Gigantism in the ancient world
August 28, 2012 | 16 comments
Image Credit: Gerhard Boeggemann
[!gad]Gigantism in the ancient world occurred in the kingdoms of the insects, plants and animals. It has long been a mystery and topic of conjecture: why were these living things so big, and why not now? Dragon flies with 60 cm. wingspans, dinosaurs, such as the brontosaurus, that surely must have caused the earth to shake as they moved about searching for food and evading predators were the standards for those distant days.
Why were these creatures so humongous?
A hint can be found in the results of experiments performed in the United States during the 1950's. Another hint is found in the earth's crust.
United States scientists exposed food plants to radiation, hoping to help the hungry of the world and make a lot of money in the process. When exposed to high levels of radiation, the plants underwent rapid growth and gigantism—ears of corn that weighed three kilograms, and watermelons six times their normal size and, unfortunately, inedible because the radiation lingers in the result. The same radioactivity that caused such wild growth also made the food dangerous...to us. But we are not the only living things here, and some creatures can consume such food.
The other hint is found in the earth's crust, which is slightly radioactive at present, but it is not likely that this level of radioactivity in the distant past was at the same level at all.
Imagine a world so far in the past that the majority of lead in the earth, a prevalent element, was uranium. It is a well known and documented process among physicists that uranium becomes lead over millions of years. It is also a related anecdotal remark that there was found a deposit of lead in Africa near a spring, which was a natural nuclear reactor when the lead was uranium in the very distant past, although no present day concentrations of uranium with such purity have, thankfully, ever been found. We have directly observed how gigantism has been caused by radiation, and we are certain that the overwhelming majority of lead in the earth's crust was once uranium. The amount of time required for uranium to become lead correlates with the ages of gigantism precisely.
Though correlation does not prove causation, there are other facts that support this hypothesis.
It seems entirely likely, even probable, that the level of radiation in the earth, which is still measurable but negligible now, caused gigantism among the plants, dinosaurs, arthropods and insects of those past and distant ages. Further, with irradiated plants having such rapid growth, it would then logically follow that a food source for such ravenous herbivores such as the brontosaurus would be readily available. Not surprisingly, most aquatic animals of those ages are what we would deem to be 'normal sized beings', and the levels of radiation in the water would have been much lower than on the landscapes of the early earth. Water is a buffer we use in nuclear reactors.
The ecology of such a radioactive environment would be wildly different than our own, and the possible mutations that would occur could have made it so that entire species would have evolved, flourished, and then been made extinct in the span of hundreds, not thousands of years. Such an environment would have made the genetic factory of nature run at a pace that is astonishing to us today, most being failed experiments from nature's kitchen, but some having traits that would have allowed them to thrive.,
On a hot summer night, one can actually hear corn growing, but few plants -- such as kelp and the dreaded kudzu -- demonstrate rapid daily growth, however; rapid growth is observable and the gene for rapid plant growth exists. The growth rate of kudzu, if exposed to strong radiation, would actually be frightening.
There is other evidence to support this theoretical hypothesis (not a detailed theorem at all, but only logical and substantiated conjecture). Lizards and similar creatures, such as the dinosaurs, show stronger resiliency when exposed to radiation than mammals, whose complex genes are easily knocked out of kilter by such strong radiation, creating cancers and birth deformities. Simpler genes are more resistant to the dangers of radiation. Some insects, such as the delightful cockroach, can withstand, thrive and reproduce when exposed to radiation that would kill most mammals and humans. Where did they get that trait?
Fossils, on the whole, are very rare. We do not have a complete cross-section. We have valid samples from which we can draw conclusions. Experts acknowledge that we may have found less than 1% of all plants and animals that were alive during the early ages of the biological world. It is remarkable that Paleontologists have been able to steadily solidify their views of a past so far behind us, and for that we owe them our respect and gratitude. Unfortunately, multiple disciplines do not often work together. The argument about the Sphinx showing water erosion, as put forth by Geologists, and the established theorems of Egyptologists that cannot accept this data is now legend. Sometimes a generalist can reach conclusions not likely to be intued by specialists, and it is my sincere hope that, as such, good science does not require arguments between researchers that attack the researcher instead of the evidence.
Sadly, that is not the current state of affairs.
If this assumption about radioactively induced gigantism has merit, in our search for life elsewhere in the universe we might do well to observe solar systems that have more than just planets in the 'Goldilocks Zone' which may have liquid water, but also such worlds that are likely to have or have had radioactive elements in their planetary minerals (lead).
It is no vague assumption to think that the ancient world was even stranger than we can now imagine.
One unexplained mystery, once explained, always creates more unexplained mysteries, and which is wonderful. We are a species that not only is fascinated by mysteries, but needs mysteries to explore almost as much as we need food, clothing, shelter and love.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope it was interesting for you.