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January 8, 2009

News Article: GoDanRiver.com

By: By Lisa Snedeker Correspondent | The News & Advance
Published: January 09, 2009

MARTINSVILLE, Va. - If you've ever wanted to see something that is 500 million years old, you won't want to miss Saturday's Dino Day festival at the Virginia Museum of Natural History. The third annual festival, which will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., is the first event in the museum's yearlong 25th anniversary celebration.

The museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, was founded on Aug. 28, 1984, as a private, nonprofit institution and became an agency of the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1988. Saturday at 10:30 a.m., the museum's newest exhibit - a 500 million-year-old stromatolite specimen - will be unveiled. The specimen's discovery in Boxley Blue Ridge Quarry in Roanoke in May 2008 garnered national attention, according to museum spokesman Ryan Barber.

"This is a really big deal," he said.

A stromatolite is a mound produced in shallow water by mats of algae that trap mud and sand particles. Another mat grows on the trapped sediment layer, and this traps another layer of sediment, growing gradually over time. Stromatolites can grow to heights of a meter or more. They are uncommon today, but their fossils are among the earliest evidence for living things. The stromatolite, which measures more than 6 feet in diameter, is one of the most complete in the world and will be permanently on exhibit at VMNH.

Festival-goers can also see life-sized skeleton casts of prehistoric creatures, watch scientists unlock the past and take part in a variety of games and activities, including becoming a scientist for a day. Many of last year's crowd favorite activities return this year, including the "Dino Dig Pit" where visitors can use paleontology tools to uncover fossil casts, and a special dinosaur-themed play presented by local students. The play, which will be presented by the Carlisle School Players, is titled "Dr. Belinda Brilliant and Her Amazing Learn More Machine: Dinosaurs," which was co-written by Mary Catherine Santoro, a librarian at VMNH.

"Over 2,000 visitors have taken part in our first two Dino Day festivals and have left very happy," Carolyn Seay, special events manager at VMNH, said in a release. "Dinosaurs always pique children's interest, and getting to see museum specimens that normally aren't available to the public makes for a special visit to the museum."

Other attractions and activities include the museum's costume mascot "Cera" and her other dino friends, fossil identification, dinosaur-themed crafts for children and special dino films in the museum's Hooker Furniture Theater. VMNH staff and volunteers also will be on hand to explain the work being conducted in the Museum's Elster Foundation Vertebrate Paleontology Lab. Specimens on display at the festival include an Allosaurus skeleton, a skeleton of a 14-million-year-old baleen whale; Eobalaenoptera, suspended from a towering 40-foot ceiling; an animatronic model of a Triceratops; a display of a Syntarsus dinosaur with its prey; a Tyrannosaurus Rex skull; and a recreated Phytosaurus. Dinosaur bones and other fossils collected at VMNH research sites around the world can also be seen. Admission is $9 for adults; $7 for senior citizens and college students; $5 for children and youth 3 to 18; members and children under 3 receive free admission.

For more information about the Dino Day festival, visit the museum's Web site at www.vmnh.net or call (276) 634-4141.

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