Prehistory is full of creatures that could pass for fantastic; mammoths, sabre-toothed cats, dinosaurs and millions of others are strange and unusual enough to be very serviceable fantastic beasts alongside griffins, dragons and the like, while still similar enough to modern fauna not to feel too out of place in Earth-like worlds. The problem is, you might think of prehistoric human society as boring. The solution? Medieval Prehistory.
Medieval prehistory involves vaguely prehistoric plant and animal life, or climate and environmental conditions, with knights, castles, and princesses coexisting. Doesn't necessarily have to be set in Medieval Europe or a Fantasy Counterpart Culture to it, but it does have to involve a pre-industrial society. So Ancient Grome and Ancient Africa or even Mayincatec etc. are permitted. Stone Punk, which usually involves a more modern-type society, is an entirely different trope.
Depending on the setting, this can potentially be anything from a fantasy world explicitly set in the Earth's real or fictional prehistory, with the prehistoric elements taking front and center, to a more conventional fantasy world with a few species of dinosaur and Ice Age megafauna added in among the usual fantasy creatures.
Subtrope of Anachronism Stew (although usually technically does not fit under that heading, due to being set in fictional universes with their own histories and timelines) and often Alternate History or Historical Fantasy, usually based on the premise that the asteroid did not wipe out the dinosaurs or that somehow other wildlife managed to survive up until the medieval era or something involving Time Travel. Don't expect the wildlife to live in the areas they did in reality.
Related to Dinosaurs Are Dragons and often overlaps with Fantasy Kitchen Sink. Not to be confused with 1 Million B.C., which involves stereotypical stone-age 'cavemen' living alongside creatures such as dinosaurs, or Prehistoria, its video game equivalent. Can contain elements of The Dark Times and The Time of Myths, or Ambiguous Time Period, and Domesticated Dinosaurs.
See also Living Dinosaurs, for when dinosaurs survive all the way up to modern times.
- Marvel 1602 has dinosaurs in Elizabethan America. Explained by Neil Gaiman (though not in story) as being because the Savage Land is bigger in this version of the Marvel Universe.
- 10,000 BC has a pyramid-building culture using mammoths as beasts of burden.
- The B-movie Aztec Rex has the Conquistadors battling a Tyrannosaurus rex in a Mayincatec setting.
- In The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Thranduil's mount is pretty clearly a Megaloceros, a kind of large deer with colossal antlers that lived in Europe during the ice ages.
- The The Lord of the Rings movies had their share of this as too. The Oliphaunts, seem to have been influenced by Gomphotherium, a prehistoric elephant with four tusks. The "great beasts" briefly seen pulling the giant battering ram at the Siege of Gondor were likewise modeled after Megacerops, a large horned herbivore that resembled a rhinoceros but was actually related to horses.
- The Conan the Barbarian series is set in a prehistoric medieval-like society. The Hyborian Age it takes place in is supposed to be Earth's distant past, when the continents still had different shapes.
- A few times in The Elenium, the villains use time portals to make enemies from the prehistoric past attack the protagonists. These include a Tyrannosaurus rex and a horde of "dawn men" (the common ancestor of humans and trolls in this 'verse).
- The Garrett, P.I. novels, gumshoe-style mysteries set in a fantasy-world city, count both dinosaurs (thunder lizards) and assorted Pleistocene mammals among their Verse's typical fauna.
- A small element of The Lord of the Rings uses this. The Drúedain west of Gondor differ greatly from the normal humans, and even from the nonhuman races, and it has been suggested that they are actually Neanderthals. Though not explicitly so, creatures like the Mûmakil and Wargs could be seen as exaggerations of mammoths and dire wolves respectively, while the nazgûl's flying mount may be some kind of pterosaur. Justified as according to Word of God it is set in the Time of Myths in the distant past of earth.
- Similarly Lyonesse and its sequel Green Pearl take place in a pre-Migration Period world with fantasy elements and a vaguely medieval culture.
- The Reynard Cycle: Aurochs, a prehistoric breed of cattle, are used for labor in Calvaria.note
- A Song of Ice and Fire:
- The series has mammoths and direwolves among the beasts living in the Grim Up North, aurochs in the main setting of Westeros, and dwarf elephants in Essos in the east.
- A number of more elusive creatures have also been theorised to be based on prehistoric creatures — for instance, it's been hypothesized that the "unicorns" of Skagos are really the extinct one-horned rhino Elasmotherium, or that the "giants" are really an extinct species of ape, the Gigantopithecus.
- The "terrible walking lizards" that kill their prey with hooked claws on their hind legs, brought from Sothoryos to be sold to Braavosi menageries, sound a lot like large dromeosaurid dinosaurs.
- The Atlan series places medieval European-style villages adjacent to prehistoric jungles crawling with dinosaurs.
