Project Overview  

DAWNDINOS is a five year research project studying the dawn of the age of dinosaurs.

It is funded by a European Research Council grant (Advanced Investigator award) which was awarded to Professor John Hutchinson, scientific researcher in the field of evolutionary biomechanics based at the Royal Veterinary College in London.

Dinosaurs are among the most successful group of vertebrate animals ever to walk on the planet. Their diverse structure and form coupled with their worldwide fossil record makes them excellent subjects for research on the evolution of movement behaviours.

Dinosaurs belong to a larger group of animals called archosaurs which includes today’s living birds and crocodiles; and also pterosaurs, which like dinosaurs (other than their descendants, birds) are extinct.

What is striking is that the earliest dinosaurs were very different from most other archosaurs – notably due to their erect posture (keeping the legs close together near the body midline) and bipedalism (at least intermittently).

Broadly speaking there are two types of archosaur:

  • Those more closely related to birds (bird-line) called the ornithodirans, which includes dinosaurs and pterosaurs;
  • And those more closely related to crocodiles (crocodile-line) called the pseudosuchians, which are less popularly known.

 Archosaur Lineage (“Family Tree”)


Interestingly, during the late Triassic period about 225 million years ago (which was before the Jurassic), it was the crocodile-line animals (pseudosuchians) that dominated the landscape – they were bigger, more numerous, more diverse and more successful than dinosaurs. There were some dinosaurs around but they were small and few in numbers; the late Triassic was a ‘crocodile-world’!

Then in the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods that followed, things started to change and the dinosaurs diversified and dramatically increased in numbers to become the most common, largest and most successful land vertebrates in the Mesozoic era.

So between the late Triassic and the early Jurassic, something happened – the big crocodile-line animals all started to vanish from the fossil record (leaving only true crocodiles, ultimately), and were replaced by dinosaurs, which then got bigger, more numerous and more diverse as they filled the ecological space left by the pseudosuchians. Birds only evolved from dinosaur ancestors later; in the Jurassic.

There are various ideas about this shift from crocodile-line to dinosaur/bird-line dominance. The DAWNDINOS research team will be testing the ‘Locomotor Superiority Hypothesis.’ for the first time to see if this explains why dinosaurs succeeded across the Triassic-Jurassic transition and why the crocodile-line did not enjoy the same success on land.


December 2018

Digital Archosaurs at Dino Club!

A great time was had by all at Dino Club last week when students were introduced to modern-day approaches to bringing fossil species ‘back to life’ using digital techniques of data capture and modelling using ImageJ software. The students did a digital calculation of the centre of mass of a variety of basic shapes. Then they looked at how to reconstruct whole archosaurs and digitally flesh out archosaur skeletons and determine the location of the centre of mass.  Students could modify their reconstructions to see the effects of body shape on COM location.

This week (Wednesday 12th December) Professor John Hutchinson and Dr Peter Bishop will be hosting the last Dino Club session. Students will be introduced to the biomechanical modelling software OpenSim and use it to simulate movement and the forces occurring within the body in digital models of two archosaurs: Batrachotomus and Coelophysis. The challenge is simple: find a way for these archosaurs to remain balanced on their feet!

Key ring 1

Onslow students: This will be a fun, hands-on session and no one goes away empty- handed! There will be DAWNDINOS key rings for everyone – Be sure to come along to get yours!

DAWNDINOS Dino Club explores how paleontologists infer movement in extinct animals

Dr Andrew Cuff explains how changing the moment arm of the biceps muscle can make lifting objects easier

At another awesome afterschool Dino Club last week, students at Onslow St Audrey’s School explored how archosaurs moved.

Dr Bishop and Dr Cuff (postdoctoral researchers working on the DAWNDINOS project) explained how different archosaur joints articulated in different species and how this may have related to how they moved.

