The reptiles first appeared during the Triassic period and became the dominant terrestrial vertebrates after the Triassic-Jurassic extinction event some 200 million years ago. Fossils show that birds are modern feathered dinosaurs, having evolved from earlier theropods during the Late Jurassic epoch, and are the only lineage to survive the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event approximately 66 million years ago. Researchers, therefore, divide the creatures into avian dinosaurs, or birds, and non-avian dinosaurs.
And Channel 5’s documentary ‘Natural History Museum: World of Wonder’ reveals how one artefact played a pivotal role in understanding the beasts.
The narrator said: “The Natural History Museum is home to over 80 million different items, but its rarest are kept under lock and key, hidden away at the back of the museum’s main hall, in the treasures gallery.
“Today, one of the museum’s dinosaur experts Susie Maidment has been granted special access to examine the most prized fossil in the entire museum.
“Susie is making a record of the fossil for other experts to study.”
The fossil was discovered in Germany in 1861 and has been in the museum for 150 years.
And Dr Maidment explained why it is kept separate from the rest of the museum.
She said: “This is archaeopteryx and it’s probably the most important fossil of a dinosaur that there is anywhere in the world.
“I’m a little bit scared to touch it, it’s absolutely priceless – it’s impossible to put a value on this specimen.
“This specimen has a number of characteristics of both dinosaurs and birds.
“We have beautiful feathers, but we’ve also got a wishbone – a bone in the shoulder region that helps birds fly.
“We’ve got a claw on the foot that allows birds to perch on branches.”
Dr Maidment speculated that the fossil challenges long-held views on what dinosaurs may have looked like.
She added: “There are also a number of dinosaur features – you can see it’s got a very long tail. We don’t have tails in modern birds that aren’t made of feathers.
“I think Jurassic Park has a huge amount to answer for our opinions on what dinosaurs looked like.
“We tend to think of them as big, scaly reptilian-like animals, but actually we now know many of the meat-eating dinosaurs were feathered.
“I think this changes our opinion on what dinosaurs were like.
“They were probably very bird-like in their behaviour and, many of them, we would not have been able to distinguish from birds today.”
Steven Spielberg’s 1993 science fiction film was the first instalment in the Jurassic Park franchise and is based on the 1990 novel of the same name by Michael Crichton.
The film is set on the fictional island of Isla Nublar, located off Central America’s Pacific Coast near Costa Rica.
There, wealthy businessman John Hammond and a team of genetic scientists created a wildlife park of de-extinct dinosaurs.
When industrial sabotage leads to a catastrophic shutdown of the park’s power facilities and security precautions, a small group of visitors and Hammond’s grandchildren struggle to survive and escape.