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By Culturekiosque Staff

LOS ANGELES, 17 JULY 2011 — Yesterday, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County passed the halfway mark in its seven-year self-transformation when it opened its all-new, 14,000-sqaure-foot Dinosaur Hall. Twice the size of the Museum’s previous dinosaur exhibits, the Dinosaur Hall features more than 300 fossils, 20 full-body specimens, an array of manual and digital interactive displays, and video presentations. It is designed to allow visitors to get up close to real fossils in a way that engages visitors with the discovery and research programs of the Museum’s own Dinosaur Institute, led by paleontologist and exhibit lead curator, Dr. Luis Chiappe.

The world’s only Tyrannosaurus rex growth series, presenting extraordinary fossils specimens of the youngest known baby, a rare juvenile, and a remarkably complete recently-discovered young adult (Thomas the T. rex), will be one of the highlights of the new hall. Other standout specimens in the exhibition include an imposing new Triceratops; a Stegosaurus, topped by kite-shaped armor plates; the predator Allosaurus; a 68-foot long-necked Mamenchisaurus; and giant marine reptiles that swam the oceans covering what is today California. Two-thirds of the full-body specimens have never been displayed before.

In all, the new exhibition spans 14,000 square feet, doubling the size of the Museum’s former dinosaur galleries. Framing the gallery is a 40-foot wall showcasing 100 diverse dinosaur specimens — a sly, artful take on traditional paleontological display, with bones, teeth, eggs, footprints, skin patches, and coprolites (which is to say, fossilized droppings).

The centerpiece in this gallery is the platform featuring a trio: the young adult Tyrannosaurus rex nicknamed "Thomas" (30 feet, and approximately 18 years old) joined by a 20-foot juvenile (approximately 14 years old) and a 11-foot baby (2 years old), the youngest known T. rex specimen at the time of death. The growth series is a fascinating look at the ways that the T. rex grew, a process that included incredible growth spurts and body changes: After hatching as a 2-foot, for example, a T. rex could reach 30-35 feet (10,000 to 15,000 pounds) in less than two decades.

Dinosaur Hall at Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

But it is also a snapshot of dinosaur life: The terrain on which they are mounted finds Thomas and the baby standing on one side, while the juvenile lurches toward the carcass of a duck-billed Edmontosaurus. Though nearby content is careful to point out that theories about a long- extinct animal’s behavior are just that, the scene does intend to raise questions about the social hierarchy of the T. rex. Recent research suggests these creatures ate one another, but we don’t know if they killed one another. So, to what extent were babies and juveniles tolerated in the T. rex social structure? Is Thomas protecting the baby, or is it every dinosaur for itself?

The final tableau debunks the popular belief that all dinosaurs lived together and at the same time. Visitors investigate iconic dinosaurs that lived and became extinct at different times: the Triassic Coelophysis; the Jurassic Stegosaurus and Allosaurus; and the Cretaceous Edmontosaurus. The mystery of how and when the large dinosaurs died out is introduced, with evidence for a mass extinction event at the end of the Mesozoic. This tableau also highlights the evolutionary connection between dinosaurs and birds, providing compelling evidence about why the latter should be considered living dinosaurs.

The second level of the exhibition also takes a closer look at the science behind these specimens, from the fossil hunting badlands where the specimens are found, to the labs where fossils are prepared after they are excavated. One area focuses on field work: the surprising data that a quarry can reveal in addition to its fossil treasures, and examples of excavation methods (which, unlike lab and articulation work, have not changed drastically over the last several decades). The companion area focuses on laboratory discoveries — research tools that have evolved to include high-tech microscopes, CT scans, and genome studies. A multi-media interactive kiosk allows visitors to "excavate" specimens and investigate the finds.

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
900 Exposition Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90007
Tel: (1) 213 763 DINO

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