Prehistory is a subject we are taught little of in school. Whilst we devote years of our lives committing to memory the exploits, both good and bad, of presidents, proles and perverts, we learn nothing about the epic 3.5-billion-year history of Earth before the advent of human civilisation. Maybe when (or if) the biology lessons come to the subject of evolution, prehistoric life will receive a cursory reference, but that's about it.
Because of that, most people's knowledge of prehistoric life is frustratingly small. Ask most people what they know about prehistory and the same facts come up time and time again. One of those facts, the most prevalent one in fact, is that dinosaurs (aside from birds, obviously) have been extinct for 65 million years. The prevailing theory held that a meteorite collided with the Earth 65 million years ago, sparking a series of apocalyptic events which led to the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs, along with 70% of all other creatures on Earth, paving the way for the age of mammals, and, eventually, the evolution of human beings.
That's common knowledge, right?
Well, on one tropical island in the South Pacific, that theory runs into gargantuan obstacles.
The island had begun life as a fragment of the vast and ancient continent of Gondwana; a stretch near the coast of the great and ancient Tethys Sea. When the landmass broke away, many of its creatures came with it, guaranteeing their survival when catastrophe and ecological change wiped their kind out everywhere else in the world. Protected from the passage of time and forces of change that drove their kin to extinction elsewhere, their evolution was allowed to continue, unabated, for another sixty-five million years. Safe in their island Eden, they continued to evolve, becoming more aggressive, more intelligent and allowing them to diversify into forms that no human could have ever dreamed of, evolving to new extremes in their green bower.
However, nowhere on Earth was truly isolated. The ocean currents carried flotsam around the world, and with this flotsam travelled animals. Some rode the surface of the water itself, whilst others swam, carried by currents to their destinations. And some animals rode on impromptu rafts, their odysseys undertaken by random chance. As millennia wore on and the continents continued to change and land bridges came and went, new creatures were brought to the island, adding to the diversity of the island's strange fauna.
Over the millennia, this eclectic mix of creatures entered an evolutionary arms race unlike any seen before, forging a menagerie of nightmares. The fight to survive fashioned many bizarre lifeforms, some prehistoric holdovers, others skewed versions of recognisable known species, whilst others still were forms beyond any human comprehension.
Of course, the lost island could not have remained hidden for long. Humans happened upon the island many times in history; sometimes by accident, sometimes by coincidence and, very rarely, intentionally. Whatever the reasoning, the result was the same; unprepared for the myriad terrors that awaited them, dozens of people met horrific deaths. The ones that survived recounted their torment to unbelieving masses, usually met with derision and ignorance, and the island became well-known as a sailor's legend, passed down by word of mouth and hastily drawn sketches of vague maps of the island and of vicious beasts.
The stories were all the same. They told of an island covered in a blanket of fog and perpetually surrounded by powerful storms and jagged cliffs, causing ships to either sink or run aground. Those few that made it to shore were ill-prepared for the sight that awaited them. The island's natives were a primitive and unsophisticated people, living on fish, bird's eggs and whatever else they could scavenge in the rocky outcrops of the island's coast, only rarely venturing into the dinosaur-infested jungle, where they were easy prey. However, dotted throughout the island were the ruins of an ancient civilisation, of some size and sophistication, overgrown by the jungle in the millennia since they had been abandoned. The most notable of these relics was a wall 100-feet high, so old no-one knew who had made it, but as strong today as it was thousands of years ago. Except, of course, that fact ventures a question; why would that lost civilisation of millennia ago have built the wall?
The castaways universally agreed on the reason for that; Skull Island was a place where monsters roamed. Giant predators that patrolled the dark jungles, devouring all they came upon, rapacious flying beasts with hideous faces and an even more hideous stench and monsters that erupted from the Earth itself to seize unfortunate victims. However, one creature in particular was remembered with both horror and reverence by the castaways. A gigantic creature, somehow at once beast and man, noted for both his great strength and his great ferocity. He lived high in the mountains and the whole island was his kingdom; everything in the jungle knew better than to challenge him. He was said to keep to himself, largely, and would even protect humans that had earned his favour; however, he would be ruthless towards those who were foolish enough to have incurred his wrath. The island's natives were said to view him as a god; their protector from the monsters that lurked in the island's steaming jungles.
No-one believed these fantastic tales… at least, that's what they said. However, every nautical trade route in the area avoided the island, fearing that its nightmarish reputation might have had some root in fact; it seemed that its reputation had spread across the world. Even today, ships and planes still disappear around the island and the myth still recurs in certain circles, with tales of an island shrouded in fog, adorned with the ruins of a lost civilisation and where prehistoric creatures still roam the Earth being commonly told among sailors in seedy bars to scare each other. Portugese explorers in the East Indies even gave the island a name; ilha do cranio.
The Island of the Skull.