I promised last week that I was going to put up a post about visiting the special dinosaur exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum of Science, and as then got sidetracked. However, a promise is a promise, so here goes! The exhibit touts itself as the first exhibit to focus exclusively on dinosaurs of the southern hemisphere, including South America, Africa, Antarctica, and Australia. The exhibit features 17 full-sized casts. Here, I think it’s important to note that when you go to a dinosaur exhibit, when you look at a full-sized mount, you aren’t actually seeing real fossils. Real fossils would be much too heavy to put on display, and so paleontologists (scientists who study dinosaurs) create casts of the real fossils and then paint the casts to look like the actual fossils. This doesn’t decrease the cool factor of actually seeing full-sized representations of these animals, though! At this exhibition, many of the dinosaurs had never been exhibited as full casts before. The dinosaurs on display are some of the largest and strangest dinosaurs that I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. The exhibition starts out by discussing continental drift and demonstrating how the geography of the Earth has changed significantly over time, and how this movement impacted evolution. After a brief introductory video that shows the current theory of how the Earth’s continents formed from one land mass (Pangea), you turn a corner and are confronted with a plethora of dinosaur skeletons.
The displays are professionally done and the lighting is dramatic throughout the exhibition. The attention to details and how the dinosaurs were placed truly enhanced the experience. In addition to the visual stimulus, the exhibit features background sounds and low frequency “footsteps” that really set the tone for the exhibit.
The exhibit does a great job of presenting new theories and disclosing how much there still is to learn about dinosaurs. The dinosaur on the left (Ouranosaurus) was discovered in Niger in 1976, and there continue to be new theories on the exact function of the spiny protrusions on the dinosaur’s back. As stated on Dinosaur Jungle,” It was thought that this fin was probably used for temperature regulation: the animal could face it towards or away from the sun, depending on whether it needed to heat up or cool down. Close examination of Ouranosaurus however suggests that whatever was on its back may have been quite different from the fin on Spinosaurus. In fact, many scientists now believe that the spines on Ouranosaurus back are more likely to have supported a hump (similar to a modern bison’s hump) than a sail. If this was the case, the hump may perhaps have been used to store food and water (like a camel’s hump).”
The exhibit also reminds visitors how much there really is to learn about dinosaurs through presenting new and strange fossils. The real fossil to the left, the skull of a Nigersaurus, made my entire family stop to gawk (including my five-year-old sister). Who would have thought a dinosaur would have a flat row of teeth going across their face? The Nigersaurus is one of the most recently found dinosaurs and theories about it are still being developed. As The New York Times reported in 2007:
“In contrast to other plant-eating dinosaurs, this one had more than 50 columns of teeth, all lined up along the jaws’ front edges, forming, in effect, foot-long scissors. The CT scans of the jawbones showed up to nine replacement teeth stacked behind each cutting tooth. When one wore out, another immediately took its place, at a rate, perhaps, of one a month in each column. ‘Among dinosaurs,’ Dr. Sereno said, ‘Nigersaurus sets the Guinness record for tooth replacement.”
The ROM seems to have thought of everything in putting together this exhibition and the space. For example, bathrooms are placed halfway through the exhibit and the height of most written information is hip level, so even young children and individuals in wheelchairs can read the information. Even keeping a little one interested in the exhibition is easy with rubbing stations set up at strategic spots in the exhibit. The booklet for doing this is even FREE! We kept my little sister occupied by asking her if the dinosaur she was looking at was a plant-eater or a meat-eater and then asking her how she came up with her answer. (The answer ALWAYS has to do with the teeth!)
The use of iPads in the exhibit is also a great way to engage kids of all ages. We particularly enjoyed the program that allowed you to swivel an iPad over some of the fossils and see the flesh put over the bones to create a “living” dinosaur on your screen. The iPads also had a pronunciation application, so there was no guessing on how to say the dinosaur’s names!
We spent about an hour in the exhibit and probably could have spent another hour if we had read all the information, watched all the videos and accessed all the other reality technology.