Everybody loves dinosaurs now, but there was a time when they caused a lot of heartache among the scientists who examined the fossil remains of the ‘monsters’ who lived long ago. In particular, the men of the Royal Academy of Science and the Geological Society of London were perplexed by the spectacular findings of a young girl named Mary Anning.
In 1811, she found a fossil of a ‘crocodile’ like no other in the cliffs of Lyme on the coast of England. It was later named ‘Ichthyosaurus’ (the ‘fish-lizard), by the scientists who examined it. Many of these men of science were perturbed by the reality that the best ‘fossil hunter’ was an uneducated girl, but they were really thrown by the havoc such ancient creatures threw into their world view.
Some tried to find a way to make the Bible’s story of the Noah and the great flood jibe with the fossilized remains of ancient creatures and others had to accept the conflict between their faith and their scientific observations. If dinosaurs existed and creatures evolved then the MONSTERS that Mary Anning found were evidence of evolution!
Like most contemporary Americans, I have fond childhood memories of dinosaurs. The Museum of Natural History in New York — before it was renovated and updated into a user-friendly/interactive experience — was one of my favorite places. It was simply CREEPY with gigantic dinosaur skeletons and dim lighting.
That brings me to Henrietta — my personal dinosaur.
In sixth grade I had a very innovative and creative teacher, Marion Greif (Since the high school reunion we are Facebook friends, but I still think of her as Miss Greif and not Marion.) One of our more memorable assignments was to buy a whole chicken (head and all) boil it until the flesh fell off and reassemble the bones.
I remember being the only kid, or one of very few, to get the assignment done on time. This was particularly tough because my partner in the task disappeared once the chicken started to boil.
I assembled the skeleton with wire and glue and mounted it on a piece of mahogany that was, inexplicably, hanging around the house. Miss Greif gave me a good grade for getting it done, but commented that it looked a lot more like a dinosaur than a chicken.
Maybe it was just the mahogany base? But maybe I’d hit on something important because back then we learned that dinosaurs were like lizards and today they are described as the ancestors of birds. Henrietta, yes that was her name, remained in the basement of my childhood home for years. I’m not sure what happened to her when my parents moved — so much for the ancient remains of my childhood.
Ancient peoples found fossils of creatures that not longer walked the earth and some of these monsters became the stuff of myth and legend. Just imagine, working in a quarry, gathering the raw materials to build a temple to one of your gods and finding the fossilized remains of a giant winged creature.
Very serious monsters!