Running a little behind after being struck down with a lurgy last week, but here is my latest sci-po – no wait! It’s a story.
I won’t say too much about the news story which inspired this, apart from the classic disclaimer: any likeness to persons living or fossilised genuinely is purely coincidental! So if Dr Dave Hone should read this – the curious narrator in this story is not you, it’s just inspired by the work you do (there’s the link to Project Daspletosaurus) and where it could take someone a lot less balanced than your good self (and their diet).
It’s a piece about the feeding habits – which may have been sporadically-cannibalistic in nature – of Tyrranosauridae (those terrible lizards of ‘Jurassic Park’ fame). The research is looking at how the T Rex’s scary cousins – such as the Daspletosaurus – ate, and supposes that they ate with a great variety of bites (not just swallowings-whole, as in ‘Jurassic Park’ – the science of which may, of course, be secondary to the story – and the merchandise).
No matter what fine-diners they were, it’s one family reunion I’m glad that evolution, meteors and the like has put pay to (nothing personal, I just think I’d get stuck in their teeth).
Here’s my story:
The Numbering of Teeth
The bones are the hardest part. As in, the most difficult. But – like all good researchers – he knows that 3-D computer models will only take him so far. He just wants to know – to really feel – what it would be like to have one as a guest at the dinner table; to witness their repertoire, the one he is sure they had, of chomps and nibbles.
At the start of the week, it was subtle – a basic attempt to avoid that simian lateral-chewing motion. An action, he muttered, evolved for plants. And that meant missing a whole link in the food-chain: those plentiful yet elusive herbivores, the duck-bill Hadrosaurs and horned Ceratopsians. The pelvis of one such creature – a Triceratops – was situated directly opposite the Daspletorsarus skull. His prime exhibit. He sat between them, fossil-eyed; glancing back and forth from the punctured pelvis to the sharp-toothed skull.
Small arrow-shaped marks were placed at each and every one of the impacts on the pelvis, like it was the scene of some 70-million-year-old crime. This was the analogy he used at public lectures, invoking CSI television-forensics cool: he needed, he said, to establish the Daspletosauruses ‘M.O.’.
Before this week, he had something of a routine: Monday was often a salad, pricked with cherry-tomatoes; Wednesday, leftover Mexican day – long enchilada tubes, dripping in cheese; Friday tended towards something hearty – a pie, perhaps, or a lasagne, layered like rock rich to be dug into. But salad had become too, well – brontosaurus, for the venture. Redundant. Hefty. Out of date. Now, many other foods just seemed so inauthentic to him.
By mid-week, his needs had outgrown the habitat of the laboratory canteen – there was just too much chicken. He would never learn anything from chicken – too splintery, too avian. He needed something chunkier, a larger leaf-eater. Beef was OK, or perhaps…giraffe, rhinoceros? Unlikely. He had to be reasonable. Perhaps this was what happened to the Tyrranosauridae, he thinks – to make them turn. Outgrowing their food supplies; that’s when they started to become cannibals.
So the packed-lunches began. Whatever protestations he made about being a feminist, his wife wore the trousers where it came to food. So, gingerly, as he stepped from the Friday front doorstep:
‘Leave the bones in,’ he said, maintaining earnest eye-contact. ‘And cook it quite rare. Really rare.’
She scanned his face for some sign of the joke that was to follow, but it did not come.
‘But what’s the point in a lamb-chop sandwich, when you have to remove the bones anyway?’ she entreated.
‘Rare,’ he repeated. ‘Please? I’m just feeling red-blooded this week.’
‘Lamb-chop sandwiches. Rare.’ She confirms. ‘Really rare.’ A sigh.
So this lunchtime, he sits above the white expanse of table and leers in the way he imagines his subject would: salivating at the feast to come, spreading out across the ceramic plain, the prey’s bills and horns scattering away from his mighty incisors. Nobody has sat with him for the last couple of days, but why would he mind? He is, after all, a top predator – and they hunt alone. He looks at the sandwich and considers which type of bite to deploy – something bone-shattering and bold, or something delicate and tendon-stripping.
Back in the lab, he gazes admiringly at the skull atop its plinth, numbering its teeth; as he tries to remove some lamb gristle with his tongue, he counts the incisors and molars his own skeleton sprouts. Insufficient, he thinks, as he reaches the end of the row and meets gummy nothingness.
Several tonnes, not 13 stone; over 60 razor-teeth, not his piffling set of 32 – nay, 31 after today’s lunch – blunt instruments. He wasn’t even a Daspletosaurus drumstick, barely a rump steak.
In the company of his skull and his other, he sits quietly, contemplatively, numbering his teeth – he doesn’t want to end up anywhere, you know, weird, with all this. So he imagines – just imagines – his own, as twice as numerous and twice as sharp as they really are.
Imagination, he thinks. Empathy. That’s what separates us, from the cannibals.