|If dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago
and humans only came about .25 millions ago, our
perception of dinosaurs and how they look
(courtesy movies such as Jurassic Park) is just
conjecture- albeit a brilliant one- is it not? We
can't really know what they looked like, can we?
Even the accuracy of our technology ca\'t ever be
truly determined, can it?
Although it's not widely appreciated by the
public yet, not all dinosaurs disappeared 65
million years ago, rather one group survives.
Living dinosaurs are covered with feathers and we
generally call them birds. So...by study bird
behavior and locomotion, and the behavior of the
closet living relative of dinosaurs, crocodiles,
we can make lots of informed inferences about how
extinct dinosaurs looked. So....how dinosaurs are
portrayed in movies is not pure conjecture, rather
those depictions (at least in the good movies) are
based on scientific data. Believe it or not,
scientists have even figured out the color
patterns of some extinct dinosaurs. Other things
we see in movies are pure conjecture (if not
out-and-out fantasy)--such as flying humans, and
sky-scrapper climbing giant gorillas. Those are
We can find the skeletons of dinosaurs, and we can
find impressions of their skin and feathers.
we can use living organisms to make
bio-mechanical models just like making artificial
limbs for humans based on bio-mechanics. Plus we
can reconstruct the environments dinos lived in by
studying the sedimentary rocks their remains are
found in. So, actually we know quite a bit about
these large reptiles.
We think we have a pretty good idea what
dinosaurs look like, although our idea is always
evolving. As you likely know, over the past 20
years our idea has changed quite a bit, and we now
think many dinosaurs had feathers!
Interestingly, very recently there was recently a
piece of fossilized dinosaur skin discovered in
Canada, and they're now investigating the pigment
cells in the skin to figure out what color the
dinosaur skin would have been!!
Very good question! Dinosaurs went extinct
long before humans (or most modern organisms) even
came into existence. It is indeed impossible for
us to determine with true certainty what dinosaurs
looked like back in their day aside from building
a time machine and going back ourselves. However,
scientists can gather a lot of clues from fossils
and extrapolate from modern sources:
Firstly, the shapes of bones in preserved
fossils tell us the overall mechanical structure
of the dinosaur. In particularly well- preserved
fossils, we can study the imprints that tendons
from muscles made on the bones and infer muscular
structure from that. Further, natural fossils of
dinosaur skin have been found that tell us the
texture of various dinosaurs. Finally, since
dinosaurs are most likely related to modern
reptiles, we can use educated guesses to determine
their appearance from looking at modern species
No and yes - it's theory, but it's theory that
makes predictions that can be tested using modern
observations. In particular:
1. Birds - which are living dinosaurs - have
their bodies proportioned into pretty much the
same arrangement of limbs, joints, and so on as
the bodies of bipedal dinosaurs. Because birds are
bipedal themselves when standing, we can therefore
safely conjecture that bipedal dinosaurs probably
had a very similar posture and balance as do
living birds when standing upright.
2. We can also build (both real and
computerized) models of fossil dinosaurs, and
analyze what kinds of stresses their bones would
be under while walking or running in different
ways. If the models break when we try to make them
move, then the models are clearly wrong, because
dinosaurs were very successful in their day. This
limits the number of possible ways dinosaurs could
have postured and moved to the number of models
that actually work.
Although most of the perception we have about
dinosaurs is conjecture, we have used fossil
records to try and create more accurate models.
Sometimes the fossils will contain small details,
such as skin texture, which can help us try to
understand what they looked like. Maybe one day,
if we get the perfect fossil, we will be able to
find out what dinosaurs looked like. Until that
time, we won't ever be able to know.
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