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The Strange Story of ‘Scrotum Humanum,’ the First Dinosaur Ever Discovered

Today, we know it as the megalosaurus, but back when it was first uncovered, it mostly looked like a giant ballsack

The first discovery of a dinosaur fossil was, I assume, a fascinating occasion for those involved. They had no real reference to identify precisely what it was they were looking at: It’s not like they pulled out a fat chunk of bone and knew immediately that massive fucking birds had once been prowling the earth. Instead, they looked upon the bone they discovered and thought, “Damn, this looks exactly like a big set of testicles.” So, that’s what they called it — the very first dinosaur ever given a name was called “Scrotum humanum.” 

What looked exactly like balls was actually a femur bone fragment, found in a limestone quarry in Oxfordshire, England, in 1676. Nearly 100 years later, physician Richard Brookes examined the fragment and decided to give it the fancy Latin name for human testicles. Can you blame him? I’d absolutely do the same.

Anyhoo, those balls were actually the femur of what we now know of as the megalosaurus, a large, meat-eating theropod dinosaur of the mid-Jurassic period. Whatever, fine, but let’s not act like megalosaurus is an inherently better or more logical name. In ancient Greek, it translates to giant (mega) lizard (sauros). Considering dinosaurs only looked like reptiles, this name is about as accurate as Scrotum humanum — it’s what it appears to be, but not what it actually is. Technically, owls and other three-toed birds are closer relatives to the megalosaurus than the lizard. 

While I think the argument for once again giving megalosaurus its original name of Scrotum humanum is positively airtight, paleontologists over the last few decades have apparently been prudes. The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature originally adhered to the name Scrotum humanum as it was given before the name megalosaurus, but after 1970, determined that it was a “forgotten name” that no longer needed to be considered valid. In 1993, Scrotum humanum was formally suppressed entirely. Boooooooooooooo. 

I suppose it doesn’t make much sense to call this dinosaur after human testicles, considering we ultimately have no relation to it. We can’t even really link our own existence to dinosaurs at all, except that our materials all emerged from the same primordial soup. Still, let’s be honest — that bone fragment looks like balls. Why not call it as Brookes saw it?