I suddenly wondered: When was the first time that any science fiction writer published a story in which one or more human beings use some form of "time travel technology" to travel back to the era of the dinosaurs, and thus come face to face with one or more dinosaurs, as part of the plot?

I don't care if it was a short story or a full-sized novel. I don't insist you name a story that is still popular today, and gets reprinted on a regular basis. I just want to know who used this exact plot device first, along with the title of the story in which he (or she) did it, and thereby started a trend! (Heck, if it was first used a hundred years ago, in some old silent movie that I've never heard of, instead of in a work of prose fiction, then calling that movie to my attention would be a valid answer!)

Examples of What I Do Not Want:

  1. Someone finds a way to recreate "dinosaurs," more or less, in modern times -- or it happens accidentally, for that matter! Gene splicing, cloning, radioactive mutations triggered by a nuclear war, whatever. (One example of "creating new dinosaurs in my lab" occurred in Jurassic Park, although I think other authors had used much the same idea before Michael Crichton got into the act.)

  2. Someone discovers that some breeds of dinosaurs are still "naturally" alive, somewhere upon the surface of the globe (or down inside the Hollow Earth, or somewhere else entirely), and at least one human explorer comes face to face with some of those dinosaurs, in a story set in "modern" times. (Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World immediately springs to mind -- it was published in 1912, and for all I know, it may have been the first story to take that approach.)

  3. Human space explorers, visiting an alien planet, run afoul of gigantic lizards which are very reminiscent of some of the dinosaurs which once existed on Planet Earth. But quite possibly these creatures evolved separately on their own homeworld, and are not genetically related to our own Tyrannosaurus Rex or any other terrestrial breed of dinosaur. (I'm having trouble thinking of a classic example of this approach, but I'm sure it's been done!)

  4. The entire story is set in the distant past, with "cavemen" (or some other sentient lifeform) encountering at least one "dinosaur," but there is no use of the concepts of "time travel" and "people from modern times."

  5. There is something resembling "time travel" within the plot, but the rationale is very much "fantasy" instead of "science fiction." For instance, if the Evil Sorcerer chants a spell, waves his hands in mystic gestures, and magically sends someone else back in time, millions of years, to suddenly appear right in front of a charging Triceratops, then I would not call that story a valid answer to this question. No matter when that story was first published!

  • 3
    I think allowing fantastical time travel might make the question more interesting. If someone wrote a story in the 1800s in which someone travels to the time of the dinosaurs, it could well have influenced the modern genre, regardless of technical details.
    – Adamant
    Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 1:27
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    "The Sands of Time" (P. Schuyler Miller, 1937) is a famous classic, but probably far from the earliest.
    – user14111
    Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 1:31
  • 4
    @Adamant If you open it up to fantasy there is this 19th century story in French about a man taken back to the age of dinosaurs by a demon.
    – user14111
    Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 1:36
  • 1
    @Lorendiac Which of these stories satisfy your criteria?
    – user14111
    Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 1:57
  • 3
    John Russell Fearn's "Liners of Time" was published as a 4-part serial in Amazing Stories for May, June, July, and August of 1935. According to Bleiler's review in Science Fiction: The Gernsback Years, some portion of the story was set in the Mesozoic. I suppose dinosaurs made an appearance—visiting the Mesozoic without seeing the dinosaurs is like visiting Paris without seeing the Eiffel tower or visiting Darwin, Minnesota without seeing the big ball of twine—but I can't confirm it.
    – user14111
    Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 3:51

9 Answers 9


@user14111 made a suggestion in a comment: 'John Russell Fearn's "Liners of Time" was published as a 4-part serial in Amazing Stories for May, June, July, and August of 1935.' I picked up a DVD with a bunch of Amazing Stories scans on eBay here, which included the May and August 1935 issues, and it turned out that the section with the characters traveling back in time and encountering some prehistoric reptiles was in the May 1935 issue. Here's a screenshot of page 56:

enter image description here

The paragraph right before Chapter V says

we're right away back in the age of monsters and saurians!

and the second-to-last paragraph on this page says

Undoubtedly we were in the dawn of the world, perhaps so far back as to be before the coming of Man. Later I found this was indeed so, though what exact Age it was I never discovered.

Here's page 57:

enter image description here

In the right column we find a description of a prehistoric reptile, with

a mighty head, immense bone-rimmed eyes, and triple rows of backwardly slanting teeth

and the narrator says

It doesn't come into the classification of anything I ever heard of before. I thought it might be a stegosaurus, at first, but now I'm quite sure I've never seen it reproduced anywhere, either as a skeleton or in illustration.

