Age of the Dinosaur
Visitor Viewpoints

Hannah, Interpretation Manager (no, that’s not me in the photo, it’s the Oviraptor!)

 With less than two weeks of Age of the Dinosaur to go we’re starting to reflect on a ‘dinosaur-tastic’ summer.

 We’ve been evaluating the exhibitions since day one, and we’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who has contributed. Your feedback helps us to find out what you like and, just as importantly, what you don’t like. This will help both us and the Natural History Museum to improve what we do for future exhibitions, ensuring that we are responding to our visitors.

 So, what do you like best? Unsurprisingly the animatronic dinosaurs are the stars of the show (though we do know that you would have liked explanatory labels beside these). You’ve been thrilled by how lifelike these moving dinosaurs are, and how the realistic sound effects and alarming shaking floor contributed to this. You’ve also given Discover Dinosaurs a big thumbs-up, with the ‘Dino Dig’ being particularly popular, as it gives you the chance to get really hands-on as palaeontologists. Lots of praise for our Dino Demonstrators too, for their enthusiasm, knowledge and skill in making the subject so much fun for visitors of all ages.

 It seems you’ve been learning a lot from the exhibitions too. Many of you expressed surprise that scientists now know that some dinosaurs had feathers and the birds that we see around today are their distant relations. You’ve also enjoyed finding out that dinosaur fossils have been found in Northern Ireland and that there are more different types of dinosaur than you once thought, particularly as new dinosaurs are being discovered all the time. And, isn’t it strange that the biggest dinosaur (Argentinosaurus, who weighed in at a massive 100 tons) was a relatively gentle plant-eater rather than a fearsome meat-eater?

 Here are just a few of the great comments from our visitors. Thanks again everyone!

 The interactive exhibits were really good. I saw as many adults as children playing with them!

 I liked the bit about the sand where you had to dig up the fossils because you could learn some new things

 I learnt that all dinosaurs lived on the earth, thought they lived in the sea as well

We liked the set-up and movements of the animals. To see the children’s faces light up when viewing the exhibition was a treat.

 Dinosaurs have been discovered in Northern Ireland (my son wanted to know if there was a Northern Ireland dinosaur!)

I learned how much food the dinosaurs ate in one day – a lot more than me!

Yes, I learnt the names of some dinosaurs and that dinosaur poo looks very similar to Labrador poo!

I lost count of the names of new dinosaurs I saw

Dinosaurs had feathers! Pigs, goats and horses lived millions of years before man did

Superb exhibition – well laid out, ultra-realistic and informative

  

 

Get ready, it’s time for an adventure!

Gary Dodds, Discover Dinosaurs Demonstrator

Grab your fossil hunting gear and get ready for an action packed summer as the dinosaur exhibition is here! Yes, that’s right; prepare to come face to face with the dinosaurs. The Ulster Museum is situated in Belfast’s Botanic Gardens and thanks to this wonderful location it provides the makings of an action-packed day out, whatever the weather. Discover the science behind the unearthing of dinosaurs and the history behind their very existence. This exhibition offers an environment that can be enjoyed by absolutely everyone. Whether you are after a super fun day out or an educational experience, the dinosaur exhibition has it all.  

Working in the dinosaur exhibition is an experience of a lifetime. I am truly very lucky to play my part in such a wonderful event. Just seeing the smiles on people’s faces as they explore the exhibition in amazement is such an enriching experience. Knowing that everyone is enjoying the exhibition in their very own why can’t help but make you smile.

No day is the same; each day brings new enthusiastic armature palaeontologists of all ages. I interact with families who have brought their little ones for a day out. The kids I meet are so keen and eager to learn. The atmosphere within the exhibition comes from a combination of the laughter of the children enjoying themselves, the teenagers being intrigued by what they are seeing, the adults being overwhelmed by the entire experience and the grannies and granddads enjoying a good day out. 

There is a section of the exhibition that is filled with books and toys that the children can play with; it is a hugely popular area. Once the children have read the books I am more than often approached by a grinning child who is excited to ask me a question. The questions I am asked range from the whacky to the wonderful. One of my most memorable questions to date was from a ten-year old boy who had travelled with his family from Dublin; he asked “did the mommy dinosaurs name her children so she knew which ones were which as they all looked the same?” Now this is a question that nobody can answer, but he couldn’t have put it to me in a more serious fashion. Other questions that children and adults ask are; “how did the dinosaurs become extinct?”, “what was the biggest dinosaur?”, “what was the most feared dinosaur?”, and “how long did dinosaurs roam the earth for?” One of my all time favourites is, “can you name a dinosaur if you discover a new one?” I am always interested to hear what names children and adults alike propose. Some of the suggested names include; carosaurus, davidosaurus, sillyosaurus, greedyosaurus and one little girl said she would name one nastyosaurus, as dinosaurs were mean. 

