In 1842, English scientist Sir Richard Owen coined the term "dinosaur" to describe a group of ancient reptiles that inhabited the Earth from 230 to 65 million years ago. The discovery of the first dinosaur bones and the knowledge they reveal about the world these creatures lived in has captured the public's interest for nearly 200 years.
In 1858, miners discovered strange fossil bones and teeth in the iron-bearing clays near the Muirkirk iron furnace. Maryland State Geologist Phillip Thomas Tyson brought the bones to a meeting of the Maryland Academy of Sciences, where they were recognized as dinosaur teeth! Dentist and Academy member Christopher Johnston named the dinosaur Astrodon for the starburst pattern in the cross section of its teeth. The species name johnstoni was later added to reflect Johnston's contribution to its identification. The fossil dinosaur from Muirkirk became known as Astrodon johnstoni.
During the winter of 1887-88, more dinosaur bones were collected at iron mines in Maryland by paleontologists under the direction of Professor O.C. Marsh of Yale University. Marsh named these remains Pleurocoelus, and identified two different species. What he believed to be a small 12 foot long dinosaur, scientists now recognize as young specimens of a large, long-necked sauropod. Because Astrodon is so fragmentary scientists are not certain whether is the same animal as Pleurocoelus.
Fossils-Important Clues to the Past
Dinosaur bones and teeth, and other fossils enhance our knowledge about prehistoric life and help to explain how plants and animals evolve over time. For example, fossilized impressions of dinosaur footprints indicate that some dinosaurs may have traveled in herds. Similarly, fossil evidence of dinosaur burrows and nests can teach us how dinosaurs lived and raised their young,. Fossils of leaves and trees help shape our understanding about the ancient environment in which these reptiles lived.
Dinosaur fossils are important clues to the past. They should be protected and preserved so that we can continue to discover and learn from them. If you are interested in getting more information about dinosaur bones and fossils at Dinosaur Park, please contact The Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission's Ranger Program 301-627-7755.