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Get to Know a Dino

it’s time to get reacquainted with some very old friends. Dinosaurs have returned to the Royal Ontario Museum after two years in hibernation during an expansion of the cultural edifice. Within the strikingly modern Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, the James and Louise Temerty Galleries of the Age of Dinosaurs host more than 50 prehistoric specimens, including 25 fully mounted skeletons such as a formidable Tyrannosaurus rex, an impossibly huge barosaurus stretching half the width of the Crystal, and the ROM’s famed collection of duck-billed hadrosaurs.

This certainly isn’t your grandparents’ dino show. Interpretive panels—the stodgy professors of traditional museum exhibits—have been revamped: now you can learn about your favourite dinosaurs via touch-screen terminals with a variety of captivating video segments.

Most importantly, the terrible lizards are no longer displayed as part of kitschy dioramas; instead the minimalist, light-filled space highlights the dinosaurs themselves, their bones given new life as art pieces that can be examined from virtually every angle. “The space is very original and completely unique on the world stage,” says David Evans, the ROM’s associate curator of vertebrate palaeontology. “There’s a lot of natural beauty on display—the product of millions of years of evolution.”

Canada’s largest museum drew record attendance (more than 66,000 visitors!) when the dinosaurs returned just in time for December’s holiday season, and thousands more have visited since. Be sure you’re next in line—you wouldn’t want a T-Rex to get lonely.

GREETINGS FROM ALBERTOSAURUS
One of the first dinosaurs you’ll see upon entering the ROM’s new Galleries of the Age of Dinosaurs is the albertosaurus. Unearthed at Dinosaur Provincial Park in southeastern Alberta, it was a close cousin of the Tyrannosaurus rex that thrived in the late Cretaceous Period. Acquired in 1933, the ROM’s specimen consists of about 60 per cent real bone dating to 76 million years ago.

HEADHUNTER ALERT!
Albertosaurus was probably one of the dominant predators of its era, and it literally hunted with its head. Like other big carnivores, its jaw was shaped so that its numerous sharp teeth could engage all at once, voraciously shredding the muscles and snapping the bones of its prey—horned dinosaurs like centrosaurus and such duck-billed species as corythosaurus, both of which can also be seen at the ROM.

A PICTURE OF YOUTH
Though curator Evans says the ROM’s albertosaurus is a “teenager,” it nonetheless stands 2.5 metres high at the hips and is approximately six metres long—a fearsome sight were it alive today!

STUMPED ON THIS ONE
“The function of the arms is a bit of a mystery,” says Evans. This is hardly a surprise, considering that albertosaurus’s arms were so short, it couldn’t even reach up to pick its teeth! However, the forelimbs may not have been completely useless. One theory is that the arms helped to push albertosaurus off the ground from a resting position; another speculates that they could have been used as “mating claspers.

PERFECT POSTURE
For many years it was thought that albertosaurus stood upright like a giant kangaroo, with its long tail trailing along the ground behind. This assumption was reflected in the way the skeletons were shown in museums. Recent discoveries have proved this thinking incorrect, and so, in the Crystal, the ROM’s albertosaurus has been remounted in a more scientifically accurate stance—balanced at the hips, its long tail acting as a counterweight for its large head.

JUST FAST ENOUGH
Those long legs certainly look powerful, but it’s unlikely they helped albertosaurus break any speed records. An adult’s body was just too large to be carried with great swiftness; its top speed was likely no more than 30 miles per hour. That may not sound impressive, but albertosaurus “just had to be faster than its prey,” says Evans, “so it’s all relative.”

70% That’s the percentage of our online poll respondents who want to see the ROM’s dinos more than any other March Break activity!

TIP! Continue your prehistoric journey by visiting the ROM’s Gallery of the Age of Mammals. It has more than 400 fossils, including such extinct animals as the elephant-like mastodon, sabre-toothed cat, and even a beaver the size of a modern black bear!

—Craig Moy

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