The place of dinosaur dung in science and literature

THE SCIENTIFIC journal Nature has bowed to the pressure of public curiosity and finally published an analysis of that "king size" heap of Tyrannosaurus rex dung which was discovered in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan three years ago.

Where I come from, dung is dung, however long it's been hanging about, but to the scientist it's a coprolite - not to be confused, by the by, with the remains of the planet Superman hailed from, one tiny fragment of which could rob him of all his strength and self-respect. The substance you're thinking of is cellulite.

The magnitude of the Saskatchewan find to the scientific community can be measured by the phrase "king size". Scientists work on a scale barely comprehensible to the rest of us. "Only yesterday" to an astronomer means 30 billion years ago, and when a geologist says "king size" he isn't thinking marital bed. Imagine, if you can, a heap of ancient faeces equivalent in mass to the crater that would be made on the surface of the earth if the moon fell into us. But convex rather than concave. And less of a tourist attraction.

It's what the coprolite contains, though, that's exciting interest: nothing less than the remains of a three-horned herbivorous dinosaur as big as a cow, chewed whole, digested badly, and still in pain. Thereby proving what every schoolboy has always suspected, that the T rex was one mean mother.

None of this, I have to say, comes as any surprise to me. I've never held with any of the meteor or ice age theories to explain the disappearance of the dinosaurs. That they ate one another to extinction always seemed to me the likeliest explanation. What else was there to do way back then?

Considering the philosophical implications of the discovery, Shakespeare said it all long ago: "The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interr'd with their bones." Pity the poor Tyrannosaurus: 65 million years after its demise, and all we can find to remember it by is its messy eating.

As for the where the mega-stool itself was unearthed, here too there is nothing new to report. Didn't we always know that Canada was one colossal shit-heap?

Forgive what may look like a gratuitous rudeness. I'm nursing a long- time grievance with Canada on

the grounds that it never invites me to any of its famous waterfront literary festivals. Canada is big on festivals. Places which otherwise have no attractions, give or take a turd or two, always are big on festivals. You ask yourself, "What haven't we got?" You come up with the answer, "Anything!" So you have a festival. It's smart thinking. That way you subvert criticism. What writer wants to miss out on a junket? What comedian? Now you know why it's such a long time since you heard a joke against Toronto or Montreal. Or Edinburgh. Or Adelaide.

Hay-on-Wye is another matter. Unlike every other writer on this planet, not to mention those from planets with cellulite, I wasn't there this year. This may have had something to do with the poor reception I received last year.

Wrong place, wrong subject. Had Nature reported its findings earlier, I may have got away with my chosen topic - The Contribution of Faeces to Humour - by wrapping it in dinosaur talk. Every country person loves a stool when it's an animal that's dropped it. My mistake was to get heavy with the literature in a rural setting - farts in Aristophanes, turds in Chaucer, dunghills in Rabelais.

It's something you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy, being in a full tent in a muddy field in Hay-on-Wye (I always fill my tent in Hay, or at least, I always used to), frozen in horrid silence as you bury yourself deeper and deeper in ordure. While, from the other tents, come the sounds of male authors talking about their children and the washing-up. Ah, the children! Isn't that what we go to literary festivals for? To hear great writers talking about their children. "Well, better that than your fixation," my audience let me know. "Better to be a father than a coprophiliac."

In vain did I make protest to my audience that I was no fonder of dung than the next man. That, if anything, I was a coprophobic, a person who had walked in preternatural fear of dung all his life. Hence my passionate advocacy of the value of scatological comedy: it reconciled me to the horror. What did they think I was doing - compiling a list of my favourite droppings? Poo We Have Loved? Desert Island Dung?

The tent blew and I died. I signed and sold no books. Sixty-five million years from now, geologists will dig in Hay-on-Wye and find evidence that a creature the size of a man was once passed whole through the digestive system of a many-headed monster. It may even get in Nature. But no coprolite will ever tell the true tragic story of what transpired there.

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine