George Washington didn’t know that dinosaurs existed.

  • Washington with generals
Washington with generals
Photo credit: Keith Lance/ iStock

Did George Washington know about dinosaurs? Most likely, no. Today, the existence of dinosaurs may seem like an immutable fact, but our knowledge of these ancient creatures is a relatively modern development. In fact, the very concept of dinosaurs is so recent that many of the founders of the United States lived most if not all of their lives without knowing that dinos existed. English naturalist Robert Plot described the very first fossilized evidence of dinosaurs, what we now know to be the femur of a megalosaurus, in 1677. But with no concept of dinosaurs in the mid-17th century, Plot theorized that the bone must have belonged to some ancient forgotten race of giant humans. 

It’s likely that George Washington died in 1799 believing that such giant humans existed in the distant past. It wasn’t until the 1820s that geologists began to reexamine this theory and proposed that the mysterious bones belonged to an ancient reptile rather than a mammal. Even then, it took until 1842 for English paleontologist Richard Owen to offer up the word “dinosaur,” based on the Greek words for “terrible lizard,” to describe the ancient beasts (not entirely accurate, but close enough). This etymological creation arrived a full decade after Charles Carroll, the longest-surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, died at the age of 95. The story of the dinosaurs is long and ancient, but our knowledge of them certainly isn’t.  

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