Like a lot of kids I was fascinated by dinosaurs. I had at least a dozen dinosaur books and even more dinosaur toys and I loved imagining a world ruled over by giant reptiles–not just oversized versions of the lizards I kept as pets but wildly varied reptiles unlike anything that was around now. It’s a funny thing that what scientists think dinosaurs might have looked like has evolved, and evolved really quickly. Sure, there have been changes in the view of dinosaurs even from the very beginning—the early 19th century paleontologist Gideon Mantell thought the iguanodon had a horn on its nose. Later fossil finds would lead scientists to the realization that the “horn” was actually a giant thumb, leading the late 19th century paleontologist Louis Dollo to say to Mantell, “Look up, look down, look at this dinosaur thumb. You’re dumb!”
And then there’s Tyrannosaurus Rex, which should have been the villain of the first Jurassic Park movies but the real villain was the fact that the oxygen content of the Earth’s atmosphere was much higher 65 million years ago which is one reason we don’t have giant reptiles running around anymore. It isn’t just that a giant meteor hit the planet and wiped them all out. Ecological changes made it impossible for reptiles to get that big again, although for a while humans shared the planet with giant mammals, including armadillos the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. And that makes me wonder why Volkswagen named their car after a bug when bugs never have gotten that big–on this planet, anyway, although I guess the Volkswagen Glyptodon doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
To get back to Tyrannosaurus Rex, though, recent discoveries and careful examinations of the fossil record have led scientists to think that dinosaurs had feathers, so instead of a big scaly and terrifying reptile T. Rex probably looked more like a goofy oversized turkey.
That might seem less terrifying although if you’ve ever been up close to a wild turkey or any other large bird you know they can be pretty scary. I’d rather take on a full glass of Wild Turkey, just like I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy, but that’s another story.
Recreating what dinosaurs may have really looked like is as much of an art as it is a science–or rather it’s an art that’s informed by science, and science has to admit that sometimes mistakes or made, or that what we know isn’t complete. The facts don’t really change, but how we understand them does, and sometimes that understanding is shaped by new facts, things we didn’t know before, adding new layers.
I remember I used to watch the program on national geography… its about a man goes back into time and save those dinosaurs… I can watch all day 😉
There’s a well-known Canadian artist named Julius T. Csotonyi who specializes in illustrating dinosaurs in textbooks. He uses current research to try and imagine what colour they might be etc. Very cool paintings!
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That is really cool. I looked up some of Csotonyi’s work and his paintings really are impressive. I saw he’s also done some of the giant mammals that were around until the last ice age. To me at least they’re as fascinating as the dinosaurs because some of them were still around at the same time as humans.
Everything I look at is looked at through a certain lens these days, for better or for worse. This post, which by the way is brilliant and alluring, makes me have sympathy for those folks who want things to be the way they were instead of the way they really are or should be. This is a long way of saying that my conservative side does not want dinosaurs with feathers, whatever that makes me now.
If it’s any consolation, however, I don’t let my conservative side out much. In fact, I’m constantly trying to enlighten it. In an hour or so, as a matter of fact, dinosaurs-with-feathers will be the only thing they could be. I’m evolving. They aren’t. 😉
Come to think of it, conservatives really are dinosaurs. I guess that’s another story…
It’s understandable that you don’t want dinosaurs with feathers. That is to say that it’s a conservative idea I can understand, unlike certain other ideas which get labeled “conservative”. Well, a little Ben Elton creeping in there*, but anyway I get it. Dinosaurs are cooler when we picture them as giant lizards, not overgrown turkeys. And because I handle reptiles more easily than birds I think giant lizards are less terrifying.
Hope is the thing with feathers, Chris, and I hope that’s an accurate representation of T-Rex. Thanks for your skillful layering, as usual.
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Thank you for reminding me of the wisdom of Emily Dickinson, and for sharing some wisdom of your own.