Today I found a site that overviews the rise of paleontology in America and Europe and now I'm all excited and discombobulated.
Colonial Americans understood neither the concept of geological time nor the actual process by which fossils were created. Their society was one that still looked largely to scripture for explanations of much of the surrounding natural world. For instance, the fossil fish and seashells found at quarries and construction excavations in the 1700s were widely believed to be residue from the great flood survived by Noah.
In 1841, Dr. Richard Owen, a leading British authority on anatomy, published a report concluding that the individual bones [found up until that time] were from animals that had all been members of a group of large reptiles that had completely died out in some past age. Because of their apparent size, as well as their fangs and claws, Owen called them by a combination of the Greek words for "terrible lizards" -- dino saurs.
The very idea -- that previously unknown species of monstrously large reptiles could have existed outside of the events documented in the Bible -- was a highly controversial one. It also exerted a deliciously exotic pull on the imaginations of nineteenth-century scientists and laymen alike.
I should think it would. And every time I read something like this I'm appalled to realize just how narrow and shaky the platform of science and reasoning is. Barely a hundred years ago we were still living in the dark ages. Most of the world still does. Hell, most of humanity still does. What passes for logic these days is not, by and large, a structured method of thought.
Of course now I'm brainstorming ways of letting Sabine work a lecture about dinosaurs into casual conversation and wondering if Trace will run across any dinosaur bones while he's out in the desert and musing over whether dead monsters buried in the earth could serve as a metaphor for anything else--or at least provide a horror sequence. The temptation with a character like Miss Fairweather is to give her a miraculous insight into all kinds of things we understand now--germ theory, for instance, which was in its infancy--antibiotics, anesthetics, stuff like that. But I must restrain myself, or I'll come off sounding like Clan of the Cave Bear chick, with cavegirl Ayla feeding digitalis to the mongoloid kid with the heart murmur.
At the same time, part of my interest in creating Miss Fairweather was to explore the collision of science and faith, which I have not done much of to this point because the science keeps taking a back seat to the occult overtones. Maybe something useful will come out of this new bit of knowledge.