NEW DIGS After years running a dinosaur dig site nicknamed the Jurassic Mile in the Wyoming Badlands and collecting thousands of new specimens, The Children’s Museum was faced with a dilemma: What do we do with it all? The museum decided to close perhaps its most popular exhibit, Dinosphere, for several months while it added more than 7,000 square feet of new experiences, including two huge dinosaurs that will greet visitors as they enter the space.
DINO MIGHT The finds at the Jurassic Mile site were massive. Researchers have discovered more than 1,000 dinosaur and plant fossil specimens, including the two sauropods that will welcome visitors into the new Dinosphere. Both dinosaurs are about 70 feet long and believed to be among the largest creatures ever to walk on Earth. By studying the surrounding area, paleontologists were able to discover more about what these dinosaurs ate, how they lived, and, in many cases, how they died. And by measuring the distance between footprints found at the site, they could even estimate how fast the dinosaurs could run.
OLD FRIENDS The two new sauropods may have lived millions of years apart. Despite the sauropods living in the same general area and Mesozoic era, their fossils were found embedded on different levels of the so-called Morrison Formation, indicating they may have been separated by thousands or potentially millions of years. A detailed study of the surrounding geology needs to be completed before researchers can nail down a more specific time window.
BIG MOVE The excavated fossils were obviously huge and needed to be transported to Indianapolis via a flatbed truck. In order to work on them efficiently, the R.B. Annis Paleontology Lab was greatly expanded to allow staff to cut open the plaster casts and clean even the most massive specimens. A large window allows visitors to watch the paleontologists work.
DELVE DEEPER Fans of the original exhibit can breathe a sigh of relief, as the T. rex, gorgosaur, and other Creatures of the Cretaceous aren’t going anywhere. Rather, the revamped display gives a broader spectrum of the entire Mesozoic era by adding the Jurassic-era sauropods that lived about 200 million years ago, in addition to the T. rex and others that came about 50 million years later.
MONSTER MASHUP Not all Dinosphere creatures are actually dinosaurs. The Monsters of the Mesozoic Seas exhibit is filled with ancient aquatic beasts, such as the elasmosaurus, a 34-foot-long sea predator with razor-sharp teeth, a giraffe-like neck, and flippers to help it maneuver through water quickly, as well as an archelon, a giant forefather of today’s sea turtles.
MAKE NO BONES ABOUT IT While it might sound unlikely, The Children’s Museum has actually been on the forefront of paleontology research for decades. The organization ran a dig site in South Dakota for many years. Its discoveries—helping to find and name the Dracorex hogwartsia (a dragon-like dinosaur that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Harry Potter novel), a rare mummified dinosaur nicknamed Leonardo, and a gorgosaurus afflicted with a brain tumor—have made news around the world, including the cover of National Geographic.
WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY The Polly H. Hix Paleontology Lab—a space inside the Dinosphere—features an open window where kids can not only watch staff members work, but also ask them questions. These are all real paleontologists and students, many of whom actually spent time digging up the very fossils they’re now studying. “It’s very rare for a children’s museum to have a group of scientists on staff,” says Dr. Jennifer Anné, lead paleontologist and manager of natural science collections. “So why do we do it? It makes us a better museum for the kids, when they get to talk to the scientists. We want to inspire that next generation of scientists.”