't about dinosaurs, Steve Alten's Meg novels will make paleontology enthusiasts cringe. The opening scene of the first book has a T. rex chasing some hadrosaurs into the water, where it is eaten by a Megalodon explicitly stated to be twice its size. *sigh* Carcharodon megalodon did not live during the Cretaceous (the giant shark appeared 47 million years after the dinosaurs died out).
    • Interestingly, though, there was a giant shark species that did live contemporaneously with the Cretaceous mosasaurs, and did prey on them, with ample fossil evidence from mosasaur bones (though the big Mosasaurs also preyed on them in return as well). It was Cretoxyrhina, the Ginsu Shark, and could grow over 30 feet long, and a 30 foot marine animal could potentially reach up to twice the mass of a T. rex, if not twice the length. Though the Ginsu Shark did go extinct before the end of the Cretaceous and would not have been contemporary to T. rex.
  • Mentioned in the sci-fi novel The Sky People by S. M. Stirling, due to Ancient Astronauts terraforming and seeding Venus with Earth lifeforms. There are also beautiful cave princesses in fur bikinis, much to everyone's delight.
  • Kronos. It rapidly becomes apparent that the author did not do any research whatsoever on plesiosaur biology. Among the worst is the eponymous Kronosaurus swimming in an up-and-down body motion like a whale, complete with flukes. The problem? Plesiosaurs had a stiff spine and were virtually forced to swim sealion or penguin style. Seeing as the author has a severe creationist lean, this F in biology could be due to not doing any research at all and trying to Dan Brown it. The author has several other books involving prehistoric life, which likely contain other issues.
  • Partially justified in the Conan story Red Nails. Conan encounters a "dragon" (which is obviously a dinosaur) - but despite the fact that the story is set "only" ten or twenty thousand years ago, the dinosaur is not a natural survival, but an extinct creature reanimated from fossils by powerful wizards.
  • The back cover of the novelisation of "The Silurians" (Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters) boasts that the story contains "a 40 ft. high Tyrannosaurus rex, the biggest, most savage mammal which ever trod the earth!" No T. rex fossil ever found has been that big; the largest one is 40 feet long from nose to tail. And then there's that other bit — while most of us aren't experts on the subject, we could probably tell you that T. rex was not a mammal..
  • In the Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan at the Earth's Core, a Stegosaurus is described as jumping from a height and using its plates as a gliding mechanism. Funnily enough, there was a hypothesis in 1920 which proposed that Stegosaurus used its plates to glide. This may have inspired Burroughs as his novel was published in 1930.
  • There is a children's book called Day of the Dinosaur which commits this sin in spades. None of the dinos are illustrated correctly and they all are depicted as living around the same time. Also, Dimetrodon, Mesosaurus and Eryops are called dinosaurs. (For those who don't know, Eryops was a newt-like amphibian that was roughly contemporary of Dimetrodon. It's portrayed as a land animal in the book. Also, the three foot-long Mesosaurus resembled a crocodile and lived at the same time as Dimetrodon and Eryops, but farther south. A filter-feeder, it was one of the first reptiles to return to an aquatic existence. A related coloring book makes it out to be a predator about thirty feet long, probably getting it mixed up with Mosasaurus.) To be fair, the book was from the eighties, so some of this is Science Marches On, but the rest is simply inexcusable, as this review points out.
  • The Berenstain Bears book "At the Dinosaur Dig" averts this for the most part save for two major mistakes: Dimetrodon was referred to as a reptile and Mosasaurus was described as being bigger than any shark (C. megalodon was larger).
    • The Berenstain Bears and the G-rex Bones also averts this when the eponymous G-rex (short for Gigantosaurus rex) was proven as a hoax by pointing out that while the dinosaur is twice the height of Tyrannnosaurus, its bones are only twice as thick, and the laws of physics suggests that it would be impossible for animal with T. rex's body shape to be twice its height otherwise its bones would have to be so thick that there would be no room for flesh and internal organs. This is somewhat true seeing as how that the carnivorous dinosaurs larger than T. rex are merely roughly the same height at the hips or, in the case of Spinosaurus, even shorter. Who knew Berenstain Bears went there?
  • A Thomas the Tank Engine picture book was actually about Thomas and Stepney finding a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton on Sodor, despite that dinosaur being native to North America (they really should've uncovered a Proceratosaurus, Eotyrannus, Yaverlandia, Becklespinax, Valdoraptor, Megalosaurus, Sarcosaurus, Aristosuchus, Calamospondylus, Iliosuchus, Metriacanthosaurus, Eustreptospondylus, Duriavenator, Neovenator or Baryonyx, all of which are actually theropod dinosaurs that are native to England). Well, at least the dinosaur skeleton the Narrow Gauge locomotives found in the show is actually that of a Dacentrurus (a large stegosaurid native to England).
