Two million years ago Bristol, and the surrounding area, comprised a tropical archipelago harbouring a diverse range of triassic creatures including Thecodontosaurus - better known as the Bristol Dinosaur. It was herbivore and stood about 1 metre high.
The bones of Theco were discovered in the Worral quarries, at the edge of Clifton Down, in 1834. Purchased by Samuel Sutchbury for the Bristol Scientific and Philosophical Society and studied by Sutchbury and Dr Henry Riley - who had a medical practice is Queen Square - Theco was only the fourth dinosaur ever named. The discovery was so early that even that term dinosaur was not yet in use; it was coined by Sir Richard Owen in 1842.
Unfortunately, most of the material for the original Bristol Dinosaur was destroyed during World War II when the roof of the City Museum was destroyed by enemy bombing.
On Tuesday, 9th October, Prof. Mike Benton from the University of Bristol explained to the Thornbury Local History and Archaeology Society how interest in the Bristol Dinosaur was revived in the 1980s and eventually evolved into the enormously successful Bristol Dinosaur Project that has been running since 2009.
Although the most exciting exhibits had been destroyed, Bristol University still had a tremendous amount of fossilised bones to study. Most significant of all were five tons of limestone from Tytherington Quarry donated in 1975. The blocks were teeming with fossils; despite the immense size of blocks the fossils were clearly visible.
There is no easy way to extract fossils from the stone; it is painstaking and time-consuming work using a dental drill to get at the remains. It is not possible to use X-ray to determine what fossils the blocks hold as the rock and bones have a very similar density. All in all it is the full–time job of a ‘preparator’ to excavate the fossils. The Tytherington Dinosaur has only been pieced together since the Heritage Lottery fund provided four year’s worth of funding to carry out the work.
From a scientific perspective it has been worthwhile work as the bones are in very good condition and there are no other fossil locations in the world with the same environment. The Team has been able to show the creatures discovered in what was the island area of Tytherington are substantially different from those in the island areas in what are now Bristol and Cromhall.
The funding for the project has now run out and so this work will not be continuing after the end of the year unless a new source of funding can be found. However, over the last four years the funding, which included provision for an educator, has meant that the team have been able to share these discoveries with more than 100,000 local people, mostly school pupils aged 7-8 years and 14-15years, an experience which hopefully will inspire many to make science a part of their future.
The Society’s next lecture is "Bristol and the War of the Roses" by Peter Fleming, UWE, at 7.30pm, Tuesday 12 November at St Mary's Church Hall, Thornbury.
The Thornbury Local History and Archaeology Society always welcomes new and occasional members. Details of our programme can be found on this website, the library or the Town Hall. Our meetings are on the second Tuesday of the month, held at St Mary's Church Hall beginning at 7.30pm. Visitors are always welcome at the society for the small charge of £2.50.