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

The thrill of these discoveries is more mental than visual

Share

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

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Syrian refugee 'Nora' with her two month-old daughter. She was one of the first Syrians to come to the UK when the Government agreed to resettle 100 people from the country  

Open letter to David Cameron on Syrian refugees: 'Several hundred people' isn't good enough

Independent Voices
Amjad Bashir said Ukip had become a 'party of ruthless self-interest'  

Could Ukip turncoat Amjad Bashir be the Churchill of his day?

Matthew Norman
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us