As the latest Jurassic World film hits cinemas, we’re re-running a story from The Conversation Weekly’s archives about what dinosaurs really looked liked – and how our understanding of their appearance keeps evolving.
Since the release of the first Jurassic Park film nearly 30 years ago, scientists have learnt a lot more about what dinosaurs looked like and how they moved through the world. Some of those findings, including which dinosaurs had feathers and what colour they were, have made it into the new Jurassic World Dominion film – although it doesn’t get everything right.
New fossil discoveries and techniques for examining them continue to change the way we understand dinosaurs. In this episode we hear from Maria McNamara, professor of palaeobiology at University College Cork in Ireland, about the, at times, controversial history of feathered dinosaurs. Her research is uncovering more evidence about when feathers emerged in dinosaur evolution, and why. “People think feathers are all about flight, but, you know, feather evolution is about your physiology, it’s about your behaviour, it’s about where you can live,” explains McNamara.
Our understanding of the size of dinosaurs has also shifted over time. “The first discoveries of dinosaurs were very much focused on the sensational,” explains Nicolas Campione, senior lecturer in paleaobiology at the University of New England in Australia. He says 19th century researchers were focused on finding the biggest dinosaur fossils to put into museums, which framed the way discoveries were made. Campione tells us about the two main techniques palaeontologists have used for estimating the size of dinosaurs and how he tested their accuracy.
Listen to the episode to hear the full story.
This episode was produced by Mend Mariwany, with sound design by Eloise Stevens. Our theme music is by Neeta Sarl. You can find us on Twitter @TC_Audio, on Instagram at theconversationdotcom or via email. You can also sign up to The Conversation’s free daily email here.
A transcript of the original version of this episode is available here.
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Maria McNamara has received funding from the European Research Council and Science Foundation Ireland.
Nicolas Campione receives funding from the Australian Research Council.