Tyrrell Dinosaurs educate, will the R.O.M.?

Later today the Royal Ontario Museum will open the second floor of the Michael Lee Chin Crystal to card-carrying members who want to see two new galleries: Gallery of the Age of Mammals, and even further back into prehistory, the (takeadeepbreath!) James and Louise Temerty Galleries of the Age of Dinosaurs.

This got me thinking back to my seminal trip to the Royal Tyrrell Museum this past July, and what I liked about how the Tyrrell displayed it's prehistoric beauties. And something in particular comes to mind.


The most effective displays are the ones that let everyone, young and old, explore the featured fossils at their own level. Like this globe wall (above) at the Royal Tyrrell Museum highlighting ceratopsians. Or the Tyrrell's Cretaceous Garden, complete with waterfall and humidity.

What's most effective is when there are three levels of text, allowing people to read as deeply as they choose. Something like this:

Glendon Mellow, 80' long, 90 tons. b.1974

This species of artist grazed on the fossil-fields
of prehistory to create his paintings.

The Glendon was discovered by Page 3.14 and featured in a ScienceBlogs interview. He later went on to produce a logo for Shelley Batts of Retrospectacle, and this led to
fame and fortune. Eventually, he blew this fortune on a new micron brushes and began a series of dinosaur paintings on shale, all of which featured barosaurus with large moustaches and Rip Van Winkle beards rendered in stunningly tiny detail.
The three layers of text allow each visitor to become as engaged as they like. For myself, and many other children, I can remember poring over these captions and devouring each word.

I am a big fan of the R.O.M.'s Crystal, and I have high hopes about how the dinosaur collection will fill the industrial-postmodern caverns. The lights that pores into the Crystal should heighten the drama.

Here are some photos I took at the Tyrrell this summer of how the information could look at the R.O.M. if they let Gordo the barosaurus write his own entry.

These two skulls are part of a larger display explaining the varieties of ceratopsians. The Tyrrell is well-known for its Centrosaurs, (the one on the right), as the nearby Dinosaur Provincial Park is home to a staggering number of their fossils.

Also, check out this howling Dire Wolf display from the Tyrrell's prehistoric Mammal Galleries(rampaging Orcs not included). It's chillingly posed as though still alive, and the wall behind is a montage in information in easy to chew on morsels, (much like this blog).

Both museums have impressed me a lot this year, and as I've stated elsewhere, I've had a lifelong fascination with the Royal Ontario Museum. It was my birthday destination of choice as a child and pre-teen. A spectacular illustration at the Tyrrell; unfortunately no artist credit!

The Royal Tyrrell Museum has a more robust collection of prehistoric fossils than the R.O.M., and that's appropriate, it is specialising and near bone beds. My feeling is that dinosaurs and mammals will be stunning in the Crystal; I just hope the information is there for kids like I was to explore as much as they can.

All photos above taken at the Royal Tyrrell Museum; photo credits to G. Mellow and an unnamed family member of his. Copyright the Tyrrell and the animals pictured. They love the paparazzi.)

Dinosaur Provincial Park

Back from the Badlands
After our visit to the Three Rivers Rock & Fossil Museum, my hunger for more fossils grew. I wanted to see bigger ones, jutting out of rock. I'd heard about Dinosaur Provincial Park even as a kid, (didn't the Polka Dot Door do an episode once?) I wen hoping to see a parasaurolophus skull grinning out of the sandy matrix.

It was a long and beautiful drive out from Calgary. All of the sudden, the lightly rolling hills drop away, and we were in the Badlands proper.

We'd just made it, and hopped on board the 24-seater painted schoolbus, and our guide Eric sprayed misty water on us, claiming it was air conditioning.

He drove out to one of his two favourite spots, and as we got off the bus, he pointed out a femur in the dirt parking spot. It seemed so staged just laying there right where he parked the bus. Boy, was I wrong! We all sat down on some banana-coloured pieces of foam. There was a brief group lesson, everyone looking at small fossils of the kind we were likely to see. Crocodile teeth, scutes from crocodiles or euplocephalosaurus, herbivore teeth, femurs and a great many more.

We swore the One Finger Oath, and were shown how to do the lick-test to identify fossil bone. If you lick your finger, and press it hard against a suspected fossil, the tiny pores in the stony bone will create suction. We walked a few more paces, and the fossils were literally littering the ground underfoot. The picture at left shows a breathtaking lichen encrusted stone sitting on shattered manganese. The stone is likely a fossil, but it was so pretty I didn't lick my finger to test it out.

Our guide Eric was terrific. He spent a lot of time with the children, who eagerly tried to show off to him what they had found in a constant stream. Finding a large shattered femur, bulbous and amazing, I wanted to show off to him too, and grabbed his attention for a few moments. As I'd pass by, wandering on our little exploratory hill, I heard him say one of my favourite phrases for a scientist; "Wow. I don't know what that is, but I'm gonna have to find out". He said it more than once. This is education, kids.

This was one of the most incredibly exalting experiences I've ever had, just exploring this hill in a tiny section of the park. At right is another exposed femur, possibly some kind of hadrosaur. Could it be the parasaurolophus I had sought? It could. Nearby was a covered, partially-excavated spine and ribcage for our viewing pleasure.

Dinosaur Provincial Park is also famous for its centrosaurus beds. Centrosaurus, a ceratopsian with a very pretty head-shield can be found in abundance.

The park is an offshoot of the Royal Tyrrell Museum, and more excavated wonders awaited us inside. The displays were heavy on information, and uncompromisingly scientific. Exhausted, the day only half gone by, it was the morning of a lifetime. The thrill of amateur, touristic discovery was rewarding and left me flush with wonder.