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| Earth on Nov 28, 2009

When did people discover the first dinosaur bones?

When the first dinosaur bone was discovered in 1685, people thought it was the bone from a giant, ancient human.

The first known dinosaur bone was part of a knee joint, found in the year 1685.

At that time, there was no notion of extinct animals on Earth, so people tried to interpret the bone with respect to living organisms. They concluded it was a thigh bone from a giant human. The bone was about six meters – or 20 feet – long.

More than a hundred years later, in the 1820s, a doctor and his wife living in England found some fragments of dinosaur bones. By then, extinct species had been recognized in the fossil record. People interpreted these bones as belonging to giant extinct lizards.

Twenty years later, Sir Richard Owen, an anatomist and paleontologist, was studying these bone fragments from England. He noticed that – unlike lizards whose limbs sprawl out to the side – the limbs of these creatures were held beneath the body. Owen announced his belief that the bones belonged to a distinct group of giant animals – and he coined the name “Dinosauria,” which in his own translation meant “fearfully great.” The year was 1841 – and our understanding of dinosaurs has been evolving ever since.