It is the fossils that most arouse human curiosity. In the group of dinosaurs, there were carnivorous titans and herbivores to tiny butchers. Although his remains have been discovered since antiquity, his scientific study began in the nineteenth century.
The “terrible lizards”
The word dinosaur, which literally means “terrible lizard,” was coined in 1842 by the pioneer of paleontology Richard Owen (1804-1892), one of the earliest explorers of dinosaur remains.
But the merit of the discovery of these animals did not correspond to this scientist, but to an English physician who is fond of geology and paleontology, Gideon Mantel (1790-1852), who discovered in 1822 the remains of a huge animal with large teeth , according to him they were of the same type that those of the present reptiles . He gave that animal the name of iguanodon, by its resemblance to modern iguanas
In its time, the discovery raised a great controversy. Some eminent paleontologists, like the French Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), considered that it was a prehistoric rhinoceros, and not of a type of reptile.
Mantel had to find a complete skeleton to be scientifically accepted that a new group of reptiles had been discovered. Later, numerous fossil remains of these reptiles were found in North America. It is now known that dinosaurs inhabited all parts of the world in the Mesozoic, including today’s Antarctic.
What is and what is not a dinosaur
By the term “dinosaur” they are now called all those reptiles that lived in the Mesozoic, were terrestrial and had straight ends, not arched out like crocodiles and lizards. According to this definition, the pterosaurs, contemporary vomiting reptiles of the dinosaurs, and the plesiosaurs, the aquatic reptiles that dominated the seas of the éроса are excluded.
Dinosaurs are considered not only giant terrestrial reptiles, but also medium-sized reptiles or some that were the size of a chicken. It is believed that, unlike the rest of the reptiles, the dinosaurs were warm-blooded, like birds and mammals. It is also considered that some dinosaurs could have feathers, although it is not known for sure if they would cover their whole body or if they would only appear in some parts.
Science has doubts about many topics: it is unknown, for example, whether the popular tyrannosaurus was a terrible carnivore or an opportunistic butcher, not even if he was able to run or if, on the contrary, he could only walk and trot, with a style similar to a giant chicken.
Studying the dinosaurs
Discovering fossils of dinosaurs is no simple task: they are really scarce. In addition, it is frequent to find very fragmented skeletons, which require a great reconstruction task. Complete skeletons are found only in exceptional cases.
The information provided by skeletal fossils is complemented by those of other types of fossils, such as coprolites (fossilized excrement), eggs, complete nests, and imprints or traces of footprints (called icnites). These fossils basically bring information about the life and behavior of dinosaurs.
The current techniques allow to reconstruct with great precision how they would be the dinosaurs. Computerized mock-ups and reconstructions are used with three-dimensional drawing programs. Still, there are aspects that are, and will continue to be hypothetical: for example, the colors and textures of the skin.