Dinosaur researcher Prof. Paul Barrett on his job

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a heterodontosaurus in the garden?

Interview by Sweja Boekhoff (EPh)

Listen to the original interview in full length!

Sweja Boekhoff (BM): Would you please explain what you’re doing, Prof. Barrett?

Prof. Paul Barrett (PB): […] So, my name’s Paul Barrett. I’m a dinosaur researcher based at the Natural History Museum in London and I spent most of my time helping to look after our collection of dinosaurs here, but also primarily researching them and researching dinosaurs elsewhere to find out more about how dinosaurs lived, how they’re related to each other and about their biology. And I also do, as part of my role, a lot of public outreach work too, communicating science to very different audiences.

Prof. Paul Barrett, London History Museum; Bild: Paul Barrett

BM: […] Is there a specific time that you can remember when you first started gaining interest in this job and dinosaurs in general?

PB: Well, according to my mother, my interest in dinosaurs goes back to when I was a small boy, probably five or six years old, and it was particularly sparked by getting a very famous children book on dinosaurs called “The Ladybird book of Dinosaurs” when I was about six. And I grew up near to London, so I was able to visit the Natural History Museum quite a lot when I was a boy and it’s an interest that always stayed with me and has never gone away. I’ve considered other jobs as well, but I’ve been lucky enough to be doing something that I wanted to do since I was a child. And not many people are lucky enough to get to do that. […]

BM: […] Is there any fossil in particular that you find the most interesting to work on […]?

PB: […] My favourite project didn’t actually involve many fossils, to be honest, at least not handling them. My favourite piece of work that I probably did was looking at dinosaurs that eat plants and whether those dinosaurs might have led to big changes in the plants that they lived alongside. […] There was a really nice idea: [B]asically, […] during the Jurassic period […] most of the dinosaurs […] around [that were] eating plants were those big long-necked Sauropod dinosaurs, like Diplodocus or Brachiosaurus and Brontosaurus. And then, […] for reasons we don’t really understand still, during the following cretaceous period a lot of those dinosaurs […] become less common. […] Instead different sorts of dinosaurs come along called Iguanodontians and […] other groups called Ceratopsians. […] These are animals that feed on plants that are much closer to the ground level. […] It is thought that that change  from feeding mainly high to mainly feeding low might have driven the extinction of some of the […] big trees and allowed conditions for the earliest flowering plants to come in. […] Unfortunately, what I found was [that that change probably] wasn’t big enough to make that change happen. […]So it was kind of disapproving a hypothesis. But it was fun to do because I had to bring a lot of different kinds of evidence in to test it properly.

BM:  Is there anything you are currently working on?

PB: [A]t the moment I do lots of different work on dinosaurs from all over the world. But my biggest Focuses […] are on some dinosaurs from Southern Africa […].These are dinosaurs that are from the Triassic period, about 220 million years old, and they are among some of the earliest dinosaurs that we know about. […] This is one of the places in the world where I go and do field work. I help to dig up dinosaurs from down there and together with my colleagues in South Africa and Zimbabwe we are then working on [them] to work out how they fit into the evolutionary tree of dinosaurs and what they tell us about how dinosaurs started to take over. […]

BM: What’s your opinion on the media representation of dinosaurs?

PB: […] In general things have gotten much better in the way dinosaurs are portrayed. I’d say there are a couple of big exceptions: […] Feathers [, for example,] has been something that we have now known about for around 20 years. We know a lot of small meat-eating dinosaurs, and also other dinosaurs should be covered with a coating of feathers and it’s disappointing when some of these more recent things don’t do that. But there have been other documentaries recently, like Prehistoric Planet; […] that does do these kinds of things. It depends, […] and something I always have to tell myself when watching one of the Jurassic Park movies is that these are stories. They’re not documentaries to educate people, so they are allowed to have a little bit of artistic licence when they’re designing their dinosaurs. And as one of the characters said […]: “These are not genuine dinosaurs”. […]

BM: For the last question: Do you have a favourite dinosaur?

Heterodontosaurus; Foto: Paul Barrett

PB: So, when I was a kid growing up I was always very keen on Triceratops, […] but I have to say now […] it’s a dinosaur called Heterodontosaurus. […] It’s around 200 Million years old, so it’s a fairly early dinosaur, and it’s a small dinosaur too. It only gets up to around two meters in length […] and [it] has a very cute little skull. Little bit like the dinosaur-equivalent of a little deer. […] I quite like the idea of having a little Heterodontosaurus running around in the garden and keeping the plants under control.

BM: Thank you very much for your time, Prof. Barrett!

Hinweis der Redaktion: Herzlichen Dank an Herrn Thore Bicker für das Lektorat dieses Original-Interviews!

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