View all news

Building the Bristol Dinosaur

Thecodontosaurs antiquus - Integument

Thecodontosaurs antiquus - Integument © Robert Nicholls

Thecodontosaurs antiquus - Muscles

Thecodontosaurs antiquus - Muscles © Robert Nicholls

Thecodontosaurs antiquus - Skeleton

Thecodontosaurs antiquus - Skeleton © Robert Nicholls

Press release issued: 5 September 2013

Bristol's very own dinosaur Thecodontosaurus will be brought to life on the city's Harbourside this autumn when local artist Robert Nicholls and Pedro Viegas from the University of Bristol build a full-size replica of the beast, based on the very latest scientific discoveries about how it would have looked when it roamed around Bristol 210 million years ago.

The recreation of Thecodontosaurus is the culmination of a three and a half year project run by the University of Bristol and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The build begins on Tuesday 1 October at M Shed, Bristol's newest museum, and will run until the end of November 2013.  For the first time ever, members of the public are welcome to drop in and observe the reconstruction of the life-sized Thecodontosaurus and see the dinosaur come to life; admission free.

The Bristol Dinosaur was first uncovered in a quarry on Durdham Down, Bristol in 1834 and was only the fourth dinosaur to be discovered in the world.  Its bones are now on display at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery and M Shed.

During the 1970s more bones were unearthed at a quarry in Tytherington, South Gloucestershire.  These bones are now in the care of the University of Bristol.  In 1999 the Bristol Dinosaur Project was founded to discover more about the bones. 

Two earlier models of the dinosaur, dating from the 1980s, exist at the University of Bristol's School of Earth Sciences and a larger model, built in the 1970s, is currently on display in Bristol Museum & Art Gallery.

Both models reflect earlier assumptions about the dinosaur – for instance, the mistaken belief that it was a carnivore – and the environment it would have lived in.  Advances in scientific knowledge since then have allowed researchers to study the remains in far greater detail and thus learn much more about how the dinosaur looked, walked and fed.  It was through detailed analysis of the dinosaur's teeth that scientists discovered Thecodontosaurus was actually a herbivore.    

A series of free public talks by University of Bristol scientists about some of these discoveries, their laboratory work and their research will take place during the build.  M Shed will also be putting on some inspiring family events, including opportunities for children to doodle a dinosaur and construct their own models (Sunday 24 November;

The build will take place in L Shed (adjoining M Shed museum) for two months from Tuesday 1 October to Saturday 30 November 2013 and will be a permanent, open exhibit.

The exhibition will generally be open the same hours as M Shed but please note the artist will not be present all the time as some small parts of the build have to be constructed off-site; please check for details in advance from M Shed.

M Shed: Princes Wharf, Wapping Road, Bristol BS1 4RN Tel: 0117 352 6600

Opening hours: 10am-5pm Tues- Fri; 10am-6pm Weekends; Closed Mondays (except Bristol school holidays & bank holiday Mondays)

See to plan your visits and keep up to date with latest events and information.

During the build, a time-lapse camera will be set up to record the whole dinosaur modelling/build process.

About the Bristol Dinosaur

The Bristol Dinosaur's scientific name Thecodontosaurs antiquus means ancient socket-toothed dinosaur.  It was two metres long and lived 210 million years ago on islands surrounds by shallow, tropical seas.  At that time Bristol was where Morocco in North Africa is today.

In 1999, the Bristol Dinosaur Project was set up to discover more about the bones and in 2010, the project received just under £300,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for further studies.  Simply knowing that there was a dinosaur in Bristol wasn't enough for scientists; they now wanted to know what creatures lived alongside the dinosaur and what the environment they lived in was like.

With a much greater study and understanding of the whole ecological setting as the objective, a specialised fossil preparator was hired to build a new paleontological laboratory – one that would be up to the highest standards in order to accommodate the task of preparing four tonnes of rock.  A dedicated educational officer was also hired to make knowledge about the recovered and studied material available to the public, enabling the people of Bristol to learn more about their very own dinosaur.

Listen to Pedro Viegas talking to BBC Radio 4's Inside Science about the tiny pneumatic drill he uses to dig out fragile dinosaur bones without destroying them.

Edit this page