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Were Dinosaurs Evolving Toward Intelligence Before Extinction?

Fig. 1: Julieraptor was an upper Cretaceous dinosaur from ~75 million yr ago. It shares many traits with birds and had an expanded forebrain that was possibly capable of some higher order thought. The limbs were mobile and included long fingers.


Is it possible dinosaurs would have evolved into intelligent beings if they were given enough time? We will never know because all the dinosaurs except birds went extinct about 65 million years ago during one of Earth’s great mass extinctions. Fortunately, there is an extensive fossil record that preserves many examples of dinosaurs that can be used to reconstruct dinosaur ecology and evolution. Dinosaur evolutionary trends just before the Mass Extinction are remarkably similar to some fossils of the earliest primates, and suggest that dinosaurs were evolving along a similar path that eventually led to intelligent humans. This relationship can be observed at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in the Paleontology Hall permanent exhibit.


A simple comparison of a latest Cretaceous (about 65 Ma) raptor dinosaur called Julieraptor (Fig. 1) and an early Paleogene (about 50 Ma) lemur Notharctus (Fig. 2) reveals many anatomical similarities and convergent evolutionary patterns. Both the raptor dinosaur and early primate have expanded forebrains, long fore limbs and fingers for grasping, large forward oriented eyes with advanced visual abilities, and an upright posture. Also, both the raptors and primates were likely warm-blooded animals that were active in their environments. Scientist also think some of the raptors were arboreal and highly social animals that reared their young, just like the lemurs. These similarities suggest that advanced raptors were evolving down a remarkably similar path as primates until all dinosaurs except birds were eliminated at the Cretaceous mass extinction.


Special Thanks to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. One of the great paleontology halls.


Fig. 2: An early Paleogene (~50 million year old) Lemur Notharctus. Notice the similar body plan to the latest Cretaceous dinosaur Julieraptor (Fig. 1).