Ancient Giants

Ancient Giants

Thu, 08/26/2010 - 7:00pm - 10:00pm

Credit: Jonathan Blair/CORBIS

PBS World presents and evening of dinosaurs and other ancient beasts.

This evening of paleontology begins at 7 p.m. with Megabeasts' Sudden Death, followed by NOVA "The Four-Winged Dinosaur at 8 p.m. and NOVA "Arctic Dinosaurs" at 9 p.m, Thursday, August 26 on PBS World (cable 524/DT21.2).

Megabeasts' Sudden Death

Fifteen thousand years ago North America was like the Serengeti on steroids, with mega-creatures roaming a continent teeming with incredible wildlife. But then, in a blip of geologic time, somewhere between 15 and 35 magnificent large types of animals went extinct.  

Death of the Megabeasts probes the daring idea that a comet broke apart in the atmosphere and devastated North America 12,900 years ago. In an exclusive report of tantalizing evidence supporting the theory, NOVA brings leading climate scientist Paul Mayewski of the University of Maine to the Greenland ice sheet, where he discovers an incriminating clue: microscopic diamonds that are believed to be the result of a powerful impact of extraterrestrial origin.

NOVA uses stunning computer animations to show what North America may have been like thousands of years ago, with herds of woolly mammoths, hulking saber-toothed cats, giant ground sloths and armadillo-like glyptodonts the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Also on hand were the first well-documented humans in North America, known as the Clovis people.

The conjectured comet crash was practically yesterday compared to the dinosaur-killing asteroid of 65 million years ago, which humans were not around to see. However, in this case, the Clovis people would have been there to witness the disaster unfold. While their stone tool culture vanishes from the record at this point, we have no way of knowing how these early prehistoric Americans may have been affected.

NOVA "The Four-Winged Dinosaur

NOVA investigates the mysterious feathered dinosaurs that are challenging old ideas about the origin of bird flight.

Imagine a moment from the age of dinosaurs frozen in time: primitive birds, bees, insects, early mammals, the first known flowering plants and of course, dinosaurs, all exquisitely preserved in fine-grained fossils from China’s Liaoning Province. Volcanic eruptions killed and buried victims quickly in this dinosaur Pompeii, capturing soft, fragile features not normally preserved in fossils — notably the feathers on animals that had never been known to have them before.

Now, with state-of-the-art animation to bring this lost world to life, NOVA investigates the mysterious feathered dinosaurs that are challenging old ideas about the origin of bird flight. The central character in this drama is a strange little dinosaur with wings on its legs as well as its arms. The pigeon-sized microraptor is the smallest adult dinosaur ever found, perhaps the first known tree dweller. But could it really fly? Is it the key to understanding the origin of flight or merely an evolutionary dead end unrelated to the ancestry of birds? To help solve the riddle, NOVA assembles a team of top paleontologists, aeronautical engineers and paleo-artists to reconstruct the microraptor and build a sophisticated model for a wind tunnel experiment. The results have surprising implications for long-accepted ideas about how winged flight began.

NOVA "Arctic Dinosaurs"

How is it that dinosaurs have managed to survive and even thrive in the gloom of the dark and frigid polar regions? This is one of the most intriguing enigmas in paleontology. And now, a unique field expedition to Alaska will utilize extreme engineering and perilous fossil hunting to defrost a jackpot of new fossil clues. With the help of stunning CGI, NOVA breathes life into the polar dinosaurs' lives and environment in vivid detail.