In this article I examine a National Geographic article by science writer John Pickrell focusing on the mystery and beauty of dinosaurs. Thinking about the importance of palaeontological imagery, I break down my Top 5 Palaeontological images that I see as historically significant.
So any one interested in palaeontology or the National Geographic for that matter might have come across this article posted on the 24th of September by John Pickrell about 23 Fossil Pictures that Capture the Mystery and Beauty of dinosaurs.
Whilst brief this article showcased a spectacular number of photos of dinosaur fossil specimens, some of which will be recognised by the general public and others not so much. Though hopefully Pickrells article will raise more awareness of dinosaurs like Sinornithosaurus millenii and Psittacosaurus mongoliensis.
I think we can all agree that what we know now about dinosaurs is radically different to what we knew about them 100-200 years ago. The article by Pickrell got me thinking. It got me thinking of how palaeontology has changed dramatically over the years. It got me thinking of historically significant palaeontological images. Most of all the article got me thinking about the significant palaeontological images I had seen growing up inspiring my interest in palaeontology.
Which is why I wanted to share my opinion on what my Top 5 historically significant palaeontological images are. Images that evoke a sense of wonder, imagination and appreciation for what palaeontology is really about.
1. Sir Richard Owen with North Island Giant Moa (D. novaezealandiae)
Sir Richard Owen (1804-1892) is probably one of the most famous anatomists/palaeontologists in history and the image above was one of the first historical palaeontological images I ever saw. Despite being a controversial figure, he is probably best known for coming up with the word Dinosauria (meaning “Terrible Reptile”). His career spanned more than 60 years and he was involved in not only the formation of exhibits of the Natural History Museum but was also involved in the scientific direction of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs (The Natural History Museum, 2018). The image of Sir Richard Owen and the North Island Giant Moa is top of my list for being one of the most historically significant palaeontological images.
2. The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs
I always remember the first time I saw a photo of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. I was 10 years old and found a image similar to the one above but much older in a history book in my primary schools library. The Crystal Palace Dinosaurs are a significant part of palaeontological history. Not least because they were designed with the scientific backing of Sir Richard Owen being commissioned in 1852, but because they represent a significant time in palaeontological research. They are a major part of palaeontological history and remain a popular attraction to this day. Despite being wrong by modern standards the models serve as a reminder for what scientists thought Dinosaurs looked like back in the 1850s.
3. The Berlin specimen of Archaeopteryx lithographica
Archaeopteryx was one of the first bird like Dinosaurs I was introduced to as a very young child. My parents in the late nineties got me a personalised Dinosaur story book: My Special Dinosaur Adventure (I’m very pleased to see they still do them!). In the books story Archaeopteryx played a major role. It stuck out a lot in the book being very different to the other Dinosaurs, brightly feathered and more bird like. It wasn’t until I was a bit older that I learned more about this amazing creature watching a documentary on the Berlin specimen of Archaeopteryx. This documentary focused on its discovery and importance as a transitional fossil between non-avian Dinosaurs and Birds. The Berlin specimen itself is around 150 million years old and was discovered in limestone deposits on the Blumenberg near Eichstätt/Bavaria in 1875 (Museum für Naturkunde, 2018).
Archaeopteryx was thought to be the oldest known flying-dinosaur but older Avialae have been found such as Anchiornis, Xiaotingia as well as Aurornis. Despite these more recent discoveries replacing Archaeopteryx as the oldest dinosaur-Bird fossil the Berlin specimen of Archaeopteryx lithographica remains historically significant and will always be intriguing to me.
4. Dippy the Diplodocus cast at London’s Natural History Museum, UK.
Dippy takes my 4th spot on my list and is of course another dinosaur that is well known around the world. I still remember the first time I saw the Diplodocus cast in person when I visited the Natural History Museum in the early 2000s. Dippy is still relevant today as it was back when it was first unveiled in 1905 and continues to draw people from far and wide to see it. More recently Dippy the Diplodocus has gone on tour across the UK inspiring young and old alike in learning more about palaeontology and life during the Late Jurassic 155-145 million years ago.
5. Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois
Tyrannosaurus Rex (FMNH PR 2081) also known as Sue takes my 5th spot on my list for being a significant palaeontological image. Sue is one of the most complete, the largest and best preserved Tyrannosaurus that has ever been found. “SUE’s sex is unknown (she’s named after Sue Hendrickson, the fossil hunter who discovered her in South Dakota in 1990)” (Field Museum, 2018). The skeleton of Sue comprises over 90 per cent of the animals original bones which is incredibly rare not just for a Tyrannosaurus but for a dinosaur generally.
The Field Museum acquired Sue through paying over $8 million for it at auction in 1997. Sue then went on display in 2000 and has helped attract millions of visitors each year to the Museum. The fossil more recently has been moved being reassembled onto a new mount and a new exhibit on the second floor of the Field Museum will become it’s new home in the Spring of 2019. When I think of a T.Rex skeleton I always think of Sue, it is such an important fossil specimen historically significant in so many ways.
I hope you have all enjoyed this article! It has been really great to think about the significance of palaeontological imagery and photos that really encapsulate what palaeontology is really all about. I am hoping to have my next article published in November. Keep an eye on Jurassic Finds over the coming months for when it drops!
The Natural History Museum (2018) The Richard Owen collection, [online] nhm.ac.uk, Available from: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/our-science/departments-and-staff/library-and-archives/collections/owen-collection.html, [Accessed 9th October 2018]
Museum für Naturkunde (2018) The World of Dinosaurs, [online] museumfuernaturkunde.berlin, Available from: https://www.museumfuernaturkunde.berlin/en/museum/ausstellungen/world-dinosaurs, [Accessed 8th October 2018]
Field Museum of Natural History (2018) SUE Press Release, [online] Press Room, Available from: https://www.fieldmuseum.org/about/press/sue-press-release, [Accessed 8th October 2018]