Dinosaur mural on University Park Campus, Nottingham

June 1, 2020, by Ross Wilson

Dinosaurs and Extinction in the Age of the Anthropocene

In the latest episode of The Things That Made Us we look at dinosaurs. It might seem like an odd thing to say about a animals that last live on the planet 65 million years ago but dinosaurs are a very modern phenomenon. The discovery of fossils by humans crystallised into a distinct study in the nineteenth century. The biologist Richard Owen (1804-1892) was the first to coin the term ‘dinosaur’ after using the Greek words “deinos” (terrible) and “sauros” (lizard) in the 1840s. From then on, dinosaurs have been present within the popular imagination. This is what is explored in W.J.T. Mitchell’s (1988) book, The Last Dinosaur.

As the scientific and public enthusiasm for dinosaurs increased from that point to our own era, dinosaurs have taken on another quality. That species which existed and thrived on the planet could become extinct has often been regarded as a foretelling of humanity’s fate. This is what makes dinosaurs so interesting of an obsession for us in the age of the anthropocene, an era where we have radically altered the planet’s climate and geology. What do the dinosaurs mean to us? Well, they can tell us about life on Earth millions of years ago. But they can also tell us about how we think about ourselves in the modern era.

The Things That Made Us 

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