"Animals without backbones hid from each other, or fell down. Clambasaurs and oysterettes appeared as appetizers -- then came the sponges, which sucked up about ten percent of all life. Hundreds of years later, in the late Devouring Period, the fish became obnoxious. Trailerbites, Chickerbites, and Mosqwitoes collided aimlessly in the dense gas. Finally, tiny edible plants sprang up in rows -- giving birth to generations of insecticides and other small, dying creatures"
-- The Firesign Theater, from "We're All Bozos on this Bus"
"That 'old' look of the dinosaurs stemmed from the limited fossil evidence and a limited understanding of evolution. Not to mention the prevailing theories of the time: particularly that dinosaurs were cold-blooded and small-brained, like lizards -- sluggish with tails dragging.
"This interpretation defined dinosaurs for a hundred years or so. Then, during the Great Depression and World War II (1920s-40s), dinosaur research -- from new fossil discoveries to field studies to art restorations -- came to a virtual standstill.
"But dinosaur science came roaring back in the 1960s, and by 1975 there was a seismic shakeup in how dinosaurs were viewed.
"The conventional wisdom was flipped upside down: cold became warm; slow became fast; upright posture became horizontal.
"In 1975, paleontologist Robert Bakker argued that dinosaurs were not sluggish, tail-dragging, cold-blooded, lizard-like beasts but ww
re really warm-blooded, active creatures.
"He made the case that most dinosaurs could sustain high activity levels and regulate their own body temperature. He presented compelling evidence and analysis for his theories...and instantly ignited a great scientific brouhaha."
I am always amazed by, and often talking about, the multitude of changes over the last half-century to which I have been witness and participant. The evolution from the black-and-white TV with 7 stations/Jim Crow/women as home makers/dawn of suburbia/early rock and roll world of the late fifties, which constitutes a central part of my early memories, to today's world, is so extreme in so many millions of ways that I cannot imagine a more quickly changing physical and cultural landscape than the one I've experienced.
And, yet, while it makes perfect sense that our scientific knowledge of what dinosaurs really looked like would evolve at an equally-mind blowing pace, it is nevertheless such a shock to realize that the vast majority of information stored in my brain from that first school field trip, fifty-something years ago, to see the dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History (at Central Park West and 79th Street in Manhattan), is as antiquated as the notion of spontaneous generation.
That field trip is still more memorable than any other I took as a child. I can still see the steam rising from manhole covers, see the nearby skyscrapers and smell the pretzels on vendors' carts being heated over galvanized buckets filled with glowing coals. And, then, I recall walking into that immense building with those creatures as tall as houses and several times as long.
We still see them as being big. But most everything else we know about them has since changed. Including: We were told back then that nobody could ever know what color dinosaurs were. But nowadays…
"Scientists identified this color by putting the dino feathers under a powerful electron microscope and looking for pigment-carrying structures called melanosomes, present in modern-day animals and particularly in bird feathers. Sinosauropteryz had loads of them."
It is such an important informational concept that is highlighted in this book: What is considered scientific "fact" is based upon current evidence, current technology tools, and the resulting interpretation. When the evidence and technology change, the interpretation necessarily results in new facts. Then, in this case, artists take these interpretations and render them in a form that shows us what dinosaurs (according to today's information) really looked like.
And while we are talking about art and change: As I was recalling my late-fifties childhood a few paragraphs back, I thought about a couple of my favorite books from my preschool days (back when it was called nursery school): SAM AND THE FIREFLY by P.D. Eastman and MULEY-EARS: NOBODY'S DOG by Marguerite Henry and Wesley Dennis. Go look at those two books -- at the technology of children's book production back then -- and then look at this science book for kids.