How were Dinosaur fossils only discovered in the 1800’s? Did no one prior to this time period come across them?


How were Dinosaur fossils only discovered in the 1800’s? Did no one prior to this time period come across them?

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They were only identified as dinosaurs at that time, prior to that they generally were considered dragon or giant bones (there is a reason those legends are so consistent across human cultures).

So the bones/fossils were found, but not categorized as dinosaur bones.

Early Greek people found bones of prehistoric ancestors of elephants and created the idea of the cyclops to account for the skulls.

They found dinosaur bones and believed them to be the remains of giants.

Dinosaur fossils were first scientifically described as the type of creature we know today in the 1800s. It was in 1841 that the word was first coined. This does not mean that no one had discovered what we today know as dinosaurs before that, they were just identified as something else.

There is documentation from Sichuan China of discoveries of dragon bones in the 3rd and 4th century AD. This is likely dinosaur bones, there is lots of dinosaurs found in that area today. So the reasonable conclusion is that they did find dinosaur bones but identified them as dragons bones. An interesting question is are dinosaur bones the origin of the dragons in the Chinese culture or did they have a belief in a creature and then find bones that might it?

There is documentation of bones found in a limestone quarry in England in 1676 that identified as a femur too large to be from any know species. The condition of today that is was a giant femur that was found. The bone has gone missing but is suspected to be a Megalosaurus femur.

It is likely that humans have discovered dinosaur bones for millennia. It is not unreasonable to think that some finds like that are the origin of some mythological creatures.

If you found dinosaur bones and had no idea what a dinosaur was and had no way to determine the age of it and you had no idea of how old earth is or that bones can fossilize. It is not unreasonable to think it was some large creature that recently was alive. You need lots of data to come to the conclusion is was a large creature that lived between 240 and 66 million years ago.

So dinosaur bones have likely been found for thousands of years and identified as something else. It was first in the 19th century it was identified as what we know dinosaurs it today-

Plenty of people found dinosaur fossils before the 1800s, but it wasn’t until the 1800s that people started to realize they represented the skeletons of extinct reptiles and not biblical giants, Roman war elephants, or “Scrotum humanum”. Another thing to remember is that most fossils are underground so the expansion of mining for coal, metals, and minerals associated with the Industrial revolution led to an increase in the discovery of fossils, giving scientists more opportunities to study them.

Most skeletons were dis-articulated, and it was common for a given dinosaur skeleton in the early museums to be made up from several partial skeletons found in different locations.

Before the 1800’s biologists knew of whales and elephants, so finding a large bone didn’t necessarily paint them a clear picture….

Believe it it not.. this is a belief in South India (Tamil nadu) in olden days there exists a animal ( similar to description of what we call as dinosaur today) that is capable of eating an elephant. It is represented in lots of stone sculpture and lots of them still exist today in various temple. The animal is called “yazhi” in Tamil. So yes lots of ancient people were aware of dinosaur.

On the top of the mountain that flanks the east side of my town there are seashell fossils 10,000+ feet above sea level.

Some people told me when I was young and impressionable that this was evidence of the biblical flood, how else were sea creatures that high up. The actual answer is that 100 million years ago it was below sea level and the mountain rose after.

It’s not accurate to say that dinosaurs were only discovered in the 1800s.

Robert Plot, in 1677, is credited with discovering the first dinosaur fossil, but he only speculated that it was the remains of a giant human. There was no such word as ‘dinosaur’ yet.

William Buckland, an Oxford professor of geology, attributed the bones to a larger reptilian creature in 1824, after discovering more bones of what would turn out to be the same creature Plot had discovered — he called it ‘Megalosaurus’, but the word ‘dinosaur’ itself still hadn’t been created.

That would come in 1842 courtesy of Sir Richard Owen, who sorted the bones into the fossil family ‘dinosauria’, and would later found London’s Natural History Museum in 1881.


They just didn’t understand they were dinosaurs! George Washington didn’t know what the hell a brontosaurus was, but he believed giants were a thing. Go look up what the skull of a pachycephalosaurus looks like and tell me that’s not a dragon. The cyclops Polyphemus was a mammoth.

I’ve always thought that myths about dragons have their roots in dinosaur fossils discovered throughout the world.

Aristotle (4th century BCE) observed fossilized sea shells on hilltops and inferred that this ground must once have been under the sea.

People did, but had wildly different theories as to what they were.

Something that a lot of people don’t realize is that with dinosaur fossils (any fossils really) you almost never get a complete skeleton, let alone a skeleton with the bones in the correct position. You’ll see lots of people saying that “dinosaur fossils are the basis for dragons”, but there’s zero evidence for this as far as I know and it doesn’t make a lot of sense since, as I said, they weren’t finding complete skeletons of giant reptiles, but more often giant individual bones that they lacked the anatomical knowledge to say what kind of animal they came from. Guesses ranged from Giants (as in giant humans) to elephants to whales that had been left stranded over land from the biblical flood.

