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The story of millions of years part 15

Late Triassic
Europe… 220 Million Years ago
With mouths open wide they waited; a host of huge animals with spring-trap jaws, their mottled, warty bodies half submerged in the lake.
The water had gone down; the habitable space diminished, and now as summer wore on, the relentless sun evaporating their world about them; the great amphibians were forced ever closer together; reluctant neighbours, neither friends nor foes.
Their smaller relatives had long since disappeared; slithering into the forest with the spring rains and those that had not, those that had remained, had been eaten, the metoposaurs having no conscience when it came to consuming their own kind.
Now, prisoners of their wet skin, the adults endured the long months together, herded and hungry they played a waiting game; pitting fat reserves against the return of the rains; the water then rising; the myriad braded streams that criss-crossed the Triassic floodplain, overflowing, dispersing the now trapped giants far and wide…

The story of millions of years part 14

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MIDDLE JURASSIC
Europe…. 170 million years ago


In the vast world ocean, killers were on the hunt; thunniform torpedoes flashing through the inky gloom, their large, sensitive eyes scanning the depths; searching for light beyond the realm of the sun.
Here, in their aqueous empire, where all directions were possible, the agile creatures swam; long bodied, long finned and perfectly adapted to shear through the dark; having long ago filled their lungs with the last residue of their terrestrial legacy and together fallen into night.
Below, in the yawning cavern of the depths, at the limits of their endurance, ephemeral lanterns moved, vague half-forms that suddenly in bolts of luminous brilliance wove cerulean trails before them; meandering traces etched upon their eyes.
The Ichthyosaurs were interlopers here; descended from the world above, scattering all before them, the first but not the last of the great creatures of the Earth that would take to the seas and hunt at the margins of possibili…

The story of millions of years part 13

LATE CRETACEOUS
Mongolia….. 70 million years ago
The massive trees cast massive shadows; oases of cool shade from the glaring sun, and to step between them was to step from night to day, eyes adjusting rapidly, pupils contracting to block out the dazzling light.
Then, safely back beneath the canopy of heavy branches, those same muscles that had so recently closed would dilate, expanding the aperture of the pupils so that the hunter could once again see.
The dinosaur had stepped from light to shade all day, its drab, downy plumage doing little to keep it cool, and it paused now, jaws open, stubby wings lifted, shedding heat, waiting until it had sufficiently recovered before it moved on.
Evening or dawn were better hours to hunt; when the hot day had solidified into to a red gash across the sky, or the day proper had yet to begin, those misty, cooler hours before the sun fully rose; a time when larger creatures waited to bask in its rejuvenating rays.
Not so Mononykus now placing its fe…

The story of millions of years part 12

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LATE CRETACEOUS
North America…. 67 Million Years Ago

In a spray of foam, the pterosaur crested the wave; launched skyward on an updraft of air.
For a brief moment it glimpsed the clouds, brilliant, white sky-stacks on the horizon, and then, tilting the tip of an enormous wing, it was back in a long, rolling trough between the waves.
Now it picked up speed, the wide membrane of its wings catching the breeze, propelling it ever faster across the sea, the water beneath it passing in an emerald blur, its eyes watchful for signs of life.
Again, it crested a wave, changing course with just the slightest movement, allowing the pressure of the air to dictate the exact moment it should rise; the huge creature as light as spindrift on the wind.
It sailed on, rising and falling; disappearing for whole, long seconds in the valleys of an ever-changing seascape, only to reappear; its huge, crested head appearing above a swollen wall of water, a glinting, sun-dazzled shape against a brilliant, blue…

The story of millions of years part 11

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LATE CRETACEOUS
North America….. 72 Million Years Ago
For days the volcanoes had erupted, the earth itself trembling, reshaping and reforming as to the west a mountain chain arose, its tall, jagged peaks destined to scratch the sky.
Yet in their infancy, the peaks were red raw, open fissures spewing molten rock on to the surrounding land, burying and poisoning everything for several hundred miles.
Forests had turned from green to grey, choked in ash, their potential crushed, and a beautiful, brilliant sunset stretched taut across the sky; a crimson tableau as the evening sun tried hard to peer through the toxic clouds.
The world had changed, the plants gone, the ground soft, and yet the herd had returned; finding nothing familiar where they stood, mute and uncomprehending in this strange land.
Here they would excavate nests, line them with broken shoots, bury the eggs until it was time for them to hatch. But there were no nests to reuse, no twigs and branches to pull and drag into pl…

