So it’s recently come to my attention that there are people out there who have some pretty serious misconceptions about the best subject of all time, bar none: dinosaurs.

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Dinosaurs, literally everyone can agree, are/were awesome. But I just want to clear a few things up. Starting with…

Misconception number 1: That dinosaurs never existed.

Well it’s odd that some people have gotten that idea because we have hundreds of years worth of exhumed fossil evidence that says they did exist, with more fossils unearthed and more dino species categorized every year.

A dinosaur dig circa 1909 – the fossil on the left is the tail of an Apatasaurus.
Photo Credit: Public Domain

For what it’s worth, the anti-dinosaur argument is ahistorical – the denial of the existence of dinosaurs is pretty fringe, and it’s primarily fueled by extreme religious interpretations of holy books. The basic argument against dinosaurs’ existence is as follows: Dinosaurs are a hoax and all evidence of them that has been dug up over the years is falsified by people, a la the Piltdown Man. What evidence wasn’t outright faked, some of them say, is actually evidence of dragons (there is some mention of dragons in the bible and other ancient texts).

Both Asia and Europe have a long tradition of dragons in folklore, perhaps influenced by the discovery of fossilized dinosaur bones.
Photo Credit: Pixabay

From this perspective, the only reason I can imagine that explains why such a large group of people (scientists, to be specific) would perpetrate such an expensive, effortful, long-term hoax is to provide evidence for the Theory of Evolution, which religious fundamentalists of all stripes have taken issue with (perhaps you’ve heard of the Scopes Monkey trial?). The main issue religions have with the theory of evolution is that it in various ways supplants the primacy of religious texts by establishing a scientific rationale for a history of species that does not need a God. This is less of a problem for believers in Intelligent Design, but a larger problem for believers in Creationism.

Photo Credit: Public Domain

Something to note here: the theory of evolution is overwhelmingly supported by the evidence that we have available to us. A large objection to evolution’s veracity seems to actually come from a dispute over the meaning of the word ‘theory’. Though in the everyday vernacular, using the word theory may imply and unproven idea, in the context of hard science, ‘theory’ is a word that, according to National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, “refers to a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence.”

In fact, the theory of evolution is so well supported by so many different observations and experiments that scientists do not believe that any evidence could come to light that would substantially overturn it.

So this particular anti-evolution, anti-dinosaur argument is toothless.

There is an interesting overlap, in that paleontology was becoming a real scientific discipline around the same time that Darwin published his seminal book, On the Origin of Species. However, to equate this to proof of conspiracy, as opposed to simply a confluence of historio-scientific events, is far-fetched at best.

So, dinosaurs existed – we can all agree, right? Great.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Now that we’re on the same page there, it’s time to straighten out…

Misconception number 2: Dinosaurs and humans co-existed.

They did not, ever, at any point.

But this photo is so convincing!
Photo Credit: Pixabay

Dinosaurs famously went extinct about 65 million years ago. Million. That’s one thousand x one thousand x sixty five.

Though there is some debate on this issue, modern humans have only existed for around 300,000 years, and our latest common ancestor with chimps (assuming you believe in evolution…) lived around 7 million years ago. Before that, our ancestors were less people-y, and more monkey-y, and so on, backwards toward the mammals that actually did coexist with dinosaurs. There were actually a bunch of different mammals around 65 million years ago (the first known proto-mammal came into existence around 220 million years ago); there were shrew-like mammals, lemur-like mammals, monkey-like mammals, squirrel-like mammals – but no human-like mammals, and definitely no humans.

Artist’s reconstruction of an early mammal, Gobiconodon, that lived in the early Cretaceous, around 140 million years ago.
Photo Credit: DiBgd, CC BY-SA 4.0

Again, this myth is fueled by religious strictures (that and a misunderstanding of scientific consensus). For people who believe that the bible is literal truth, the Earth is only 6000 years old – and people have been here the whole time. So if dinosaurs did exist, they must have been around with us. Creationists point to cave paintings that seem to show dinosaurs, and race-memories of dragons and dragon-esque creatures.

Photo Credit: Disney/Pixar

But, sadly, people did not ever live with dinosaurs. There are a lot of dinosaur fossils, none of which post-date 65 million years ago, when the infamous asteroid collided with the earth and blew them all away.

Except…

Except!

Birds.

Misconception number 3: Dinosaurs are extinct.

They are, right? Well…

That’s pretty dinosaur-like, right?
Photo Credit: Pixabay

Birds are actually the descendants of the few avian dinosaurs that did manage to make it through the hellish, post-asteroidal years. A number of dinosaur fossils have been discovered with impressions of feathers left in the rock – in fact, recent research has given credence to the hypothesis that most, if not all dinosaurs had feathers of some sort. There was even a feathered dinosaur tail preserved in amber discovered back in 2016, which is FREAKING AWESOME.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

So, in a sense, humans did coexist with dinosaurs. We still do!