My family has had a love affair, some might say obsession, certainly a fascination, with dinosaurs for almost forty years. My son initiated the affair when he was about three after being undecided whether to watch or not when dinosaurs burst onto the drive-in screen in One Million Years BC. I’m not sure when I first discovered dinosaurs, but It may have been at the same time.
By the time Rob was four, like many children, he knew the names of a great number of dinosaurs and could rattle off screeds of information about them. It had been a steep learning curve for all of us, though he remembered far more than I. A travelling encyclopedia salesman was so impressed by his knowledge that he gave him a book about dinosaurs. (I’d already purchased; it wasn’t an incentive.) Later, his little sister Bec shared his interest.
Now the affair continues with Rob’s own children. Six-year-old G1 can name and identify far more dinosaurs than I realised existed. His younger sister G2 is not far behind. Such is the power of these mighty, and not so mighty, beasts to excite the imagination. The entire family become dinosaur experts in support of the children’s quest for knowledge.
I recently accompanied the family to the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. I have mentioned this previously here. Both were wonderful learning experiences.
La Brea Tar Pits is a museum located at a fossil site where there are ongoing excavations. In the grounds, we saw realistic sculptures of prehistoric woolly mammoths trapped in the tar. Inside, we saw fossilised skeletons removed from the tar pits; including skeletons of animals such as mammoths, sabre-toothed cats, dire wolves, and camels. Yes, camels originated in North America.
Walking the grounds, we had to sidestep the smelly tar that still oozes in puddles around the site. It’s an amazing experience, walking on the same land where these prehistoric creatures walked, their presence almost tangible. In an enclosed area, a group of paleontologists were working with fossils recovered from the site. Scientists use these fossils to help construct our understanding of life before human history began.
What I find interesting about the understandings derived from these fossils, is that much of it is guesswork; educated guesswork, yes, but fossils tell only part of the story. The rest must be filled in using knowledge of contemporary and recorded life. Sometimes assumptions are made, especially when only partial skeletons are found, that must be altered when, or if, complete skeletons are found.
I was very impressed with the way this aspect of science was dealt with in the American Museum of Natural History. Many signs informed us that scientists don’t know for sure, but that they have substantial evidence for making their assumptions. Other signs told of claims that had been revised as new information was discovered. I appreciated being told, in essence: “This is what we know, this is what we think, and this is the evidence to support our claims.”
This recent BBC article Meet Nanotyrannus, the dinosaur that never really existed provides additional evidence to support Horner’s claims.
A study of dinosaurs provides many opportunities for learning across the curriculum and what a great way to incorporate children’s natural interests and curiosity when looking at topics such as scientific method, evolution and climate change.
I’m grateful to Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch for the incentive to write about this topic with her challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a fossil or uses the word in its variant forms (fossilize, dino bones, petrification, gastroliths, ichnofossils, etc.)
Since “discovering dinosaurs”, so to speak, I’ve always thought how wonderful it must be to unearth a great find. I haven’t made it an ambition, but I appreciate the potential for excitement. Here’s my response to Charli’s challenge. I hope you enjoy it.
She scratched at the surface tentatively at first, all senses keened, certain of imminent success. She’d uncovered bones here before. Usually one meant there’d be more. All it required was patience and persistence. Suddenly she contacted something more solid than the surrounding earth. She froze. Then exhaled. Could this be the object of her search? Frantically she scraped away the surrounding soil, exposing her find. She stepped back momentarily, assessing it, assuring herself it was real. Then with one final swoop, she removed the bone as carefully and proudly as any paleontologist would a dinosaur bone. “Woof!”
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.