Students examined 3D printed fossil specimens, as well as the bones of modern birds and crocodilians, to see how the bones are connected and how different joints have different ranges of mobility. They had fun looking at bone models (archosaur and human) and examining muscle scarring on the 3D printed and real bones. Students also learned how muscles work in lever systems and did muscle leverage exercises with the human arm model and the bucket lift challenge.

Dino Club continues this week on Wednesday 5th December when students will be looking at how to reconstruct whole archosaurs digitally and determine the location of the centre of mass.

There will be heaps of fun with computers and science.

Onslow students: Come along and prepare to be amazed!


DAWNDINOS Dino Club Update!

Dr Krijn Michel shows students 3D printed bones at Dino Club anatomy session

At Dino Club last week students at Onslow St Audrey’s School in Hatfield were given an introduction to human and other animal anatomy by Dr Krijn Michel, a postdoctoral researcher from the DAWNDINOS team.

They learned about basic limb bones and their structure and then carried out a couple of fun activities. First they were given an assortment of real forelimb and hindlimb bones and had to identify and reassemble the limb bones (mainly humerus & radius/ulna and femur & tibia) with  aid from generic anatomical sketches.

In the second activity students were given 3D printed hindlimb bones from living and extinct archosaurs. They measured femur and tibia bone lengths with calipers, and using the bone length ratios they had to identify if that species of  archosaur was more cursorial or graviportal. This is similar to what paleontologists do in the real world and students had a great time!

This week (Wed 28th NovemberDr Andrew Cuff and Dr Peter Bishop will introduce students to how palaeontologists infer posture and gait in extinct animals, focusing on interpreting the function of joints based on their shapes and the actions and leverage of muscles.

Onslow students: there will be lots of hands-on activities, a quiz with great prizes….. and don’t forget: everyone that attends gets a free DAWNDINOS key ring!


DAWNDINOS first afterschool Dino Club at Onslow St Audrey’s School, Hatfield was a huge success!

Professor John Hutchinson kicked off the first Dino Club last week with an introduction to the dawn of the dinosaurs. He talked about Triassic-Jurassic biodiversity and mass extinctions and students were given an insight into what life was like in these eras.

Students using the paleobiodb.org  website

Students determined how groups of archosaurs (dinosaurs and kin) and synapsids (mammals + kin) changed from the Triassic period to the Jurassic period. Using the Paleobiology Database they plotted Triassic-Jurassic archosaur vs. synapsid diversity over time.

Students sorted photo cards of animals living in England approx. 2000 years ago



Students then turned to the Anthropocene to see which British mammals had gone extinct and why. They sorted photo cards of animals living in England around 2,000 years ago to determine which still remain and which are extinct (extirpated) here.


The hour-long session flew by and finished with a short quiz to summarise what students had learned. There were 2 lucky winners who received DAWNDINOS prizes and everyone that attended got a DAWNDINOS key ring and sticker!

This  week (Wed 21st Nov) we have another exciting Dino Club in store! Dr Krijn Michel will be exploring dinosaur anatomy and students will measure 3D printed archosaur bones and bones from living animals to look at ratios of bone segments to determine what kind of animal they are from.

Onslow students be sure to come along, the club starts at 3.30pm (until 4.30pm).       A fun time is to  be had by all!  Don’t forget…. everyone that attends gets a free DAWNDINOS key ring!

Professor Hutchinson introduces the DAWNDINOS  ‘Afterschool Dino Club’ to students at Onslow St Audrey’s School in Hatfield.

The DAWNDINOS team is exploring the exciting world of early dinosaurs with students from Onslow School at a special ‘Afterschool Dino Club’ starting Wednesday 14th November.

Excitement is growing as Prof Hutchinson gave an enthusiastic talk to Year 10 and Year 11 students at their assembly today. He introduced the club and gave a taster of what to expect.

Prof John Hutchinson talking to Year 10 and Year 11 students at Onslow School

From about 230 to 66 million years ago, dinosaurs roamed the earth and were among the most successful group of vertebrate animals ever to walk on the planet.  So why were dinosaurs so successful and why did they become so dominant across the Triassic-Jurassic boundary?

