*No, not a real-life dinosaur. But short of acquiring a TARDIS, Doc’s DeLorean or a Puddle Jumper fitted out with a time travel machine, fossils and bones are the closest I’m gonna get to the real-life thing.
Last week I visited the Natural History Museum in London. Incredibly this was the first time that I had visited this particular museum. A somewhat peculiar feat as it is both free to visit (no entry charge) and it has dinosaurs. As I wrote in this post, I went through a particularly intense dino-mad period as a child. This post is something of a sequel to that post – a second dinosaur themed composition.
Back in the day of my childhood dino-mania there were a couple of problems that I encountered:
1) I never got to see an actual dinosaur (though I saw Jurassic Park twice at the cinema). New Zealand does have plenty of pretty awesome animals (both historic and contemporary) but the Jurassic Park dinosaurs are not part of that heritage. As a result of this
2) I couldn’t get a real sense of perspective of a dinosaur’s size and proportions. In the books there were the scale pictures of a man next to a dinosaur and this did give some sense of proportion, but when you’re a child (or otherwise shorter than the average height for a man) this doesn’t convey a personal sense of scale. Compared to me, how large is a Tyrannosaurus Rex? How large is a Triceratops? I figured once I could see at least one dinosaur’s size in relative proportion to me then I could fully, and more accurately, appreciate these creatures.
So imagine my delight as I walked in and was greeted by a Diplodocus, it’s head high and tail swishing (well not really, but a vivid imagination is a prerequisite for visiting museums). I instantly became like my ten-year-old self on the inside – all excited and wide-eyed. This excitement was then cranked up to eleven when I entered the dinosaur gallery and saw a skeleton of a Triceratops – one of my favourite dinosaurs when I was a kid. Seeing the dinosaur at its living size and height brought it to life in an immediate and almost tangible way. I meandered through the gallery, quite engrossed by what I saw: the arms of Deinocheirus (to the casual observer, it looks similar to a Velociraptor but much larger), the jaw of Tyrannosaurus Rex and the half buried remains of a Edmontosaurus (sans its tail, which is believed to have made a tasty snack for a scavenger – but it did still have a piece of fossilised skin, which was pretty cool). There were also animatronics of Velociraptors (which are actually smaller than they were portrayed in the film) and further in the gallery one of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. The Rex in particular caught the attention of the young children who were visiting the museum with their parents. But who am I kidding? It totally got my attention as well.
In the end, I didn’t have the time to fully explore the whole museum (thought this does give me a reason for a return visit). However I did manage to see a lot of the mammals in the Blue Zone, find a couple specimens from New Zealand (moa, tuatara), a sculpture of Joseph Banks (of the Endeavour) and the skeleton of a glyptodont (similar to an armadillo, but larger). The glyptodont in particular was a particularly cool find – you’d recognise it from the opening scenes of Ice Age, and one of the film’s memorable little moments:
Amongst the assortment of animals that are migrating south are two female glyptodonts
Female glyptodont 1: “So, where’s Eddie?”
Female glyptodont 2: “He said something about being on the verge of an evolutionary breakthrough”
In the background you see Eddie taking a running leap of a cliff, as he jumps he cries out “I’m flying!!” before crashing in a plume of dust.
Female glyptodont 2: “Some breakthrough”