Millions of years ago, dinosaurs roamed the Earth as rulers of their domain until they mysteriously disappeared from existence. In fact, their existence wasn’t even known about until 1824. Since then, paleontologists have discovered more than 300 species, and they once again dominate. Maybe not in flesh and blood, but they are in the hearts and imaginations of many. How many little boys do you know of that doesn’t own at least one toy resembling these awesome creatures? And why would they think of them as anything less than great? They represent power and greatness. Today we can thank a man by the name of Georges Cuvier for the knowledge we have of their existence.
Born to a retired soldier and his wife on August 23, 1769 in what was once part of Germany, Georges seemed destined for something great. His was born to a family of little wealth that could not afford schooling for him. Missing the opportunity for free schooling, he somehow managed to gain the attention of a nobleman who agreed to pay his way through a military school in Stuttgart, Germany. It was a strict school that was founded to train government administrators, in which he graduated at the top of his class in 1788. Upon graduation, there were no positions available and he was forced to other opportunities well beneath his rank. He began using his spare time studying creatures of all sorts, dissecting, sketching, and recording his findings until he had every detail in place.
Thus, paleontology was born. His studies, attracting a great deal of attention, soon gave him an opportunity as a substitute lecturer at The National Museum of Natural History in Paris when it opened in 1795. He boasted that if someone brought him a bone, no matter of the origin, that he could reconstruct the animal that it came from. Along with this claim, the birth of extinction was formed. In 1796, he led a great elephant controversy in which the discovery of the mammoth and mastodon was made. This discovery supported his theory of extinction that everyone was so resistant to, leading to the following quote by himself. “All of these facts, consistent among themselves, and not opposed by any report, seem to me to prove the existence of a world previous to ours, destroyed by some kind of catastrophe.”
In 1806, Georges Cuvier opened his own exhibit hall in the museum and called it The Cabinet of Comparative Anatomy. Requesting fossils and specimens from other scientists all over the world, he added them to his own fossils. He researched, cleaned, and assembled them in the exhibit hall until he had the most impressive display in the world. It was not until after the publication of his book; The Animal Kingdom, Distributed According to its Organization; in 1817 that comparative anatomy was established as a new branch of science.
However, not until after his death on May 13, 1832 was the word dinosaur even invented. In 1842, Professor William Buckland published Megalosaurus Cuvier, Cuvier’s great lizard. William Buckland was an English paleontologist, geologist, and was also the Dean of Westminster. He had discovered a fossil in which Cuvier identified as a reptile, which in turn led up to the first publication of the discovery of a dinosaur.
From that point on, paleontology has flourished in its discoveries and findings of these mysterious creatures. The path that Georges Cuvier had started is still being built today. He laid the groundwork that made it possible for many others to open up a chapter in history that no one had even dreamed existed. New findings are always being made from the very small to the largest of the giants. One of the most recent is also the largest discovery in history. In 1990 near Faith, South Dakota, Sue Hendrickson discovered the largest and most complete fossil to ever be found. The fossil measured an amazing 13 foot high and 42 foot long from its head to the tip of its tail. It was named Sue after the woman that found it and is now proudly on display at The Field Museum in Chicago, IL as the most well-preserved fossil ever to be discovered.
No one knows how many more there are to be discovered, but one thing is for sure; due to those before us that opened a door, there are no limits as to what history we may find buried in our Earth’s layers.