From Dinosaurs to Early Birds: An Evolutionary Turning Point

Held at The Geological Society (Burlington House), 1 July 2010

The last two decades have witnessed great advances in our knowledge of the origins of birds. By examining new specimens of dinosaurs and early birds, palaeontologists have been able to find out about the bone structure and even behaviour of primitive birds and non avian dinosaurs.

Palaeontologist and Honorary Fellow Professor Xu Xing is famed for being one of the world’s most prolific dinosaur hunters, having discovered some twenty five new species of dinosaur. On July 1 he visited the Geological Society to outline his most recent work in searching for bird-like dinosaurs in remote areas of China. He talked about his pioneering work which has improved our understanding of how feathers and flight could have evolved in dinosaurs, how therapod hand could have transformed into avian wing, and even when the first bird might have appeared, and what it might have looked like.

Professor Xu was joined by University College London postgraduate student Michael Pittman, whose participation in the Inner Mongolia Research Project led by Professor Xu led to his discovery of a new species of carnivorous dinosaur, Linheraptor exquisitus, earlier this year. He gave an outline of how the expedition was organised, and the importance of understanding the local geological context.

This lecture was an exciting and rare opportunity to hear first-hand how dinosaur discoveries are made, and their importance in understanding the evolutionary history of our planet, from both a famous figure and a rising star in the world of palaeontology.