How It Works

Where are the best places to find dinosaur bones and why did some dinosaurs have feathers?

What is the best and most reliable way to tell the age of dinosaur bones?

Paul Taylor: You don’t date the bones directly. Instead you make an estimate of the age of the rocks surrounding them. Often it isn’t even the surrounding rock, you can just test rocks that can be a correlated with them. The best rocks for dating fossils are igneous. Imagine you have a sedimentary rock with dinosaur bones in it and igneous rock above and below it. You may not be able to date the sedimentary rock directly but you can date the igneous rocks above and below. That’s how most fossil dating in general is done.

What is radiometric dating?

Taylor: Elements often have stable and unstable isotopes, which occur in known proportions. For example, when carbon is fixed inside the rocks, its isotopes are in a particular proportion. As the rock gets older, more of the unstable isotope disappears so you’re getting a higher proportion of stable isotopes and very little of the unstable. It’s like a clock. The rate is constant so the relative amount of unstable isotope that is left tells you the age. A good mineral to use as a measurement is glauconite in sedimentary rock, which contains the unstable isotope potassium-40.

Tell us about the discovery of soft tissue on bones. How important or even surprising was this?

Taylor: Some claims of soft tissues are quite controversial. However, what does quite often happen during fossilisation is permineralisation of soft tissues. Bacteria can coat the surface of soft tissue and precipitate calcium phosphate, which can replace the soft tissue. There are also imprints in the sediment of dinosaur skin.

Where is the best place to find dinosaur fossils in the world?

Taylor: There are several places. Wyoming and Utah in the USA have a lot, as does Alberta in Canada. Also, many dinosaurs have been found in China and Patagonia recently, and even the Isle of Wight is sometimes known as Dinosaur Island! Part of the reason is that fossils are most easily collected where the rocks are best exposed – it is much easier to find dinosaurs and other fossils in deserts than vegetated regions.

Dr Paul D. Taylor studies Bryozoan Research in the Department of Earth Sciences at the Natural History Museum

  • Tell us about the discovery of soft tissue on bones: The world’s most complete catalog of actual dinosaur soft tissue discoveries published in leading scientific journals (like Nature, Science, PNAS, etc.) is at just fyi. 🙂

    • Ben ‘Goatboy’ Waters

      I totally agree! It seems to be either “don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story” or it’s just regurgitated old reports accompanied with full page “full colour pics” to make it seem exciting and new, although I wasn’t aware of half colour pics 😉

  • Ben ‘Goatboy’ Waters

    Let’s not forget the place where Mary Anning started it all! The bay around Lyme Regis and Charmouth is now a World Heritage Site and is called the “Jurassic Coast”! So just a couple of small clues there, lol. It’s fossil and Dino bone heaven, and you should see the size of the T-Rex skull in the window of one of Lyme’s many fossil shops! We also have the Lyme Regis Museum which talks about how those first ones were found, and “Dinosaurland” is a fantastic world full of facts and displays that feed the imagination. Not everything in the world happens in the USA. We may have a small country here in the UK, but boy do we have history. So come and visit Lyme Regis, the Pearl of Dorset, on the Jurassic Coast, and go on fossil hunting tours, and dinosaur walks, and during the summer, join in one of the world’s leading Fossil festivals. Just please don’t take home the local fossils with you, as they are super friendly and usually buy rounds of drinks in our many pubs and restaurants 😉

  • Wzystko Cokham

    Yes there is a commonality with Birds and Dino’s. I am not a Paleontologist but have some sincere interest in the field. If you ever watched Jurassic Park you would then remember Sam Neill’s remark (as Dr. Alan Grant) to Jeff Goldblum ” Bet you’ll never look at birds the same way again.”
    Well, what did he mean? I thought immediately of the legs of both. They appear very similar with scaled armor type skin. And just maybe both Birds and Dino’s share a common ancestry? Both Lay eggs which in biology demonstrates similar reproduction which is key for classification of animals. I didn’t really answer about feathers but attempted show the major common traits of each species. Time also separates the two.