August 17, 2009
As I walked through the traveling exhibit “Chinasaurs: Dinosaur Dynasty” in the Maryland Science Center, I felt like I was inside a giant typewriter. Scattered through the exhibit were animatronic versions of Protoceratops, Oviraptor and Velociraptor, and the hall was filled with the clipping and tapping of their internal workings. I was not there to see the rubberized robots, though, but the skeletons of dinosaurs that roamed the part of the world that is now China millions of years in the past.
Chinasaurs is laid out along a chronological path. Among the first dinosaurs visitors meet are long-necked prosauropods like Lufengosaurus and toothy theropods from the Early Jurassic. These eventually give way to even larger predators like Szechuanosaurus and sauropods such as Mamenchisaurus further down the line. The exhibit culminates with a different array of Cretaceous creatures, including smaller theropods, horned dinosaurs, and the very large hadrosaur Tsintaosaurus. While there are some original fossils in glass cases (like the fossil of a small, as-yet-undescribed dinosaur tentatively named “Rehosaurus“), the main attractions are casts.
A sharp-eyed visitor who knows their paleontology will be able to spot a few errors, though. The hands of one of the exhibit’s Monolophosaurus, for example, are on backwards such that its left and right hands were switched, and the skeleton of the North American “bone-head” dinosaur Stegoceras is mislabeled as Pachycephalosaurus. I can only imagine that the show’s producers meant to include the skeleton of their relative Homalocephale, which was found in Mongolia, but had been mixed up. Also, while not actually a mistake, I was amused that some of the smaller bones on the larger mounts were hung onto the skeletons by hooks as if they were little osteological Christmas ornaments.
While the overall quality of the exhibit is no match for the science center’s permanent dinosaur hall downstairs, “Chinasaurs” is still a neat peek at dinosaurs many visitors have probably never heard of before. Paleontological pedants like myself may nitpick about this or that restoration, but no doubt kids will love seeing some unfamiliar dinosaurs. If you want to see them, though, you will have to move fast. The exhibit will be on display at the Maryland Science Center only until September 7.
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