Heritage Lottery Provides Funds to Resurrect Thecodontosaurus
A grant of £295,000 to scientists at Bristol University will help them prepare the fossilised remains of one of the earliest known dinosaurs – Thecodontosaurus. The grant, provided by Heritage Lottery Funding will permit the scientists and researchers to properly prepare and remove the fossil bones of this 2 metre long dinosaur from the surrounding rock matrix, it is hoped that when the laboratory work has been completed a special display can be developed for the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.
Thecodontosaurus (Thecodontosaurus antiquus), is an early dinosaur in every sense of the word. It was a primitive sauropodomorph, the first group of dinosaur herbivores known in the fossil record. It also has the distinction of being only the fourth dinosaur to be formerly named and described. Named by the British scientists Riley and Stutchbury in 1836, Thecodontosaurus was not originally classed as a dinosaur by Sir Richard Owen when he named the Dinosauria. This little animal was thought too small to be classed in the same group as the giant Megalosaurus, the armoured Hylaeosaurus and the huge Iguanodon. Although, Thecodontosaurus, like most early dinosaurs was small compared to later types, the size estimates of the first members of Dinosauria were inaccurate and this may have clouded Sir Richard Owen’s judgement somewhat. Thecodontosaurus had to wait until 1870, when after a review by Thomas Huxley, it was finally acknowledged to be a member of the Dinosauria.
The first fossils of Thecodontosaurus were found in 1834, at quarry sites surrounding the English city of Bristol. Hence this little dinosaurs nickname, it is often referred to as “Bristol’s Dinosaur”. Unfortunately, much of this early material was destroyed when the Bristol City Museum was bombed during WWII. Fossils found during the 1970s will be at the heart of this study, officially called the “Bristol Dinosaur Project”.
Now thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund grant, many of the remaining fossils of this dinosaur are going to be prepared and assembled for display.
Pictures show the block of stone that contains the fossilised bones of this little dinosaur, the drawing in the background is an artist’s impression of Thecodontosaurus.
Professor Mike Benton, from the University of Bristol, one of the world’s leading experts on dinosaurs, commented:
“This award from Heritage Lottery Fund will mean that the preparation laboratory can be expanded and a specialist technician employed to oversee the removal of bones from the rock. “
It is expected that the work will last three years and result in the assembled skeleton going on display in the city.
Professor Benton went on to add:
“It will also mean more volunteers can be recruited and trained in the extraction process and there will be opportunities for young people from local schools to learn skills in palaeontology and conservation.”
The fossil record of the primitive sauropodomorphs is extremely poor, even when compared to other, later types of dinosaur herbivore. It is hoped that the new study will help to provide more information on this particular genus of dinosaur. The matrix (rock surrounding the fossil bones), will also help scientists to piece together a puzzle surrounding the type of environment in which this little dinosaur lived approximately 215 million years ago. An earlier study of microfossils by Bristol University aided by researchers at Southampton University, indicated that this dinosaur lived in an environment that consisted of small tropical islands surrounded by a shallow sea. Animals that live on islands tend to develop into smaller forms, due to the lack of resources and this may help explain why Thecodontosaurus was relatively small compared to other sauropodomorphs around at the time such as Sellosaurus.
To read an earlier article on the research into the habitat of early European sauropodomorphs: Thecodontosaurus, new study into Bristol’s Dinosaur.
The outlines of these ancient tropical islands can still be seen today in the shape and geology of the land – Bristol’s Downs was one such island.
The Thecodontosaurus fossils also posed a bit of a mystery when they were first discovered. The remains were found in Upper Triassic aged rocks that had infilled much earlier Carboniferous limestone formations. It is thought that over time the porous limestones became riddled with caves and chasms which may have provided shelter for dinosaurs. As underground caverns collapsed swallow holes would have been formed and vegetation would have quickly grown up around such holes, encouraged by the moist air rising from the caves below. Herbivorous dinosaurs such as Thecodontosaurus would have been attracted to such areas and some may have fallen into the holes and perished. The rubble and bones on the cave floor eventually became more compacted and this explains why Triassic dinosaurs are found entombed in Triassic rocks surrounded by much earlier Carboniferous limestone.
Nerys Watts, head of Heritage Lottery Funding in the South West of England said:
“The remains of the Bristol Dinosaur are of international scientific and heritage importance, offering a chance for us to further understand what our world was like 200 million years ago. Alongside the scientific research, this project will enable local people to learn about one of the city’s most important, but least well known, residents.”