September 15th, 2011

Dinosaurs Galore

Spinosaurus was like some kid's composite idea of a really scary dinosaur. It had a bipedal stance, a crocodile snout, teeth sticking out every whichaway and an odd sail-like thing on its back. It could swim- and was the biggest land-based predator we've yet identified- considerably bigger than T Rex- a fact that has yet to seep through into popular culture. It was also ungainly- the animations last night had it teetering about like a bent-backed granny- which will probably stop it muscling T Rex aside in the popularity stakes.  It seems to have lived mainly on fish, hunting them by crouching on river banks with its ever-so-sensitive snout in the water. It also ate pterosaurs.

Planet Dinosaur is a new series highlighting recent discoveries in palaeontology. A later programme will feature Predator X- the biggest  marine predator ever- a find so new (it's still being assembled by its finders) that it hasn't yet aquired a proper zoological name.

I've often wondered whether stories of giants and dragons and sea monsters had anything to do with our ancestors trying to make sense of the fossils they came across. According to Tom Holland- whose show- Dinosaurs, Myths and Monsters- followed right on from Planet Dinosaur (but on another channel)- the answer is "Of course". One and a half hours of up-to-the-minute dino-programming in a single evening- Yes!

Holland's programme touched upon the career of Richard Owen- the Victorian anatomist who gave us the word "dinosaur" and created the Natural History Museum.  He was already in my mind because I'd been leafing through a Museum guide-book earlier in the day. Owen is in the dog-house because he was a creationist-  and  his statue- which used to preside over the great hall of his museum- has recently been replaced by Darwin's. Darwin was a better scientist and a nicer man but does he really have to have all the glory? Owen was a great man too- and there's something Stalinist about his demotion.