DK Science: Early Discoveries

Dinosaur fossils have been emerging from the rocks for millions of years, and people have been collecting them long before they knew what creatures they belonged to. In ancient China, dinosaur bones were believed to be the bones of dead dragons. It was not until 1841 that scientists recognized that huge reptiles had existed in the remote past. An eminent scientist of the time, Sir Richard Owen, declared this extinct group should be called Dinosauria.

Baffling bone

The world’s first picture of a dinosaur bone was printed in a book by Robert Plot in 1677. It baffled everyone at first – some people thought it belonged to a giant elephant. Scientists today know it was part of the thigh bone of the giant dinosaur Megalosaurus.

A new word is born

The anatomist and palaeontologist Sir Richard Owen was the first person to recognize dinosaurs as a distinct group, and he gave them their name in 1842. Combining the Greek words deinos (“terrible”) and sauros (“lizard”), he created the word Dinosauria.

1822 Giant iguana

In 1822, Dr Gideon Mantell and his wife, Mary Ann, found some large teeth and bones near a quarry in Lewes, England. Dr Mantell concluded they belonged to a giant reptile, which he named Iguanodon.

1824 First described

A specimen is recognized officially by scientists only when its description is published. The first person to describe and name a dinosaur was Dr William Buckland. In 1824, he published a description of an animal he called Megalosaurus.

Megalosaurus jaw

Buckland’s work on Megalosaurus was based on the study of a fossil jaw. It had been housed in a museum in Oxford, England, since 1818. The size and shape suggested the jaw belonged to a giant reptile that was up to 12 m (40 ft) long. For this reason, Buckland gave the animal the name Megalosaurus, which means “big lizard”.

1853 First life-size models

In 1853, British sculptor Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins teamed up with Richard Owen to build the first ever full-size dinosaur models. Using concrete, he created replicas of Megalosaurus, Iguanodon, and Hylaeosaurus.

Monsters in the park

In 1854, Hawkins’ dinosaurs were installed in Sydenham Park, London, where they can still be found. His Iguanodon was so huge that a dinner party was held inside its hollow body. Hawkins also built dinosaurs for Central Park, New York, but they were broken up and buried in 1871.

1860 First bird

In 1860, the impression of a feather was found in limestone in Bavaria, Germany. The next year, in the same area, the fossil of the earliest known bird was found. It was named Archaeopteryx, which means “ancient wing”.

Bavarian bird

The Archaeopteryx fossil was found in rocks which are 147 million years old. It shows this ancient bird was about the same size as a magpie. It had a mixture of reptilian and bird-like features, such as teeth and clawed fingers, as well as feathers and a wishbone.

1878 First skeletons

In 1878, coal miners in Bernissart, Belgium, found a giant fossil skeleton. Over the next three years, excavators managed to recover the skeletons of 32 Iguanodon from the mine. They were the first complete skeletons ever found.

Mounted in Brussels

The Bernissart fossils were transported to Brussels for assembly and study by Louis Dollo, a scientist from the Royal Natural History Museum in Belgium.

1880s The bone wars

In the 1880s, the fierce rivalry between fossil hunters Marsh and Cope drove them to find and identify nearly 130 new North American dinosaurs. At the time, this battle of egos was known as the Bone Wars.

Not Brontosaurus

Marsh named a new dinosaur Apatosaurus in 1877. In 1879 he used Brontosaurus for yet another discovery, whose nearly complete skeleton was mounted in Yale’s Peabody Museum, USA. In 1903, it was found the two dinosaurs were the same species, so it is no longer called Brontosaurus.

Copyright © 2007 Dorling Kindersley

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