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The man who saved the dinosaurs
July 11, 2014 11:50 PM   Subscribe

Dinosaurs were lumbering, stupid, scientifically boring beasts—until John Ostrom rewrote the book on them.
posted by brundlefly (12 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Awesome article! It explains a lot about how our vision dinosaurs changed from my childhood to now. The whole feathers thing really startled me when little coffeespoons was heavily into dinosaurs.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 5:24 AM on July 12


Thanks for this. John Ostrom is a childhood hero of mine and my dad's. I wrote a letter to him when I was something like 11 and got a very nice personal reply. I had asked how he chose the wild skin (feather? can't remember!) colors that would appear on a deinonychus illustration, and he replied with a few niceties and then said he had just really "wanted to knock their socks off!".
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:48 AM on July 12 [3 favorites]


And yeah - people who like velociraptors, and get excited about the birds-are-dinosaurs connection, you have Ostrom to thank.
The late afternoon sun caught on some faint ridges. Ostrom was seeing, unmistakably, the clear impression of feathers. [...] His mind was already ticking over about the resemblance to Deinonychus—and the unsettling idea that the wrist and shoulder bones of a primitive bird should be identical to those of a small meat-eating dinosaur.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:57 AM on July 12


Dinosaurs were never boring!
posted by Renoroc at 8:33 AM on July 12 [9 favorites]


Renoroc: "Dinosaurs were never boring!"

Indeed. While other young boys played with toy soldiers my friend Alex and I played with dinosaurs. All. The. Time. We read about them. Begged to be brought to the American Museum of Natural History almost every weekend. We constantly drew pictures of them. We were steeped in dinosaurs.
posted by Splunge at 11:57 AM on July 12 [2 favorites]


Will always be a fan girl of T Rexes...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 1:42 PM on July 12


The Riddle of the Dinosaur, mentioned in the article, was my favorite dinosaur book as a young'un. It was already out of date then, even more so now, but it's as much a study of the history of studying dinosaurs as of dinosaurs themselves, so if you liked this article and want to know more about how certain discoveries were made and by whom, it's a good place to look.
posted by bettafish at 2:07 PM on July 12


Make sure you read the comment on the article. It's wonderful.

Thank you for this post, brundlefly!!!
posted by bibliogrrl at 2:09 PM on July 12 [2 favorites]


In the 60s, Sinclair Oil Company played a role in making dinosaurs pretty cool.

We made a special trip to the local Sinclair station (regular SOhio customers back then) so we could make a dinosaur of our own. I can still remember being surprised at how hot it was when it first came out of the machine.

As a former young dino fan myself, I love how they chose to show a girl and her mom here.

Use your search engine of choice with "Mold-A-Rama" for more vintage coolness.
posted by marsha56 at 4:03 PM on July 12


And yeah - people who like velociraptors, and get excited about the birds-are-dinosaurs connection, you have Ostrom to thank.

Regarding the Jurassic Park raptors, I think it's funny how "They're way too big!" has gone from something that only dino-nerds bitched about to pretty common knowledge. People with no real interest in paleontology know that Velociraptor was really the size of a turkey.

The Jurassic Park raptors look more like Ostrom's Deinonychus than Velociraptor. I always figured that Chrichton (and, ultimately, Spielberg) just thought the name sounded badass, but I recently found out there may be more to it.

While writing the novel, Chrichton consulted a book by paleoartist Greg Paul called Predatory Dinosaurs of the World. In that book, Paul decided to futz around with dinosaur taxonomy, ditched the name Deinonychus and reclassified that animal as a larger species of Velociraptor.

Paul was alone in his thinking on this, and the reclassification never went beyond the book, but the book was a hit and it clearly had some influence on Chrichton.

So I guess you could argue that Jurassic Park's raptors were Deinonychus under a pseudonym and Ostrom really did discover the iconic "velociraptor," even if not in name.
posted by brundlefly at 12:25 AM on July 14 [1 favorite]


Wow, thanks for that! I have always assumed since the movie first came out that they had just wanted a sexier name than deinonychus and facts be damned. Amazed to hear there was a real reason for Crichton to have mixed up the names like that.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:48 PM on July 14


Yeah, it was news to me too!
posted by brundlefly at 3:41 PM on July 14


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