DINOSAURS: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries

Exhibit Opens at The California Academy of Sciences on September 16, 2006
Showcases evolving theories that suggest dinosaurs may still fly among us

SAN FRANCISCO (April 11, 2006) – What did dinosaurs actually look like? How did they move? And are they really extinct? Tantalizing answers to these questions and more will be unveiled in San Francisco this fall when a new exhibition, DINOSAURS: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries, opens at the California Academy of Sciences. The exhibition shatters many preconceived notions about these ancient beasts by presenting some of the most recent dino discoveries in the fields of paleontology, biomechanical engineering, and paleobotany. After wandering through a 700-square-foot walk-through diorama featuring more than 35 different ancient species, viewing a feathered dino cast, and exploring interactive computer simulations and animations, visitors will never think of dinosaurs the same way again. The exhibit will be on display at the California Academy of Sciences from September 16, 2006 through February 4, 2007.

“This remarkable exhibition illustrates how scientists are using new ideas, new discoveries, and new technologies to revolutionize our understanding of dinosaurs,” said Patrick Kociolek, Executive Director of the California Academy of Sciences. “It will give visitors a chance to see that science is an ongoing and incredibly dynamic pursuit, demonstrating how new discoveries often compel us to reevaluate what we think we know, sometimes with quite surprising results.”

The exhibit showcases a wide array of fossil specimens and fossil casts, many of which are on display for the first time. It also features the new technologies that are being used to unravel some of the most persistent and puzzling prehistoric mysteries about dinosaurs, including bioengineering software and CT scans. Provocative life-sized models, video footage of scientists working in the field, and the most detailed diorama ever created of a prehistoric environment all bring the exhibit to life.

Exhibition Highlights

  • A stunning 60-foot-long model of an Apatosaurus skeleton, whose construction was based on new drawings produced by DinoMorph software. This computer program allowed scientists to investigate the full range of vertebral movements for this huge, long-necked creature. Resembling a robotic version of a traditional fossil skeleton, with gleaming geometric arcs replacing the usual assembly of bones, the stunning life-size dinosaur skeleton stretches across the center of the exhibition.  
  • A 700-square-foot diorama depicting a 130-million-year-old forest that existed in what is now Liaoning Province, China - one of the largest re-creations of a prehistoric environment ever built. Fossil discoveries from Liaoning have shed light on the origins of birds, mammals, feathers, flight, and flowering plants. Dozens of scientifically accurate, fleshed-out, life-size models of more than 35 different species of dinosaurs, reptiles, early birds, insects, mammals and plants are included in the diorama.  
  • A life-size model of a newly identified primitive tyrannosaur, Dilong paradoxus, covered with branched protofeathers - precursors to the feathers found on living birds. This new finding suggests that other tyrannosaurs, such as Albertosaurus sarcophagus, and even the fiercest T. rex, were covered with fluffy protofeathers at some stage in their lives.
  • A small birdlike dinosaur depicted in a sleeping position with its head tucked between its forearm and trunk and its tail encircling its body. The model is based on the first fossil found in this position, a theropod called Mei long, described by paleontologists last year. The pose matches the typical sleeping or resting posture found in living birds, and it supports the hypothesis that non-avian dinosaurs, like the modern birds that evolved after them, were warm-blooded.
  • Bambiraptor feinbergi, the best-preserved and most complete dromaeosaur yet found in North America. Visitors can view colorful graphics and CT scans to see how this fossil provides evidence for the evolutionary links between birds and dinosaurs.
  • A model of a Microraptor gliding between trees with wings on both its arms and its legs. Discoveries like this provide further compelling evidence that birds are living descendants of theropod dinosaurs.  
  • A large“trophy wall” of mounted dinosaur skulls, ranging from the three-horned Triceratops to the dome-headed Pachycephalosaurus, which illustrates the latest theories on the purposes of the unusual horns, frills, crests, and domes found on many dinosaur skulls.
  • A 15-by-10-foot re-creation of the famous Davenport Ranch Trackway, a collection of sauropod and theropod dinosaur prints unearthed in Texas by Museum scientists in the 1930s and 1940s. Recent analysis of the tracks has revealed new ideas on the herding behavior of these dinosaurs. Special lighting displays retrace the steps of individual dinosaurs across the trackway.
  • A full-size cast skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex standing on one leg and bearing down on visitors below.
  • A six-foot-long mechanical T. rex skeleton that walks in place, illustrating how experts in biomechanics and paleontology are teaming up to estimate the typical speed and gait of a rampaging tyrannosaur.  
  • Three large high-definition video screens showing a computer animation of a steel Apatosaurus skeleton that morphs into a realistic fossil skeleton then gradually adds layers of muscle and skin until a full-fleshed Apatosaurus is moving on the screens.
  • A model of the largest Mesozoic mammal yet uncovered, the badger-sized Repenomamus giganticus. Museum scientists recently studied the fossil of a related species called R. robustus and found the remains of a two-legged, parrot-beaked dinosaur called a psittacosaur in its stomach area. This is the first direct evidence that primitive mammals ate dinosaurs and competed with small dinosaurs for food and territory.
  • A slab of sedimentary rock newly collected from New Jersey, which clearly shows a thin layer of iridium, a metallic element that marks the boundary between the end of the Cretaceous Period and the beginning of the Tertiary Period about 65 million years ago. Scientists believe this layer represents the remnants of a massive asteroid or comet that vaporized upon impact and contributed to the extinction of more than half of all species on Earth, including the Mesozoic dinosaurs.
  • Public Programs
    The California Academy of Sciences is planning an array of public programs, demonstrations, guest speakers, and other special events about dinosaurs. For detailed program listings, please visit www.calacademy.org or call (415) 379-8000.

    Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries was organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York City, in collaboration with the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco; the Houston Museum of Natural Science; The Field Museum, Chicago; and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh.

    Supplemental Materials (Exhibit Walkthrough, Dino Facts)

     

    The California Academy of Sciences, including Steinhart Aquarium and the Natural History Museum, is open to the public at 875 Howard Street. During the DINOSAURS exhibit, admission to the Academy is: $10 for adults, $6.50 for youth ages 12 to 17, Seniors ages 65+ and students with valid ID, $2 for children ages four to 11 and children ages three and younger will be admitted free of charge. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. www.calacademy.org (415) 379-8000.

    The California Academy of Sciences, the fourth largest natural history museum in the United States, is home to Steinhart Aquarium, Morrison Planetarium and the Natural History Museum. The Academy is beginning an extensive rebuilding project in Golden Gate Park. Pritzker prize-winning architect Renzo Piano is designing the new Academy, which is expected to open in 2008.