Over five weeks Professor Hutchinson and his team of researchers will look at life in the Triassic period, mass extinctions and ecosystems. Students will have the opportunity to learn about evolutionary diversification and adaptation, species that are under threat of extinction and climate change. There will be lots of fun activities too including an introduction to the anatomy of dinosaurs, how they moved and the opportunity to play with 3D printed dinosaur bones to figure out how their joints worked!

The DAWNDINOS team will explain how cutting-edge techniques are used in their research and have revolutionised the study of animal biomechanics and locomotion. They will explain 3D digital modelling and how the data from the living relatives of Triassic crocodiles and dinosaurs will help estimate muscle function and movement in these extinct animals.  Students will have the chance to play with computer software and flesh out skeletons of dinosaurs!

Students will also see how these world-leading experts have started to develop computer simulations to estimate how different species of extinct archosaurs – the group of animals that includes crocodiles, birds, their relatives and dinosaurs – might have moved!

If you are a student at Onslow school COME ALONG! These sessions are not to be missed. (They are for budding scientists and dinosaur enthusiasts alike!)

Watch this space as this site will be updated regularly with news about what Dino Club is doing!


October 2018

European Research Council  interviews Professor John Hutchinson for  Horizon ( The EU Research and Innovation Magazine)

ERC Horizon magazine has published ‘Models of dinosaur movement could help us build stronger robots and buildings‘ Read it to find out more about the ERC funded DAWNDINOS project!

September 2018

DAWNDINOS team gets Excited about Euparkeria!

Thanks to the Iziko Museums of South Africa    for allowing us to share these great photos of the important archosaur-cousin Euparkeria!

The DAWNDINOS team is looking forward to studying these fossils more in due course.

Skull and (right) forelimb shown here

Skull Euparkeria Capensis


Forelimb Euparkeria Capensis

August 2018

RVC summer school  students have fun at DAWNDINOS outreach event

On 29th August, thirty (Year 11) students on the RVC Summer School programme visited the Structure and Motion Lab and met the DAWNDINOS team to learn about our research. Feedback was fantastic with students commenting on how much they enjoyed the practical sessions and found learning about new technology interesting and fun. They thought the computer simulations of movement were particularly cool!

Click here to see photos.

Thank you to everyone involved.  An enjoyable morning was had by all!

July 2018

50 Students from the Sutton Trust meet the DAWNDINOS research team.

Last week the DAWNDINOS team today hosted an event for year 12 students from Sutton Trust summer school to learn about palaeontology, biomechanics, archosaurs and more!

Prof John Hutchinson explains how computer simulations are an important digital method for calculating the biomechanics of movement in animals.

Click here to see more photos!

June 2018

I Know Dino Podcast’ –  Professor John Hutchinson interview

I Know Dinosaurs 140618I Know Dinosaurs ‘The Big Dinosaur Podcast’ released its 185th episode this week which features an interview with Professor John Hutchinson talking about the DAWNDINOS project and other dino -related things, including his work on the T. rex Autopsy . It’s an interesting, informative and fun listen for scientists and dinosaur enthusiasts!  To hear the interview: https://iknowdino.com/procompsognathus-episode-185/


March 2018

Dr Andrew Cuff’s Argentinian Adventure

Dr Andrew Cuff has recently returned from an exciting three weeks of field work in the Patagonian region of Argentina. Here are some of the highlights and photos that he’d like to share from his trip!


Dr Peter Bishop joins the DAWNDINOS team

Peter1aDr Peter Bishop joins us as a Postdoctoral Researcher having recently gained his PhD in Evolutionary Biomechanics from Griffith University in Australia and we are delighted to welcome him to the DAWNDINOS team!  Peter has published/is publishing a lot on stem tetrapod biomechanics and anatomy and more recently on dinosaur/bird locomotor biomechanics. He is skilled in Matlab, experimental data, 3D imaging and modelling, simulation, maths, physics, palaeo and much more…

He will be a great asset to the team!     Read more about Peter…..

