In science classes at school, we heard over and over again about dinosaur extinction. They told us dinosaurs had ruled the world for millions of years but they went extinct following the collision of a meteorite with Earth.

They were all lies.

Dinosaurs are alive, and they are among us.

Depiction of giants narrated in the Hebrew Bible.
Depiction of giants narrated in the Hebrew Bible.

Discovery of Giants

We do not know when or who discovered the first dinosaur bone. This is because humans had not known what to make of dinosaur bones for thousands of years.

Scholars hypothesize that ancient peoples most likely uncovered fossils of dinosaur bones from time to time, thanks to Ancient Chinese writings, which references dragons over 2,000 years ago.

In its infancy, even modern science did not know what exactly the excavated fossils were. For example, in 1676 Reverend Robert Plot discovered a large thigh bone of a Megalosaurus. Plot thought the bones had belonged to a Roman war elephant. Eventually, he concluded that the giant bone he discovered must be the thighbone of a biblical giant.

Although the specimen found by Plot disappeared eventually, we know about it thanks to the fact that the drawings of the bone appeared in The Natural History of Oxfordshire in 1677. The Natural History of Oxfordshire, inspired by its shape, named the giant human bone as Scrotum Humanum, which literally means human testicles.

"Scrotum Humanum". appeared in 1677 The Natural History of Oxfordshire.
“Scrotum Humanum”. appeared in 1677 The Natural History of Oxfordshire.

Scholars believe Megalosaurus is the first dinosaur that experts have scientifically described. British fossil hunter William Buckland found some fossils in 1819, and he eventually described them and named them in 1824. Like scientists before him, Buckland thought the fossils belonged to an ancient, larger version of a modern reptile.

Until British scientist Richard Owen came along in the 1940s scholars had not yet recognized discovered fossils as distinct creatures that were significantly different than modern reptiles. Hence the fossilized species had not have a name.

Stegosaurus at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, PA.
Stegosaurus at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, PA.

Christening Terrible Fossils

In the 1840s, Owen viewed the fossil collection of William Devonshire Saull. A fossilized chunk of the spine intrigued Owen, which scholars thought it belonged to an ancient reptile. Owen began comparing the fossils he saw and, within a few months, came to two critical conclusions:

All fossils Owen examined were from similar creatures
These were creatures unlike anything on Earth today.

Sir Richard Owen coined the name dinosaur for the newly discovered species. Dinosaur comes from Greek deinos sauros, literally meaning terrible lizard.

Depiction of the meteor that erased 76% of species on Earth, nearly caused dinosaur extinction.
Depiction of the meteor that erased 76% of species on Earth.

Dinosaur Extinction

More than 99% of species ever existed on Earth are extinct today owing to catastrophic events that cause mass extinction. The latest of these catastrophes happened 65 million years ago and killed 74% of species.

Dinosaur species had ruled the world for 180 million years between about 245 and 65 million years ago. In comparison to this first humans emerged 2.5 million years ago. However, they remained as insignificant animals up until 70,000 years ago. Up until 70,000 years ago, Humans’ impact on the world was very small, less than that of jellyfish, woodpeckers, or bumblebees.

Scientists estimate that 5 million years ago, an asteroid roughly 6 miles (10 km) across slammed into the waters off of what is now Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. The massive impact—which left a crater more than 120 miles wide, tossed huge volumes of dust, debris, and sulfur into the atmosphere, and possibly triggered major volcano eruptions. This dust, debris, and sulfur blocked the sun and brought on severe global cooling, which eventually erased most species on Earth, including almost all dinosaur species.

Depiction of theropod, the only survivor of mass dinosaur extinction.
Depiction of theropod in Natural History Museum, Vienna

Sole Survivor of Mass Dinosaur Extinction

After more than 180 million years in charge, the reign of the dinosaurs came to an abrupt end when a huge asteroid strike and massive volcanic eruptions caused disastrous changes to the environment, and wiped out all but one dinosaur species: theropods.

The sole survivor theropods, the ancestor of birds, were meat-eating dinosaurs, which survived thanks to their relatively small size. Again, thanks to their small size mammals too survived the catastrophe. Theropods went on to dominate the skies and mammals, which includes humans, went on to rule the lands of the world.

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