I want to share a fascinating NY Times article about an avalanche of new fossil findings on the planet. I’m writing a section of 1001 where the characters recall their past lives feuding as prokaryotes, dwelling in urban algal colonies, and towering over the first puny amphibians — as old trees. Paleontologist Michael Novacek raises the kind of issues I love to deal with in the anthropomorphized evolution tales of The Reincarnation Chronicles. Here are 7 cool quotes from the article:
1) “Recently discovered 385-million-year-old fish fossils preserved with flexible limbs explicitly document the transition from life in the water to life on land.”
I beg to differ! Yes, it’s sweet to know how fish crawled up on land, but the transition from life in the water to life on land was pioneered by algae and plants, not Gumby fish.
2) “From our study of living species, we could not have been predicted the existence of dragonflies as big as sea gulls or dinosaurs with the bulk of large whales that could support themselves on land.”
You can see one of those dragonflies as big as sea gulls on the cover of The Qaraq.
3) “Diverse fossils of animals and plants show that some 100 million years ago, Antarctica was a greenhouse, with lush forests bathed in warmth.”
Antarctica incarnates several times in 1001. It moves around the globe as part of bigger supercontinents, settles down south while still warm and lush, and doesn’t freeze up until after a chunk of it floats up north to become Atlantis.
4) “[S]auropods hung on for about 150 million years. That’s no failed evolutionary experiment.”
When we think of the extinction of the dinosaurs, we forget how long they survived. Will we fare any better?
5) “[M]ass extinction events were so devastating that it took hundreds of thousands, even millions, of years for the few species that survived to once again diversify and flourish and for ecosystems to recover.”
I’m revising a set of stories set in the Cambrian Explosion, another fairly recent discovery. There have been a number of planetary cycles of mass extinction, slow recovery, and then explosion of new species. The characters grapple with which way to evolve with so many species and survival mechanisms.
6) “Just 50,000 years ago — a blink of an eye in the deep time of paleontology — there were at least three, and maybe four, species of the human lineages cohabiting on this planet. Yet within that span of time, only our own species made it through the evolutionary sieve.”
Who knows what happened, even in this ‘small’ a time scale. Aliens could have colonized, corrupted, and departed from Earth in any millennia stuck in our vast evolutionary history.
7) “Thanks to the fossil record, incomplete though it is, we can estimate that more than 99 percent of all species that ever lived are extinct … [O]ur recognition that extinction is … an integral part of the evolution of life [is] at this moment in human history, a far from academic concern…”
A gargantuan version of Death being part of Life. To think we can read such truths into some dusty old bones. But all in a day’s work for a paleontologist!