Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Age of the Dinosaur

At the Natural History Museum in London the dinosaurs are currently undergoing a long-overdue dusting-down. This might disappoint you or your irritating, shrieking sprogling(s) should you visit, but not to worry - there's a temporary exhibition on until September 4 that promises plenty of Mesozoic action. It's entitled 'Age of the Dinosaur', and circumstantially I happen to have been twice. Here's a run-down. (Awesome Tarbosaurus, below, from the exhibition.)

Essentials first - it'll cost you £10 to get in, or £6 for concessions (including kids and students, or people whose student IDs haven't expired yet - hurrah). Photography is apparently prohibited, although they only told me that on my second visit, so (as you have seen) I do have photos from the first time around. Sorry, Natural History Museum. Please don't send me any threatening letters...I love you really. Obviously the life-size animatronics are the main draw, and I'll get back to those - but there's a preamble with plenty of interesting specimens/casts on show, some of which NHM veterans/nerds may recognise as having been dug out of storage (Protoceratops skull below).

Alongside any number of ammonite, fish and plant fossils - which unfortunately I lacked the foresight to take pictures of first time, and was thwarted in doing second time - sits this curious Tyrannosaurus cranium half (below). It's obviously from the museum's former half-a-Tyrannosaurus wall-mount, which Darren Naish has looked at over at Tetrapod Zoology (incidentally the partially-reconstructed mandible, part of the original "Dynamosaurus" material, is now on display in the regular dinosaur gallery).

You will find the usual basic dinosaur background information on the walls (the sort of stuff that readers of this blog will already be very, very familiar with) and various blown-up illustrations of varying merit. Some of the 'facts' are a little bit suspect - for example, the introductory text claims that dinosaurs ruled the Earth for 250 million years. Which I suppose is sorta true, if you believe that birds currently 'rule the Earth'. Much as I like avian dinosaurs, I'm not sure I'd agree - although maybe I'm succumbing to synapsid chauvinism. (Lambeosaurus skull cast below.)

Still, I know it's the robots you're really interested in. They're pretty good for the most part - there are a few anatomical bloopers of varying severity, but their overall appearance is convincing and their movements are generally nice and fluid. The Velociraptor and Gallimimus are suffering from a severe case of Bunny Hands Syndrome, but the former is feathered at least, as is the oviraptorosaur. The Protoceratops is very decent, and the Camarasaurus neck-'n'-head is, if not perfect, commedably impressive-looking and adept at scaring little brats into silence. (I know what you're thinking and yes, I don't really like small children very much, thanks.) The less said about the rather cruddy Archaeopteryx, the better, although I've seen far worse. By far the best of the bunch is the spectacular full-size Tarbosaurus that, as a vulgar tyrannosaur fanboy, I could sit and gawp at for hours. To paraphrase one of the scientific consultants for a certain dinosaur movie, it's the nearest I've been to a living tyrannosaur. It's a shame I don't have another worthy photo of it...

Worth the money, then? I'd say so. However, the company that produces the robots is also apparently behind those used in the 'Dino Jaws' exhibition, which the NHM held previously and is currently underway at Birmingham's Thinktank museum - and some of the robots are identical. Therefore if you've seen 'Dino Jaws' you might want to think twice if you are short on cash/a miser. On the other hand, it's worth remembering that there's more to see here than just the robots, and the money's going to a good cause. If you're in the Natural History Museum this summer, give it a go. Remember though: no photography...


  1. You should have mentioned you would have liked more pictures; I have a photograph of the Archaeopteryx lithographica (I just love that species suffix) fossil and one of a fossil plant whose name I am at present entirely unable to recall, to my shame.

  2. Finally! So they are cleaning the exhibits in the Dinosaur Hall. I blogged about that last year - everything was in a terrible state. Let's hope they don't leave it too long until the next spring clean.


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