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Who Discovered the First Dinosaur Fossils?

Various early human cultures recognized fossils of extinct dinosaurs and other groups as bones of dead animals or mythical dragons, including Native Americans and, especially the Chinese, some of whom still use ground up fossil bones in medical treatments.But the first scientific account about a dinosaur fossil was not published until 1677 in Europe. Then, Englishman Robert Plot described the lower end of a thighbone that formed the knee of Megalosaurus, a carnivorous dinosaur common in Jurassic rocks there, which walked on its two hind legs. At the time, however, Plot did not recognize his find as the bone of a long-dead reptile.By the 1820s, our anatomical acuity had come a long way. Fossils of Megalosaurus and Iguanodon, an Early Cretaceous herbivorous dinosaur, were discovered by geologists and doctors in England and recognized to belong to giant extinct reptiles. Then, a couple of decades later, in 1841, the famous English anatomist Sir Richard Owen first coined the name Dinosauria, meaning "terrible lizard," to refer to this group of what he considered to be enormous, extinct, lizard-like reptiles.This video is part of a series, "Dinosaurs Explained," produced by the American Museum of Natural History. In the series, Museum paleontologists answer the most frequently asked questions about dinosaurs.To watch the videos, go to Click on the "Dinosaurs Explained" Tab on the left side of the page. In the playlist, start with the first question and play each video consecutively for a mini-course in dinosaur fossils.
Length: 00:31


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