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The Bristol Dinosaur

Updated Tuesday, 24th August 2004

Palaeobiology - the significance of the Bristol dinosaur

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Britain’s oldest dinosaur

The Bristol dinosaur is one of the most important in the world. Living some 220 million years ago in the Triassic Period, Thecodontosaurus or ‘Theco’ as it is nicknamed, is one of the oldest dinosaurs. It is closely related to an ancestor of the familiar giant, long-necked sauropod dinosaurs. ‘Theco’ is therefore vitally important for understanding how these dinosaurs originated and evolved. Herds of the Bristol dinosaur were once wandering around Britain. At one site many of these kangaroo-sized animals were washed with mud and stones into underground caves, leaving a jumble of broken bones that would eventually fossilise. For palaeontologists to make sense of this jumble of bones today, they must first extract them from the hard mixture of mudstone and other fragments surrounding them.

Reconstruction of the Bristol dinosaur

Reconstruction of the Bristol dinosaur

Reconstructing the Bristol dinosaur

Extracting the bones from the rock is a slow process, although using hand tools powered by compressed air speeds up progress. Many students from the University of Bristol volunteer to help extract the bones. Most of the bones of ‘Theco’ are now known and reconstruction of the skeleton is in progress at the University of Bristol. Once the bones have been identified, they can be restored to their natural relationships by looking at their shapes and articulation points (facets). Comparing the bones of ‘Theco’ with those of related dinosaurs with articulated skeletons is also useful. So that the original bones are not damaged, models and casts are made of the skeleton. These are also lighter and more robust than the original fossil bone. Thecodontosaurus was the size of a large dog.

Next: What did the Bristol dinosaur look like?

 

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