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Discovery Magazine 3/1/1990

How Do We Know About Dinosaurs?

by  Trevor Major, M.Sc., M.A.

Imagine you are a detective sent to track down a criminal. You might find a piece of clothing, or a footprint. These clues might help you identify the criminal. The clothing may tell you what he is wearing, and the footprint may tell you how big he is, and what sort of shoe he is wearing.

Like detectives, scientists must look for clues when they want to find out something about creatures that lived in the past. These clues, called fossils, are the remains of dead plants and animals preserved in the rocks of the Earth.

Most dinosaur fossils come in the form of bones, teeth, and other hard parts of the body. If scientists find enough fossils belonging to one dinosaur, they can get a good idea of its shape and size.  Sometimes, just one dinosaur bone can give us a lot of information. If you found a fossil skull with two long horns, one short horn on its nose, and a solid bony collar, what sort of dinosaur would it be?

There are other sorts of dinosaur remains. For example, fossil dinosaur eggs and nests can sometimes tell us how these animals cared for their young. People have also found pieces of dinosaur skin, but this is very rare. Although you will see pictures of dinosaurs in many colors, ancient dinosaur skins have not kept their true colors. We can only guess what colors they really were.

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