Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Vertebrate Palaeontology Ph.D, Day One.

The Polacanthus model at Dinosaur Isle, Sandown, Isle of Wight.

Happy new year!

Today is the first day of my Ph.D, and I'm pretty excited (as you might have gathered from my previous posts and tweets). I always find new year to be a time of optimism and anticipation, with the festivities of Christmas and New Year's Eve behind us* and the opportunity to get stuck into work without interruption ahead. Of course, the fact I'm now studying part-time with Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton is an added thrill, and the fact my research will be on dinosaurs makes it about as good as I could ever have hoped for.

So what am I actually working on? This extract from my project proposal will answer that question:

Digital reconstruction of dinosaur movement and soft tissues informed by morphology and biomechanics.

The ornithischian dinosaurs within clade Nodosauridae have been known from the fossil record since the dawn of modern palaeontology, and their presence on the Isle of Wight was confirmed by the discovery of a partial specimen by the Reverend William Fox of Brixton (now Brighstone) in 1865 (Blows, 1996). However, despite a number of partially complete specimens, the biomechanics and functional morphology of these obligate quadrupeds has not been subject to the same degree of study as other dinosaurian taxa. Two notable exceptions are a finite element analysis of ankylosaur tail club impacts (Arbour and Snively, 2009) and a more general functional investigation of ornithischian limb morphology (Maidment et al, 2012). The reconstruction of nodosaurid and more derived ankylosaurian morphology, and locomotion, however, remains to be achieved in enough detail to interpret the lifestyle, and palaeoecologyof these extinct animals. Doing this, within a rigorous comparative and statistical framework, is the aim of this PhD project.

So big spiky thyreophorans will be at the core of this project. In addition, I will be drawing heavily on my experience as a 3D artist and animator to create accurate reconstructions of how these dinosaurs moved. I have a huge amount to learn, and recognise that I will need to address some gaps in my knowledge quickly, but then I'm I'm studying for that very reason.

So I've stepped onto the path, and now to see where it takes me. I really can't wait to find out.

Best wishes to everyone for 2014, and I hope perhaps I'll see you at a meeting or on a field trip at some point in the year.

*Not to moan or owt, but some of us spent the festive period ill. Cough.


Arbour, V. M., & Snively, E. (2009). Finite element analyses of ankylosaurid dinosaur tail club impacts. Anatomical record (Hoboken, N.J.: 2007), 292(9), 1412–26. doi:10.1002/ar.20987

Blows, W.T., 1996. A new species of Polacanthus (Ornithischia; Ankylosauria) from the Lower Cretaceous of Sussex, England. Geological Magazine, 133 (<5), 1996, pp. 671-682.

Maidment, S.C.R. et al., 2012. Limb-Bone Scaling Indicates Diverse Stance and Gait in Quadrupedal Ornithischian Dinosaurs A. A. Farke, ed. PLoS ONE, 7(5), p.e36904. Available at: [Accessed May 27, 2012].


  1. Happy new year Stu - I wish you the very best for your new (and frankly awesome) PhD adventure!