As Bell explains, the modern science of paleontology didn't start ramping up until the mid-1800s. But it turns out that we humans were into dinosaurs before that. Historical research from around the globe suggests that older civilizations were aware of dinosaurs through the fossil record.
“There's archaeological evidence that older cultures recognized that these bones were something special,” Bell says.
In one recent study, archaeologists found evidence of a Native American dwelling where the entire abode was built up and around a fossil of a giant dinosaur footprint.
As to the core question in the Jurassic Park franchise — Will we ever be able to really resurrect dinosaurs? — Bell is reluctantly pessimistic.
“The problem with dinosaur DNA is how old it is,” Bell says. “We're talking a minimum of 66 million years.”
Like all organic material, DNA decays. And that's the biggest impediment to developing real Jurassic Park technologies, Bell says. For modern genetic techniques to even have a shot at dinosaur DNA, we would need to retrieve and reassemble viable genetic code.
“The best we've done in terms of de-extinction is with the gastric-brooding frog,” he remarks, referring to an Australian animal that went extinct in the 1980s. In 2013, scientists were able to successfully clone embryos from tissue samples in an experiment called the Lazarus Project. While technically a success, the experiment didn't bode well for future cloning projects.
“The embryos lasted a few days, then they died,” Bell notes. “That's our greatest success story.”
Fans of the original Jurassic Park will remember that the dinosaur blood was preserved over the millions of years by mosquitoes encased in amber. Is that a possibility?
“Even in amber, it still decays,” Bell says. “Sixty-six million years is an insane amount of time.”
Tune in for this week's episode for more details on fossil excavation, genetic sequencing and some curious conjecture on the matter of brachiosaurus eggs.