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How Dinosaurs Work


Cretaceous Park: Dinosaur Movies and Myths
View of the crowd assembled to attend a screening of the Disney animated feature Fantasia in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1941.
View of the crowd assembled to attend a screening of the Disney animated feature Fantasia in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1941.
Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Stories about dinosaurs have existed for as long as people have been aware of the existence of trackways and fossils. Some researchers suggest that legends of behemoths and dragons come from the discovery of dinosaur bones and footprints [source: Sanz]. There are also cave paintings that appear to depict bipedal dinosaurs. One team of anthropologists believes that the !Kung, or San, of North Africa created these images based on both a fossilized skeleton and a set of footprints [source: Ellenberger].

The first dinosaur movies made their appearance shortly after the development of motion pictures. The earliest dinosaur films came out between 1910 and 1930. One was "The Lost World," which was based on a book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Dinosaur cartoons made their debut around the same period. In 1940, Disney released its movie "Fantasia," which used Igor Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" as the score for the life and extinction of the dinosaurs.

With the exception of "Fantasia," most of these films depicted humans' encounters with dinosaurs. Characters used time travel to reach the age of the dinosaurs, or they discovered previously unknown locations in which dinosaurs survived. In today's dinosaur stories, such as "Jurassic Park," DNA plays the primary role in the face-to-face introduction between people and dinosaurs.

There are several problems with this idea:

  • When a dinosaur becomes fossilized, most of its soft tissue decays. The only remaining reservoir for DNA is its bones -- and those are physically altered during the fossilization process.
  • DNA breaks down very quickly. Finding a specimen with its entire DNA sequence intact after millions of years is unlikely.
  • Although a few researchers have reported finding insect DNA in amber, other scientists haven't been able to replicate the findings.
  • Retrieving DNA from blood an insect has ingested would be even harder. Even if a mosquito's stomach did hold the blood of a dinosaur, retrieving that blood without contaminating it with the mosquito's own DNA would be next to impossible.

However compelling the argument for preserved DNA might seem, cloning dinosaurs is highly unlikely.

You'll find lots of references on dinosaurs, paleontology and related topics on the next page.


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