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.


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.