Bristol Dinosaur Project: What is it? What are its impacts on society?

Have you heard of the Thecodontosaurus? It is the 4th species of dinosaur discovered in the world. It is Bristol’s dinosaur. Its remains got found in 1834 from a quarry. This dinosaur’s common name is Theco.

This discovery is what gave birth to the Bristol Dinosaur Project. It is an educational initiative and public engagement. It got started in 2000, and the University of Bristol runs it and has seen hundreds of schools come to visit since it opened its doors. The project team has spoken to thousands and thousands of children and has gone to school fairs within Bristol and other places.

Ed Drewitt, a learning officer, says that through Theco, we can know more about the evolution of early dinosaurs into giant plant-consuming dinosaurs that were all over Europe. Theco is now a local celebrity figure, and its bone tissue is used to learn more about what life was 210 or more million years back.

This project works with the young people and the community to help them understand their local inheritance and nature around them. The Bristol project has supported the community in various ways such as supporting a dinosaur themed production, visiting libraries, working with Bristol Zoo during a dinosaur exhibition. Volunteers working on this project have visited several schools, steered many children towards interactive workshops and dinosaur bone hunting expeditions.

The Bristol Dinosaur Project team also went ahead to engage young people that were not in any form of education or employment. Their mission was to formulate a storybook about Theco. The project was successful, and the participants were amazed at the interest that the people had in their work. It also boosted their confidence in transforming their lives. For example, some members to go back to university while others got job interviews with prominent organizations.


In the beginning, Bristol Dinosaur Project got its funding from the University of Bristol through widening participation funds. These collections were used to reach local schools that did not feature among schools that sent a huge number of children to university. By sending students to such schools, the project team hoped that the students there would get inspiration to work harder and apply for university admission.

After that, the project got substantial funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. With this donation, it was able to sail through 2010 to 2013 smoothly. After that funding, the University of Bristol has continued to fund the project with an aim of widening participation purposes.


The project has sought to indulge children between 7 and nine years and children between 14 and 15 years. With the younger bracket, it is easy to engage their enthusiastic minds. Because of that, passing around a tooth or bone of a dinosaur is enough for they thrilled to touch the real thing.

When dealing with the older bracket, it is crucial that you tell them the fun that one experiences when their career is in science or any related field. At this age, critical decisions that shall affect their life many years to come get made.

The essential component of work Bristol project is laboratory work.

Can paleontologist be useful to our community?

Many people do not appreciate the essence of paleontologists in our day-to-day lives. Today I would like to look at how their advisory work can help our society and the world on a whole. Listening to a vertebrate paleontologist, Jordan Mallon, I learned that there is a lot that they have to say, for example, what the fact is, what is accurate, and what is false. Let us delve into the advisory work of paleontologists and how it benefits us.


Correcting old ideas

Paleontologists have known, for some time now, that there were some feathered dinosaurs. However, the image of fuzzy theropods has not penetrated the common man’s mind. Jordan Mallon says that he got a chance to team up with Canada Post to design a stamp series that featured dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. He then seized the moment to include some feathered forms such as the ostrich-mimic. That helped to set the record straight.

Promote recent advances

Vertebrate paleontology is moving at an even faster rate, thanks to fossil finds and new technologies. Jordan says that it is very intriguing to discuss these recent advances with friends. However, through advisory work, he also gets a chance to take that talk over coffee to the rest of the world. He speaks of his recent work with a video game developer for Dinosaur Island. In this game, the player is supposed to maintain a ‘digital terrarium’ where a sustainable balance is looked for between resources and species to avoid an ecosystem collapse. The dinosaurs in this game are customizable to make room for new paleontology findings. For example, there is an option to allow cannibalism in Tyrannosaurus rex. Mr. Mallon says that Ezra Sidran, the game developer has strived to achieve scientific accuracy making it a pleasure to partner with him.

Share something you are passionate about

2014-07-18-Tyrannosaurus-Rex-1200x795Jordan has been on a journey of studying Canadian dinosaurs. Besides that, he was always been fascinated by literature on the adventures of early Canadian dinosaur hunters in the badlands of Saskatchewan and Alberta. Mr. Mallon works at the Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, and they recently had a celebration of 100 years of their fossil gallery. During this time, he was invited to help with designing several displays showcasing photos of the gallery over the years. That served as a highlight to the long association of the museum with paleontology; specifically dinosaurs. Sifting through the pile of old photos was great, and it made him appreciate the opportunity to share this rich history with the museum visitors.

