Given the immense time period that dinosaurs existed for, why did none of them develop sentience?

Published: 11th September, 2022 at 18:00
Get your £10 Amazon Gift Card when you subscribe to BBC Science Focus Magazine!

One thing that sets humans apart from other animals – as far as we know – is that we are sentient.

Not only do we have large brains and keen intelligence, but we are self-aware.


We are conscious: we sense the world around us in an advanced way, and know that we exist, and that others exist.

Our species has been around for just a few hundred thousand years, a newcomer on the geological scene. So why didn’t dinosaurs develop sentience during their evolutionary run that exceeded 150 million years?

First off, we assume they didn’t, because they didn’t leave records of things like writing, language and other sentient thought processes in the fossil record. But we do know from CT scanning of fossil skulls that many dinosaurs had very large brains.

Could these large brains have eventually become sentient? Maybe, if the end-Cretaceous asteroid impact didn’t knock out dinosaurs in their prime and pave the way for our mammalian ancestors.

Read more:

Asked by: Pamela Flower, via email


To submit your questions email us at (don't forget to include your name and location)


Steve is a professor and palaeontologist at the University of Edinburgh and the author of the book The Rise And Reign Of The Mammals (£20, Picador), a 325-million-year odyssey of mammalian evolution and the people who study mammal fossils.


Sponsored content