Science, Now + Beyond

Paleontology has reached it’s Golden Age – thanks to Steven Spielberg

The study and discovery of dinosaur species has increased twofold since the release of Jurassic Park in 1993.

Every field of science has had a ‘Golden Age’ and for the study of dinosaurs, it has been going on for the past 25 years.

The field of paleontology is growing constantly and new theories and discoveries have led to a new wave of scientists and enthusiasts wanting to learn and research about the magnificent creatures that roamed the Earth 65 million years before humans did.

Many paleontologists will agree that this new found interest in their work was thanks to the 1993 film, Jurassic Park, directed by Steven Spielberg which follows the opening of a dinosaur-theme wildlife park, in which the main attractions are de-extinct dinosaurs. It was based on the 1990 novel by Michael Crichton of the same name, which also made a significant impact in the sci-fi world. The film is a staple in the lives of many people who grew up in the 1990s and 2000s and continues to make impacts with two sequels and recent reboots, all centered around dinosaurs and the science around them.

In fact, many people who grew up and were fascinated by the original 1993 movie and sequels ended up in the field of paleontology and are named the ‘Jurassic generation. It has contributed to more paleontologists working the field, more countries being exploited for their dinosaur remains and more species are being dug up and named.

As a scientific field, it doesn’t need the fancy technological equipment many other field sciences require which makes it relatively cheaper and this means it can kick start studies in other nations. Many fossils are being discovered in Africa and China and budding paleontologists are on the ground, studying and digging up the bones of new species every 10 days.

Technological advances have benefited paleontology allowing for the discovery that some dinosaurs are far more colorful than media portray them as. Paleocolour is still a new field of research but for these scientists, it is not just about uncovering what color the dinosaurs were, but rather help determine their behaviors too. That’s right – Tyrannosaurus Rex might just be the bright purple and green of Barney rather than the dreary reddish-brown we’ve become accustomed to. But this then asks the questions for more research to go on – if dinosaurs were brightly colored and not as dark skinned as we believe, camouflage wouldn’t have worked so how did they hunt?

The growth of paleontology has also contributed to another major discovery which also caused some upset when Jurassic World was released in 2015.

Some Dinosaurs had feathers – more specifically ‘therapods’ which were bipedal, meat-eating dinosaurs.

While the word ‘Dinosaur’ comes the Ancient Greek words ‘deinos’ (meaning terrible, potent or fearfully great) and ‘sauros’ (meaning lizard or reptile), recent studies and discoveries have unearthed that dinosaurs were far from being in the same taxonomy as something like a crocodile. In fact, they are more closely related to birds with feathers, the laying of eggs, similar joints and hollow bones and extremely efficient lungs.

One of the most popular dinosaur species (and my personal favorites) are the Velociraptors and no, they are not the 2-meter tall creatures you see Chris Pratt training in Jurassic World. In reality (and thanks to science), Velociraptors were the size of turkeys and were covered in feathers with hinged ankles and swivel-joined wrists and three toes – just like birds.

These bird-like similarities in therapods were public knowledge by the time Jurassic World graced the cinemas in 2015 – so why was it ignored? Paleontologists were not impressed but the movie’s creators were ready with a reply which was included in the movie’s storyline – most people know dinosaurs as scary, scaly and wild so they created the dinosaurs the public expected to see to add to the fear factor the Jurassic Park movies were known for.

Science and Spielberg – an unlikely pairing – have changed the way we see dinosaurs forever. In 1993, we believed they were these giant, murderous beasts with scales and sharp teeth but in reality, they were quite possibly smaller, less dangerous and feathered – the T-Rex shares common ancestry with the humble chicken rather than the ferocious crocodile.

But with all of these scientific advancements and discoveries, only one question can be asked – can there, one day, be a real-life Jurassic Park where we can learn about dinosaurs and their way of life without having to animate and computerize them?

The answer is…possibly, but after witnessing the troubles that occurred on Isla Nublar and Isla Sorna, it’s safe to say that this is one incident in which art shouldn’t imitate life.