Dinosaur exhibit brings new life to old bones

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Make no bones about it, pint-sized paleontologists are going to dig the new dinosaurs exhibit at the Museum of Science – and they just may learn something, too. The traveling exhibition, “Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries,” combines fossils, casts, mechanical models, computer simulations and dioramas to explore how dinosaurs behaved, moved, looked, and the theories of why they became extinct (volcano? meteor?). Offering 35 species of dinosaurs, reptiles, early birds and mammals, the fun and informative exhibit brings prehistory alive.

Despite being wiped out about 65 million years ago, dinosaurs still have enduring appeal, to both children and grownups.“There is nothing like them alive today. Dragons and unicorns are cool, but those are mythical. We have proof that dinosaurs were alive and real,” said Dr. Susan Heilman, an education associate at the museum. “They are mysterious and people love a good mystery.”

And so, the exhibition aims to shed some light on these prehistoric puzzles. One of the many “aha” moments is a robotic six-foot-long Tyrannosaurus rex that shows how the primeval beast would have moved. Next to the model is an interactive touch-screen to explain the biomechanics.

Visitors can also see where a dinosaur stepped in the re-creation of the famous Davenport Ranch Trackway, a collection of sauropod and theropod dinosaur prints unearthed in Texas. Display text reveals new ideas on dinosaur herding behavior.

To get their hands on stuff such as a real Triceratops horn or an Apatosaurus foreleg, visitors can look for easy-to-spot signs that simply say “Touch This.” My 4-year-old’s favorite was a sauropod’s hind end (aka its butt.) Boys will be boys. But with every laugh, it’s easy to sneak in some learning – that dino’s tail, it’s as long as a school bus and weighs as much as three grand pianos.

Setting up a course for prehistoric adventure, a jaw-dropping giant T-rex bats leadoff. The undisputed king of the dinosaurs, the T-rex looks ready to devour anything in its path, including little children.

“This is definitely a wow. The open mouth is pretty cool,” Heilman said.

Another cool dino is the giant 60-foot-long fiberglass and steel replica of an Apatosaurus. The showstopper, however, is a 700-square-foot full-immersion diorama of a Mesozoic forest as it might have looked 130 million years ago. The recreation of the eco-system is comprised of dinosaurs, flying dinosaurs, birds, mammals, amphibians, insects and plants. It’s an eco-system with the living creatures in action poses and it looks a lot like it would today, minus the dinosaurs.

“To see that diorama at the end brings the exhibit all together,” Heilman said. That recreation proposes an evolutionary link between dinosaurs and birds, “Birds are living dinosaurs – survivors of the turmoil that wiped out their relatives like T-rex,” reads the display text.

“It shows a relationship between birds and dinosaurs, being similar and just living in different times,” Heilman said.

Behind the scenes, a lot of sweat went into installing the exhibit. “It took a month to physically put it all together,” said Shana Hawrylchak, senior temporary exhibit coordinator. “The diorama was about a six-day project for two people.”

The exhibit, “Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries,” debuted in 2005 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. This is its first time visiting Boston, and it will be up until Aug. 21 before it moves on to the Lafayette Science Museum in Louisiana.

Note to parents: The exhibit is dark and small children could get spooked. Also, a satellite gift shop selling dino books, puzzles, games, figurines, T-shirts, and so on, is set up next to the exit. Be prepared to diffuse a meltdown or shell out $20 for a stuffed T-Rex that sounds like Godzilla.

For more information related to dinosaurs, visit rareresource.com.


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