Back when I was a kid, paleontology was simple. Life had evolved from one-celled creatures to fish to lizards to dinosaurs to mammals and finally to Tory-voting, club-going Englishmen – all in a giant and wonderful ‘advance’, a relentless march of ‘progress’ during which each new form automatically doomed the last to extinction.
An 1863 vision of Iguanodon vs Megalosaurus – complete with Iguanodon’s thumb-bone wrongly placed as a nose spike. Part of the problem was that they were reconstructed by Richard Owen (1804-1892) using mammalian-style joint articulation. Public domain, via Wikipedia.
Today we’ve learned that things weren’t so cut and dried. Take the death of the dinosaurs, for instance. Back in the nineteenth century, the best explanation as to why there (supposedly) weren’t any around today was that they’d been too slow and stupid. Mammals had out-competed them in a kind of evolutionary market contest. The very term ‘dinosaur’…
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