Finally, here's page 59:

enter image description here

In the right column of this page there is the description of a flying creature

not unlike a monstrous bat ... (with) a vile, wickedly hooked beak, and distended jaws

Then a couple paragraphs down he says

I was like a crawling snail compared to the bullet-swiftness of the pterodactyl,* for such I took this flying lizard to be.

And the asterisk leads to a note at the bottom of the page which says

Since the pterodactyl was the product of the Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods, I am inclined to think this creature was some kind of pterodactyl prototype, or else unknown altogether to science in later ages.

For a full plot summary, see pp. 117-118 of Science-Fiction: The Gernsback Years which are available on google books here. And the full story is available as a novel on Amazon, though I don't know if it was edited at all from the original serial publication.


It is at least speculated by the narrator that the great grand-daddy of them all, The Time Machine by HG Wells (first published in 1895), may be an answer to your question. At the end of the book the Time Traveller disappears with his machine, and the narrator muses thus:

It may be that he swept back into the past, and fell among the blood-drinking, hairy savages of the Age of Unpolished Stone; into the abysses of the Cretaceous Sea; or among the grotesque saurians, the huge reptilian brutes of the Jurassic times.

  • 1
    Interesting. I've read that book twice, I think, but I'd completely forgotten that bit. I'm glad you brought it to my attention, even though I feel that "sheer speculation by another character about where he might have gone with his machine" doesn't quite meet my criteria regarding the first published SF story in which a modern-man-meets-ancient-dinosaur situation actually occurred as part of the plot! :-)
    – Lorendiac
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 0:41

Maybe the story "The Beetle in the Amber" by Joseph W. Skidmore, Amazing Stories, November 1933. It's summarized on p. 384 of the reference book Science Fiction: The Gernsback Years which can be read on google books here:

Donald Cromwell and his wife Joane are experiencing marital strain as a result of Joane's fixation on an amber bead containing a large fossil beetle. The mystical philosopher and scientist Oliver Kent proposes to resolve the difficulty by sending them back to the period of amber, via reincarnation, akashic record, or what have you. Donald and Joane awaken (with both ancient and modern memories) in the body of primitives of a million years ago; they are hairy, and their arms are so long that their hands dangle below their knees. Outlawed from their tribe because they married without the chief's permission, they were deposited in the territory of chief Kalo and his sun worshippers, who are now pursuing them. When a pterodactyl attacks them, Donald sacrifices himself to save Joane, who is then captured by Kalo's men. When she rejects Kalo's advances, she is sentenced to die by the bite of the death beetle. The beetle is standing there looking at her, when a glob or resin falls upon it, sealing it off. The portent is so remarkable that Kalo and his men dash away. Joane and Donald awaken, the trauma released by their experience in the past.

Although "mystical philosopher" might suggest fantasy, it also calls Oliver Kent a "scientist", and the "The Oliver Kent" stories are mentioned on this list of time travel fiction, where Kent is described as a "super-scientist"; I suppose one would have to read the stories to decide which description is more accurate, and whether Kent tried to give any scientific-sounding justification for how he was able to send their minds into the past. And even if he's more like a super-scientist, it may be ambiguous if this fits your criteria since this seems to be mental time travel. However, the line "with both ancient and modern memories" at least suggests they aren't merely passively witnessing the experiences of primitive people in the past, as does a line from either Donald or Joane quoted in the opening of the review, "From the looks of that Brontosaurus. . . we are in the Pleistocene period." And the presence of a Brontosaurus and a pterodactyl suggests the age of dinosaurs, although it isn't actually accurate to have dinosaurs in the Pleistocene, and of course dinosaurs and primitive humans didn't coexist. Still, it might fit your criteria.

  • I don't think I'd ever even heard of "Oliver Kent, super-scientist." Interesting!
    – Lorendiac
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 0:44
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    After I had posted the previous comment, I decided to edit some more into it . .. but when I was done, and tried to save the new version, I got an error message because the deadline for "editing comments" had run out. Here's what I wanted to say: *** Although if Calvert was just "remembering a past life," I don't think that would qualify as "true time travel technology" such as I had in mind when I was posing the original question and working out some rules of thumb for what I would or wouldn't take. But I would love to have a chance to see the story, and study the evidence with my own eyes..
    – Lorendiac
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 0:53
  • I edited my answer after realizing that "The First Flight" with Calvert was not actually the first of the Oliver Kent series to feature traveling back in time and meeting dinosaurs; and the description of "The Beetle in the Amber" does make it clear that the characters were not merely "remembering a past life".
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 4:22
  • Your revised answer cites a story that predates the one nominated by Hypnosifl, but after much thought, and a little online research, I decided that something that the Cromwells think they experienced while under the influence of a drug, with their minds allegedly getting knocked back in time a zillion years into different bodies, doesn't squarely fit within the meaning I had in mind for "time travel technology" when I posed the original question. I do, however, appreciate your bringing Oliver Kent to my attention -- I was previously quite unaware of his existence!
    – Lorendiac
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 0:55

1952: A Sound of Thunder, by Ray Bradbury, is about a man who hunts dinosaurs, carefully chosen by the business that takes him back in time. It's a very good story, I encourage you to read it.

