Asked by: Paul Leslie, Chelmsford
It wouldn’t be easy. The Permian period, just before the dinosaurs appeared, ran from about 300 to 250 million years ago. The drifting continental plates had clumped all the land together into one supercontinent called Pangaea. The huge size and limited coastline made the interior of Pangaea a hot desert, while the south was frozen under ice caps. The north was only slightly better, with a hot climate and huge seasonal variations from wet to dry. Flowering plants had only just started to appear and almost all the food crops we eat today hadn’t evolved yet. We would be restricted to pine nuts and a few edible tubers. Most of our diet would probably consist of insects, but 90 per cent of all insects at the start of the Permian were varieties of cockroach, so that’s hardly an attractive prospect.
More importantly, we would still need to worry about being eaten ourselves. Just because the dinosaurs hadn’t appeared yet, it doesn’t mean there weren’t large carnivores. Dimetrodon and other large crocodile-type animals were the top predators. Our intelligence and cooperation would help against these threats, but we would have to manage with primitive weaponry. The plant matter laid down in the Carboniferous period wouldn’t turn into coal for another 100 million years yet, so we would have to make do with peat and pine wood for fuel, which would make it difficult to get a fire hot enough to smelt iron with.