It’s a rewarding experience being able to answer the many questions that I am asked. When speaking to the grannies and granddads one thing is clear; they all wish that they had something similar to this exhibition whenever they were youngsters.  I meet people who have travelled from far and wide just to experience the dinosaur exhibition. As I met such a diverse range of people it is great listening to their own experiences. It’s wonderful listening to parents’ stories of them talking their kids fossil hunting, and the grannies and granddads telling me stories of how they wished they found dinosaur remains whenever they were younger. 

Thanks to our many expert dinosaur staff and exhibition filled with countless displays many people find themselves unable to leave the museum without talking to our dino experts to find out more. So why not bring yourself, family and friends to take advantage of this truly unmissable experience?

Preparation for Age of the Dinosaur

Ray Williams, Facilities Manager

Having only been appointed as the Facilities Manager 2 weeks before the Ulster Museum reopened, I had previously thought the first 6 months in post were a challenge but nothing would prepare me for what would be involved in getting ready for a dinosaur exhibition.

Planning began in earnest 12 months beforehand and although the Museum is equipped to handle and move oversized crates, we had to check and re-check crate sizes with the Natural History Museum with that of our goods lifts to ensure that we were able to get them into the gallery.

Whilst this worked out for the majority of crates, we didn’t have the means to get the star of the show, the huge body of the Tarbosaurus, into the gallery. It was quite ironic that Tarbosaurus means “alarming lizard” because this was a real logistical problem that was a huge concern to me.

Work began late one Sunday night to build a bespoke crane that would lift the body of the Tarbosaurus up onto one of our high walkways so that it could be wheeled into the gallery.This is itself was uncharted territory for both the Museum and the appointed contractor. Thankfully, later the following day the hoisting operation was completed and everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief.

When the Gallery was cleared work began immediately on the installation of the electrical supply needed to cope with the additional number of exhibits that were to be installed in the gallery.A complete pneumatic pipework system was also installed before the arrival of the exhibition as this was to be the main source of powering the animatronic dinosaurs.The lighting arrangements had also to be completely reconfigured from that of a well-lit art gallery to something that resembled scenes from the Late Cretaceous period.

Our Handling Team and Facilities Staff worked nearly 3 weeks without a day off to ensure that this exhibition was installed on time.Everything about it was big and heavy, from wall panels, to dinosaurs, nothing seemed easy or straightforward.
Another very nervous stage for me was the first time that the robots were connected to the power and air supply. This was high risk as any major issue with either could have jeopardized the install completion date. Whilst there were a few issues, most of these were ironed out quickly by the maintenance team which was a huge relief on my part. Thankfully there have been very few technical issues with this exhibition.

For many at the Museum their work ends when we close the doors to the public on the last day of the exhibition.For me it is the start of weeks of work, not only to get the exhibition out and onto its next venue, but to start work on the restoration of the galleries to their original condition ready for the next art exhibition.

Being involved with this project has been an incredible learning experience on my part with many highs and lows, however, the most satisfying part is seeing the excited kids (and adults) coming in to the Museum and thoroughly enjoying the whole experience.

Hannah, Interpretation Manager.

He came, he roared, he conquered!

On Friday 1st June a very special group of dinosaur hunters joined us in the museum ‘after hours’.Their mission?To track down a fearsome, meat-eating dinosaur that was loose in the museum.

As the clock struck 6.30 a shout was heard that he had been spotted in Age of the Dinosaur. The dinosaur hunters raced to the gallery, where the terrifying roars and heavy footsteps left them in no doubt that the dinosaur was at large. He made his way through Age of the Dinosaur and into Discover Dinosaurs, sending the dinosaur hunters scattering to safety. After stopping to have a go at some of the hands-on activities (his puny arms weren’t really designed for this), he lumbered across the walkway and in to see John Sibbick’s Paintings of Prehistoric Life and landscapes. He must have been impressed, as he put on quite a show in there! But then it was all over, and he disappeared down the back corridors of the museum, leaving the dinosaur hunters scared and excited but all the more determined to track him down.

Over the course of the evening he was spotted two more times, and he seemed to become quite fond of the dinosaur hunters – even letting them pet his nose and play a lively game of football with him! Things did turn nasty at the end though, when the dinosaur hunters became dentists and helped his handler to remove a bad tooth. He was not best pleased about this and let out the most deafening roar. Quick off the mark, the dinosaur hunters formed a pack and chased him from the museum. Goodness only knows what chaos and destruction he went on to cause in Belfast, but at least Takabuti, Peter the polar bear and everyone else at the museum was now safe, and all thanks to our intrepid dinosaur hunters.

