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Dracorex Hogwartsia, 10 Years Later

By Mookie Harris, Dinosphere Lead Interpreter

I love Dracorex hogwartsia! Why? Because it represents one of the most important and fundamental truths dinosaur lovers can ever learn—We don’t know everything about dinosaurs, and we never will.

All science starts with us not knowing something. Whether it’s why things fall down or what makes thunder happen or what’s on the other side of a black hole, we start by wondering. From there, we observe, research, hypothesize, analyze, draw a conclusion, and report our results. That’s the basic scientific method. We rarely prove a thing absolutely. That’s especially true in paleontology where we’re trying to learn anything we can about animals that have been extinct for millions of years, from a relatively small number of fossils they left behind.

New discoveries help us learn more about dinosaurs over time. Before I get to Dracorex, let’s talk about a much more familiar dinosaur, the Tyrannosaurus rex. Even though T. rex is the most famous dinosaur, we have a fairly small number (60 or so) of T. rex skeletons to study, and most of those are under 25% complete. But ever since the first T. rex bones were discovered in 1892, paleontologists have shared their findings, and all of that has led to our current understanding of what a living, breathing, snorting, chomping T. rex was like.

We've had nearly 125 years to learn about T. rex, while Dracorex has only had 10! What if all we knew of a dinosaur came from only one skull and a few neckbones? That’s what we know of Dracorex. Luckily, there are a few other dinosaurs that look a bit like Dracorex. Like the way a dog looks like a wolf. Here’s the thing, though—we know for sure that a dog and a wolf are different animals. It’s much harder, sometimes, for paleontologists to decide whether two fossil specimens are from two different animals or two of the same animal. And if they’re the same animal, do the bones represent different ages or different sexes or mutations?

Paleontologists often disagree over taxonomy (the naming and classifying of species). Dr. Bob Bakker, who cowrote the published description of Dracorex hogwartsia, thinks Dracorex is its own separate genus and many paleontologists, including our own Victor Porter, agree. Dr. Jack Horner and others think it’s a juvenile Pachycephalosaurus. Still other paleontologists have even more opinions. All of these differing ideas and hypotheses fuel science!

And that brings us to the future. The kids that come visit Dracorex today at The Children’s Museum might become the paleontologists who discover more fossil clues tomorrow. Right now, we’re at the same place we were at in 1892 with only two T. rex backbones. Ten years from now, we will have found more fossils that will give us more clues. We’ll have better scanning technology, better ideas about how dinosaurs lived and died, and best of all, we’ll discover more things we don’t know about dinosaurs!

Dig into Dracorex's past and relive his discovery—which happened right here at The Children's Museum—in the blog post Discovering Dracorex—A Look Back, 10 Years Later, from Lead Paleontologist Dallas Evans.

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Categories: Dino Digs, Exhibits, Science
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