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OU on the BBC: Fossil Detectives - West and Wales

Updated Tuesday 5th August 2008

The team from the BBC/OU series Fossil Detectives discover some of the secrets that can be found in the West of England and Wales

Mike Bassett and Hermione Cockburn at Caerphilly Castle Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team

Fossils can tell us a lot about ourselves, not just our physical past, but also how we relate to fossils, ancient creatures and lost worlds. On the Northwest Coast at Formby, Hermione has come to see some beautiful footprints preserved in the sticky sand. But these aren’t the tracks of some mysterious beast; they are clearly the tracks of modern humans. Dating up to 5000 years ago, these footprints give a tantalising glimpse of the behaviour of our direct ancestors.

Another fossil found in the West has provided a different insight into our prehistoric lives. The Red Lady of Paviland is part of a human skeleton found in caves on the South Coast of Wales. Now recognised to be the evidence of the earliest formal burial in Western Europe, scientists have been able to discern a great deal from these scant remains, including a terrible mistake made when first naming the find.

On the coast, just near Cardiff, you can find the oldest preserved dinosaur footprints anywhere in the country. Dinosaur expert, and regular Fossil Detective, Phil Manning is here to explain what extraordinary insights such footprints can provide about the lives of dinosaurs.

Combining intricate details of dinosaur footprints, with characteristics of their fossilised bones, Phil and his team are able to use powerful computer programmes to breath life into these ancient creatures, creating running, jumping and hunting dinosaurs. Phil demonstrates the technique with the most iconic of all dinosaurs Tyrannosaurus rex.

Fossil Detectives also reveals what a massive industrial engine factory has to do with some incredibly delicate fossils; discovers how Shropshire was once covered with the first ever tropical reefs, 400 million years ago; and explores the ancient folklore of fossils; revealing which fossil was once thought to be food for the dead.

Take it further

Explore the Geology Toolkit

Watch the My Favourite Fossil videos


Study Fossils and the history of life with the Open University

Sample Reading the rocks and ecology - free learning from OpenLearn

First broadcast: Thursday 21 Aug 2008 on BBC FOUR


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