We look at how new discoveries are changing our understanding of what dinosaurs looked like and are helping to shed light on bigger questions about evolution.
Ever since palaeontologists started classifying fossils and bones as dinosaurs in the early 19th century, artists have been using them to try to imagine what dinosaurs looked like. Some of these depictions, we now know, are pretty inaccurate, such as the notorious Victorian sculptures of dinosaurs still on display in Crystal Palace Park in London.
But, however much Hollywood may have instilled a certain vision of dinosaurs into our minds in recent decades, we’re still a long way off having all the answers about what dinosaurs actually looked like. To find out more about what new evidence is emerging and how our dinosaur imaginings have changed, we speak to two palaeontologists.
Maria McNamara, professor of palaeobiology at University College Cork in Ireland, tells us about the, at times controversial, history of feathered dinosaurs. She explains how the discovery of melanin in fossils is providing a picture of the colours of these feathers and what they may have been used for. “There are dinosaurs where we’re pretty sure that feathers were being used for communication,” explains McNamara.
And Nicolas Campione, senior lecturer in paleaobiology at the University of New England in Australia, tells us the two main techniques palaeontologists have used for estimating the size of dinosaurs and how he tested their accuracy. He also explains how understanding the size of dinosaurs can tell us more about their evolution. “The first dinosaurs start off at one body size, the size of a large dog, and then they radiate very quickly so that within the first ten or so million years you already reached most of the size range that dinosaurs would continue to have the rest of their evolutionary history,” says Campione.
Daniel Merino, Assistant Editor: Science, Health, Environment; Co-Host: The Conversation Weekly Podcast, The Conversation and Gemma Ware, Editor and Co-Host, The Conversation Weekly Podcast, The Conversation