Archaeologists (Still) Don’t Dig Dinosaurs

30 Apr

Several years ago I wrote a brief essay for the Society for American Archaeology’s Archaeology for the Public website asking “Do Archaeologists Dig Dinosaur Bones?”  The short answer is “No” and the reason is that dinosaurs and humans (the subject of anthropology) never coexisted.

I was reminded of this recently when I saw an advertisement for Take Your Child to Work Day.  The ad included a cartoon of a caveman father and son, wearing the usual leopard skin outfits and carrying spears, running away from a gigantic dinosaur.  The child shouts “I should have gone gathering with mom!”  The irony is, of course, if I took my kids to work, they’d probably hear me give my quarterly explanation of geological time and why the dinosaur-chasing-caveman scenario is impossible.

Don’t get me wrong, I love dinosaurs.  Like a 5-year-old kid, I am wowed by their fantastic awesomeness.  But I don’t study them professionally.  I also don’t teach about them in archaeology classes…except to briefly describe why I don’t teach about them.

Long story short, here are some important dates in the history of our Universe:

  • The Big Bang – about 13 billion years ago
  • The formation of the Earth – about 4.5 billion years ago
  • First single-celled organisms on Earth – about 3.5 billion years ago
  • Extinction of the dinosaurs – about 65 million years ago
  • Earliest members of our genus (Homo habilis) – about 2.5 million years ago

In other words, only about 2.5 million years separate 21st Century humans from Homo habilis.  This extinct hominid species is separated from the age of the dinosaurs by about 62.5 million years.  Even if you could build a time machine and go back and shake Homo habilis’ hand, you’d still be more than 60 million years away from the dinosaurs!

The term “prehistoric” covers a vast period of time.  Even though most of us love learning about dinosaurs, archaeologists will continue to focus on the small sliver of time called human prehistory.

2 Responses to “Archaeologists (Still) Don’t Dig Dinosaurs”


  1. Nobody Ever Had a Pet Dinosaur « Anthropology Now - 12/12/2012

    […] you read my April 30th post “Archaeologists (Still) Don’t Dig Dinosaurs,” you already know that the conflation of archaeology and paleontology – and the popular […]

  2. No, volcanoes didn’t kill off the dinosaurs - 04/27/2016

    […] are Birds Dinosaurs? – Life between extinctions: cracking open the Cretaceous period – Archaeologists (Still) Don’t Dig Dinosaurs – The orders of modern placental mammals originated after the extinction of the dinosaurs […]

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