Think you know dinosaurs? Think again…

Most people are familiar with the dinosaur Velociraptor from the blockbuster film Jurassic Park. Represented in the film as a scary reptile, our understanding of Velociraptors are transformed by a recent discovery. 

Palaeontologists have recently found a close cousin of the Velociraptor that lived in China 125 million years ago showing spectacular preserved feathers. Named Zhenyuanlong suni, the fossil remains of the dinosaur suggest it is unlikely it could fly evidenced by the size of its wings and its feathers were probably used for display. The discovery of Zhenyuanlong suni is important because it changes our understanding of what dinosaurs looked like.

Fossil remains of Zhenyuanlong suni. Credit: Junchang Lu

Manchester Museum, part of the University of Manchester has the model on loan from Studio Liddell. Created by Peter Minister, the new model now on display, shows how our view of dinosaurs has been transformed.

The model of the Velociraptor is a taster of what is to come as Manchester Museum prepares for a blockbuster dinosaur exhibition. This is part of a new exhibition programme which is being planned as part of the museum’s expansion titled The Courtyard Project. Subject to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, work will commence on The Courtyard Project in August 2018 and will comprise of a larger temporary exhibition space, new entrance, improved visitor facilities and a South Asia Gallery in partnership with The British Museum.

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Climate Control, A long British Summer of exhibitions and events #MMClimateControl

We hear about climate change on the news and in the newspapers. How the ice caps are melting and how it is happening now. What can we do about climate change, individually and collectively? Is it too late? Is there any point trying? What do people want to do?

Climate change is happening all around us, but this isn’t the time to ignore it, it’s the time to get really creative. What thoughts or ideas do you have? What do you already do in your day to day life, and what might you think about doing?

Manchester Museum will be staging a series of exhibitions and events for visitors to explore climate change from May-September 2016. There will be opportunities to share your thoughts and ideas, to think about what a different future might look like, and what each of us might want to do to help make that a reality.  Look out for amazing Polar Bears and other Arctic wildlife, Peppered Moths, tropical frogs, opportunities to rebuild a model Manchester and a wide range of events and activities for all ages and interests

The program is part of European City of Science, developed with Manchester University’s Tyndall Centre and Manchester: A Certain Future.

Follow #MMClimateControl to get involved

Follow that star/meteorite!

We’ve just installed a fantastic new meteorite handling table and video. The objects include pieces of the Moon and Mars which you can actually touch. Paige Tucker has put together a great video of me talking about the meteroites.

This project has been in partnership with colleagues at the Open University and was funded by an EPSRC public engagement grant.

Great New Citizen Science project to record our fossils

We have a fantastic new Citizen Science project to record our fossils called Reading Nature’s Library!

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The idea is to put lots of photographs of our collection online so that anyone can help us record the information. It’s really easy to do and helps make the collection available to everyone. So please have a go! There is a leader board and you can share your images with friends and family. Some are more tricky to read than others, so we have included a help option via social media.

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This project has been put together by a brilliant MSc student from the School of Computer Science Rob Dunne. We have a team of volunteers who are working really hard to photograph our fossils and we hope to put other collections online very shortly.

Reading Nature’s Library is part of our new hands on collections gallery The Study which opens in September.

Story telling at the La Brea Tar Pits

One of the reasons I wanted to visit The La Brea Tar Pits was to see how they tell the story of animals in the Last Ice Age.

Most of their displays are fairly traditional and date from the 1970s, but include some really spectacular specimens. One of the things I really liked was the wall of wolf skulls. It reminded me of Manchester Museum’s Nature’s Library gallery and really hammered home the dominance of predators at La Brea.

Mass display of Dire Wolf skulls

Mass display of Dire Wolf skulls

The really innovative thing at the museum is the ‘fish bowl’ lab. It was one of the first museums to pioneer the meet the scientist type of display. Visitors clearly found it really interesting, but it did still present a barrier between the visitor and the scientists.

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Alongside the displays were and army of dedicated volunteers and staff giving tours and doing object handling using casts. They were great at bringing the fossils to life, but I was a bit disappointed that the object handling did not use any real objects, missing an opportunity there.

Volunteer showing off her cast of a  Sabretoothed Cat

Volunteer showing off her cast of a Sabretoothed Cat

Where The La Brea Tar Pits comes in to its own is the on site excavation and interpretation. New material is being discovered every day, which is clearly very exciting. Daily tours give visitors the opportunity to meet the people excavating the fossils from the tar and make the experience really dynamic.

Project 23 excavation

Project 23 excavation

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Board detailing that day’s discoveries

This had clearly been thought through and the people we spoke to on my tour were really great at simply explaining what they were doing, what they had found and why it was important. My only slight thing was that it was a bit of a shame it was all done across a high security fence, but I guess this is an issue lots of museums in parks have to try and resolve.

The La Brea Tar Pits is an incredible place and is one of the finest places in the world to learn about Ice Age animals. It should be on everyone’s bucket list!

I would like to thank The Art Fund, Ruffer Curatorial Grants scheme for generously funding this research trip.

Migration of Bison at the La Brea Tar pits

The fossil Bison at the La Brea Tarpits show some amazing evidence of seasonal migration.

Ancient Bison

Ancient Bison

 

By looking at the wear and number of teeth, it is possible to tell that the Bison were either 2 to 4, 14 to 16 or 26 to 30 months old. There are no animals in between these ages, so Bison were only present a few months a year.

If the Bison were born at the same time of year as modern Bison calves, the La Brea Tar Pits Bison were here every year in late Spring.

I would like to thank The Art Fund, Ruffer Curatorial Grants scheme for generously funding this research trip.

Ice Age animals at the La Brea Tar Pits

Thee Page Museum, La Brea Tar Pits has an incredible collection of over five million fossils and is constantly growing as new material is uncovered.

The animals date from between 40,000 and 9,000 years ago and represent more than 600 species from the end of the Last Ice Age. The environment was similar to that in California today, but a few degrees cooler and a little wetter.

Here are some of the highlights from the collection:

Sabretoothed Cat

Sabretoothed Cat

American Mastodon

American Mastodon

Colombian Mammoth

Colombian Mammoth

Dire Wolf

Dire Wolf

Monterey Pine

Monterey Pine

Errant Eagle

Errant Eagle

Sabretoothed attacking a Ground Sloth

Sabretoothed Cat attacking a Ground Sloth

Short-faced bear

Short-faced bear

The vast stores at the Paige museum

The vast stores at the Paige museum

Box of Sabretoothed Cat skulls

Box of Sabretoothed Cat skulls

The comparative anatomy collection

The comparative anatomy collection

Ice Age animals frieze at the museum

Ice Age animals frieze at the museum

I would like to thank The Art Fund, Ruffer Curatorial Grants scheme for generously funding this research trip.

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