The word “dinosaur” was coined in the 1840s, but people have been finding dinosaur fossils for thousands of years. So what did people think dinosaur bones were before we had an idea that dinosaurs existed? Plus: if your dream is to find a dinosaur-shaped waffle cone with a scoop of ice cream in its mouth, there’s a place in southern California that can help you.
What Did People First Think When They Found Dinosaur Bones? (Today I Found Out)
For creatures that in most respects departed tens of millions of years ago, we sure do spend a lot of time thinking about dinosaurs.
Today is National Dinosaur Day, for example.
But, amazingly, the term dinosaur was only coined in the year 1842, based on fossil finds that had been first made in 1824.
So they’ve really only had a hold on us these last couple centuries.
But there were fossil finds well before the 19th Century.
What did people think dinosaur bones were before we had an idea that dinosaurs existed?
The website Today I Found Out looked into this and found a range of conclusions.
There are records from China in the 4th century BC of finding what were probably dinosaur fossils, only they were referred to as “dragon bones.”
A book of Chinese medicine from a few centuries later said dragon bones could be used for healing just about any illness or injury a person could have.
Much later, Westerners found dinosaur bones too, including Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame.
At a time when conventional wisdom held that the earth was only maybe 6,000 years old, rather than billions of years, they either thought these were bones from a really big fish, possibly a salt formation that happened to look like a bone, or maybe even the bones of a giant human (or at least certain parts of a giant human; the physician Richard Brookes in 1763 suggested the name “Scrotum Humanum.” I point this out without comment).
The fossil discovered of the mid 19th century changed all that, when scientists concluded that the bones had things in common with each other that didn’t match any creature in existence.
And thus a field of study was born in which people would dig for ancient bones, discover and name new species, and eventually dream of bringing them back to life through cloning on a remote tropical island and charging tourists admission.
As they say, life, uh, finds a way.
And all this talk of dinosaurs has made you hungry (for who knows what reason), maybe this dinosaur-themed ice cream shop in southern California, is for you.
It’s called Sweetosaur, and not only is there a dinosaur you can ride on the premises, you can get waffle cones that are shaped like dinosaurs; they hold your ice cream scoops in their mouth.
They’re called Wafflesaurus Rex. What else would they be called, right?