We all know about the Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops, but what about the Gigantosaurus, pictured above, or the Amargasaurus? These are just a couple of the little-known dinosaurs highlighted at a new exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada.
“Ultimate Dinosaurs: Giants from Gondwana” looks at recently discovered dinosaur species from South America, Africa and Madagascar, some of which have never before been displayed in Canada. Not content with simply assembling the skeletons and putting them on a pedestal, the curators have painted the walls with richly detailed murals and have also created Augmented Reality experiences where visitors can interact with the displays to learn more. You can even flesh out a dinosaur skeleton to see how paleontologists recreate these fearsome beasts from the bones they find.
The exhibit looks at how continental drift affected the dinosaur evolution during the Mesozoic Era 250–65 million years ago. At the start of this period there was one giant land mass called Pangaea. This later divided into Laurasia in the north and Gondwana in the south, which in turn separated into the continents we’re familiar with. This increasing isolation led to dinosaur species evolving separately.
Some of these unusual dinosaurs will surprise you. The long-necked Futalognkosaurus was one of the biggest animals to have ever walked the earth, measuring 110 feet long and weighing as much as 10 elephants. Suchomimus had a face like a crocodile and the Majungasaurus appears to have been a cannibal. Majungasaurus bite marks have been found on the bones of other Majungasaurs.
“Ultimate Dinosaurs: Giants from Gondwana” runs until March 17, 2013.
The Burgess Shale in British Columbia, Canada, preserves an amazing collection of fossils of sea creatures from the Cambrian period. This was a time dating from 488 to 542 million years ago, when complex creatures were beginning to evolve but before the dinosaurs existed.
Some of the creatures were pretty strange, like the Anomalocaris canadensis pictured above in this image courtesy Nobu Tamura. The name means “strange shrimp of Canada”. Another is the Marella splendens, shown below in this image courtesy Wikimedia Commons. These little guys are the most common animal found in the Burgess Shale.
Fossils from the Burgess Shale can be seen in museums around the world, and now the Royal Ontario Museum and Parks Canada have created the Burgess Shale online exhibition. The exhibition has a fossil library of almost every species ever found in the shale, along with information about how they lived. Most interesting are the animated reconstructions, including a virtual submarine ride to visit sea life half a billion years ago.
More than 70 digital reconstructions of the animals allow you to examine them closely. You’ll see how many modern animals such as snails, sea stars, and crabs had their origins in this remote era. These real-life monsters are a great educational tool for kids. My son was fascinated.
If you want to see the Burgess Shale for yourself, go to Yoho National Park in British Columbia. Guided hikes to the otherwise restricted fossil beds, which have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are available from July to September
The Natural History Museum in London has put an important fossil of one of our species’ early ancestors on display.
Australopithecus sediba lived 1.98 million years ago in what is now South Africa. It’s thought by some scientists to be a transition species between the more ape-like Australopithecines and the later, more human-like genus Homo. While it has the small brain size of the Australopithecines (although larger than most), its jaw and body look more like the Homo species. The hands are especially well-formed and it may have used tools.
Two exact replicas of the most complete Australopithecus sediba skeletons were recently donated to the museum by the University of the Witwatersrand and the Government of the Republic of South Africa. At the moment only one skull is on public view. Hopefully the full skeletons will go on display soon. It’s the first public exhibition of this species in the UK.
These are exciting times in paleontology. New human ancestors are unearthed almost yearly, and more and more of our family tree is being pieced together. At the same time, scientists are being forced to defend and explain their field of study to Creationists, who have already made up their minds that science and religion are automatically enemies.
The most impressive display of human evolution I’ve ever seen was at the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa. It has a huge collection of fossil hominids, including Lucy, an Australopithecus afarensis who lived in Ethiopia 3.2 million years ago. One room shows the precursors to modern humans arranged in chronological order to show how primate-like traits gradually gave way to a more human appearance. This is also done with other animals like the horse and hippo. Anyone looking, really looking, at these displays will have a hard time dismissing evolution as some sort of conspiracy on the part of Godless scientists, many of whom are actually devout Christians.
Photo courtesy Brett Eloff.