BSc Zoology

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Dinosaur Palaeobiology

Course unit fact file
Unit code EART34001
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 6
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


Dinosaurs and their descendants, the birds, are some of the most successful vertebrates to have evolved, diversify and successfully occupy environments from Pole to Pole. The 230 million year fossil record chronicles their combined evolutionary success, a history that is underpinned by their archosauromorph origins. Students will examine the geological and palaeontological record, reviwing the tools that are now used to excavate, prepare, reconstruct and study the fossils that help provide an understanding of dinosaur palaeobiology. The Earth processes that were intimtaley associated with the evolution, diversification and distribution of archosaurs will be reviewed within a palaeobiogeographic framework. The death, buriel and preservation of vertebrate remains will also be studied to help reconstruct the taphonomic controls and overprints that might impact the fossil record and its interpretation. The ebb and flow of evolution and extinction will also be explored, as will the Mass Extinction events that hailed the beginning and also the end of the Mesozoic Age of the Dinosaurs. The origin and evolution of dinosaur avian descendants will also be explored in the broader context of the recovery of biomes after mass-extinction events.

This course unit detail provides the framework for delivery in 20/21 and may be subject to change due to any additional Covid-19 impact.  Please see Blackboard / course unit related emails for any further updates.


Pre-requisite units




The course will provide an understanding of the terminology, palaeobiology and evolution of archosaurs, with a focus upon the dinosauria. It will also explore how dinosaur form and function was influenced by biological, physiological, mechanical, and environmental factors. Major changes of the Earth and its processes during the Mesozoic will also be discussed in detail in relation to their impacts upon the evolution of archosaurs.


Learning outcomes

On the successful completion of the course, students will be able to:




Demonstrate a broad understanding of dinosaur evolution and palaeobiology.




Describe and understand the processes that impact upon the preservation of fossils (taphonomy)




Will acquire the practical skills to describe, interpret and understand vertebrate fossils




Use their knowledge to apply a suite of analytical techniques available to interrogate fossil remains both in the lab and the field.




Use their knowledge to evaluate hypotheses relating to major vertebrate evolutionary events and evolutionary processes






These are each typically 2h lecture sessions, but with discussion time built-in every week. 
Week 1 Introduction to Vertebrate Anatomy & Recap Tetrapod Evolution
Week 2 Burial Laws & Palaeobiogeography
Week 3 Reconstructing Past Communities & Archosaur Origins
Week 4 The Permo/Trias Mass-Extinction Event & Defining Dinosaurs
Week 5 The first dinosaurs & Basal Theropods
Week 6 Theropod Palaeobiology & Radiation of the Theropods 
Week 7 Ornithopods & Thyreophorans
Week 8 Sauropod Dinosaurs & The Dynamics of Extinct Giants
Week 9 Avian Theropods and the Origins of Birds
Week 10 The KPg Mass Extinction Event & Course Review
Week 11 Student assignment review seminars.
Week 12 Student assignment review seminars.

Teaching and learning methods

The format for each week will be two 1 hour sessions (deliverd as blended learning to include reading, lectures and discussion groups (via blackboard or zoom). Students will given an assignment in week 3 that will be a hypothesis driven research topic to be handed-in on week 10. Each student will then deliver a ~10 minute live presentation on their reserach assignment to the whole class via zoom/blackboard.


Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 50%
Written assignment (inc essay) 30%
Oral assessment/presentation 20%

Feedback methods

Assessment type

% Weighting within unit

Hand out and hand in dates



How, when and what feedback is provided

ILO tested

Hypothesis driven research assignment 30%
Hand out
week 3
Hand in week 10
2,500-3,000 word assignment Written feedback 1-5

Short seminar on research assignment


Week 11 and 12

~10 minutes

Written and scored feedback given 2 days of presentation


Open Book assessment


End of term


Standard feedback after open-book assessment



Recommended reading

Each week reading will be provided for the relevant literature, mostly in the form original scientific papers and articles.


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 80

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Phillip Manning Unit coordinator

Additional notes

20 x 1 hour sessions deliverd as blended learning (combination of pre-class reading/video, along with lectures and seminars).

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