There were even weirder theories like spontaneous generation. Aristotle posited that fossils weren’t from living organisms at all. Rather, he said that inorganic matter could become organic matter under the right conditions, and that fossils were from times where this processes had failed partway through. Basically the earth had tried to make an animal, gotten as far as the bones, and then sputtered out.

By the time we reached the 1800s anatomical knowledge and training had advanced to the point where scientists could recognize what kind of animals these fossils were made by.

As a side note, the word “dinosaur” did not exist until until late into the 19th century. Before the word dinosaur, the word “dragon” was used.

While studying history, we had a commented visit of an archeological museum showing false discoveries. One of them were roman thunderstones.

Roman farmers found stone hatchet blades in their field. Since they did not have the context of where those came from, they thought it was thunder that brought them and they were Jupiter tool to send thunder.

They were conserved as such. Later archeologists identified them as primitive tools used by people living there way before.

[Here]( is an article that talks about similar occurences, because that happened a lot.

Short version : people found stuff but did not know what they were.

Dinosaur _fossils_ have been discovered for ages, but there’s a big difference between digging up a fossil and understanding what it is.

Prior to the 1800’s, when people dug up fossils (and more frequently, subfossil bones from ice age animals, which are more common and easier to find) they tended to interpret them in light of their existing myths and legends. So, for example, when a wooly rhino skull was dug up near Klagenfurt, it was thought to be the skull of a dragon.

Because fossils are almost always found as a jumble of bones rather than a neat skeleton and because they are incomplete, and because reconstructing an animals from a jumble of bones is a difficult process that requires a good understanding of comparative anatomy, nobody looked at dinosaur skeletons and realized what the animals that made them actually looked like. For example, the town of Klagenfurt commissioned a statue of their dragon which looks absolutely nothing like a wooly rhino but a lot like a traditional dragon. Cyclops of myth look nothing like the elephants whose skulls may have inspired them.

It was only after the scientific revolution that people started to do the sort of rigorous scientific study into the bones and anatomy of a wide range of _modern_ animals that they were able to start to identify dinosaurs as the unique creatures they were, and even then it took a while for them to get the details right. Dinosaurs were so named because scientists realized their bones were similar in some ways to lizard bones, but much larger. Iguanodon got its name because Gideon Mantell recognized a similarity between its teeth and the teeth of an iguana.

So that was the sticking point, not so much the finding of bones but the figuring out what they meant.

Prior to the present people probably thought they were the bones of mythical beasts. I am not surprised a lot of dinosaur bones look like dragons.

Bones and fossils were discovered prior to that but were mistakenly attributed to living creatures such as elephants. What’s fascinating is that the concept “extinct” didn’t exist until mid 19th century, which is why Darwin’s “Origin of Species” was widely disputed at the time. The idea that species could completely disappear was unfathomable.

Even now we still mistakingly attribute scientific findings to concepts already known to mankind, because it’s simply too “out there” to introduce a completely new theory. It took years and years for the scientific community to accept Lyell’s and Darwin’s theories, but this shows that the scientific peer review system works. If nobody can successfully debunk your theory nor provide a more plausible theory, your theory stands. And that is how we discovered, and accepted, the existence of dinosaurs.

The second half of the 18th century was marked by increased industrialization in the UK. Industry moved from cottages to factories, and these factories were in the big cities like London, and they needed raw materials.

This was long before the railroad, and people were already moving material on England’s vast river system. So what they did is started digging canals.

The organized digging through the layers of rock to construct these canals give people interested in geology new insight into how rock layers were laid down and help them first conceptualize that a geological history was written in the rock as it went deeper.

So people start to understand that these fossils were evidence of creatures that had lived a long time ago.

In addition, there were changes in the religious views of science. The mid-19th century was when ideas about evolution began to emerge in science. Prior to that, everyone thought that the world existed as God created it except for the Great Flood. Fossils were seen as evidence of animals that were killed by the Flood. Remember that Noah took two of each unclean animal and seven of each kosher-for-eating animal onto the ark. So that although lions as a species were saved, there would have been thousands of lions that drowned. And people believed that fossils were evidence of this destruction of most of the animals living on the Earth.

It wasn’t until science began to see life as evolving and changing that they could see fossils of extinct species as distinct from modern animals.

If you consider people say 500 years ago finding skeletons of big dinos then it’s not unreasonable to imagine the stories about dragons originating from this.