A big thank you also to Erth Visual and Physical Inc, who somehow managed to bring the Australovenator (hands up, who thought he was a T-Rex?!) all the way over from Australia and keep him from wreaking too much havoc…

Hunting for Terry Dactyl

Dr Mike Simms, Curator of Palaeontology

As Curator of Palaeontology at the Ulster Museum I have, understandably, been rather busy these last few months with preparations for the opening of the dinosaur exhibition. The robotics part of the exhibition - what is actually called The Age of the Dinosaur - has been hired in from the Natural History Museum so I have not had too much to do with its installation, but we always felt that it was important to give visitors something extra, and it is these various extra ‘bits’ with which I have been involved. So where do we find them? Here’s a taster of what is involved.

Those of a certain age may remember the novelty band that was Terry Dactyl and the Dinosaurs singing Seaside Shuffle back in 1972, a time when T.rex also regularly stalked the pop charts. The more correctly spelled pterodactyl is actually an archaic term (well, it would be, I hear you say. They’re fossils after all!) for an extinct group of flying reptiles that are more correctly termed pterosaurs (meaning ‘winged lizard). They lived - and flew - alongside the dinosaurs from about 200 million years to just 65 million years, and probably were wiped out by the same event (volcanism? asteroid impact? financial crisis?). Which is a shame because they were truly AMAZING creatures. With wings of skin stretched from the tip of their enormously elongated 4th fingers to their ankles they were quite unlike anything else that has flown. Their lightly-built skeletons were rather delicate and so pterosaurs are rare as fossils. Through my counterpart in the Natural History Museum in Dublin, Matthew Parkes, we were able to borrow two small fossil pterosaurs for our Discover Dinosaurs area. Exciting fossils for the true aficionado, but our younger visitors perhaps want to see something a bit larger - and with big teeth. Fortunately, some of the last of the pterosaurs were huge, with wingspans of perhaps 8 or 9 metres. The fossils of these giants are mostly rather scrappy but I knew that there were some impressive reconstructions out there. Could I capture some of these for the exhibition? Well, I knew a man who could!

Dr Dave Martill, palaeontologist and pterosaur expert at the University of Portsmouth, has been building spectacular life-sized reconstructions and skeletons of these flying giants for a few years now. He had created several models, with wingspans up to 9m, for an outdoor exhibition at the Southbank Centre, London, in the summer of 2010. But where were they now? Two had migrated to a permanent roost in Milton Keynes, also home to the infamous concrete cows, but in 2011 I tracked down two more skulking in a small yard at the back of the Dinosaur Isle Museum in Sandown, on the Isle of Wight. With wingspans close to 8m, these had proved too big to install in the museum there, but Dave was happy for them to come to Belfast. They finally arrived on the back of a truck in April 2012, a little the worse for wear having spent 18 months in the open. Jill Kerr, our experienced natural sciences conservator did a fine job, drying them off, cleaning the algae from their wings, combing their fur (yes, pterosaurs were furry!) and removing the ant colony that had set up home in one of them. At the end of April they were hauled into place in the entrance hall - where they dripped water onto unsuspecting visitors for a day or two!

The pair of them look stunning - all the more so because pterosaurs this large really did exist! We also commissioned Dave to build us a giant pterosaur skeleton that we could suspend from the ceiling in the Discover Dinosaurs gallery. This monster, with a wingspan of more than 7m, is a toothier beast than those in the entrance hall and makes for a spectacular display. The skull and toothsome jaws of this remarkable beast are awesome, but if you look further back you will see that its body and legs were tiny. Perhaps a new slant on the saying “all mouth and no trousers”…

Conservation

Jill Kerr, Natural Science Conservator

As you enter ‘Discover Dinosaurs’ you look up into the jaws of Neovenator.

Eight months ago it was brought out of storage and assembled in the conservation studio. 21 pieces were broken off and 6 pieces missing from the many years it spent on open display. After all these months this extremely fragile dinosaur model was returned to its former glory and skilfully assembled by the Object Handling Team.

 

Discover Dinosaurs

Dr Geraldine Macartney (Learning Officer)

Discover Dinosaurs is FAB! Does that sound very old fashioned? How about COOL, WICKED – still out of date? Come along and tell us what you think – you can post it in the box just outside the exit door.

I’m probably immensely biased, though. I have worked on this project for almost a year, through the stress, the exhaustion, a bit of blood (fossils are sharp!) but thankfully no tears.

There is a tremendous satisfaction seeing something that began as a few rough sketches in a notebook emerge as a beautiful, working discovery centre, thanks to the NMNI design team (Roy, Michael and Gerry) and Mike, our palaeontologist. But the pleasure isn’t in admiring our own work and being self –congratulatory - oh no. It is when we see you, the visitor, fully engaged and having a great time. Where else can you go to put your hand on a real fossil dinosaur leg, for example?

(One reporter said it depends where you go in Belfast, but I don’t think he meant other museums!)

