Professor Richard Fortey journeys high in the Rocky Mountains to explore a 520-million-year-old fossilised seabed containing bizarre and experimental lifeforms that have revolutionised our understanding about the beginnings of complex life. Among the amazing finds he uncovers are marine creatures with five eyes and a proboscis; filter-feeders shaped like tulips; worm-like scavengers covered in spikes but with no identifiable head or anus; and a metre-long predator resembling a giant shrimp.
Professor Richard Fortey travels to northeastern China to see a fossil site known as the ‘Dinosaur Pompeii’ – a place that has yielded spectacular remains of feathered dinosaurs and rewritten the story of the origins of birds. Among the amazing finds he investigates are the feathered cousin of T-rex, a feathered dinosaur with strong parallels to living pandas and some of the most remarkable flying animals that have ever lived.
Feathered dinosaurs. Conceptual artwork showing a feathered dinosaur (Velociraptor mongoliensis, center) attacking an early ancestor of the bird, Archaeopteryx lithographica. This velociraptor was a voracious predator that lived during the Campanian period (84-75 million years ago). It may have had a coating of feathers on its skin but it would not have been capable of flight. A. lithographica lived during the late Jurassic period, around 150 million years ago. It had feathered wings composed of three clawed fingers but retained some dinosaur characters, including small teeth and a long tail. The dinosaur group from which Archaeopteryx evolved is disputed.
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY MARIETTE LE ROUX – An handout artist impression released on July 15, 2015 by Ministry of Land and Resources of China shows a reconstruction of the new short-armed and winged feathered dinosaur Zhenyuanlong suni from the Early Cretaceous (ca. 125 million years ago) of China. Depicted by movie-makers as mean, green, man-eating lizards covered in scales, velociraptors probably looked more like large, toothy turkeys, a study said on July 16. Close study of a newly-discovered cousin dubbed Zhenyuanlong suni, has revealed that velociraptors likely had large wings and feathery coats, according to research published in the journal Scientific Reports. AFP PHOTO / Ministry of Land and Resources of China / Chuang Zhao = RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE – MANDATORY CREDIT “AFP PHOTO / Ministry of Land and Resources of China / Chuang Zhao – NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS – DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS =Chuang Zhao/AFP/Getty Images
The Mammal Hothouse
Professor Richard Fortey investigates the remains of ancient volcanic lake in Germany (Messel pit) where stunningly well-preserved fossils of early mammals, giant insects and even perhaps our oldest known ancestor have been found. Among the amazing finds are bats as advanced and sophisticated as anything living today, more than 50-million-years-later; dog-sized ‘Dawn’ horses, the ancestor of the modern horse; and giant ants as large as a hummingbird.