In the cartoon The Flintstones, Fred Flintstone works as a ‘bronto crane operator’, riding a sauropod that does the heavy lifting in a quarry. Yet it seems unlikely that we would ever have been able to persuade dinosaurs to work for us in agrarian societies – as humans did with oxen and horses. “Given the brainpower of some of these dinosaurs, I can’t imagine that a lot of them would be in the realm of things that would domesticate easily,” says palaeontologist Dr Andy Farke.
But there may have been other ways that humans could have exploited dinosaurs. “Animals that have been domesticated by humans are often those that have group social structures like wolves, caribou and cattle,” says palaeontologist Dr Victoria Arbour. “For dinosaurs, herding species like ceratopsians and hadrosaurs might have been good candidates for cattle analogues. There’s less evidence for social behaviour in small carnivores, but perhaps some little predatory, feathery theropods might have filled the spots in our homes reserved for dogs and cats today.”
Had we exploited some of these larger herbivores to toil in our fields, then surely we would have hunted and farmed some for meat too? This begs the question: what would dinosaur meat have tasted like? Of course, if you eat chicken or turkey today, then you are already eating theropod dinosaur, but the flesh of these sedentary domesticated creatures is a poor analogy for T. rex meat – a better one might be emu or ostrich, which is packed with lean muscle due to the animals’ sprinting abilities.
“Just as with modern farming, there’d probably be the whole thing with wanting to get organically raised or free-range dinosaur meat – or corn-fed Triceratops,” quips Farke.
Ostriches are farmed today, so some of the fast, ostrich-like ornithomimid dinosaurs, such as Gallimimus (famous from the stampede scene in Jurassic Park), could have populated ranches in the same way. Battery farms of egg-laying dinosaurs could also have been a possibility. “The glorious thing about dinosaurs is that they grew very quickly,” says Farke. Today, there are certain types of wealthy gun-lovers who will pay significant sums of money to shoot lions, rhinos and giraffes on private game reserves. Therefore, had dinosaurs survived to the present, then they would surely be the ultimate in big game. Horned dinosaurs, duckbills and even carnivores like T. rex could have been targets, argues Arbour. “Big ceratopsians, hadrosaurs and theropods would probably be highly sought after for trophy hunting,” she says. ■