The story of millions of years part 10

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LATE CRETACEOUS
North America….. 76 million years ago
In the fierce midday heat the ground shimmered, the very air rippling with false promise; the nesting grounds reflected in the sky.
Nothing moved that didn’t need to move, the air as still as the grey fallen trees piled along the river bank and scattered across the stream; the last thin ribbon of silver water stretched to breaking between the far-off hills and the distant sea.
It was a lifeline to which life still clung; a thread of hope meandering its uncertain way through a valley of its own making, log-strewn and parched, waiting for the autumn rains.
On higher ground, the maiasaurs nested, good mothers sitting mute on their rotting piles; sheltering eggs from the impossible heat, battling the sun as they battled everything else in this harsh land, each and every day a challenge to be overcome.
And not all of them had made it, the mummified husks of the weak and weary, the old and infected, gathering dust between the mounds.
No…

The story of millions of years part 9

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LATE CRETACEOUS
North America….. 70 Million Years Ago

Beneath its massive wings the world stretched away, a panorama of endless forest and open sea; the pterosaur immune to the staggering beauty it surveyed.
Far below herds moved; long tailed, short necked herbivores winding their way towards the coast; old and young, adults and yearlings descending for the first time from the upland nesting grounds.
Here, among the cypress stands, in a dappled world of water and half-light, they could feed; the lush estuarine forest fertilised from the highlands and the sea.
Yet in a heartbeat and a tilt of its outstretched wings, ten thousand tons of living flesh receded from its mind as the pterosaur sped on, riding the wind, chasing its own shadow as it raced across the trees.
It travelled west, the sun at its back, the mighty animal airborne now for several days, the world transformed from blue to green, water to land and back again. It had traversed the open ocean, climbing high on thermals, up…

The story of millions of years part 8

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EARLY CRETACEOUS

Brazil…….110 million years ago
The killer crawled closer, slithered towards its prey, its long, sinuous back glistening in the filtered sunlight as steadily and silently it approached.
It was in no hurry to do the deed, it was a patient hunter, a slow executioner, and once it had a grip and had overcome its prey, it would not let go.
Leaves and branches and other assorted undergrowth conspired to obstruct it and steer it off its course, but with time on its side they could not get in its way.
It slithered on, the killer, drawn towards its prize, inching inexorably closer.
And neither would it be distracted by the two passing pterosaurs, giant creatures swooping low through the misty forest, cutting swiftly through the cool air.
The pterosaurs had places to go, the sea not a mile distant; where breakers smashed upon the base of boulder-strewn cliffs.
But they neither saw, nor cared about the killer, speeding as they were between the tree trunks, hungry for fish, engross…

The story of millions of years part 7

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EARLY CRETACEOUS
England…..120 Million Years Ago
The corpse stank, the rancid, sweet smell of death permeating the air; catching the lightest breeze and travelling downwind, enticing any and all who inhaled it.
A crocodile tried hard to pull chunks from the iguanodon’s hide, its teeth, ill-suited to tearing flesh, and with a lack of purchase and unable to spin, it struggled repeatedly to enter the corpse, unaware that it assaulted the iguanodon’s back.
Up above, on the dinosaur’s belly, small pterosaurs had been rewarded with more success, their slender jaws and needle-like teeth finding easy picking in a soft hole excavated by one of their larger cousins.
Here they feasted, beady, black eyes casting about, nervous, for they lived in a dangerous world.
The Iguanodon had died on a river bank; the water so low that the river had become a muddy track through the tangled forest; one of the myriad, meandering routes used by animals to reach the coast.
There, they could browse the dense vege…

The story of millions of years part 6

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EARLY CRETACEOUS
North America….. 112 Million Years Ago
One foot and then the next came down, one, two, one, two. Left, right, left, right, eating up the barren earth; devouring it in swift footfalls, as the theropod gained on its prize; the huge, carnivorous beast propelled forward with effortless strides.
Now it came alongside its quarry, forty tons of fleeing flesh, the low, evening sun clipping the sail on the hunter’s back over the bulk of the sauropod’s swinging tail.
If that tail should lash out, it would knock the theropod from its feet; the vast beam of muscles more than capable of disabling the lighter beast.
But in full flight, the sauropod’s tail swung predictably from side to side, powering its pillar-like legs, the massive animal routed and scared, separated from its herd and tiring fast.
This is how the acrocanthosaur liked to hunt, the many, long, slow hours of plodding, trailing its prey, transformed for a few short seconds into chaos, the sauropod unknowing that it …

