Destination: The World's Largest Dinosaurs at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences
Posted December 18, 2014
Updated January 17, 2015
The World's Largest Dinosaurs, the special exhibit at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, goes beyond the dinosaur skeleton and delves deep into the bodies of the creatures, a group of dinosaurs that were the largest that ever lived.
The exhibit, which runs through April 12, explores the bodies of the long-necked and long-tailed sauropods. They stretched as long as 130 feet and lived as a species for about 140 million years. The exhibit uncovers how these dinosaurs lived for so long despite their massive bodies and long necks that required their heart, lungs and other organs to work so hard.
The exhibit draws connections with today's animals - from birds and alligators to Komodo dragons, elephants and rhinoceros - to make educated guesses on how the giant bodies functioned. You can see comparisons between dinosaur eggs and eggs from animals today, for instance. Or learn that one of these giant dinosaur's heads was about the size of a horse head.
"It's like a detective story," said Albert Irvin, the museum's special exhibits coordinator. "We have to take the bones and carefully examine them. From these scraps of evidence, we put together these ancient mysteries, which is what did the dinosaurs look like."
And, he added, paleontologists must "understand modern animals to make educated hypothoses to unravel the mysteries of these bones."
The exhibit comes from the American Museum of Natural History, but the natural sciences museum also added a good number of bones from its own collection and from some borrowed from N.C. State's collection. You can find them in the lime green cases that are scattered across the space.
The centerpiece of the exhibit is the life-sized, detailed model of a 60-foot-long Mamenchisaurus. The side of the model is actually a screen. There you can see video projected on it to learn more about how the organs worked. A narrator tells you want you're looking at. It's pretty incredible to see. It appears to actually be breathing and moving.
Of course, the exhibit features a good number of hands-on opportunities. Kids can operate a 3D zoetrope to see what the dinosaurs looked like as they walked. And there's the very popular fossil dig where my two kids could spend hours. Kids can use tools to chip and brush away sand. (The fossils are fixed to the table so they won't be able to pull them out once they do uncover them).
From there, visitors can learn more about how paleontologists work in the field. Cases and a video showcase museum researchers on a dig earlier this year in Utah. Exhibit goers can see the tools they actually used to dig up dinosaur bones.
Then, there's more information about what happens once the bones return to the museum and how scientists painstakingly clean off centuries of sand and dirt.
"We're trying to show the whole process of field to exhibit," Irvin said.
It's a fascinating exhibit that's a twist on the usual dinosaur exhibit that relies on big replicated skeletons. My kids, ages 5 and 9, have been four times and love it.
Tickets are free for museum members; $14 for adults; $12 for seniors, students and military; and $8 for kids ages 3 to 12. The museum is on Jones Street in downtown Raleigh.