Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai


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Some notes on Dinosaur Hunting – part 1

Two years ago, a friend asked me about those B-movies in which Army types face rampaging dinosaurs, firing tons of bullets to no avail.
Were the dinosaurs really so hard to kill?

I wrote a post on the subject, on my Italian blog, which sparked a long discussion with further Q&A.
This led to a series of articles about dinosaur hunting.

I’m currently translating and re-editing that material, planning a small ebook for the curious – what follows is the first part of a this revised stuff.
More will follow.
But for starters… let’s talk weapons.

First idea: military-grade personal weapons can be a match for dinos.
A bit of metal accelerated to ultrasonic speed (such as a P90 bullett) carves a cavity in the target as large as a basket ball, so you can be a dino, but a burst from a modern automatic weapon hurts all the same.

But it gets better, and more complicated than that.

The idea that dinosaurs had thick, armored hides comes from the early years of paleontology – working by analogy with modern pachiderms, the first fossil hunters imagined dinosaurs to be thick-skinned like rhinos and elephants
Modern studies on fossil dinosaur hide tell us a different story – dinosaur skin is just reptile skin, often revealing clear signs of bite from predators.
Tough, but not enough to shrug off a direct hit from an automatic weapon.

Does this solve the T. rex vs AK47 debate?
Not exactly.

First of all, underneath the often garishly colored, supple reptile skin we find thick bands of compact muscle.
And then there’s the matter of bone plates – normally found on herbivores, on the back, rump and neck areas.

Both can somewhat soak the impact damage from our bullets.

And with really big beasts, it can take a few seconds, from the moment the bullet impacts to the moment the pain and damage registers in the brain of the animal – due to the distance the electric signal has to cover from the periphery of the body to the head.
And a charging dinosaur can do a lot of damage in a few seconds.

Which leads us to the old problem of the riunning dinosaur…

An elephant weighs—let’s see—four to six tons. You’re proposing to shoot reptiles weighing two or three times as much as an elephant and with much greater tenacity of life.

The quotes comes from the basic required reading on dinosaur hunting, Lyon Sprague De Camp’s A Gun for a Dinosaur – which you can find and listen to, here in the X minus One archive, as an mp3.

The bottom line of the charging dino problem – you can kill it, but before it realizes it’s dead, he can still rush you and squash you.

So what?
Sprague De camp offers a classic solution

Here you are: my own private gun for that work, a Continental .600. Does look like a shotgun, doesn’t it? But it’s rifled, as you can see by looking through the barrels. Shoots a pair of .600 Nitro Express cartridges the size of bananas; weighs fourteen and a half pounds and has a muzzle energy of over seven thousand foot-pounds. Costs fourteen hundred and fifty dollars. Lot of money for a gun, what?
I have some spares I rent to the sahibs. Designed for knocking down elephant. Not just wounding them, knocking them base-over-apex. That’s why they don’t make guns like this in America, though I suppose they will if hunting parties keep going back in time.

Holland & Holland Nitro Express .700 (in the ’50s, when Sprague De camp wrote his story, H&H and Continental only manufactured a .600).
Because we don’t want just to kill it – we want to drop him on the spot.

Of course, we are talking a 7kgs (15 lbs) weapon, that kicks like a mule – not the most confortable weapon to carry around Dinosaur Valley.

We can find today even better calibres – JDJ .950 and such.
There’s even a thing called Tyrannosaurus Rex.
But the .600 and .700 Nitro Express are still the discerning dino hunter weapon of choice.

Note that we are talking single, large dinosaurs.
Dealing with velociraptors – which are small and attack in coordinated groups – is quite another story.
In these cases, suppressive fire fropm full-auto weapons might be the only choice.

We close this first article, by reminding our readers of the Servadec Principle (thus called from the classic Jules Verne novel) – accustomed tothe rumblings of the savage wilderness around them, the dinosaurs might not be scared at all by explosions, and rather react with curiosity to the bangs of our weapons, coming closer to investigate.

In the next installment – Bring ’em back alive!


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Dragon bones

And talking about China and fossils… 50 cents per kg is the price of dinosaur bones used as medicine in central China.

I was researching Gustav Heinrich Ralph von Koenigswald, a German paleontologist that in the 1930s found a tooth belonging to a Gigantopithecus in an Hong Kong pharmacy, and I collected a few factoids about the practice of consuming “long gu” (“dragon bones”) for medical purposes – which is still is still going strong in China today.

Xu

The most common afflictions cured by boiling or grinding into powder the fossil bones are cramps and dizziness, but the list of possible applications is long and varied.

“… “dragon bones” are crushed to a fine powder, boiled, and mixed with other ingredients to make healing concoctions. According to an ancient Chinese medical text (dating back around 2000 years) pulverized fossils have been used to treat conditions ranging from diarrhea to epilepsy to “manic running about.” Some ancient “medical” conditions were mystical ailments. For example, dragon bone “mainly treats heart and abdominal demonic influx, spiritual miasma, and old ghosts.”

In 2007, the BBC revealed that one enterprising bone collector had found, dug out and sold about 8.000 kilos of old bones.
According to online sources, today, more than 100 tons of “dragon bones” are consumed each year in China and Southeast Asia.

All of which is great news not only for my Silk Road book (updates, updates!), but is also excellent fodder for stories.