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After 1840

Specimens in Bristol, and dispersal of 'duplicates'

Most of the Thecodontosaurus specimens were collected in the 1830s, but there were already small artisans' dwellings in the floor of the quarry at that time. These, and new large houses on top of the quarry margin, prevented further expansion, and specimens could no longer be obtained.

There was surprisingly little mention of the Thecodontosaurus specimens in various Bristol Institution reports from 1835 onwards. Stutchbury, in one of his reports to the Museum Committee (CRL 26066, report dated 30th Nov., 1844) notes that the 'crocodilian remains are arranged on tablets, the whole forming a very respectable series', these possibly being the Thecodontosaurus materials. A list of 'Duplicates of the Bristol Institution' (CRL 26066, undated, ? 1840s) includes item 50, 'Thecodontosaurus in Magn. Lime.' priced £3.0.0), but whether any specimens were sold then is unknown. From 1835 onwards, the Bristol Institution had been distinctly short of money (Barker, 1906, pp. 28-31; Neve, 1983), and sales of specimens would have earned some revenue.

In the late 1860s, when Huxley visited Bristol to examine the Thecodontosaurus and Palaeosaurus specimens, he reported that 'more than a hundred different specimens were spread before me' (Huxley, 1870, p. 45). Moore (1881, p. 67) noted that 'A few years since, in drainage works at the same spot, this conglomerate was again crossed, and some other bones added to the series deposited in the Museum of the Bristol Philosophical Society'.

In 1888-9, Edward Wilson (1848-1898), the then curator, sent a number of 'duplicate' specimens from the Bristol Thecodontosaurus collection to the British Museum (Natural History) and to the Peabody Museum, Yale University (details in Benton et al., 2000). A further collection of 17 Thecodontosaurus specimens had already earlier been acquired by the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia through a local benefactor, Thomas Batterby Wilson (1807-1865), who acquired these as 'duplicates' from the Bristol Institution through his brother, Edward Wilson of Hean Castle, Tenby (1808-1888), in 1845. Marsh had visited the Bristol collections in 1888, and he personally arranged the transfer of specimens to Yale, partly in exchange for American materials, but the supposed 'duplicates' sent to Yale included a near-complete braincase and forelimb, described by Marsh (1892), and in fact two of the best of the Thecodontosaurus specimens.

The Bristol curator Edward Wilson published a series of catalogues of the collections, in one of which (Wilson, 1890, p. 365), he noted the type specimens of Thecodontosaurus and the two species of Palaeosaurus, identifying previously figured examples, but he did not give catalogue numbers or any count of the number of specimens. Seeley (1895) and Huene (1902, 1908a, pp. 190-216, 240-241, 1908b, 1914) described the considerable collections in Bristol.

A further 25 Thecodontosaurus bones found their way into the collections of the British Museum (Natural History), a series of isolated vertebrae, rib fragments, and phalanges (BMNH 49984, R1531-1553; listed by Benton et al., 2000), presumably sold or exchanged as 'duplicates': only two of these were figured by Huene (1908a). In some way, not exactly clear, some of the Durdham Down Thecodontosaurus specimens in the BMNH were mis-labelled as from Queensland, Australia, and these were later named Agrosaurus macgillivrayi Seeley, 1891, one of the first dinosaurs to be reported from Australia. However, the origin of the materials had been confused, and the specimens are almost certainly from the Durdham Down locality (Vickers-Rich et al., 1999).


In 1926, according to records in the Bristol City Museum, 166 specimens of Thecodontosaurus were catalogued and packed, but other material presumably remained on display. In November 1940, during a bombing raid by the Luftwaffe, a direct hit destroyed the original geology gallery of Bristol City Museum (Anonymous, 1941), and some 92 specimens of Thecodontosaurus were lost, including much of the best material illustrated and described by Huene (1908a).

The specimens that had been boxed up in 1926 were reopened in 1959, and their dusty condition suggested that they had not been touched since. These specimens, together with 18 further bones recovered from the wreckage of the museum, give a current total of 184 specimens extant in the Bristol City Museum collection, including some of the specimens figured by Riley and Stutchbury (1840). One specimen, the proximal end of a femur (BRSMG Ca7456), shows burn marks, and a note states that it was salvaged from the wreckage of the museum annex in May, 1941.

After the Second World War, further studies on Thecodontosaurus were proposed and executed. John Attridge of Birkbeck College, London studied the Bristol specimens between 1959 and 1979, and had some of them prepared from the rock, but nothing was published (Anonymous, 1961). Further work through the 1970s and 1980s is summarised by Benton et al. (2000).

Whole-body reconstruction of Thecodontosaurus, the Bristol dinosaur, with Pantydraco, then thought to have been a juvenile of the same genus. Drawing by John Sibbick, first published in Benton et al. (2000).

A new specimen, an apparent juvenile from fissure fills in Pant-y-Fynnon Quarry in South Wales, similar to those in Clifton, was assigned to Thecodontosaurus antiquus by Kermack (1984), and named as the new species T. caducus by Yates (2003), and then assigned to the new genus Pantydraco by Galton et al. (2007), and described in detail by Galton and Kermack (2010).

