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
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
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.

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map