  • I can assure you that I have read "The Sound of Thunder" several times. It was one of the stories I was thinking of when I decided to ask the question -- I simply didn't know if it was the first time an author used a scientific excuse for having a "modern human" visiting a dinosaur-infested era in a published story.
    – Lorendiac
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 1:52
  • It wasn't the first--someone needs to verify if the original 1935 publication of "Liners of Time" featured a dinosaur as the later book did (see comments), but even if not, there's also the story "The Reign of the Reptiles" from the August 1935 issue of Wonder Stories which is available online here, see p. 266 for a section where it's mentioned he'll go back to the Mesozoic. "The Branches of Time" in the same issue also features a character who goes back in time and kills a reptile that's the ancestor of mammals (p. 301).
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 17:47
  • @Hypnosifl Why don't you post "The Reign of the Reptiles" as an answer?
    – user14111
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 4:17
  • @user14111 - I ordered a DVD with scans of a bunch of issues of Amazing Stories from eBay (it's here if anyone else is interested, these old pulps are useful for the history questions) so I'm hoping the ones with the Mesozoic section of "Liners of Time" will be in there, if so it'll probably beat "The Reign of the Reptiles" by a few months. But if I don't have any luck with that I'll post "The Reign of the Reptiles" as an answer.
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 5:23

Adventures in Time and Space 1946 by Raymond Healy and J. Francis McComas contains the story "The Sands of Time" (1937) by P. Schuyler Miller.

The hero travels back in time to the age of dinosaurs and encounters space aliens, If I remember correctly. At one point narrating his story he tells a paelenotologist of glimpsing what looked like a brontosaur in the distance and is told there weren't any brontosaurs in that era. But various species of sauropod dinosaurs that looked sort of like Brontosaurs ere common for a hundred million years or so in real life. I don't know if this as the first time travel and dinosaur story ever written, but it was in the first science fiction anthology I ever read and was the first one I ever encountered.


see Also Dinosaurs in Fantastic Fiction: a Thematic Survey Allen a. Debus


  • "The Sands of Time" is freely available at archive.org if anyone wants to read it.
    – user14111
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 4:16
  • I don't think I've ever read that one, but I'll follow user14111's link and take a look. M.A. Golding's summary reminds me (vaguely) that when I was a kid, I read a book in which two teenagers end up in prehistoric times. At one point, a large predator advances toward them, and the brainier kid says, "It looks like a [insert species name] -- but it can't be! They're supposed to be extinct by now!" and the other kid says drily, "Great -- tell him that! Maybe it will confuse him so much that he'll go away!" ;-)
    – Lorendiac
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 1:05

The Shadow Out of Time is a novella by American horror fiction writer H. P. Lovecraft. Written between November 1934 and February 1935, it was first published in the June 1936 issue of Astounding Stories. - Wikipedia. The protagonist is forced to switch bodies with an eldritch abomination living in Earth's Paleogean past (actually a member of Earth's fauna that was completely "taken over" by technologically advanced aliens from the planet Yith).


1931: The Exile of Time, part 2 of a 4-part serial by Ray Cummings, in Astounding Stories, May 1931, available at the Internet Archive. Travelers in a speeding "time cage" zip through the age of dinosaurs in a couple of paragraphs. Probably not exactly what you're looking for, since they don't "come face to face with one or more dinosaurs, as part of the plot." But it does fit the title of your question, so I guess it's worth a mention.

We sped through a period when great lush jungles covered the land. The dials read 350,000,000 B. C. The gray panorama of landscape had loomed up to envelope our spectral, humming cage, then fallen away again. The shore of the sea was constantly changing. I thought once it was over us. For a period of ten million years the blurred apparition of it seemed around us. And then it dropped once more, and a new shore line showed.

150,000,000 B. C. I knew that the dinosaurs, the birds and the archaic mammals were here now. Then, at 50,000,000 B. C., the higher mammals had been evolved.

