How Two Fighting Dinosaurs Sparked A 'Renaissance' In 1971

By | March 4, 2019

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Dinosaurs do battle in a scene from the scientifically-inaccurate film 'One Million Years B.C.', 1966. Source: (Photo by 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images)

Humans' understanding of dinosaurs in the mid 20th century was flawed -- but then, in 1971, we found the "Fighting Dinosaurs," and the "Dinosaur Renaissance" began gaining greater acceptance. Our assumptions about dinosaurs -- that they were essentially slow and stupid -- were suddenly, graphically, shown to be false.

Paleontologists from Poland and Mongolia working in the Gobi Desert unearthed what would turn out to be a pivotal discovery in 1971: the skeletal remains of two different dinosaurs locked in mortal combat. The discovery became known as the Fighting Dinosaurs and offered proof of some of the new theories that were emerging during the so-called Dinosaur Renaissance of the 1960s and 1970s. It was during this time that scientists were learning that dinosaurs were not the simple, dim-witted, sluggish, cold-blooded creatures that were too stupid to win Darwin’s survival of the fittest game, but were, in fact, complex, speedy, intelligent, and warm-blooded. Still, it took a few decades before the public opinion shifted on the prehistoric beasts, paving the way for the more-realistic depiction of dinosaurs in The Land Before Time and Jurassic Park

Mad, Angry Dinosaurs?

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The first dinosaur was unearthed in 1824. Source: (

Prior to the Dinosaur Renaissance, much of what researched viewed as accepted facts about dinosaurs were based on theories and discoveries from 100 to 150 years before. In schools, children were not taught much about dinosaurs and what was being taught was outdated erroneous information. The first scientific discovery of a dinosaur was in 1824 and shortly afterward, the term Dinosaur, meaning "terrible lizard," was coined. In this case, however, the word “terrible” was meant to represent the enormous size of the newly-discovered beasts, not the ferociousness of them. When Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was published in 1859, scientists applied the concept to the demise of the dinosaurs and pointed out that the large lizards were probably slow, clumsy, dumb, and ill-equipped to survive, explaining why they went extinct while mammals flourished. Most experts of the time agreed that, despite the name “terrible,” dinosaurs were not effective hunters due to their size. The 1971 discovery of a plant-eating dinosaur and a meat-eating dinosaur battling each other showed that dinosaurs could be fierce, aggressive creatures.