After a few wonderful months, the Titans of the Past exhibition is finally approaching its final two weeks. We made a third visit today, this time with our nieces, and were pleasantly surprised to see that the Science Centre was really packed even on an early Saturday morning.
The exhibition started with an in-depth look at four of the most ‘popular’ dinosaur species that everyone is familiar with: The Triceratops, the Pachycephalosaurus, the Hadrosaur, and of course their predator, the Tyrannosaurus Rex.
We saw a most complete collection of Triceratops, detailing their size (at 9 feet in length, their keratin-covered and blood vessel-grooved skulls are among the largest of any land animal!), the usage of their horns (most likely for recognition, rather than for defense or sexual display), and an excellent growth series of juvenile to adult Triceratops horridus.
This series of skulls illustrated Dr. Jack Horner’s thesis that Triceratops orbital horns that arched backwards in youth curved forwards in adulthood. Of particular interest were two specimens that showed the Triceratops frill thinning in an adult.
The Pachycephalosaurus wyomingensis display was even more controversial. Paleontologists have always believed that the adult Pachy, whose solid frontal-parietal dome measures 10 to 13 centimetres thick, was developed for head-butting. The exhibition however postulates that because the Pachy’s spongy bone tissue was only found in juveniles and the solid domes of adults might be associated with skull damage in a head-butt, that the Pachy may not have used its solid skull for territorial disputes after all.
The most fascinating aspect of the Hadrosaur display was how scientists build a rapid prototype of the nasal crest of the Hypacrosaurus stebingeri, and blew wind through it as a resonating chamber to simulate the sounds that these duckbill dinosaurs used to make. They found that the different shapes of the adult, juvenile, and baby Hadrosaurs made very different sounds. Interestingly, this research approach to mimic dinosaur sounds was dramatized in the Jurassic Park movie, where Dr. Alan Grant used a 3D-printed resonating chamber to communicate with the raptors.
The T-Rex display was particularly educational, showing how the rounding out of juvenile T-Rexes flat teeth as they matured showed that they transitioned from being meat slicers to bone crunchers. It suggests that T-Rexes might have been scavengers rather than the fearsome predators they are typically portrayed as, based on evidence of T-Rex fossils being in relative abundance, T-Rexes having had a keen sense of smell through their large olfactory bulbs, their rounded, bone-crushing teeth, and biomechanic simulations that suggested that they might not have been able to run very fast and were therefore not very effective predators. The highlight of the exhibition for us was the actual fossil of MOR 008, the largest T-Rex skull in the world. Measuring 59 inches long (the closest contender Sue at the Chicago Field Museum is only 55.4 inches long), this very special specimen was discovered at Hell Creek Formation in Montana USA by Donald Bender in 1965. It was 80 percent complete and originally found in some 1,000 pieces, and was only recently fully assembled.
The exhibition also featured other fossils including the Stan, the second-most complete T-Rex skeleton ever found in North America; a Giganotosaurus Carolini, a carcharodontosaurid that hunted in packs in the Early Cretaceous of Patagonia, Brazil, and Africa; some trilobites; as well as some coprolites, an actual Segnosaur egg nest, and a Machairodus giganteus skull that I had the pleasure of loaning to the Science Centre.
The finale of the exhibition brought visitors through time into the Ice Age, and featured megafauna such as the giant sloths Megatherium and Glossotherium; the South American hourse Hippidion; the saber-toothed cat Smilodon; the large, armoured armadillo relative Glyptodont; the llama-like litopturn Macrauchenia; the rhino-sized notoungulate Toxodon; the Pleistocene bear Pararctotherium; and of course the Stegodon and Wooly Mammoth.
All in all we found it a really fun, interactive, and educational experience that was really professionally-put together and enjoyable. Do catch the exhibition in the last two weeks that it is here!
The Titans of the Past exhibition at the Science Centre is open from 25 October 2013 to 23 February 2014, with admission charges at $25 for adults and $19 for children.