All the surviving specimens of Thecodontosaurus from Durdham Down were described by Benton et al. (2000), including the first full descriptions of the braincase and the articulated forelimb in the Yale Peabody Museum collections. These authors provided reconstructions of the whole skeletons of adult and putative juvenile specimens. Meanwhile, a collection of some 5 tonnes of bone-rich cave breccia from Tytherington Quarry (ST 660890), near Bristol, was transported to the University of Bristol in 1975, and formed the basis of a PhD study (Whiteside, 1983) and an ongoing, major research and public engagement initiative (Benton et al., 2011).

  • Anonymous, 1941. Destruction at Bristol Museum. Heavy damage in November air raid. Museums Journal 40, 272-273.
  • Anonymous, 1961. Bombed dinosaurs - and a happy ending. New Scientist 1961 (9), 137.
  • Barker, W.R., 1906. The Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. The Development of the Institution during a Hundred and Thirty-four Years. Arrowsmith, Bristol, 75 pp.
  • Benton, M.J., Juul, L., Storrs, G.W., Galton, P.M., 2000. Anatomy and systematics of the prosauropod dinosaur Thecodontosaurus antiquus from the Upper Triassic of southwest England. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 20, 77-108.
  • Benton, M.J., Schouten, R., Drewitt, E.J.A., Viegas, P., 2011. The Bristol Dinosaur Project. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association 123, 210-225.
  • Galton, P.M., 2007. Notes on the remains of archosaurian reptiles, mostly basal sauropodomorph dinosaurs, from the 1834 fissure fill (Rhaetian, Upper Triassic) at Clifton in Bristol, southwest England. Revue de Paléobiologie 26, 505-591.
  • Galton, P.M., Kermack, D., 2010. The anatomy of Pantydraco caducus, a very basal sauropodomorph dinosaur from the Rhaetian (Upper Triassic) of South Wales, UK. Revue de Paléobiologie 29, 341-404.
  • Galton, P.M., Yates, A.M., Kermack, D., 2007. Pantydraco n. gen. for Thecodontosaurus caducus Yates, 2003, a basal sauropodomorph dinosaur from the Upper Triassic or Lower Jurassic of South Wales, UK. Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, Abhandlungen 243, 119-125.
  • Huene, F. von, 1902. Übersicht über die Reptilien der Trias. Geologische und Paläontologische Abhandlungen. Neue Folge 6, 1-84.
  • Huene, F. von, 1908a. Die Dinosaurier der europäischen Triasformationen mit Berücksichtigung der aussereuropäischen Vorkommnisse. Geologische und Paläontologische Abhandlungen. Supplement 1, 1-419.
  • Huene, F. von, 1908b. On phytosaurian remains from the Magnesian Conglomerate of Bristol (Rileya platyodon). Annals and Magazine of Natural History, Series 8 1, 228-230.
  • Huene, F. von, 1914. Beiträge zur Geschichte der Archosaurier. Geologische und Paläontologische Abhandlungen. Neue Folge 13, 1-53.
  • Huxley, T.H., 1870. On the classification of the Dinosauria, with observations on the Dinosauria of the Trias. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 26, 32-50.
  • Kermack, D., 1984. New prosauropod material from South Wales. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 82, 101-117.
  • Marsh, O.C., 1892. Notes on Triassic Dinosauria. American Journal of Science, 43, 543-546.
  • Moore, C., 1881. On abnormal geological deposits in the Bristol district. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 37, 67-82.
  • Neve, M., 1983. Science in a commercial city: Bristol, 1820-60. In: Inkster, I., Morrell, J. (Eds.), Metropolis and Province: Science in British Culture 1780-1850. Hutchinson, London, pp. 179-204.
  • Seeley, H.G., 1891. On Agrosaurus macgillivrayi, a saurischian reptile from the northeast coast of Australia. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London 47, 164-165.
  • Seeley, H.G., 1895. On Thecodontosaurus and Palaeosaurus. Annals and Magazine of Natural History, Series 6, 15, 102-132.
  • Vickers-Rich, P., Rich, T.H., McNamara, G.C., Milner, A.C., 1998. Is Agrosaurus macgillivrayi Australia‚Äôs oldest dinosaur? Records of the Western Australian Museum Supplement 57, 191-200.
  • Whiteside, D.I., 1983. A fissure fauna from Avon. Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Bristol, 229 pp.
  • Wilson, E., 1890. VI.--Fossil types in the Bristol Museum. Geological Magazine, Decade III 7, 363-372.
  • Yates, A.M., 2003. A new species of the primitive dinosaur Thecodontosaurus (Saurischia: Sauropodomorpha) and its implications for the systematics of early dinosaurs. Journal of Systematic Palaeontology 1, 1-42.

The paper

Benton, M.J. 2012. Naming the Bristol dinosaur, Thecodontosaurus: politics and science in the 1830s. Proceedings of the Geologists' Association 123, 766-778. Download pdf of the paper.

Dicynodon Illustration courtesy of John Sibbick.
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