B, as in Bafflement

Question: If We were to find a great big bone, what would We think it was? To truly understand the puzzle, We have to assume that nobody had ever heard of dinosaurs at the time of the discovery. Nobody, Reader or Rhino.

Answer: We’d have no idea what it was. Mr. Pennyston didn’t, and asked Dr. Robert Plot at Oxford. In 1676 Dr. Plot guessed it was from an elephant, or perhaps a thigh bone from a giant human, maybe 10 feet tall. He was a learned man for his day, and his every hunch was wrong.

It’s hard to dial back our understanding of matters to an age when witches were still being executed. (see: Salem, 1692).

3 thoughts on “B, as in Bafflement

  1. Wonderful, Bill! Art and story!

    We had a friend and neighbor years ago who was teaching at UCSD (his field was the history of science). While in La Jolla, he was finishing a book (one of many) called, “Scenes from Deep Time: Early Pictorial Images of the Prehistoric World,” which detailed the first collaborations between scientists and artists, to give shape and substance to prehistoric animals and plants. It’s a wonderful book. Great illustrations. And he’s an excellent writer. Couldn’t help but think of him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Reading about early attempts to figure things out is interesting indeed. A very competitive, if small, field of ‘experts’, scrambling for notice, funding, and knowledge. Those early visualizations are delightful, but impressive in their honest efforts to create images with virtually no information, often working from a scrap of bone or a single tooth. What’s amazing is how well these folks did with so little to go on.

      150 years later, working with a comparative wealth of data, there is still wide disagreement on what’s what, and what these critters (birds, reptiles?) looked like.



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