The Group's aim is to identify, survey, protect and promote geological and geomorphological sites in the former County of Avon - the modern unitary authorities of Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire. RIGS are selected for their educational, research, historical and aesthetic value.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The Bristol Dinosaur Project

Did you know, Bristol has its very own dinosaur? Thecodontosaurs antiquus (the ancient socket toothed lizard) was discovered in 1834 by Samuel Stutchbury in a quarry on Durdham Downs (now known as Quarry Steps, a SSSI that is a tiny sliver of the original quarry) and became the 5th dinosaur ever described; it has not since been found anywhere else in the world. Thecodontosaurs antiquus dates from over 200 million years ago back when Bristol was an archipeligo of islands and shallow, tropical seas. In 2011, the Bristol Dinosaur celebrated 175 years of holding its species name.

  Tooth of the Bristol dinosaur from the Tytherington fissure.  Found by one of the volunteers.

Some the specimens from quarry were housed in the Bristol Geological Museum. In November 1940, the Blitz struck Bristol hard.  Huge areas were bombed out including the strip of buildings at the top of Park Street.  Many of the collections were lost, either directly to the bombing or the clean-up crews after; fortunately some of the bones were housed in a cave in the Avon Gorge alongside some precious paintings, safely away from the threat of bombers. About half of the original Thecodontosaurus specimens were rescued and are housed in the current Bristol Museum & Art Gallery

In the 1970s more bones from the dinosaur were found at a quarry in Tytherington, South Gloucestershire when over 4 tonnes of material was collected. Remmert Schouten at the University of Bristol works a preparator thanks to funding received from the Leverhulme trust.  Since his appointment the material has been worked on for scientific purposes and teaching students about preparation techniques.  In 2009, the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded £294,000 for 3 years of funding to improve the lab facilities, hire another preparator, and pay for a learning officer to increase public knowledge of this unique specimen.  The project has been so successful since receiving the funding that over 11,000 school children have had workshops delivered by the learning officer. Many postgraduate students from the School of Earth Sciences have also been trained to deliver the workshops in schools and become STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) Ambassadors.  It in fact the outreach work has lead to the School of Earth Sciences winning the Best STEM University Department of 2011 in the West.

Some of the primary aged students with various activities from the Bristol Dinosaur Project.  The outreach activities include are handling specimens, a life sized jigsaw puzzle with replica bones and a talk.

If you are interested in getting involved or want to know more please check us out at Bristol Dinosaur Project website (www.bristoldinosaurproject.co.uk).  We are running a competition for artists to show us what they think Thecodontosaurus looked like when it was alive.  Otherwise look out for us at various events around Bristol, be it schools, museums, Festival of Nature, dinosaur days at the Arnos Vale etc. where we will be giving workshops.

Andrew Cuff, Bristol Dinosaur Project


  1. Activities for half-term week:

    Bristol dinosaur at Arnos Vale

    Particularly for those of you with families, the Bristol Dinosaur Project is being hosted by Arnos Vale Cemetery
    Tuesday and Wednesday this week with bookable sessions available throughout each day and being run
    by many of our postgraduate students. Families can dig up dinosaur bones, match them to the skeleton of Theco
    and handle real fossils.


    Bristol dinosaur at the Old Vic

    The Bristol Old Vic is also offering family shows from today through to Wednesday called Stones and Bones. Front of house
    will be offering small sessions with families to learn more about the Bristol dinosaur using our replica bones and lifesize jigsaw:

    Come on a journey back in time to prehistoric Cornwall... A land of towering rocks, ancient stone circles and strange myths and legends... A land of Stones and Bones!
    Squashbox Theatre's new show is a marvellous mix of history and mystery! Find out about
    archaeology and fossils, say hello to one of your stone-age ancestors, hear stories of giants and wizards, see a volcano erupting before your very eyes, and maybe even glimpse
    a dinosaur or two...


    (from Ed Drewitt)