Dr Vivian Allen

Sadly we have said goodbye to Dr Vivian Allen who has left us for pastures new.  Viv has been a fantastic member of the team and made  a huge contribution to the DAWNDINOS research. He still remains a collaborator on the project so hasn’t gone completely!  We wish him well and every success with his future endeavours.


January 2018

Dawndinos team presents at SICB Conference 2018

Dr Andrew Cuff and Dr Krijn Michel gave presentations at the annual SICB conference (Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology)  in San Francisco last week. To find out more read their  abstracts here


December 2017 

Mussaurus moves in!

We have published our first paper from the DAWNDINOS project, on the early sauropodomorph dinosaur Mussaurus‘s forelimb muscles and motions. Learn more about it in this blog post here, and watch the moving Mussaurus arms in the video below!

October 2017  

‘Archosaurian Dawn’ From Sketches to Final Artwork

‘Archosaurian Dawn’ features as the headline banner on every page of this website  and is an evocative piece of paleoart which depicts some of the animal subjects in our study during the Triassic period.

It was produced by internationally renowned paleoartist Bob Nicholls who was delighted to be commissioned by the DAWNDINOS team. “I am extremely fortunate that my profession enables me to work with some of the world’s most respected scientists and centres for learning.  John Hutchinson and his team at the Royal Veterinary College are among the very best of the best at understanding animal anatomy and functional morphology of extinct animals, so it was a big thrill to work with them on a new Dawn Dinosaurs artwork.  Having one of my illustrations associated with the Royal Veterinary College is a great honour and the responsibility to accurately represent the scientific research in an attractive way weighed heavily on me during the rendering process.  As a result, I believe ‘Archosaurian Dawn’ is one of my best artistic accomplishments and I have John and his team to thank for that!”

Bob has kindly shared  with us the fascinating process he undertook in the production of Archosaurian Dawn from preliminary sketches to final artwork… Find out more here.

July 2017 

DAWNDINOS Collaboration with City of London Academy

CoLA jpegDuring June and July DAWNDINOS  teamed up with the City of London Academy (CoLA) on an exciting ‘science through art’ after-school outreach project. The project included a series of five ‘Dino Art Club’ sessions for students aged 11-18 years, led by art teacher Ben Frimet.

The project was closely linked to DAWNDINOS scientific research, dinosaur evolution, Triassic ecosystems and extinctions and  presented in a fun, interactive way through different art-based activities. Students used a variety of media to reconstruct their sketches of extinct archosaurs and their environment!

Over the five weeks the project also looked at species under threat of extinction, diversification and adaption as well as climate change issues that are relevant today. 

At the final session which took place on July 12th students were shown how to construct a museum-type exhibition and present their work with specimen tags akin to real museum exhibits. Students were presented with certificates for their excellent work. Professor John Hutchinson & Ben Frimet (Art teacher, CoLA) showcased the adaptive radiation wire mobile which will be exhibited in the Academy’s atrium. Read More……

Prel 6
Professor John Hutchinson and Ben Frimet (CoLA) with Adaptive radiation model

Opposable Thumb

Last weeks’ session looked at how humans are adapted for the things they do. One of our adaptations is our hand.

Humans, as well as monkeys, gorillas, and other primates, have a hand that can grasp objects.  Students were taught about adaption by disabling the opposable thumb then trying activities like tying a knot in string, writing, eating and making a clay pinch pot and they found it was hard!


Students  explored adaptive radiation after surviving a mass extinction.  Read more…..


Prof John Hutchinson shows the students artistic interpretations of the archosaurs in the DAWNDINOS study based on scientific research.


Dino/archosaur art sketches drawn by the students from text description of  the archosaurs in our study.



May 2017

Shiny new XROMM has just arrived at the RVC’s Structure and Motion Lab.


The DAWNDINOS team are checking and calibrating our new XROMM machine in preparation for experimental data collection.