The Time, to Mary Atwood and me, was a minute—but in those myriad centuries the higher mammals had risen to the anthropoids. The apes! Erect! Slow-thinking, but canny, they came to take their place in this world among the things gigantic. But the gigantic things were no longer supreme. Nature had made an error, and was busy rectifying it. The dinosaurs—all the giant reptiles—were now sorely pressed. Brute strength, giant size and tiny brain could not win this struggle. The huge unwieldy things were being beaten. The smaller animals, birds and reptiles were more agile, more resourceful, and began to dominate. Against the giants, and against all hostility of environment, they survived. And the giants went down to defeat. Gradually, over thousands of centuries, they died out and were gone. . . .


1941: Big Game (ISFDB, Wikipedia), by Isaac Asimov

I don’t know if this was the first story of its kind, but it’s an early story and it matches the requirements in the question (no fantasy etc.). The story starts as follows:

“I see by the papers,” I said, over my beer, “where the new time machine at Stanford has been sent forward in time two days with a white mouse inside. No ill effects.”
    Jack Trent nodded gravely and said, “What they ought to do with one of those things is to go back a few million years and find out what happened to the dinosaurs.”

Later on a triceratops is mentioned explicitly:

    “How did you get away?”
    “I wouldn’t have, if they hadn’t sighted a triceratops at that moment. […]”

Big Game was written by Asimov in November 1941, but it was rejected by Astounding’s editor John Campbell and only published in 1974. An expanded version called Day of the Hunters (ISFDB, Wikipedia) was published in 1950.

  • A quick look at the Wikipedia description of "Day of the Hunters" confirms that I read it, many years ago, in one of the books that collected Asimov's shorter fiction, but I'd completely forgotten about it until you brought it up. (Seeingy your description of "Big Game" made the ending of "Day of the Hunters" pop into my head, and Wikipedia confirms it's the same story I was finally somewhat remembering.) I know it didn't even cross my mind for an instant when I was preparing the original question. Thanks for the reminder!
    – Lorendiac
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 0:58

I recognize this is an old thread.

A Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864, 1867) by Jules Verne and A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder (1888) by James De Mille are both in the category of finding living dinosaurs (rule #2). But their early point means they influenced time travel stories that would follow.

The former mentions a sea battle with a plesiosaur and an ichthyosaur. Be mindful of the translation. If the protagonist is Liedenbrock, it is better than one where he is renamed Hardwigg. Modern translations by Wm. Butcher are more reliable.

The latter features a pterosaur that is called a pterodactyl per the popular notion of the time but is closer to a pteranodon in terms of size shown in the illustrations for the serial and better book editions.

It seems that most of the pulp SF stories presented are from the early 1930s. I will contribute another from the period for consideration.

Carl H. Claudy had a series of SF stories published in The American Boy magazine in the 1930s. The majority of these had a young scientist Alan Kane and his muscular friend Ted Dolliver. Four of the stories (some shorts others serials) were published as books by Grosset & Dunlap in The Adventures in the Unknown series (1933-34).

The story I have in mind had a book called A Thousand Years a Minute (G&D 1933) and was preceded with a serial called "A Million Years Ago" (American Boy, May 1932). In it, a platform is sent back in time and the characters interact with prehistoric humans and dinosaurs.

Carl H. Claudy wrote "A Million Years Ago" for American Boy (May, 1932) and it was expanded to a book A Thousand Years a Minute (Grosset & Dunlap, 1933).

In the 1990s I prepared a 3,300-title bibliographic spreadsheet of time travel stories that became a database around 2000. I don't have a version online right now but will check my local copy for time travel stories that feature dinosaurs. This is an interesting question (as are similar ones about the origins of iron mole boring machines, specific features of space travel stories, etc.).

  • Hi, welcome to SF&F! This does look like an interesting possibility. But it mentions a cave as the location where time travel takes place; is it a property of the cave itself, or is there a device in the cave that does the time travel? The distinction, according to the question, is important.
    – DavidW
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 21:14
  • I understand the restrictions. That is why I acknowledged that the Verne and De Mille stories didn't fit since they found prehistoric animals still living underground. In Doyle it is a remote plateau in South America.
    – Keeline
    Commented Jul 30, 2022 at 20:07
  • The Claudy story features a Wells-like time machine platform with a cage and crystals at the top. It starts the journey through time in a stable cave to make sure it is unchanged across time. The characters emerge from the cave and meet the prehistoric animals. The sequel story (Dec. 1934) goes to the future but the first page features an illustration of the machine and a menacing theropod in the background.
    – Keeline
    Commented Jul 30, 2022 at 20:24

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