Digging Up the Dinosaurs: History of Vertebrate Paleontology in the US (September 2020)

This essay first appeared in the September 2020 issue of Choice (volume 58 | issue 1).


Let us assume that every living adult in the US has at some time in their life been either fascinated by or afraid of dinosaurs: whether frightened as a moviegoer by the Velociraptors in the first Jurassic Park film; entertained as a preschooler by the melodic wisdom of Barney, the animated purple Tyrannosaurus; or amused, while driving down the road, by the ubiquitous long-necked Diplodocus icon on the Sinclair Oil sign. In fact, even though most dinosaurs have been extinct since the end of the Mesozoic era, this group of vertebrate beasts still makes its presence felt in our modern society. Whether intended as an injurious insult or spoken only in jest, we often use the term “dinosaur” in everyday speech to indicate that a person is out of sync with respect to modern times. We display dinosaur fossil remains in many of our science museums to attract and educate new visitors and budding scientists. We even build live action models, not only for our museums but also for malls and parks, to generate lucrative traffic.

About the Author:

Larry T. Spencer is professor emeritus of biology and biological sciences at Plymouth State University.