The dinosaur—as image and concept—is a ubiquitous presence in modern culture. As noted by numerous scholars including W. J. T. Mitchell, it has garnered numerous connotations and meanings over the course of more than two centuries of paleontological exploration and the translation of scientific knowledge into public discourse. In the nineteenth century, as cultural understanding of dinosaurs and the primordial world first began to develop out of nascent scientific inquiry, a process or pattern of convergence between the ancient, mythic figure of the dragon and the new and often controversial concept of prehistoric animals helped to shape the public’s conception and acceptance of dinosaurs and their nature. This process, which was accomplished primarily through dinosaur imagery, can be traced historically. Such an investigation reveals that factors including taxonomic manipulation and the power of visual illustration brought the dragon and the dinosaur to a point of cultural convergence. Beginning with the first large-scale replicas of dinosaurs, created for the rebuilt Crystal Palace complex at Sydenham, England under the direction of the noted naturalist Richard Owen, the concept of the dragon was deliberately co-opted into both the literature and the imagery of paleontology. Our twenty-first-century understanding of the dinosaurs that routinely populate our visual and other media is highly informed by this process, which is in itself an important aspect of the history of the prehistoric beast in western culture.


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pp. 47-70
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