Originally created 05/13/05

New dinosaurs exhibit unveiled at museum



NEW YORK - The bones? Waayyyy old. The discoveries, research and technology? Brand spanking, up-to-the-minute new.

An exhibition opening this weekend at the American Museum of Natural History introduces viewers to the latest research being done on a perennial favorite subject - dinosaurs. "Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries" opens Saturday and runs through Jan. 8.

Through new technologies such as computer modeling and robotics and tried-and-true standbys like fossils and a 700-square-foot diorama, visitors will gain a new appreciation of dinosaurs and the methods used to study them, curators said.

"I think what we want them to get is a sense of paleontology as a dynamic science, with a lot of new discoveries, that relies on new technologies," said Michael Novacek, senior vice president and provost of science at the museum. It's "meant to give a sense of the excitement of scientific research and what it's like to be a scientist."

The exhibit is separated into sections. One looks at the biomechanics of dinosaurs, how they moved. Visitors get a chance to play with interactive computer screens, which allow them to change variables of a dinosaur's physiology to determine the effect it would have on its running speed or range of movement. This section also contains an animatronic cast of a Tyrannosaurus rex, to show how the creature walked, and a 60-foot-long model of an Apatosaurus skeleton.

Another section looks at dinosaur behavior, featuring a re-creation of dinosaur prints found in Texas in the 1930s and 1940s to demonstrate herd movement. The section also contains a wall of mounted assorted dinosaur skulls, from the horned Triceratops to the dome-skulled Pachycephalosaurus. The text accompanying the skulls presents the latest theories on how those various horns and crests and frills and domes seen on various skulls could have been used, whether for mating rituals or defense.

The last section looks at the extinction theory, positing that perhaps many dinosaurs died out about 65 million years ago from a number of factors, including the commonly known asteroid theory, heavy volcanic activity and climate changes caused by receding ocean waters.

Each section includes videos from scientists working in the field talking about their endeavors.

"This show is as much about how we study dinosaurs as it is about what we've learned studying dinosaurs," said Mark Norell, who curated the show.

The museum has planned a number of performances, workshops and forums to go along with the exhibit. After New York, the exhibit will travel to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, the California Academy of the Sciences in San Francisco, the Field Museum in Chicago and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh.

On the Net:

American Museum of Natural History: http://www.amnh.org