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Fact Check-Dinosaurs existed and were documented before the term ‘dinosauria’ was coined in the early 1840s

Dinosaurs existed long before the word ‘dinosauria’ was coined by paleontologist Sir Richard Owen in the 19th century, paleontology experts and a spokesperson for Britain’s Royal Society told Reuters, rejecting a claim to the contrary spreading online.

One video, seen on Facebook (here), shows an unidentified narrator claiming that dinosaurs did not really exist.

“They never existed. They were invented by the Royal Society in 1841,” the individual says, referring to the academic organisation which is Britain’s national academy of sciences.

He adds that all dinosaur bones “are replicas made by chicken bones from China” and that people cannot use them due to radiation from “the asteroid 66 million years ago”. The narrator also says engineers have proven that dinosaur bodies as we know them are not realistic as “all the guts would fall out”.

Other examples of the video can be found on Facebook (here, here and here) and Twitter (here).

However, three experts and a spokesperson for the Royal Society told Reuters separately that these claims are false. They say Sir Richard Owen first used the term ‘Dinosauria’ in the early 1840s but that dinosaurs and their fossils existed and were documented long before.

Keith Moore, head of library and information services at the Royal Society (here), told Reuters Sir Richard first used the word – meaning “terrible lizard” or “terrible reptile” – in a speech to the British Association in 1841, which was published in 1842 (here). Dr Hans Sues, senior scientist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (here), said: "Owen first used 'Dinosauria' in his 1842 report."

Professor Steve Brusatte, vertebrate palaeontologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Edinburgh (here), told Reuters many fossils were found before the 1840s “including Megalosaurus, found and named in the 1820s (bit.ly/3yEbVKy or pdf link: here), and Robert Plot's dinosaur bone found in the 1670s (here) – not to mention the many encounters between non-British people and dinosaur bones in North America, Asia, etc. going back thousands of years”.

“They were not called dinosaurs” before the 1840s, he added, “but they obviously existed; the same way a big slab of land in North America existed long before it was first called the United States of America in 1776.”

Moore cited similar pre-1840s findings, as did Darrin Pagnac, associate professor at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (here), and Dr Sues.

Dr Sues said there are now more than 1,000 known species of dinosaur that have been identified through the discovery of fossils.

“Many are known from rocks dating between about 230 and 66 million years,” he said, noting that some are “slightly radioactive” but that this “has nothing to do with the asteroid impact 66 million years ago”.

Pagnac said that fossils from the end of the Cretaceous period, “when the asteroid hit the Earth, are not, themselves, radioactive” (bit.ly/3JbPkKs).

“The claim that their guts would have fallen out is also unfounded,” Dr Sues added. “They had abdominal musculature, and many dinosaurs also had a set of bones embedded in that musculature, creating a firm body wall.”

Pagnac told Reuters that although some large dinosaurs “do push the boundaries of biomechanics… everything about these animals was adapted to carry the immense weight”.

“Their limbs were like columns; their vertebrae had huge air sacs in them to lighten the load, and they had elongated tendons running from the base of their skulls down to their hips to support the long necks that helped them constantly reach the food they needed to sustain their immense bodies.” (here)

Moore said some dinosaur fossils have even been found with the guts and their contents intact, revealing their last meal (here).

Pagnac added that in his 20 years of searching for fossils, none that he “discovered, excavated, or published on were derived from China, and they certainly were not chicken bones. I’ve spent countless hours and expended vast amounts of energy finding and excavating dinosaur bones that did not come from China, but were extracted painstakingly from rocks the consistency and hardness of cement.”

VERDICT

False. Dinosaurs existed and were documented long before they were given a universal name in the early 1840s, paleontologists and Britain’s Royal Society say.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here.

Editor’s note: Updated to include additional comment from Dr Hans Sues

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