When you think of dinosaurs, your mind immediately goes to the impressive might of the tyrannosaurus rex or maybe the huge size of the brontosaurus.
These iconic dinosaurs have become synonymous with the species that dominated the planet for about 150 million years — but they weren’t always the force of nature they grew to be.
“We used to have little idea about how animals like T-rex and brontosaurus rose up to dominance,” palaeontologist Dr. Steve Brusatte told news.com.au. “But now we know that dinosaurs started humbly, as gangly-looking, house-cat-sized creatures staking their claim in the brave new world after millions of years of supervolcanoes scarred the planet.”
But before they could rise up, they had to best their rivals.
“They started small, humble, anonymous, living in the shadows, and they gradually overcome their competitors over tens of millions of years. It’s like Game of Thrones, but it actually happened.”
In the end, they became one of the most dominant species our planet has ever known. Homo sapiens have existed for less than 200,000 years and already we’re talking about planetary extinction. The dinosaurs reigned for 750 times that.
“The dinosaurs were an empire. That’s how we should think of them,” Dr. Brusatte said.
Dr. Brusatte, 34, is widely recognized as one of the leading palaeontologists of his generation. Currently working at the University of Edinburgh, he has written over 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers during his decade of research in the field and has also named and described more than 10 new species of dinosaurs.
Fossils are being unearthed at a dizzying rate, leading us to learn new things about our predecessors who were wiped from the face of the earth some 66 million years ago.
Dr. Brusatte believes we’re in a “golden age of palaeontology” and helps bring these recent (and not so recent) discoveries to life in a new book called The Rise And Fall Of The Dinosaurs: A New History Of A Lost World. The book aims to tell the incredible story of how we’ve pieced together the life and times of the dinosaur empire — a story which most adults may not be so familiar with.
“There are so many books about dinosaurs for children,” Dr. Brusatte said. “But there aren’t so many books for adults, and that’s a shame.”
The book gives insight into the life of a palaeontologist in the field. It introduces readers to a cast of fossil hunters and details current research, both Dr. Brusatte’s own and that of his colleagues.
It chronicles the paleontologist’s journey from a dinosaur-loving child to making some truly remarkable discoveries including primitive human-sized tyrannosaurs, monstrous carnivores even larger than T-rex and feathered raptor dinosaurs preserved in lava from China.
“You can never predict what the next discovery will be, and that makes palaeontology such an addictive pursuit,” he told news.com.au.
While he’s used to being surprised by what he digs up, he still has a couple of ideas about what he’d love to discover.
“For me, what I would love to find is the world’s oldest bird,” he said. “Birds evolved from small meat-eating dinosaurs, sometime in the Middle Jurassic. Every year my team and I head up to the Scottish Hebrides islands, where there are Middle Jurassic rocks, on the hunt for the first bird.”
If they ever do make that discovery, it might require another book.
This story originally appeared in news.com.au.