Do you fear snakes? How about lizards and other reptiles? It’s natural to be cautious around such creatures if you come across them in the wilderness. But what if you had bigger and more dangerous creatures to worry about?
Can you imagine hiking in the wilderness during the time of the dinosaurs? Instead of a snake or a lizard, you would have to be careful of enormous beasts with long teeth and sharp claws. Some of them could even fly!
Thanks to modern science, we have a lot of knowledge about the dinosaurs that once roamed the Earth. How do scientists know so much? They can’t observe them in the wild like they do with modern animals. Instead, they rely on what dinosaurs left behind. No, not their diaries! Scientists study their fossilized bones and, sometimes, other bodily material.
Nobody knows when the first dinosaur bone was discovered. Ancient civilizations most likely stumbled upon dinosaur bone fossils from time to time, but they had no idea what they had found. Ancient Chinese writings from over 2,000 years ago mention “dragon” bones, which many experts today believe were dinosaur fossils.
Even early scientists were unsure about the fossils they found. For example, in 1676, Reverend Robert Plot, a curator of an English museum, unearthed a large thigh bone in England. He believed it belonged to ancient species of human “giants.”
Although the specimen eventually disappeared, drawings of it remain. Based on those drawings, modern scientists think it was probably from a dinosaur called “Megalosaurus.”
Megalosaurus is thought to be the first dinosaur ever scientifically described. British fossil hunter William Buckland discovered some fossils in 1819, and he eventually described and named them in 1824. Like scientists before him, Buckland believed the fossils belonged to an ancient, larger version of a modern reptile.
At that time, the word “dinosaur” had not yet been invented, and dinosaurs had not yet been recognized as distinct creatures that were significantly different from modern reptiles. All of that changed with the arrival of British scientist Richard Owen.
In late 1841 or early 1842, Owen examined the fossil collection of William Devonshire Saull. He was fascinated by a fossilized piece of spine, which was believed to belong to an ancient reptile similar to an iguana that had been called “Iguanodon.”
Owen started comparing the fossils he saw and, within a few months, reached two important conclusions: (1) the fossils were from similar creatures, and (2) these were creatures unlike anything on Earth today. He coined the term “dinosaurs,” which means “terrible lizards.”
Although the study of dinosaurs truly began in 1842, new evidence to study was scarce until the late 1800s. During that time, Othniel Marsh and Edward Cope, two American scientists who were both wealthy and competitive, formed research teams and headed for the Rocky Mountains.
Their rival teams excavated numerous bones from various sites. Known as the Bone Wars, their competition led to the discovery of 136 new species of dinosaurs. As the 1900s began, many scientists and esteemed institutions worldwide were inspired by the Bone Wars to study dinosaurs.
Try It Out
We hope you are enjoying today’s Wonder of the Day! Ask a few friends or family members to help you explore the following fun activities:
Learn more about the Bone Wars
For an in-depth understanding of the Bone Wars, you can visit the PBS website and read the captivating Dinosaur Wars article. What do you think was the reason behind the intense rivalry between Marsh and Cope? Is competition among scientists beneficial? What are the advantages and disadvantages of scientific competition when it comes to groundbreaking discoveries?
Explore the world of paleontology
Are you interested in becoming a paleontologist in the future? Do you find the idea of excavating dinosaur bones exciting? You can start your exploration today! Discover how to make “bones” out of salt dough with the online resource called Digging for Salt Dough Dinosaur Bones! Following the instructions, you can bury the dough bones in a sandbox or some dirt and enjoy the thrill of uncovering them as you dig!
Unveiling new dinosaur fossils
Even today, new dinosaur fossils are being uncovered! Read about The First Dino Fossil Found in Washington to learn more about the recent discovery of the first-ever dinosaur fossil found in the state of Washington. How would you feel if you were the first person to discover a dinosaur fossil in your state? If you were to unearth the remains of a previously unknown dinosaur, what would you name your remarkable find?