A day out looking for footprints with the BBC

You can listen to the programme here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3cswvxr

A few months ago, I was contacted about a program on the BBC world service – CrowdScience. I was asked a few things about what I work on, and answered some questions about what we can learn from dinosaur tracks.

The idea for the show is that listeners email in with a question, then the program makers head off to try and answer it. In this case, the question was “How bird-like were dinosaurs.” As I chatted to the producer, Rory Galloway, over the phone, he seemed to get quite excited about what I was saying. I assumed we’d eventually have another call where Rory could record some of my answers for the show, it being a radio program. I’d mentioned where in the country dinosaur tracks could be found, and we discussed meeting on a beach near Liverpool to record making footprints in the sand and talking about them.

However, after a little while I got an email from Rory asking “Just so I can rule it out in case this is too much, I wonder if you’d be able to show us some dinosaur footprints in Whitby or nearby?”

Well, Rory happened to catch me as teaching started to tail off for the end of semester, and it had been far too long since I’d been in the field. Plus, it’d been a few weeks since I’d seen family over in Yorkshire, so I said what the hell.

Anyway, long story short, in December I ended up on a beach near Whitby with producer Rory, presenter Geoff Marsh, and listener/question asker Malcom (my wife Ariel tagged along for the day too). It was a cold and blustery day, but mostly the weather held fair, and it was a beautiful day.

Cold, windy, but ultimately quite a pretty day

We chatted on the beach, recording a few bits here and there, and then went in search of footprints. Now, I’m generally pretty embarrassingly crap at finding fossils (one of the reasons most of my work is done in museums or on the computer), but through shear luck, I happened upon a half decent track!

A not entirely distinct dinosaur footprint

It’s always a really rewarding part of the job when I can get people engaged during outreach activities, and this was no exception – everyone was super excited, and it really made the day.

Producer Rory, Listener Malcom, and Presenter Geoff, next to the track.

We continued talking about the footprint, and dinosaurs more generally, before finishing the day with fish and chips in Whitby!

As always with media stuff, it was amazing to see how much was recorded only to be left on the cutting room floor (does one ‘cut’ radio?).  Geoff running up and down the freezing beach barefoot to leave footprints, for one!

Anyway, the finished program, which incorporates Susie Maidment, John Hutchinson, Mark Witton, and Julia Clarke, can be found here.  Hopefully plenty of people around the world have enjoyed it.

They also made a short video of me poking footprints, and of some of my renders, which you can view here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06xqj5r

And finally, I made a 3D model of the track which was rendered in the above video, and which I uploaded to sketchfab, where you can view it and download it at your leisure:



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