The world's largest dinosaur? The wreck of Christopher Columbus? Nothing to see here...

The thrill of these discoveries is more mental than visual


Brought to light this month, in a blink-worthy archaeological one-two, were the bones of a new dinosaur and the body of an old ship. The dinosaur – which doesn’t yet have a name – belongs to the titanosaur family, and would have trundled around Patagonia some 90 million years ago. In a word, it is big, perhaps the biggest ever: the girth of a thigh-bone suggests a full height of around 40m.

The ship, found off the coast of Haiti, is apparently the Santa Maria, the vessel that in 1492 brought Christopher Columbus and his men to what they believed was the edge of Asia. Neither discovery – reddish bones or barnacled hull – is much to look at from the available photographs, though when the skeleton is hung together, and the boat dredged up from the ocean floor, people will no doubt gee themselves up to pay a visit.

I will go, but this is how I plan to avoid heading to the museum café after half an hour with my jaw yet to drop. The key thing to admit is that, since you’ve seen Jurassic Park, and one or two dilapidated boats, the purpose of any visit is not to treat the eyes. A bone is a bone is a bone, and your imagination may lack the kind of horse-power needed to turn a few planks of the Santa Maria into a seaworthy craft. Instead, what you are there for is simply to stand as close as possible to an object that, in its way, shattered the snow-globe of European thought.

Columbus’s journey split the World into two portions, ‘New’ and ‘Old’, at least to Western eyes. But it took another 300 years for the consensus to develop that another, much older world had existed, one ruled by reptilian beasts so tall they could look down on a church steeple.

When the femur of a T-Rex like Megalosaurus was unearthed – in England – in 1676, an Oxford University professor said it must belong to a gigantic man. Structures of contemporary thought could not easily bend to the belief that another continent existed, or entirely different orders of nature. Columbus steadfastly called his ‘discovered’ lands India. Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clarke into the Northwest in the hope that they would discover a living mastodon – then known from its remains as an incognitum. Despite a keen interest in unexplained bones, he was adamant that that nature could not let any beast die out. Only 60 years later would British scientist Richard Owen stake the claim that “terrible lizards” had lived – and expired – long ago.

The underwater remains of what is thought to be Columbus’s flagship The underwater remains of what is thought to be Columbus’s flagship (Brandon Clifford)














The mental recalibration asked of humankind by the discovery of a new species of dinosaur is minimal, and we always knew the Santa Maria once sailed the oceans blue. But a visit to see either one prods us to recall a time when man was absolutely sure the world existed in a certain way, and was absolutely wrong about it. The joy is in having the rug pulled away – and knowing it could happen again.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Into the blue: Alex Salmond resigned as First Minister and SNP leader in Edinburgh on Friday  

Scottish referendum gives hope for the dawn of a new, cleaner politics

Kenneth Roy
A supporter of the Kurdistan Workers' Association holds a placard during a demonstration against Islamic State (IS) in front The Hague  

Nothing will stop Isis except a Syrian truce

Patrick Cockburn
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam