Old Earth Ministries Online Dinosaur Curriculum

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Lesson 76 - The Colorful History of Dinosaur Paleontology in America

     Sometimes the people involved in the study of dinosaurs can be of great interest.  This page gives you some of that history, along with profiles of several famous paleontologists.

Cope & Marsh

Cope & Marsh

The Bone Wars

The Bone Wars, also known as the "Great Dinosaur Rush", refers to a period of intense fossil speculation and discovery during the Gilded Age of American history, marked by a heated rivalry between Edward Drinker Cope (of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia) and Othniel Charles Marsh (of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale). Each of the two paleontologists used underhanded methods to try to out-compete the other in the field, resorting to bribery, theft, and destruction of bones. Each scientist also attacked the other in scientific publications, seeking to ruin his credibility and have his funding cut off.

Their search for fossils led them west to rich bone beds in Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming. From 1877 to 1892, both paleontologists used their wealth and influence to finance their own expeditions and to procure services and dinosaur bones from fossil hunters. By the end of the Bone Wars, both men had exhausted their funds in the pursuit of paleontological supremacy.

Cope and Marsh were financially and socially ruined by their attempts to disgrace each other, but their contributions to science and the field of paleontology were massive, and provided substantial material for further work—both scientists left behind many unopened boxes of fossils after their deaths. The efforts of the two men led to over 142 new species of dinosaurs being discovered and described. The products of the Bone Wars resulted in an increase in knowledge of prehistoric life, and sparked the public's interest in dinosaurs, leading to continued fossil excavation in North America in the decades to follow. Several historical books and fictional adaptations have been published about this period of intense fossil-hunting activity.

For the complete story, visit Wikipedia's Bone Wars page.

The Dinosaur Renaissance

The dinosaur renaissance was a small-scale scientific revolution that started in the late 1960s, and led to renewed academic and popular interest in dinosaurs. It was sparked by new discoveries and research indicating that dinosaurs may have been active and warm-blooded animals, rather than cold-blooded and sluggish as had been the prevailing view and description during the first half of the twentieth century.

The new view of dinosaurs was championed by John Ostrom, who argued that birds evolved from coelurosaurian dinosaurs, and particularly Robert Bakker who argued passionately that dinosaurs were warm-blooded in a way similar to modern mammals and birds. Bakker frequently portrayed his ideas as a renaissance of those popular in the late nineteenth century, referring to the period in between the wars as "the dinosaur doldrums".

The dinosaur renaissance led to a profound shift in thinking on nearly all aspects of dinosaur biology, including physiology, evolution, behaviour, ecology and extinction. It has also led to multiple depictions of dinosaurs in popular culture.

Famous Paleontologists

Dr. John Ostrom

John H. Ostrom (February 18, 1928 – July 16, 2005) was an American paleontologist who
John Ostrom
 revolutionized modern understanding of dinosaurs in the 1960s, when he demonstrated that dinosaurs are more like big non-flying birds than they are like lizards (or "saurians"), an idea first proposed by Thomas Henry Huxley in the 1860s, but which had garnered few supporters. The first of Ostrom's broad-based reviews of the osteology and phylogeny of the primitive bird Archaeopteryx appeared in 1976. His reaction to the eventual discovery of feathered dinosaurs in China, after years of acrimonious debate, was bittersweet.

His 1964 discovery of Deinonychus is considered one of the most important fossil finds in history. Deinonychus was an active predator that clearly killed its prey by leaping and slashing or stabbing with its "terrible claw". Evidence of a truly active lifestyle included long strings of muscle running along the tail, making it a stiff counterbalance for jumping and running. The conclusion that at least some dinosaurs had a high metabolism, and thus were at least partially warm-blooded, was popularized by his student Robert T. Bakker, and changed the impression of dinosaurs as cold-blooded, sluggish and slow lizards which had prevailed since the turn of the century.

This changed how dinosaurs are depicted by both professional dinosaur illustrators, and in the public eye. The find is also credited with triggering the "dinosaur renaissance", a term coined in a 1975 issue of Scientific American by Bakker to describe the renewed debates causing an influx of interest in paleontology, which has lasted from the 1970s to the present and has doubled recorded dinosaur diversity.

Dr. Bob Bakker

Robert T. Bakker is an American paleontologist who helped reshape modern
Bob Bakker
theories about dinosaurs, particularly by adding support to the theory that some dinosaurs were endothermic (warm-blooded). Along with his mentor John Ostrom, Bakker was responsible for initiating the ongoing "dinosaur renaissance" in paleontological studies, beginning with Bakker's article "Dinosaur Renaissance" in Scientific American, April 1975. His special field is the ecological context and behavior of dinosaurs.

Bakker has been a major proponent of the theory that dinosaurs were "warm-blooded", smart, fast, and adaptable. He published his first paper on dinosaur endothermy in 1968. His seminal work, The Dinosaur Heresies, was published in 1986. He revealed the first evidence of parental care at nesting sites for Allosaurus. Bakker was among the advisors for the film Jurassic Park and for the 1992 PBS series, The Dinosaurs. He also observed evidence in support of Eldredge's and Gould's theory of punctuated equilibrium in dinosaur populations. Bakker currently serves as the Curator of Paleontology for the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

Bakker is an ordained minister, who sees no conflict between his belief in both God and evolution.

Dr. Jack Horner

John "Jack" R. Horner is an American paleontologist who discovered and named
Jack Horner
 Maiasaura, providing the first clear evidence that some dinosaurs cared for their young. He is one of the best-known paleontologists in the United States. In addition to his many paleontological discoveries, Horner served as the technical advisor for all of the Jurassic Park films, and even served as partial inspiration for one of the lead characters, Dr. Alan Grant.

In Montana during the mid-1970s, Horner and his research partner Bob Makela discovered a colonial nesting site of a new dinosaur genus which they named Maiasaura, or "Good Mother Lizard". It contained the first dinosaur eggs in the Western hemisphere, the first dinosaur embryos, and settled questions of whether some dinosaurs were sociable, built nests and cared for their young. The discovery established his career. Horner has named several other species of dinosaur (including Orodromeus makelai in memory of his late friend Bob Makela) and has had two named after him: Achelousaurus horneri and Anasazisaurus horneri.

Within the paleontological community, Horner is best known for his work on the cutting edge of dinosaur growth research. He has published numerous articles in collaboration with Berkeley paleontologist Kevin Padian, and French dinosaur histologist Armand Ricqlés, on the growth of dinosaurs using growth series. This usually involves leg bones in graduated sizes from different individuals ranging in age from embryos to adults. Currently, he is working on the developmental biology of dinosaurs


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