Building a Better Dinosaur

I love walking through the fossil halls of natural history museums, especially the older exhibits. There's something majestic about those old dinosaur displays. If you look closely, you'll often see thick iron bars and straps supporting the massive weight of the fossils, while other displays stick the bones in thick, yellow plaster backing, like a giant picture frame. These inelegant but effective displays speak to earlier times in paleontology. Today we view these ponderous, tail-dragging reconstructions as a bit dated compared to the vivid and dynamic poses in modern exhibits, as sleek, fleet-footed creatures dash through three-dimensional scenes or tower over our heads in the exhibit halls. But do we really know that the newer versions reflect a better understanding of dinosaurs, or are they just the current fad?

Our certainty starts with the early chapters of God’s Word, where God describes making the great "beasts of the field" (a group in which dinosaurs definitely fit!) on Day Six of Creation Week. After that, our level of certainty drops, and quite quickly, too. That's because while the Bible puts the dinosaurs' creation in context, we are then left with only their Flood-formed fossils to tell us what they were and, with the help of a few other clues, how they behaved. We really want to "get our story straight" as much as possible! After all, the Creator specifically designed these creatures to give glory to Him, and we paleontologists now get to partake in it (Romans 1:20; Job 12:7–9). What an opportunity!

The best approach is to follow the clues left in stone. With each discovery of new clues, more light is shed on old ideas, testing their merit. A case study of one of the first dinosaurs ever discovered shows how paleontologists — like modern forensic scientists — can use even the slimmest clues to help them piece together the truth about extinct animals.

The First Clues — Comparative Anatomy

The first evidence was discovered in 1822 in Sussex, England. While her doctor husband was attending to a patient, Mary Ann Mantell found a loose group of fossils among road construction debris. Knowing her husband's interest in the emerging science of paleontology, she brought them home for his evaluation. Dr. Gideon Mantell was fascinated, recognizing that the handful of large teeth and bone fragments were unlike those of any known animal, living or fossil.

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