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July 24, 2017


Dinosaur lovers venturing into the Virginia Museum of Natural History now have a new Mesozoic masterpiece to explore. The museum's most recent special exhibit, Dinosaurs: Reign of the Giants, features an abundance of life-size cast skeletons that include iconic dinosaurs, such as Triceratops and Stegosaurus, as well as a large variety of dinosaur fossils.  The exhibit also marks the public debut of the only known fossil evidence that Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops engaged in battle.

"This is a really important specimen that has been well known within scientific circles throughout the world, but has never been on public exhibit before," said Dr. Alex Hastings, assistant curator of paleontology at the museum.  "There has been fossil evidence before that indicates T. rex fed on Triceratops, based on tooth marks, but the fact that this particular fossil shows clear indications of healing allows us to safely conclude that the bite occurred while this Triceratops was alive and that it survived the battle.”

The fossil resides side-by-side with a life-size cast skeleton of Triceratops, a massive, plant-eating dinosaur distinguishable by its large frill and three horns.

"This is probably the largest Triceratops cast skeleton I have ever seen anywhere," said Hastings regarding the cast on loan to the museum by the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum.  "It's a spectacular display that will truly give visitors an appreciation of the size and grandeur of these giants."

Another iconic giant inhabiting in the special exhibit is Stegosaurus, a large, plant-eating dinosaur distinguishable by two rows of bony plates on its back.  The specimen was gifted to the museum by the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. 

"This marks the first time a Stegosaurus cast skeleton has been displayed at the Virginia Museum of Natural History since the museum opened the doors to its current facility in 2007," said Dr. Alex Hastings, assistant curator of paleontology at VMNH.  "This particular skeleton was re-casted from the original that had been on display at the Smithsonian from 1917 to the early 2000's.  It's a phenomenal cast and one that more accurately depicts a life-like stance of Stegosaurus, with its tail positioned higher off the ground as opposed to dragging on the ground."

Hastings went on to say that, while dinosaurs are very much a part of pop-culture, it's a rare opportunity to go to one location and see a wide variety of actual dinosaur fossils.

"Being able to see real dinosaur fossils is an exciting experience for visitors, especially children," said Hastings.  "There are plenty of movies and books that highlight dinosaurs, but there are very few places you can go to see the real thing."

Life-size cast skeletons and skulls on display include:

Stegosaurus
A large, plant-eating dinosaur distinguishable by two rows of bony plates on its back that lived during the Late Jurassic period, from approximately 155 to 150 million years ago

Triceratops
A large, plant-eating dinosaur distinguishable by its large frill and three horns that lived during the Late Cretaceous period, from approximately 68 to 66 million years ago

Deinonychus
A speedy and vicious carnivore of the Early Cretaceous period, with large, retractable, hunting claws on its feet that it used to subdue and kill its prey, from approximately 115 to 108 million years ago.

Allosaurus (Hall of Ancient Life)
A large, carnivorous, theropod dinosaur of the Late Jurassic period, from approximately 155 to 150 million years ago

Acrocanthosaurus (Hall of Ancient Life)
A massive, carnivorous, theropod dinosaur that existed in what is now North America during the Early Cretaceous period, from approximately 125 million to 100 million years ago

Tyrannosaurus rex (skull)
A large, carnivorous, theropod dinosaur that roamed in what is now western North America during the Late Cretaceous period, from approximately 68 to 66 million years ago.

Appalachiosaurus (skull)
A large, carnivorous predator that roamed what is now eastern North America during the Late Cretaceous period, from approximately 77 million years ago.

Diplodocus (skull)
A massive, long-necked herbivore of what is now western North America during the Late Jurassic period, from approximately 154 to 152 million years ago.

In addition to the displays, the exhibit features a variety of video and interactive elements, including a dino dig pit, which gives visitors the opportunity to act as paleontologists excavating dinosaur fossils in the field.

Dinosaurs: Reign of the Giants is sponsored by Bassett Furniture Industries, Blue Ridge Bank, and the Patterson Trust.

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