Besides the advisory benefits, the contextual background that is availed by paleontology allows for the interpretation of significant living organism characteristics and the importance of biological occurrences we see today. Therefore, these contextual benefits are not limited to:

  • Determining how things change under the x,y and z conditions; the cause-and-effect relationships

  • Understanding the relative intensity of changes occurring in our world today

  • Determining the evolutionary identity of past and living organisms

  • Gaining the power to predict rare events that occurred in the past, and could be experienced in the future

Archaeology and the use of Metal Detectors

When someone uncovers a precious artifact from the earth, it brings metal detectors to the scene as necessary devices for discovering what our past was. Alex Hunt from the Council for British Archaeology helps us explain this better in the write up below.

metal detectors in the field

Treasures in the field

People that use metal detectors are called metal detectorists. They work singly, in twos or groups. They are supposed to sweep across fields and listen closely to the signal coming from the machine with their eyes fixed on the ground at all costs. They move the machine, on hearing the signal; they pause. They carefully move away from the soil and then examine what the detector has found.

Are there any fruits to this strenuous exercise?

Yes, there are. They may find a relic of a Massey Ferguson. Usually, it is a corroded nail, and some other times, it might be something far interesting, for example, an antiquity that is in great shape. It could even be a fragment of a Roman brooch, a lead token, a George III halfpenny. It can be anything.

However, on some rare occurrences, these detectors could help an archeologist discover something of significant value. There were two sets of gold jewellery from the late Iron Age found in 2000 by a one Kevan Halls. He reported them to the local Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) Finds Liaison Officer.

It was one of those surprising finds by the help of a metal detector in that decade. Besides that, Mr. Hall reported the discovery very fast and meticulously recorded the place where he had found it. That meant that it was possible to carry out a follow-up archeological excavation. However, the archeologists did not find any distinguishable artifacts or remains in the earth. That suggested that probably the jewellery got thrown in a shallow pit, maybe for offering purposes.

Another significant discovery by the help of a metal detector was a Ringlemere Cup. It was a ceremonial cup made of gold; about 4 ½” high. This cup got moulded from a whole gold lump by Bronze artisans. It got found on a Ringlemere farmland in Kent in 2001 by detectorist Cliff Bradshaw. After his surprising discovery, he got in touch with the Canterbury Archaeological Trust and the local Portable Antiquities Scheme Finds Liaison Officer whom he told about the discovery. The Trust then excavated the land with funds given by the English heritage. Their findings confirmed that the site was a round burrow, and the cup could have been a representation of grave goods coming from a central burial.

Conflicting interests

A survey was conducted in 1995 in England on metal detecting by the British Archaeology. The study brought out some ugly facts regarding the impact of using metal detectors in archeological work. It showed that while hundreds of thousands of artifacts were discovered by detectorists annually, only a small fraction of them were reaching the museums.

Besides that, detectorists had raided excavations of ¾ of the archeological field units. In the year 1988 up until 1995, about 188 illegal metal detector users damaged scheduled ancient monuments. Ancient monuments are archeological sites important to the state and are protected by law, and there is a need for special permission before digging or using metal detectors in those locations.

Such loots or unreported finds appall responsible detectorists and archeologists because vital information and sites are lost.

Paleontologist vs. Archeologist: Who are they? What do they do?

Very many people confuse these two professions because they seem to work on the same things. Or do they? While these two fields are quite similar, they are very different because they have different specialties.

The first step to differentiating an archeologist from a paleontologist is to know more about each profession. A paleontologist is to paleontology while an archeologist is to archeology.

dinosaur bones

Paleontology looks at life in the past geologic setting. That means that attention is given to plant and animal fossils that once called the earth, home. Therefore, paleontologists are the ones that study dinosaurs and related fossils in a closer manner. Paleontology is a subdivision of a bigger study; geology.