  • this one, which is just one big Critical Research Failure from beginning to end. For starters, it has herbivorous plesiosaurs, states that Ceratosaurus was a tyrannosaur (right, and you're a tarsier), claims that Tyrannosaurus rex grew to 65 feet long (try 42 feet), has naked raptors, claims that Oviraptor lived on eggs (discarded in the nineties), has aquatic sauropods (disproven in the sixties, while the book was written in 2003), says that Archaeopteryx evolved after the raptors and has really lame 3D.
  • Dinoverse, while mostly suffering from Science Marches On, has a weird disconnect between the illustrations and the text. The illustrations are all accurate for the time, but in the text Tyrannosaurs can casually slap their tails on the ground and are twenty feet or so tall, as if they were the archaic tripod-bodied types and not the horizontally-oriented ones in the illustrations. Mentions are also made of the lips of creatures which are beaked.
  • The Geronimo Stilton book "Valley of the Giant Skeletons" managed to pass off a Psittacosaurus skeleton as a Tarbosaurus skeleton. Most of the palaeontology stuff is okay, though.
    • Played painfully straight, however, in the spin-off series Cavemice, which is basically just another version of The Flintstones with mice.
    • The spin-off graphic novel Dinosaurs in Action has the main cast go back 140 million years ago in the Cretaceous Period, but they encounter both North American and Asian genera that lived 80 to 66 million years ago. The genera featured include a flexible-necked Elasmosaurus, a Quetzalcoatlus more closely resembling an oversized Pteranodon, and a sparsely-feathered egg-stealing Oviraptor (though it was at least described as an omnivore). On the other hand, Velociraptor is surprisingly anatomically accurate, even being coated in feathers.
  • Jane Gaskell's Atlan novels take place in a fantasy prehistory that includes, among other oddities, people using dinosaurs (which are simply referred to as "dinosaurs" with no other description) as transportation. The conceit of the series is that it's humanity's true origin story, which makes the anachronisms stick out all the more. While the narrative is indeed based on long-outdated sources, humans coexisting with dinosaurs does not feature in any of them. More likely, this element comes from the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
  • Played with in the Annals of Improbable Research article The Taxonomy of Barney, which, after noting Barney's un-dinosaur-like behavior and revealing through an X-ray photograph that Barney's skeletal structure is indistinguishable from that of Homo sapiens, rules out the hypotheses that Barney is more closely related to dinosaurs or dead fish than humans.
  • In 2010, National Geographic published The Ultimate Dinopedia: The Most Complete Dinosaur Reference Ever, which, despite it being written by children's paleontology writer "Dino" Don Lessem, is full of errors. Observe:
    • Classification brainfarts abound (ceratosaurs are often confused with ceratopsians, while dromaeosaurids are said to include many non-dromaeosaurids and even some non-theropods).
    • Several long-discredited theories (placement of coelophysoids in Ceratosauria) are treated as fact, as well as hypotheses that are questionable (synonymizing Triceratops and Torosaurus).
    • Inaccurate size estimates (the giant carnosaur Chilantaisaurus is listed as being 10 feet long).
    • Hit-and-miss illustrations (inaccurately feathered coelurosaurs are persistent).
    • An incomplete dinosaur list (the tyrannosaur Bistahieversor is listed, although the megalosaur Leshansaurus, which was published a month before, is absent).
  • Averted in The Magic Tree House movie: the dinosaurs featured lived at the same time and place, Pteranodon is anatomically accurate (toothless, quadrupedal, described as fuzzy, bulky, and has pteroid bones) and takes off with its wings, Alamosaurus has a brachiosaurid-like body instead of a diplodocid-like one, and Tyrannosaurus has non-pronated hands. On the other hand, Pteranodon is too big and is shown living inland and at the end of the Cretaceous, the hadrosaurs have visible fingers, the ornithomimids are seemingly featherless (though it may be because of the art style) and lacking wings, and pterosaurs were referred to as dinosaurs in a book.
  • Dinosaurology (a 2013 installment in Dugald Steer's Dragonology series) attempted to subvert this trope, with the inaccuracies that may pop up being Hand Waved in that the book is meant to be the translated copy of a traveler's journal.
  • Referenced in an Encyclopedia Brown story. The con artist Wilford Wiggins claims to have discovered caveman drawings in an old cave. He almost becomes rich and famous for the "discovery", but Encyclopedia notices a drawing of a caveman fighting a dinosaur. He points out the dinosaurs went extinct long before the age of man, and Wilford's con is exposed.
  • Averted in The Dinosaur Lords when it comes to names confusion and biology. The many dinosaurs from different eras co-existing are explained by the fact that Paradise is likely an artificially-colonised world, and the premise of the story - medieval knights on dinosaurs - is just pure Rule of Cool.
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