Royal B.C. Museum in spotlight: Old bones, new ideas

New dinosaur exhibit expected to attract 175,000 to Victoria galleries

Kate Kerr

The next time you’re eating a turkey dinner, consider the fact that you’re actually eating dinosaur.

This is one of the revelations presented in the Royal B.C. Museum’s latest touring exhibit. Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries, combines some of the first significant fossil finds with new understandings of the prehistoric creatures. The museum expects the exhibit, opening tomorrow (May 17), will attract 175,000 visits through its four-month stay in Victoria.

“Birds are a line of dinosaurs that survived the great extinction event,” said Richard Hebda, the museum’s curator of botany and earth history. “If anybody asks you ‘what’s it like to eat a dinosaur?’ you can say, ‘just eat turkey!'”

A diorama of China 125 million years ago recreates the landscape, complete with species of dinosaur-like birds and bird-like dinosaurs, such as the soaring microraptor, with wings on its arms and legs.

The line between dinosaurs and birds isn’t clear, Hebda added.

Other theories about how dinosaurs move are now being tested through computer models, explained Matt Smith, a paleontologist with the American Museum of Natural History, which created the exhibit.

“It’s really hard to manipulate these bones,” Smith said, pointing to the T. rex at the exhibit’s entrance. A femur bone might weigh several hundred pounds, he added.

“So in a lot of cases, we’ve created computer models to do a lot of our analysis.”

Nearby is a 18-metre metallic replica of a long-necked apatosaurus skeleton, which was built using a computer model.

“One of the questions about these kinds of dinosaurs was how high could they lift their necks and heads,” Smith said.

While museums often depict them rearing up on their hind legs, “a lot of people suggested it would be very difficult for them to lift their heads very high because they might faint. (Through computer models) we get a much better idea of what these animals could actually do.”

Another theory questioned in the exhibit is the asteroid thought to be responsible for the dinosaurs’ disappearance 65 million years ago.

“It’s not as simple as that,” Hebda said.

Previous to this big event, volcanic eruptions were pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and the climate was changing.

“Extinctions were taking place already. This is where the lessons are for us,” he said.

“We have just passed through a period of climatic instability … and then humans changing the shape of the landscape. We’re pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”

The conditions, Hebda concluded, are right for another extinction.

rholmen@vicnews.com

Did you know?

• Until recently, central British Columbia marked the most westerly point in Canada where dinosaur bones had been discovered. That changed about two years ago, when a high school teacher discovered a tail bone on a Gulf Island. It appears to be from an ostrich-like dinosaur, but the jury is still out.

Mark your calendar:

Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries begins May 17 and runs through Sept. 16. The museum is also running a series of educational programs, including summer camps and sleepovers with a dinosaur theme. For more information, visit www.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca.

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