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March 30, 2007

Press Release: Roanoke Times

The Virginia Museum of Natural History opens Saturday with a wealth of fascinating fossils.

By Mason Adams
(540) 981-3149

After years of construction, the new Virginia Museum of Natural History will open its doors to the public this weekend in Martinsville.

Tim Gette, the museum's executive director, said the new building will help vault the museum to the same level as world-class institutions such as the Smithsonian.

"It is a museum that would be at home in any major city in the United States," Gette said.

The 89,124-square-foot museum's permanent exhibits are still in the works and won't be open for another four to six weeks, but the public will have access to the museum's Great Hall, a room with 40-foot ceilings, a large whale fossil from Caroline County and the skeleton of an allosaurus, a Jurassic-era dinosaur that once roamed Virginia.

The Eobalaenoptera whale fossil is about 14 million years old. The 140-million-year-old allosaur actually came from Wyoming, though there's evidence the meat-eating dinosaurs once roamed Virginia as well, said Nick Fraser, the museum's director of research collections and curator of vertebrate paleontology.

Fraser said scientists have found extensive "trackways," or sets of impressions left by ancient animals, in Culpeper and in Pittsylvania County. They've found evidence of gliding reptiles and other ancient animals as well.

In addition to the fossils in the Great Hall, visitors this weekend also will have access to three temporary exhibits:

n Minerals: Near and Far, Fancy and Functional, which includes rocks from the museum's collection, as well as that of the Smithsonian.

n Chinosaurs: The Great Dinosaurs of China.

n Feathered Dinosaurs of China.

The last exhibit includes a rare fossil that's only been displayed in London and Lisbon, said Ryan Barber, the museum's director of marketing and external affairs.

"The feathered dinosaur shows the link between dinosaurs and birds and how they evolved," Barber said. "According to our scientists, it's one of the most important fossils ever discovered."

Still to come will be six permanent exhibits that will include information on six Virginia dig sites, as well as displays on geology and biology and a rotating exhibit that will show off portions of the museum's extensive collection.

In all, the new building cost about $28.2 million, with half a million coming from the city of Martinsville and $22.7 million from the state. The museum is holding a funding drive to come up with another $5 million; so far it has raised about $3.3 million, according to Barber.

The official opening ceremonies kick off at 2 p.m. today with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The museum itself will be open to the public starting at 9 a.m. Saturday.

On the Net: www.vmnh.net