It rises from the dark waters like some behemoth from the deep, and lets out a blood-curdling roar. It’s feeding time. One of the most iconic scenes from Jurassic Park III is where the long-snouted, sail-backed giant theropod dinosaur Spinosaurus emerges from underwater to try, yet again, to eat our beleaguered rabble of misfortunates. It’s always been the way these dinosaurs have been portrayed, including one of Spinosaurus’ close cousins Baryonyx from the UK. With their long snouts, bulbous tips, and pointy teeth, it’s often been thought that spinosaurid dinosaurs were quite a lot like modern crocodiles. But how much of this is true?
Progressive Palaeontology (ProgPal) is an annual event where early career researchers get to demonstrate their research to an equivalent audience in a reasonably informal atmosphere. It’s also renowned as a mega p*ss-up, as everyone knows palaeontologists are chronic alcoholics (hence the dinosaurs with feathers hypothesis). This year, it was in the vibrant and cosmopolitan northern UK city of Leeds. Some of the research communicated there was pretty freaking sweet. You can find recordings of all of the talks on Palaeocast (at some point in the future), and the Twitter feed was #progpal if you want to see a historical live version of the event.
When people discuss innovation and cutting-edge research in science, Palaeontology, and specifically dinosaurs, will hardly be the first thing that springs to mind, especially in times of the Large Hadron Collider, nanotechnology, and stem cell research. But in terms of actual progress, considering that dinosaurs have only existed in science and the eyes of the public since, arguably, 1677*, how much has actually been made?
Firstly, you have to consider what the point of studying dinosaurs is. They’re not going to cure cancer, they’re not going to help us understand climate change, but what they do tell us is a great story of the history of life on Earth, and the evolution of the some of the most spectacular organisms ever. No other field of science can boast greater public attention and media coverage with nearly every new discovery, and none such a dynamic history. As technology advances, our ability to tell this story becomes ever more detailed and accurate.