GEOL 104 Dinosaurs: A Natural History

Fall Semester 2013
The History of Prehistory: the Great Exposition to Great Expeditions

First major dinosaur discovery, in Britain, by Oxford geologist Reverend William Buckland:

Next major discovery, in the Weald region of southern England, by husband and wife team Dr. Gideon and Mary Ann Mantell:

Third major discovery, also in the Weald region and also by the Mantells:

Other discoveries were made on the European continents in the 1830s and 1840s.

In 1841, Sir Richard Owen gave public talks about the fossil reptiles of Britain. Concluded that Megalosaurus, Iguanodon, and Hylaeosaurus formed their own distinct group. Proposed the name Dinosauria ("fearfully great lizards") for this group when he wrote up talk (in 1842)

In the 1850s the Great Exposition. Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins sculpted Megalosaurus, Iguanodon, and Hylaeosaurus (and other non-dinosaurs) under Owen's guidance. (A recent photo of those models.) Dinosaurs became popular subjects for popular science, political cartoons, etc.

But even at this point, still no complete dinosaur skeletons.

Early North American discoveries:

In 1858, first major North American dinosaur fossil:

First recognition of bipedal dinosaurs. In 1866, another New Jersey discovery (this time of bipedal meat-eater) described by Edward Drinker Cope of Philadelphia. Eventually named Dryptosaurus.

Major important rivalry between Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh of Yale University. Conflict (primarily over fossils of dinosaurs and mammals from American West) during the 1870s and 1880s: "The Bone War". Among these were some of the first relatively complete dinosaur fossils, revealing body shapes unlike previously known animals, living or extinct! The vast numbers of fossils discovered formed the central collections of major museums and greatly increased the knowledge of extinct life (including some of the first complete dinosaur fossils).

(If you wish to watch a full-length TV PBS documentary about the Bone Wars, go here.)

In Europe, new discoveries were also being made:

Beginning of 20th Century, new, wealthy museums sponsored major expeditions to American and Canadian West: the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto), the National Museum of Canada (now the Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa), the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (Pittsburgh), the United States National Museum (aka the Smithsonian Institution) (Washington), the Field Columbian Museum (now the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago), and most especially, the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) (New York) under the leadership of vertebrate paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn

Also, the AMNH and various European museums began the era of imperial paleontology (major expeditions to foreign lands, to bring fossils back to the home institution)

In the 1920s, beginning of Great Depression and WWII led to decline in large scale paleontological digs.

Also, dinosaur science began to lose its scientific appeal.

In 1960s, John Ostrom of Yale University:

1970s: Beginning of the Dinosaur Renaissance. New (or revived) topics of dinosaur research:

New discoveries from many parts of the world.

Remainder of the course represents the work of Ostrom's colleagues and students during the "Dinosaur Renaissance".

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Last modified: 26 August 2013