The story of millions of years part 5

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LATE JURASSIC
North America…..145 Million Years Ago
Dust devils, whipped up by a warm wind, scoured the plain; swirling cones of fine, red earth, rising and falling, vanishing then reappearing, ascending into the sky like twisted rope, chewing up the barren ground.
They posed no threat to the leviathans around which they danced; huge animals, heads low, eyes all but shut against the relentless biting wind.
The herd had a place to go, moving inexorably onward towards an oasis of distant trees; a stand of conifers and shrubby cycads, a barrier to the river beyond.
There they could cross, the journey etched in their small minds, as permanent as the folds in their skin.
The giants had made this march before, many times, following a call only they could hear; crossing the plains and prairies towards a single goal. There were thirty sauropods in all, diplodocids, their wide flanks the colour of dust; rust-red and hot in the Jurassic sun.
But they were not alone, flies, ticks and other less…

The story of millions of years part 4

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LATE JURASSIC
North America….. 140 Million Years Ago
Dawn found the Stegosaur feeding, rising up on strong hind legs to snip the spirally arranged leaves from the multi-branched trees.
With a thin head and keratinous beak, it took little effort to find the choicest shoots and nip them off one by one, decimating the crowns on the shrubby cycadeoids.
The plants would recover, but right now the stegosaur simply took what it wished, enjoying the young, soft leaves and the warmth of the new day’s sun.
With a clatter of splintered branches, it gave up its effort, the habitual quadruped returning to its standard gait, and now it moved along, ambling through the lacy tunnels it had carved in the cycad grove.
The river marked the boundary of its land, the banks festooned with the logs of fallen trees; giant, rotting woodpiles harbouring ferns but little else the stegosaur could eat. But there were ferns aplenty in the cycad meadow, tiers of marattias, and blankets of gleicheniales, through whi…

The story of millions of years part 3

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MIDDLE JURASSIC
Scotland…… 176 Million Years Ago
The large animal stepped with care, its massive hand sinking deep into the sulphurous ooze, its foreleg coated to the wrist in brown slime before lifting it again.
Immediately sediment rushed to fill the depression, the mud and fine silt upon which the dinosaur walked being a viscous soup that deplored a void.
As the hole filled so the dinosaur created another, its long columnar legs ideally suited for stalking the primal mud.
Behind it, a trail wound up to higher ground; a scrubby headland browsed back to earth, where it and others of its kind had ravaged all but the tallest trees and toughest leaves.
Yet a fringe of horsetails mirrored the trail, marking the boundaries of a stream, one of many that trickled down from the centre of the island; the tough, silica-stalked plants a brilliant-green anomaly, being unmolested by beak or teeth.
The dinosaurs wanted softer things to eat and to find those they had to forage on the shore.
The tid…

The story of millions of years part 2

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LATE TRIASSIC
North America… 210 Million Years Ago
Three slender heads poked their way between the horsetails, their long, kinked snouts parting the curtain of thick stems in advance of curved swan-like necks and a sinuous gracile bodies.The coelophysids, for that’s what they were, left the forest margin, escaping the dense tangle of vegetation to find themselves on a shallow muddy bank, their flanks wet with dew, glistening beneath a hazy sun.
Quickly, one following another, they descended the bank, their small triangular feet leaving light trails in the red mud.
They were not the first to leave their impressions that morning, a wide furrow, smooth and flat, which they now crossed, being made by a massive creature, a phytosaur, far larger than any dinosaur, that, once warmed sufficiently in the morning sun, had slid into the lake, its bulk flattening a swath of equisetum which had failed to part before it.
The phytosaur was gone, lurking somewhere out in the deep centre of the lake, …

The story of millions of years part 1

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LATE TRIASSIC
North America…196 Million Years Ago
In the mud at the bottom of the lake lay a skull along with several more, all washed together with other assorted bones. They were from the same species and had all died at the same time, flood-drowned and tumbled downstream.
They resided now in a twilight world of tea-stained water and swaying weed, where strange fish glided between submerged logs, using fins to walk like legs.
Down here, in the mud of a Triassic lake, time was accumulating; laying down a murky record of passing years.
The coelophysids, their skulls lying beneath the tangle of logs and branches, had died ten years previously, their small, delicate bones entombed in silt and sediment, along with the shells of mussels, freshwater denizens that still clung like ripe fruit to every available strand of weed.
The bones were beginning a journey, as so many had begun before them, a long, cold journey of millions of years, where one day an animal, unrecognisable to the denizen…