There are two ways of looking at this question. First, one can consider the semi-scientific idea that an intelligent species might have arisen during the Age of Dinosaurs, and wonder how that could have happened in the evolutionary sense. Second, given the long history of science fiction stories involving dinosaurs, how has the concept of fictional dinosaurian intelligence evolved over time? I’ll address both.
Among the paleontologists of our time, the notion of dinosaurian intelligence crops up more often than you might guess. Although no current dinosaurologist would risk his or her reputation by actually proposing a human-like intellect among the creatures of 65 million years ago, there have been plenty of scientific discussions of the brain power that existed inside the crania of Cretaceous creatures large and small. Scientists have published paper after paper describing relative brain-case sizes and comparing modern mammals and birds to tyrannosaurus, triceratops, velociraptor, and other dinosaurs. While the modern creatures almost always win out in terms of body-to-brain mass ratios, and thereby get scored as the smarter creatures, it’s not a slam-dunk issue when you start looking into the dinosaurs that perch closest to modern birds in the evolutionary tree. In fact, velociraptor and its cousins among the maniraptoran and dromaeosaurian lineages of dinosaurs are quite comparable to modern birds in that body-to-brain ratio. And among these, the subgroup of troodonts leads the pack with representatives that rank equal to modern birds, if not slightly higher.
As the diagram at right illustrates, I chose to place my “Pteronychus” species of intelligent dinosaur right smack in the middle between the brainiest of the dinosaurs, the troodontids and the dromaeosaurids. This placement leaves a little ambiguity as to the exact predecessors of the Kra (as the brainy Pteronychuses have named themselves), but I like it that way. That leaves a little authorial wiggle room for me to adjust the evolutionary tree if future fossil discoveries make a re-alignment of the Kra’s origins a necessity.
On to the second question. As far as the Kra’s literary predecessors, I can be quite a bit more definitive. The history of stories published about intelligent dinosaurs is pretty explicit, if you visit any library or cruise the web in search of the family tree. The real granddaddies of dinosaur fiction didn’t expend any significant ink on intelligence. For example, there’s nothing smarter than a lizard in Jules Verne’s 1864 Journey To The Center Of The Earth, or The Lost World, published by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1912, although these authors get credit for having originated the entire genre of dinosaur adventure fiction of which my Dinosaur Wars stories are an evolutionary outgrowth.
Unless I’ve missed something in my research, the first writer to portray a dinosaur with speech, weapons and other trappings of civilization was Harry Harrison with his West Of Eden novel featuring the very lizardy Yilane, human-sized but very slimy and reptilian, published in 1984, almost simultaneously with a short article published by John C. McLoughlin entitled ‘Evolutionary bioparanoia’ in Animal Kingdom magazine, in which a human-sized, intelligent dinosaur species, shown below, was suggested as the possible culprit in the extermination of all dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous Era.
A friend gave me McLoughlin’s article while I was writing my first Dinosaur Wars novel and I’m sure it had some influence on my thinking, although I didn’t go as far as suggesting as McLoughlin did, that dinosaurs nuked themselves into oblivion.
Next in the succession of intelligent dinosaur stories were the nearly simultaneous appearance of Robert Sawyer’s Far-Seer novel about intelligent dinosaurs living in a distant solar system, and Stephen Leigh’s Dinosaur Planet, published in 1992 and 1993, respectively. Also in 1992, came James Gurney’s highly acclaimed Dinotopia, in which most of the dinosaur species exhibited intelligence at one level or another. There are more books with smartosauruses in them, but too many to mention here and in fairness to myself, my own smartosaurus books came along in 2000 and beyond, so enough said.
There’s been an evolution in all this fiction that parallels the evolution in scientific thinking about dinosaurs. As time has progressed, fictional dinosaurs have gotten less slimy, less scaly, less cold blooded, and more feathery, more intelligent, and more dangerous in turn, up to and including wielding world-destroying power in the realm of fiction. I wonder what we scientists and novelists will think of next?