Tech UPTechnology5 paleontological things that are not what you think

5 paleontological things that are not what you think

Paleontology is a science well known by the general public. Thanks to the fact that it is very fictional , movies, books, series and other cultural formats are known that show something related to paleontology. We can put Jurassic Park as the perfect example of a platform for disseminating a part of paleontology, specifically, the dinosaurs.

Although the vast majority of the concepts that are exposed are correct, if we consult with someone dedicated to the study of dinosaurs, they can tell us about many details that do not fit with the knowledge that we have. As the Anglo-Saxons say “the devil is in the details” and for this reason, there are many details such as size, or the presence of feathers, which sacrifice their rigor in favor of the show. Each one who values if correctly.

However, there are times when these small details are not so important and, if they are not detected in time, they can become the so-called alternative conceptions .

An alternative conception is a set of ideas integrated in the mind in such a way that they form true conceptual schemes, endowed with internal coherence.

They are more than mere mistakes or misunderstandings . For example, many people know that the Earth revolves around the Sun in an elliptical orbit and that the Earth occupies one of its foci. Even though this is a correct concept, many people think that the eccentricity of the ellipse is much greater than it really is and that the Earth, therefore, during translation, has two positions that bring it very close to the Sun and two others more distant positions. The alternative conception is constructed when, using this misconception, people believe that the seasons are a consequence of this proximity or distance from the Sun, and are able to develop an argument to support it. It goes without saying that the seasons of the year are the result of the tilt of the axis of rotation and that the eccentricity of the Earth’s orbit is practically negligible, if scaled.

This is a very extreme case, but it has its more naïve equivalent among children, who are great followers of paleontology and often see the beginnings of these alternative conceptions. Next, we are going to tell you a few.

5 Things You Might Believe But Aren’t

  • Pterosaurs were flying dinosaurs.

    Many times when we are talking about dinosaurs we find that some people have the idea that only dinosaurs lived during the Mesozoic. And therefore, the flying reptiles and the marine reptiles that lived with the dinosaurs were also dinosaurs, when in reality, many reptiles lived alongside the dinosaurs, some were aquatic, the ichthyosaurs, and others were flying, the pterosaurs.

  • The meteorite that destroyed the dinosaurs fell right on top of all of them and killed them all at once. Also, only the dinosaurs became extinct.

    When talking about the extinction of the dinosaurs, it is explained as the main theory that a meteorite fell on Earth and killed the dinosaurs. It is common to meet children who think that the meteorite fell in the only area that was inhabited by dinosaurs and that they were all gathered in the same place. In addition, they think that the dinosaurs were crushed to death because the meteorite fell on them.

    These alternative conceptions are due to the language used, we speak of “The meteorite that killed the dinosaurs”, and by the illustrations that accompany the explanations, in which only dinosaurs are observed looking at how a meteorite is directed at them directly.

  • Archaeologists study ancient cultures and dinosaurs.

    It is a very common mistake to confuse the term paleontology and archaeology. People tend to conflate the two concepts, or even only know the term archaeology. They are two disciplines as easy to confuse as to differentiate. Archeology is responsible for studying everything related to the human being before there was any written text. They study, therefore, objects, cities, art. That is why it is a humanistic discipline. Paleontology studies the natural environment, beyond human beings and their ancestors. We study fossils, which are the remains of organisms from the past, from any era. We are therefore scientists. The error comes from the fact that both obtain the data to carry out their studies in the same way, digging in deposits.

  • Mammals appeared long after the dinosaurs.

    The general idea is that dinosaurs appeared many millions of years ago and mammals did not appear that long ago and that they did not coexist in time. However, fossils teach us that already in the age of the dinosaurs there were already small mammals, and that when the non-avian dinosaurs became extinct, the mammals took advantage of the enormous ecological niche they left behind and spread and developed enormously until today.

  • Going extinct is the same as dying.

    It is very common to confuse the extinction of a species as an event that occurred rapidly and not as an event on a geological time scale. Geological time has a million years as a unit, that is, everything is measured in millions of years and that the least to which it is usually reduced is this one. It is like the millimeter, it can be reduced to smaller units, but it is not the most widespread in general. For this reason, an extinction is an event that lasts for many years and in reality, not all the individuals of a species die at the same time. Many times, even in the event that a species is succeeded by another very similar one, it is very difficult to know when one became extinct and the second appeared. In this case we speak of “species lineages” and not of species compartmentalized in time.


Carrascos Alís, 2005. The problem of alternative conceptions today (part II). The change of alternative conceptions. Eureka Magazine on Teaching and Dissemination of Sciences. ISSN 1697-011X

Wenning. 2008. Dealing more effectively with alternative conceptions in science

Carl J. Wenning J. Phys. Tchr. Educ. Online, 5(1).



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