Monday, June 12, 2017

DINOSAURS!: From Cultural to Pop Culture - 1802: Noah's Ravens


1802: Noah's Ravens

Back in 1802 a young boy named Pliny Moody, was farming his fields in South Hadley, Massachusetts. While he was plowing, he unearthed a rock slab with a bunch of weird markings across it. He took the slab home and set it as a doorstep, because that's apparently what you did with these things back then (Nash Dinosaur Track Site). 

In 1810, the house, along with the rock, was sold to Dr. Elihu Dwight, who lived there for 30 years. During this time, the markings on the rocks were "identified" as the tracks of "Noah's Ravens". 

Eventually the rock came to the attention of Edward Hitchcock, who is generally considered to be the first ichnologist (a person who studies tracks and traces left behind by animals), who ascertained that this was not Noah's Ravens but the tracks of ancient birds. 

Eventually, around the 1860's, paleontologists finally went back to Hitchcock's "bird tracks" and realized them for what they were, dinosaur tracks. 

The "Noah's Raven" rock slab in Hitchcock's collection at Amherst College. Photo from

Here is the passage from the King James Bible from which the terminology is stemming from:

Genesis 19: 6-7
6And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made:7And he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth.
The raven never returned to the ark and it was thought that these footprints represented the location where the raven touched down onto Earth following the floods. 

Thursday, June 01, 2017

DINOSAURS!: From Cultural to Pop Culture - 1841: Dinosauria


For our next entry in DINOSAURS!: From Cultural to Pop Culture - we move on from a time of dragons to what I like to call the "Modern Times". The Modern Times are the times when our current understanding of dinosaurs is based on science and as that science has evolved, the impact that that knowledge has on our cultural and pop cultural perception of the dinosaurs has evolved with it. Our first stop in the Modern Times is 1841, for a slightly impactful thing in the history of dinosaurs known as ... the naming of Dinosauria.

1841: Dinosauria

Before we had the countless species of dinosaurs that most nine year olds could easily school me on, we had a time before dinosaurs were called such. However, scientists started putting together the puzzles that the bones left behind and they realized that the animals that these bones reconstructed don't resemble anything currently alive.

These discoveries prompted Sir Richard Owen to evaluate what we knew about these fossils. Based on the discovery of animals like Megalosaurus, Iguanodon, and Hylaeosaurus, he noticed that these animals all shared a couple of interesting features.
  1. They had columnar legs, instead of sprawling legs, like how modern crocodilians have. This marked them as distinctly different from modern day reptiles.
  2. Their vertebrae were fused to the pelvic girdle.
It was because of this, that Owen gave a talk entitled Report on British Fossil Reptiles. Part II  to the 11th meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science held at Plymouth in July of 1841. This report was then published within the Report of the Eleventh Meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1842)(p. 60-204). Within the publication, Owen stated:
"The combination of such characters, some as the sacral ones, altogether peculiar among reptiles, others borrowed, as it were, from groups now distinct from each other, and all manifested by creatures far surpassing in size the largest of existing reptiles, will, it is presumed, be deemed sufficient ground for establishing a distinct tribe or suborder of saurian reptiles, for which I would propose the name of Dinosauria."

From this moment on, we had DINOSAURS! At some point I may come back and examine the fossils and discoveries that prompted Owen to declare such a break, instead of continually lumping these creatures into groups of animals that we knew existed. But for right now, I will move on from here to scientific events and research and the culture that had responded to such advancements.