Phil Harding talks about the people who introduced dinosaurs to the modern world
The pioneers that paved the way in the study of palaeontology.
The first real major discoveries of dinosaurs and the recognition of just how old they were, was actually made in Britain and that is where the science first started. One of the pioneer people in the study of dinosaur and fossil hunting was a lady called Mary Anning. She was just an ordinary little lady. She really didn't have the respect at the time of so many of the academics and the scholars who were actually studying geology and she managed to get the confidence of some of them, and we now realise just what an important person she was. Gideon Mantell, he was another incredibly important man and Richard Owen I think is the third one, founder of the Natural History Museum and these people, they were the people who actually invented or introduced the name dinosaur to the world.
Little dinosaurs discovered in Wiltshire
Uncovering dinosaur bones and fragments in Wiltshire with Phil Harding
I did a dig and helped on a dig in Wiltshire, at a place called Chicksgrove. And there, there’s a lot of limestone rock and within the limestone, there was a slight depression that had captured a lot of sand within that sand were dinosaur bones and they dug up the sand and put them through sieves and it were our job to go there and pick out the dinosaur bones. And of course, if you put 'em, well, you don't need to sieve for a T Rex skeleton, but for some of the smaller species of dinosaurs, that's the only way that you can find them. The idea of these great big thundering monsters crashing through the undergrowth at the same time, little tiny species minuscule almost dinosaurs were around.
Fossil hunting on the Jurassic Coast
Tips on fossil hunting on the Jurassic Coast from Phil Harding
No - if you go to the Jurassic coast of Lyme Regis and down in Dorset, and Devon, it really is a game of chance and that's the beauty of it. You can't use any scientific gadgetry to do it. It's a game of chance. It is that chance that you are just there at the right time and you might break open a stone. There might be the fossil. What you're not allowed to do of course and this is vitally important is you're not allowed to dig away at the cliff itself because that is actually increasing the likelihood of cliff erosion and we don't want that. But there's nothing to stop people breaking open the stones that are actually on the beach and they do. A lot of them are very, very common fossils and you can usually find them out if you're really, really interested, just look them up in books and on the internet and actually try and find out what species of fossil you actually found.
The discovery of T-Rex in America
Archaeologist Phil Harding on An the excavation of T-Rex bones.
It was almost an accidental discovery. A man was walking through the landscape and he noticed a bone sticking out from the rock face and they identified that bone as being of a dinosaur. And so he gambled and he said maybe where there's one bone, there's the rest of it. And they realised that it was such an important find. This bone was 10 metres down the cliff face from present ground surface, and they literally quarried away the entire rock face, the entire cliff face. And they made a platform to find the rest of the bones of this dinosaur. And it did confirm it, there were loads and loads of T Rex bones there. And they were, you couldn’t see them as a skeleton, they were just a jumble of bones. And it was just that problem of actually trying to unpick the bones, trying to work out which one was on top and which one was underneath, just like an archaeologist does, except in that what you were doing was actually taking these bones out of the solid rock.
The bones were actually harder than the rock. While we were there we wanted to watch the whole process. And so we witnessed the excavation and I helped to do that bit of it myself and we watched them wrap up all these lumps of rock in plaster of paris, lift them out. And some of these blocks were so big, they were literally flying them. They’d get a helicopter to take these bones away because the area that they were digging in was so remote and they was taking them back to the museum and they had the volunteers there that would chip away at all the bones. But while we were in the museum, they told us that we had the complete skeleton of a baby T-Rex. We were making a television programme and we desperately wanted to film this baby skeleton of a T-Rex but they said it was so important and so secret that they wouldn’t let us film it.