On the News @ Discover Magazine
When Dinosaurs Went Bad
“In 1842, English anatomist Richard Owen proposed the term dinosauria for the strange animal fossils he and colleagues had begun to study. Owen drew from ancient Greek to create the word: deinos, meaning “terrible” in the awesome-to-behold sense, and sauros, “reptile” or “lizard.”
The truth is, those early paleontologists — and generations of their successors — got those terrible lizards, well, terribly wrong: T. rex as a tail-dragging lunk, tank-like Iguanodon, long-necked sauropods submerged in water because surely they were too big to walk on land.
One problem early paleontologists faced was that they were limited to merely looking at a fossil and finding a living animal to compare it with visually.
“Dinosaurs were very alien, very different,” says University of Leicester paleontologist David Unwin. “[Paleontologists] tried to force them to fit into paradigms that didn’t exist then.”
Matthew Lamanna, assistant curator of vertebrate paleontology at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History, agrees that early paleontologists were restricted by what they could compare dinosaurs to — and how they understood the broader living world.
“Remember the origin of the word dinosaur predates the theory of evolution,” Lamanna says. “Ideas about animal [species] being transitional had yet to materialize. Now we know that dinosaurs are sort of bizarre croc-birds, but back then the concept would have been very hard to imagine.”” (…) READ MORE
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