After some time digging in various dig sites, Johnson makes their most important discovery completely by accident. He tosses some rocks down the hill that he’s digging in when Cope scrambles up, ordering Johnson to stop everything he was doing. Then, once Cope confirms his suspicions, he demands to know why Johnson doesn’t have his camera. It’s not exactly clear, but it seems like Cope told Johnson to help dig. But despite Cope’s contradictory orders, he still realizes that Johnson had discovered the bones of a giant dinosaur that had never been seen before.
Even though Cope only has the teeth, he still conjures a beautiful image of the beast that must have held those teeth:
For a moment the two men silently contemplated just how large such a dinosaur must have been–the jaw needed to hold rows of such large teeth, the thick skull needed to match such a massive jaw, the enormous neck the width of a stout oak to lift and move such a skull and jaw, the gigantic backbone commensurate to the neck, with each vertebra as big around as a wagon wheel, with four staggeringly huge and thick legs to support such a beast. Each tooth implied an enormity of every bone and every joint.
It’s interesting how Crichton manages to blend the limited scientific knowledge of the time (compared to now). I don’t claim to be an expert on paleontology and dinosaurs, so I’m not sure how much of the information is flavored by our modern knowledge. One thing that there’s a really interesting discussion on is the intersection of science and religion. Cope seems to have some doubt in his own religious convictions as he learns more about dinosaurs, extinction, and evolution. Similarly, he has a conversation with a devout Mormon man who vehemently denies evolution and extinction. His argument seems absurd to the modern reader, and that could be some of Crichton’s bias painting this character, but in the context of the book, it makes sense that someone would genuinely believe that. Charles Darwin was still alive during the year that this books takes place, and would live for about another decade.
I suspect that Cope’s violent reaction to the Mormon man’s denial of extinction and evolution might be some sort of compensation for his own crisis of belief. He has some doubt as to whether or not his scientific observations are compatible with his Quaker beliefs. And given that the whole concept of evolution was pretty new at the time, so a lot of people were having a lot of trouble wrapping their heads around it. Then again, it’s 2017 and some people still can’t wrap their head around it.