Monday 15 June 2015

Encountering dinosaurs at SeaCity Museum

As is fitting following the arrival of the summer blockbuster Jurassic World, dinosaurs are coming to the south of England this summer with a major exhibition at SeaCity museum in Southampton along with events at other venues in the region (website here), and I was fortunate enough to have been involved in this exciting project.

All it needs is a real dinosaur . . .
the exhibition space at SeaCity with the build in progress.
The work of palaeontologists, all postgrad students and Research Associates from the University of Southampton, is well represented with several of the members of the Southampton Vertebrate Palaeontology Groups’ work featuring in the exhibition. This is a great opportunity to see the research happening at the university and the specimens we are working with, as  the subjects of our research will be on display too.

I’m pleased to say the nodosaurid will be prominently featured and this is a good chance to see this superb specimen, along with a crocodile skull and other material from Britain currently under study at the university. Also featured are a cast of the skeleton of the ornithopod dinosaur Maiasaura and skull casts of Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops; these are impressive exhibits and along with an animatronic tyrannosaur and baryonychid provide a real sense of drama, but it’s always the bones that are the highlights for me.

Doing the dinosaur jigsaw.
I was responsible for laying out the dinosaur in its display case and producing two of the videos that serve as interpretive aids to the public: one for the nodosaur, one for the crocodile. After a couple of trips out to Ikea to get decent packing boxes (mmm . . . meatballs) and ordering in a jumbo roll of bubble wrap I got down to the task of carefully stowing the specimen in boxes for the trip to SeaCity. A few days later we arrived at the exhibition hall and started the job of laying out the dinosaur in it’s impressive 3m x 2m display case. As part of the video I had already planned the layout so this saved time, but of course there were issues . . .

Firstly, although I’d recorded the majority of the specimen for my PhD there were significant parts missing and I didn’t have time to record all of these so this will have to wait until the exhibition closes at the end of September. This meant I was unfamiliar with some elements and needed to be sure I was putting them in the correct place, not too hard a task. Secondly, the fragmentary nature of the some of the skeleton, especially the limbs meant that when laid out they looked a little lost and out of context. Rather than place these bones where I thought they might have gone in life I grouped them; a bit of artistic licence to enable easier interpretation of the skeleton as otherwise odd bits would be scattered around the appendicular skeleton and osteoderms and look lost.

The nodosaur final layout.
The final layout certainly looks the part. I had to curl the tail to fit the skeleton in and compress certain parts of the skeleton that are either missing or held at other institutions. Most of the sacral shield is missing because although it was recovered it remains in hundreds of pieces a little smaller than roman tesserae; however some is still present and is viewable on the upper surface of the ilium, although this needs prepping out as it is partially covered with matrix from the plant debris bed it was excavated from. This is an impressive skeleton and gives a real idea of the size of this dinosaur plus its spectacular armour.

The accompanying video gives an aid to interpretation and also shows a tentative 3D reconstruction of both the skeleton and life appearance of the dinosaur. This will be the subject of my next post, so stay tuned.

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