Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The name dinosaur from the Greek words deinos (terrible) and sauros (lizard)

The name dinosaur (“terrible lizard”) was coined in the years after 1841 by the English biologist and palaeontologist Sir Richard Owen (1804-1892) [1,2]. Karl-Heinz Ludwig includes a small paragraph entitled Wie die Dinos zu ihrem Namen kamen (How the dinos got their name) in his book on climate change through the history of the Earth. Based on this German-language text [2] and information in Christopher McGowan's captivating book about prehistoric reptiles [1], the following summary can be shaped:

The word dinosaur, composed of the Greek words deinos (terrible) and sauros (lizard), first occurred in a publication by Richard Owen in 1842: Report on British fossil reptiles. Part II. Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Plymouth, 11:60-204. By comparing fossil bones of Iguanodon (“iguana tooth”, an ornithopod), Megalosaurus (“big lizard”, a theropod) and Hylaeosaurus (“woodland lizard”, an ankylosaur), which had been discovered by William Buckland and Gideon Mantell in southern England, Owen recognized that these fossils represented a new group of Mesozoic reptiles. The classification of dinosaurs is not completed and the discovery of new dinosaur fossils and/or novel species can be expected to make news headlines any day.

Keywords: history, palaeontology, comparative anatomy, Mesozoic Era

[1] Christopher McGowan:
Dinosaurs, Spitfires, & Sea Dragons. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London England, 1992 (first paperback edition); pages 190 and 343.
[2] Karl-Heinz Ludwig:
Eine kurze Geschichte des KlimasVon der Entstehung der Erde bis heute. Verlag C. H. Beck oHG, München, 2006; page 46.

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