Dinosaur bone fossils at the Dinosaur National Monument in Utah.

smithsonianmag.com

Fossils predate the written record by billions of years, but their impact on human history—and the way humans percieve the world around them—has been palpable for centuries. By offering a rare glimpse into worlds forgotten or unknown, fossils have long fascinated humans. Sometimes, fossils inspired mythology and folklore—in fourth century China, a historian mistook a fossilized dinosaur bone for a dragon bone. Other times, fossils gave scientists the physical evidence needed to piece together the natural history of life on Earth—in the late 1700s, fossil discoveries helped scientists understand the concept of extinction. Today, studying the fossil record remains as critical as ever. As the Earth’s climate continues to change, understanding how previous species adapted (or didn’t) to changes in the past gives scientists an indication about how we might respond to changes in the future.

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