The fossils that paleontologists study could include bodily imprints, pollen, wood, shells, bone, and tracks. Through these fossils, paleontologists try to understand the kind of life that was on earth in those days. When paleontologists study these fossils, they help us to know more about the earth’s evolutionary and ecological history.

paleontologistStudying paleontology means that you are immersed in academic studies that involve fossil chemistry, fossilization, geology, sedimentation and evolutionary biology.

Paleontologists also reconstruct the earth’s climate history. That helps us to understand what the climate shall become in the future.

They also collect natural resources like natural gas, coal, and oil. These natural gifts are fossils, and they are found very deep in the earth. Therefore, their discovery means that someone must have knowledge about the minerals and rocks that contain these natural gifts. That is all covered in paleontology.

Paleontology is a broad field that is broken down into:

Paleobotonists –study plant fossils

Micropaleontologists study microscopic fossils

Invertebrate paleontologists – study invertebrate animal fossils, e.g. Snails, and ancient sea stars

Vertebrate paleontologists – study vertebrate animal fossils, e.g. Fish, birds, mammals

However, archeology looks more at the study of cultures and human remains from the past.

Archeology mainly looks at cultures. That is because it is a very particular sub-division of Anthropology; the study of several human cultures through all time. Therefore, archeology is the study of prehistoric lifestyles.

While paleontology deals with fossils, archeology does not. However, archeologists may sometimes come in contact with animal fossils that human communities might have taken advantage of in their day-to-day living. Artifacts that archeology looks at include: rudimentary stone tools, pottery, and bones.

All in all, archeology and paleontology have significantly contributed to the expansion of the historical database.

In summary,

  • Paleontologists engage more in the study of plant or animal fossils

  • Paleontologists are like biologists that study various plant and animal series from the past

  • Paleontologists have links to geology

  • Archeologists study past human lifestyles and cultures

  • Archeologists support the theory of human evolution

  • Archeologists also look into the past building styles of man

  • Archeologists have links to anthropology

While these two fields may seem one and the same, they are remarkably different. Hope the information above makes it clear.

Can metal detectors be used to find dinosaur bones?

As far as I am concerned, a metal detector can not detect something not made out of metal. Therefore, I do not believe that a metal detector can detect dinosaur bones. Many people have found things and thought them to be dinosaur bones yet they were fossilized bones. One way to know if your find is a bone is to take it to the laboratories. They shall run tests on it and be able to tell you what it is. Some of the minerals that crystallize to take up the appearance of bones are araogonite, and calcim.

dinosaur bones

However, there are some detectors that can be used to detect dinosaur bones. Let us take a look at a detector that a boy of 9 years came up with for his school competition.

This little boy has a dinosaur detector made of connectors, headphones, a pipe and a pie pan.

He says that he put connectors in a pie pan. Then he hot glued an elbow piece to the pan and connected it to the pipe. After the glue had dried, he sprayed everything black using spray paint. When the paint had dried, he glued in the headphones.

He says that this piece of work functions the way a metal detector would only that it finds bones and fossil only. For example, if someone is using it and it meets up with a bone, he or she shall hear a beeping sound coming through the headphones. He says that his detector can locate bones that as far as 2 ft into the earth.

He believes that his invention can help advance the paleontology field.

Is your child that creative? Whether this detector works or not, I do not know. However, I applaud this boy for his creativity and love for the study of dinosaur bones.

Another issue to note is that it is practically impossible to use something meant to detect metal to detect tissue. However, you can use metal detectors to find other fossils such as artifacts.

These findings help archeologists and paleontologists in various ways such as knowing the kind of life that people in past years lived.

3118011062_4334ae50dd_mWhile finding artifacts is not of much importance to paleontologists, it is important to archeologists. In fact, they are the principal benefactors of the services of detectorists. That is because the findings that metal detectors bring their way enable them to have a better understand of the group of people they are trying to investigate. Furthermore, these results help them to understand the history of the land they might be studying.

The livelihood of people and the things they use in their day-to-day lives have a profound connection. Besides that, even the animals and plants are affected by their surroundings such as nails, metal fences that could be picked by a metal detector.

That means that while some things picked by metal detectors may be useless, others are of great importance and help in writing out better-informed prehistory literature.

Therefore, while metal detectors are helpful in historical studies, they can not assist in finding dinosaur bones.