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Dinosaurs

Brett Westwood explores how these ancient beasts are influencing our stories, films and science.

Our collective imaginations go wild at the thought of lumbering, ferocious beasts that were so powerful they once ruled the earth. T Rex scares us witless and diplodocus was an astonishing creature of breath taking proportions. It is no wonder then that dinosaur books, especially for children, appeared in the early nineteenth century and are still flying of the shelves today.

Dinosaur exhibitions always draw throngs of people. From the Crystal Palace dinosaurs in London built in the mid 19th Century to the wonderful animatronic models in today's modern museums, these ancient beasts speak to us of a different planet earth, lost in deep time, gone for ever. Yet they have left us bones and teeth that are still revealing amazing facts. Recent science shows most dinosaurs were not cold bloodied reptiles but warm blooded, feathered and colourful. They lived for 160 million years, occupying a warm humid planet rich in vegetation.

When we use the world 'dinosaur' we mean it as a derogatory term for someone who can't adapt but nothing could be further from the truth. These were supreme rulers that were brought down by an Act of God that defies imagination. So huge was the impact of the meteorite that the earth went cold and dark. Dinosaurs though will never leave us, we will take them with us into the future, in our stories, films and science and we will learn from their old bones ever more details about life on earth, and how even the most successful creatures on earth are, in reality, so fragile.

Available now

28 minutes

Last on

Mon 3 Aug 2015 21:00

Professor Paul Barrett

Professor Paul Barrett
Professor Paul Barrett is a world-leading expert on the evolution and biology of dinosaurs and other extinct reptiles and has published more than 100 scientific papers and books. He joined the Natural History Museum in 2003 and is a Merit Researcher in the Department of Earth Sciences and Head of Division for Fossil Vertebrates, Anthropology and Micropalaeontology. Prior to this he held academic appointments at the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford.

His main areas of interest are in the biology of plant-eating dinosaurs, describing new dinosaurs, and in large-scale evolutionary processes, such as the coevolution of animals and plants through time.

During the course of this work, he has travelled extensively to work on museum collections around the world and conducted fieldwork in China, the UK and South Africa. He is currently President of the Palaeontographical Society, holds numerous editorial positions and sits on the councils and committees of several learned societies.

Twitter: @NHMdinolab

Professor Mike Benton

Professor Mike Benton
Michael Benton is Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology at the University of Bristol's School of Earth Sciences.

He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 2014 for his fundamental contributions to understanding the history of life, particularly biodiversity fluctuations through time. He has led in integrating data from living and fossil organisms to generate phylogenies – solutions to the question of how major groups originated and diversified through time.

This approach has revolutionised our understanding of major questions, including the relative roles of intrinsic and extrinsic factors on the history of life, whether diversity reaches saturation, the significance of mass extinctions, and how major clades radiate.

Dr Kelvin Corlett

Dr Kelvin Corlett
Dr Kelvin Corlett is a lexicographer and senior assistant editor at the Oxford English Dictionary, which he joined shortly after completing a PhD in mathematics at the University of East Anglia. 

Specialising in scientific vocabulary, he is part of the editorial team currently working on the ongoing project to completely revise the OED.

Dr Melanie Keene

Dr Melanie Keene
Dr Melanie Keene is a historian of science at Homerton College, Cambridge, where she also acts as Graduate Tutor. She has written widely on the history of science for children; on scientific books and objects from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, and on topics from candlesand pebbles to board games, toy sets, and model dinosaurs.

She is the author of Science in Wonderland: the scientific fairy tales of Victorian Britain.

Adrienne Mayor

Adrienne Mayor
Adrienne Mayor is an independent folklorist/historian of science who investigates natural knowledge contained in pre-scientific myths and oral traditions. Her research looks at ancient "folk science" precursors, alternatives, and parallels to modern scientific methods.

Her two books on pre-Darwinian fossil traditions in classical antiquity and in Native America; Fossil Legends of the First Americans and The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times have opened up a new field within geomythology.

Twitter: @amayor

Dr Ellinor Michel

Dr Ellinor Michel
Dr Ellinor Michel is an evolutionary biologist and ecologist at the Natural History Museum in London. Her work focuses on freshwater species. Her taxonomic speciality is primarily molluscs but she has also worked on fish, crustaceans, sponges and other invertebrates. She also has a background in palaeontology and sedimentary geology and is the chair of the Friends of Crystal Palace Dinosaurs.

In addition to her academic research she was the acting field director and assistant project director for a US-NSF research training programme on tropical lakes and Executive Secretary for the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. She continues to work on digital access for biological information.

Professor John O'Maoilearca

Professor John O'Maoilearca
John Ó Maoilearca is Professor of Film and Television Studies at Kingston University, London. He has published 10 books, including (as author) Bergson and Philosophy, Post-Continental Philosophy: An Outline, Philosophy and the Moving Image: Refractions of Reality, and as editor Laruelle and Non-Philosophy and The Bloomsbury Companion to Continental Philosophy .

His latest book – on animals, cinema, and philosophy – is entitled All Thoughts Are Equal: Laruelle and Nonhuman Philosophy

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