Britain’s oldest dinosaur to be released

After 210 million years of being entombed in rock, the Bristol Dinosaur is about to be released, thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant of £295,000 awarded to the University of Bristol. The Bristol Dinosaur – Thecodontosaurus antiquus – is the oldest-known dinosaur in Britain and one of the oldest in the world. When Thecodontosaurus was first discovered in 1834 it was only the fourth dinosaur ever to be discovered, anywhere. Since discovery of the University’s specimen at Tytherington Quarry in the 1970s, the fossilised remains of the Bristol Dinosaur have largely remained entombed within the rock. The Heritage Lottery Fund grant will at last allow the dinosaur to be excavated and then displayed for all to see. Nerys Watts, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund South West, 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.” Over the years about 500 bones have been removed and those found so far show the presence of males, females and juveniles. However, much work remains to be done. About four tons of bone-bearing rock awaits further research and inspection in the laboratory. Professor Mike Benton from the University of Bristol, one of the world’s leading experts on dinosaurs, said: “This award from HLF will mean that the preparation laboratory can be expanded and a specialist technician employed to oversee the removal of bones from the rock. “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.” A new Education Officer will visit local schools and work together with Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery, Explore At Bristol and the City of Bristol College to introduce local history to a wide audience in and around Bristol.

During the three years of the project, a complete skeletal reconstruction of the dinosaur will be attempted for the first time. The team is also committed to finding further resources to build a permanent exhibit in the Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery, with the dinosaur – or possibly a herd of dinosaurs – as a centrepiece, together with full details of how it was found and studied. The Heritage Lottery Fund and the University of Bristol will launch commencement of the Bristol Dinosaur Project today [3 November] at Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery. Visiting children from local schools will be able to talk to the scientists about dinosaurs – and the Bristol dinosaur in particular. Thecodontosaurus antiquus is one of the most primitive dinosaurs in the world, lying at the very base of the dinosaur family tree. During the Triassic the kangaroo-sized, plant-eating species lived in herds on lushly vegetated islands around Bristol. The outlines of these islands can still be seen today in the shape of the land – Bristol’s famous Downs was one such island. The first remains of the Bristol Dinosaur were discovered in 1834 at Durdham Down, Bristol, but were destroyed when the museum was hit in a WWII bombing raid. Further remains were found at Tytherington Quarry in the 1970s and it is these that are at the heart of the current research project. “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.” Nerys Watts, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund South West -news from -Thecodontosaurus (“socket-tooth lizard”) is a genus of herbivorous dinosaur which lived during the late Triassic period Period (Norian and/or Rhaetian age). Its remains are known mostly from Triassic “fissure fillings” in South England and Wales. On average, it was 1.2 metres (3.9 ft) long, 30 centimetres (12 in) tall, and weighed 11 kilograms (24 lb).

Thecodontosaurus had a rather short neck supporting a fairly large skull with quite big eyes. Its jaws contained many small- to medium-sized, serrated, leaf-shaped teeth. This dinosaur’s hands and feet each had five digits, and the hands were long and rather narrow with an extended claw on each. This dinosaur’s front limbs were much shorter than the legs, and its tail was much longer than the head, neck and body put together. Although not actually the earliest member of the group, Thecodontosaurus is the most primitive well-known representative of the sauropodomorph dinosaurs. Originally it was included under the Prosauropoda (Upchurch 1998) but more recently it has been suggested that Thecodontosaurus and its relatives were prior to the prosauropod-sauropod split (Yates & Kitching 2003). New reconstructions show that its neck is proportionally shorter than in more advanced early sauropodomorphs. The original type specimen of Thecodontosaurus was a victim of World War II bombings by the Germans. The remains of this dinosaur and other material related to it were destroyed in 1940. However, more remains have been found at a number of localities, including Bristol. Some of this new material pertains to a juvenile specimen that may belong to a distinct species, Thecodontosaurus caducus Yates, 2003. The dinosaur Agrosaurus macgillivrayi (Seeley, 1891), once thought to be from Australia, but more likely from England and misidentified, is probably synonymous with Thecodontosaurus antiquus (Vickers-Rich et al., 1999). In 2007, a paper by Yates, Galton, and Kermack put forth the claim that Thecodontosaurus caducus belongs to a different genus, which they have named Pantydraco.

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