Looked at through the harsh lens of objectivity, the cultural pervasiveness of dinosaurs is extraordinary. Animatronic dinosaur After all, no human being has ever seen a living non-avian dinosaur (no matter what some of the more absurd creationist literature might claim). The very first recognizably human members of our species lived about 500,000 years ago. By contrast, the very last dinosaurs trod our planet approximately 65 million years ago and probably perished, along with many other creatures, in a cataclysm following a giant meteorite impact with Earth at that time (see Chapter 8). Dinosaurs, as a group of animals of quite bewildering variety, therefore existed on Earth for over 160 million years before their sudden demise. This surely puts the span of human existence, and our current dominance of this fragile planet (in particular, the debates concerning our utilization of resources, pollution, and global warming), into a decidedly sobering perspective.
The very fact of the recognition of dinosaurs, and the very different world in which they lived, today is a testament to the extraordinary explanatory power of science. The ability to be inquisitive, to probe the natural world and all its products, and to keep asking that beguilingly simple question – why? – is one of the essences of being human. It is hardly surprising that developing rigorous methods in order to determine answers to such general questions is at the core of all science.