Perception of Dinosaurs (C/N)

Since they were first officially recognised and identified by the scientific community in the nineteenth century, dinosaurs have become an iconic part of popular culture, appearing in a huge variety of books, films, video games and exhibitions. The public perception of dinosaurs is also constantly evolving as a result of media coverage of recent discoveries, whether it be the revelation that dromaeosaurids had feathers or if Tyrannosaurus was a hunter or scavenger. However, in some respects the non-scientific ‘characterisation’ of dinosaurs is still deeply rooted with attributes that can be found in older portrayals-as opposed to the lithe, bird-like creatures that they have been proven to have often been in reality, they are frequently stereotyped as large, unintelligent beasts destined for extinction.

In the early decades of the nineteenth century, when scientists first began to study the colossal bones of ‘human giants’ found across the globe, many biologists refused to believe that dinosaurs were anything but large varieties of contemporary animals, as religious beliefs at the time contradicted the then-undeveloped theories of evolution and natural selection. However, gradually over the years, when the scientific community began to accept the validity of extinction and evolution, dinosaurs were starting to be seen as long-dead creatures, the likes of which had vanished from the face of the earth millions of years ago. When dinosaurs were first identified as such by paleontologists in the Victorian era, anatomists such as Richard Owen recognized how the creatures appeared to combine biological traits found in both reptiles and birds. As a result, many scientists who were at the forefront of early paleontology believed that dinosaurs were active, upright animals. However, towards the end of the nineteenth century, as larger dinosaurs such as the sauropods came into the spotlight, both the public and scientific viewpoint shifted-no longer was Megalosaurus a swift and powerful predator, but a sluggish, unwieldy creature. This ‘public image’ of sorts lasted well into the twentieth century, and it was only around the time of the late 1960s-70s, when fast-moving, seemingly intelligent dinosaurs such as Deinonychus were discovered, that paleontologists started to revert back to the older ideologies found in Richard Owen’s era. However, inevitably, public attitudes towards dinosaurs are slower to move with new discoveries, and because of this, many non-scientific observers’ viewpoints were still very much stuck in outdated theories and ideologies.

While he was genetically engineering the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, Dr. Henry Wu was particularly conscious of how consistent the recreated animals were with the public’s then-current perception of dinosaurs. He was especially concerned with how visitors to the park would react to the speed and agility of InGen’s dinosaurs-he firmly believed that they were much to fast for public display and therefore was determined to replace the park’s stock of animals with those of the ‘Version 4.4’ batch, which he had planned to be slower and more docile.

Sources: Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton, pages 120-24 (Fifth reprint)