I particularly loved the very small boy in the Dino Den babbling away in incomprehensible chatter then clearly shout ‘TRICERATOPS!’ or ‘STEGASAURUS’ and even ‘BRACHIOSAURUS’ at the models, and he was right!

Little kids, big kids, mums and dads, grannies and granddads are all busy at the Dino Dig with their paintbrushes, excavating our very own dinosaur. What will they find next? A skull? A tooth? A claw? And just look up, there’s a picture of real palaeontologists doing exactly the same thing!

Don’t take my word for how good the Age of the Dinosaur exhibition is -  I’ve already told you I’m biased! Come along yourself, get your pants scared off and then laugh at the moving, roaring dinosaurs, spend time in Discover Dinosaurs and then admire the prehistoric art by world renowned artist, John Sibbick. If you still need to be convinced check out the short videos on our website.

But don’t waste time, just come, it’s FUN.

New Views on Old Dinosaurs

Hannah, Interpretation Manager

Last Thursday we welcomed a very special visitor to the Ulster Museum. Dr Paul Barrett, a curator from the Natural History Museum in London, is none other than the brains behind Age of the Dinosaur. It is his research that has informed the exhibition, and he came over to Belfast to share details of that research with us.

We started by going back not to the age of the dinosaurs, but to the 19th century (1800s). Back then people believed that dinosaurs were fat, lazy lizards, or, as Paul said, ‘a cross between an iguana and a hippopotamus’. Over 100 years later we know that dinosaurs came in all shapes and sizes, that many were very small and speedy, that some were covered in feathers, and that they are actually related more closely to birds than reptiles.

So how do we know all this? Well, since the 19th century much new evidence has been discovered, and it is detailed research into this evidence that has changed our opinions of dinosaurs. For example, by looking at dinosaur bones and using clever computer modelling processes we can tell how dinosaurs moved. By comparing their teeth and jaw bones with those of modern species we can tell what they ate and how they chewed (they got this all wrong in Jurassic Park apparently, by showing Brachiosaurs chewing in the cow-like fashion of us humans, rather than moving their jaws up and down). We even know that some dinosaurs were sociable creatures that lived in herds, as ‘bone beds’ have been found with a large number of dinosaur skeletons all preserved in one place.

Fact fans out there may be keen to know that Argentinosaurus was the biggest dinosaur, Archaeopteryx is the earliest known bird and that no dinosaur has been found which lived beyond the age of 34.

To sign off I’ll leave you to imagine that famous predator, Tyrannosaurus rex, sporting some flouncy feathers. It’s not been proven yet, but it is looking increasingly like this fearsome dinosaur maybe wasn’t quite so macho after all…

A big thank you to Paul Barrett for such an entertaining and informative lecture.

 

Events Programme

Hannah, Interpretation Manager

Now that our new dinosaur residents are settled in their new home, we thought we’d share with you details of all the exciting events they have inspired. Right up until the exhibition closes in September we’ll be bringing you a variety of activities, to cater for all ages and interests. So whether you want to find out more from world-renowned dinosaur experts, walk on land with a Jurassic history or marvel at the ways that dinosaurs have been re-created on the big screen, there should be something for you.

Events are a very important part of any exhibition, providing opportunities for you to further explore the themes, to learn, and, of course, to enjoy!

We’re particularly excited about our ‘Dinosaur Hunt’ event, on the evening of Friday 1st June. What better way to start the long Bank Holiday weekend, than by braving the corridors of the Ulster Museum to help us hunt down a life-size, meat-eating young dinosaur? This predator, all the way from Australia, will be making appearances throughout the evening. You’ll also be able to visit the exhibitions, go on a tour and take part in some special dinosaur-themed activities. We hope to see you there!

For more details on all our events check out our website.

 

Not long to go now…

The installation of the Age of the Dinosaur exhibition is having quite a large effect on day to day life at the museum. While it means that four of the art galleries are closed, visitors to the museum are eagerly anticipating the arrival of the animatronic dinosaurs, such as the Tarbosaurus and Velociraptor. Dinosaur signage and vinyl graphics are popping up all over the building, and the Pterosaurs are looming overhead in the Welcome Zone, ensuring all visitors are aware of the imminent arrival of the prehistoric giants on the 18th May.

         


Some Visitor Guides and Front of House staff at the Ulster Museum have been assisting the Natural History Museum and Ulster Museum teams with the set up and installation of the Age of the Dinosaur exhibition. We’ve been doing all sorts of odd jobs, such as clearing packing material, disassembling storage crates, hanging visual graphics and installing lightbox panels. By helping out behind the scenes, we have been able to see the exhibition space taking shape and be completely transformed from a modern art gallery into Jurassic and Cretaceous landscapes. Seeing this transformation and working alongside the Natural History Museum team will enable us to provide visitors to the exhibition with the best experience possible.