Thursday, 9 January 2014


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Throughout history there have been some fossil finds that have been so significant that they have changed scientific and public opinion almost overnight. The significance of these fossils is immense and they have had a profound effect on palaeontology.  It seems incredible to me that beyond 200 years ago the existence of dinosaurs was not acknowledged.

There have been many dinosaur fossils discovered but some of the most significant finds are detailed below.

In 1676 the partial femur of a Megalosaurus was unearthed in England.  Nothing like this had been discovered before, and there was no comprehension of a time before man when giant reptiles walked the earth. It was declared at the time by a professor at Oxford University that this huge leg bone was from a human giant. Only in 1844 was this bone was conclusively identified as a dinosaur by the famous palaeontologist Richard Owen.

In 1764 the skeleton of Mosasaurus was discovered. This was the first fossil to be identified by naturalist Georges Cuvier as an extinct species.  Until then the strange bones that had been dug up along lakes and river beds had not been identified as belonging to creatures that had lived and died millions of years before human had existed.  In a religious society creationism was widely believed, and so the theory of evolution and existence of such creatures was not yet in existence. 

In 1820 the fossil of Iguanodan was discovered, and it immediately prompted public debate as to whether ancient reptiles ever existed.  Key scientists at the time dismissed the bones as belonging to a fish or rhinoceros, but the argument was slowly won by Richard Owen and the significance of this find was recognised. However, the first impressions of the dinosaur were incorrect and famously the thumb spike was misinterpreted as a nose horn.

In 1858 the first complete dinosaur skeleton (Hadrosaurus) was discovered in North America by Foulke.

This bird like dinosaur was discovered in Germany in 1860.  This feathered dinosaur appeared to show the missing link between birds and reptiles.  It had feathers like a birds, but lacked the hollow bones of a bird.  It had a bony jaw with teeth, clawed hands and the tail of a reptile. Charles Darwin published his book 'The Origin of Species' in 1860 which coincided with this spectacular find.

In 1877 the first skeleton of a diplodicus was discovered in North America.  This giant sauropod was by far the biggest dinosaur discovered to date.1877 was a good year for finding dinosaur fossils apparently as Stegosaurus and Brontosaurus also discovered this year.

1877 was the year that Stegosaurus was first discovered.

Marsh also discovered the first Brontosaurus (Apatosaurus)  in 1877. This ankylosaurid dinosaur is characterised by its armoured backs or shells, as well as tail spikes.

Iguanodon herd
Palaeontologists uncovered a herd of Iguanodon discovered by two coal miners in a coal mine in Belgium in 1878. At least 38 Iguanodon individuals were uncovered, most of which were adults. The skeletons were some of the first complete dinosaur skeletons known and showed the dinosaurs in there social group, along with remains of plants, fish, and other reptiles.

The first Tricerops was discovered in 1888 by John Bell Hatcher. Between 1889-1892, Hatcher collected more than 40 skulls and partial skeletons of triceratops.

In 1902 the first Tyrannosaurs rex was unearthed in Montana by Branum Brown. Only about 30 Tyrannosaurus fossils have ever been found, mostly in the western part of the United States but also Canada and east Asia. In  1990 a huge, almost complete T-rex fossil that was found by Susan Hendrickson in South Dakota.  It was nicknamed 'Sue' and was sold for $7.6 million at Sotheby's in 1997.

Antarctica Ankylosaurous
In 1987 the first dinosaur skeleton was discovered in Antarctica.  This was significant because until that date Antarctica was the only continent that had not yielded a dinosaur bone. They were uncovered by  Eduardo Olivero and were discovered to be the remains of a new plant eating dinosaur belonging to the order Orinthischia. This fossil raised debate about the location of Antarctica in the past, how dinosaurs survived the low light levels and whether they migrated or not.

This was the first of the 'dino-birds', and was discovered in China in 1997.  The fossil shows the dinosaur has primitive, hair like feathers.  However, analysis of the fossil showed it was only distantly related to Archaeopteryx and so theories on how and when dinosaurs evolved into birds had to be revised. Small dinosaurs with feathers, beaks and other bird like characteristics have since been discovered and show a link to modern day birds. 

Futalogkosaurus dukei
One of the biggest dinosaurs ever discovered. Found in Argentina in 2007.

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