- North of the Dragonlands by Stephen Dedman is a medieval fantasy in which the fantastic elements are unfamiliar non-magical things that the characters are trying to understand in terms of familiar concepts; the "dragons" are dinosaurs and pterosaurs that have somehow survived from prehistoric times.
- This trope is essentially the entire premise of Victor Milàn's The Dinosaur Lords.
- Game of Thrones: Mammoths and direwolves prowl beyond the Wall.
- Primeval suggests that many mythical creatures may have been inspired by dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals ending up in historical periods via anomalies. It's specifically invoked with the Pristichampsus in first episode of Season 3, which is suggested as being the true identity of Ammit from Egyptian mythology and at the end the team all throw out suggestions for other legendary creatures that could have come from anomalies. A more literal example comes up later in the same season when a medieval knight chases a Dracorex through an anomaly into modern London, thinking that it's a dragon.
- Dungeons & Dragons has stats for dinosaurs, dire wolves (among other "dire" beasts), mastodons, and megalodons, plus several others. Whether or not they're actually part of the setting depends on the campaign.
- This dates back to Gary Gygax's original Greyhawk campaign from the 1970s (which was heavily altered prior to its commercial release in 1980). Since he didn't have time to run gaming sessions on an almost nightly basis and create a detailed fantasy world, he set his adventures in an alternate version of North America. The Great Lakes region was a civilized area (the cities of Greyhawk and Dyvers were expys of Chicago and Milwaukee, respectively), while the western part of the continent was considered a "land that time forgot" full of cavemen, dinosaurs, and other prehistoric creatures.
- The Eberron setting has the Talenta Plains, where nomadic tribes of halflings travel on the backs of dinosaurs.
- The Hollow World of Mystara is home to several classical- or Dark Ages-era civilizations, existing alongside vast tracts of dinosaur-populated wilderness. Invoked, in a sense, as the Immortals (the gods of the setting) use the Hollow World as a place to preserve creatures and cultures that would have gone extinct in the outside world, and they've been at it for a long time.
- For all the traditional fantasy critters to be found in it, the original, AD&D 1st Edition Monster Manual had no sea serpents, as such. Under the "dinosaur" listing, it did have plesiosaurs, though, which are functionally nearly the same thing. No doubt a lot of homespun campaigns used them for precisely that purpose.
- The bestiary in GURPS Banestorm includes "bushwolves", "paladins", and "treetippers" — from their descriptions and illustrations, they're evidently thylacines, glyptodonts, and giant ground sloths by other names. "Striders" may be one of the many species of flightless predatory bird that appear from time to time in the fossil record.
- In Pathfinder, dinosaurs exist as powerful apex predators in the primeval Realm of the Mammoth Lords and the trackless Mwangi Expanse, as well as in the swamps and jungles of the Lost World of Deep Tolguth, deep Beneath the Earth. They serve as the most powerful animals to exist without magical backing.
- Ixalan in Magic: The Gathering is a continent where the Mayincatec locals coexist with dinosaurs, although the setting isn't technically "medieval" (Ixalan's plane is more of a "conquest of the New World" period, although it's not entirely clear who's conquering who).
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has sabre-toothed cats, cave bears and mammoths, as well as humans/cat people/lizard people/elves with a culture/tech level equivalent to the late Roman Empire.
- World of Warcraft is a Fantasy Kitchen Sink setting with many medieval and Tolkienesque elements. Many creatures resemble or are directly based on prehistoric animals: there are raptors, sabretooth cats, woolly rhinos and mammoths; the kodo beast resembles a brontothere and the plainstrider look like a terror bird. Also, there is Un'Goro crater, a Lost World filled with pterosaurs, stegosaurs and Devilsaurs (which are, essentially, Tyrannosaurus rex).
- Age of Conan has mammoths and woolly rhinos along with civilized humans. It takes place in the Hyborian Age.
- The Empire of Blood in The Order of the Stick has civilized humans and dinosaurs coexisting.
- The Dinosaur Kingdom in Mighty Magiswords.
- Some Christian creationists believe that medieval stories of dragons and suchlike creatures are actually accounts of dinosaurs, who, so the hypothesis goes, coexisted with man, survived Noah's Flood, and died due to ecological pressures in the postdiluvian world.
- For some animals commonly associated with the Pleistocene, there is a chance that they survived long enough to have interacted with Bronze Age humans.
- There is an Ancient Egyptian tomb painting depicting a pygmy-sized pachyderm. This could either be a dwarf mammoth (proven to have been in fact contemporary to the Egyptians, albeit living far away on Wrangel Island in Northern Siberia), a Mediterranean dwarf elephant — or just Artistic License on the painter's part.
- There is also a Sumerian figurine that is allegedly depicting a Sivatherium, though this has been disputed. It could as well just be a deer.