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Exhibit offers insight into the lives, deaths of dinosaurs

May 28, 2004|by LISA PREJEAN

Each time we see a dinosaur exhibit, my children are full of questions."How do scientists know what color dinosaurs were when they've never seen one alive?"

"How can we know how big a dinosaur was if only a few of its bones have been discovered?"

"Did they really live millions of years ago?"

"Why are there no dinosaurs today?"

To most of their questions, I respond, "Well, we're not really sure, but there are clues that can help us make an educated guess."

There are many unknowns about the world of dinosaurs. Many of these are being explored in "Dinosaur Mysteries," a new exhibit that opens today at Maryland Science Center in Baltimore.

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"We don't know everything there is to know about dinosaurs," says Hall Train, creative director for Hall Train Studios, which helped to create the exhibit. "We have some clues in living animals."

For example, most large animals, such as elephants, are not brightly colored. There are several reasons for this, Train says.

An extremely large animal's chromosomes may be affected by its size, resulting in a dull skin color. Large animals typically are covered with dead skin, which also tends to be dull. And, they're usually dusty and covered with dirt.

Train's studio, under the direction of curators, paleontologists and exhibit directors, recreates paleo-environments and the life forms that inhabited them.

He says most people in his profession won't recreate a dinosaur unless many bones and other clues have been discovered, but he once recreated one from only 14 bones.

There are several dinosaurs in the Maryland Science Center exhibit.

The centerpiece is a 45-foot-long, 19-foot-tall Giganotosaurus, one of the largest known dinosaurs. There's a 40-foot-long Tyrannosaurus Rex, and a dramatic diorama depicts Maryland's state dinosaur, Astrodon johnstoni, being attacked by an Acrocanthosaurus.

Positioning the dinosaurs was a little tricky, Train says.

"The stance is a really important part of the sculpture," he says.

Among other things, scientists look at the size and position of footprints and the ground markings from a dinosaur's tail to determine how to pose the prehistoric creatures.

The true-to-life stances require an incredibly strong support system.

In one part of the Maryland Science Center's exhibit, Train used steel pipes 4 inches in diameter with walls 1 inch thick.

Museum attendees can explore the world of paleontology by uncovering fossils and putting dinosaur bones together. Children may sit inside a 7-foot dinosaur nest.

Other new exhibits opening today are "Your Body: The Inside Story," "Newton's Alley" and "Follow the Blue Crab."

For information, call 1-410-685-5225 or go to www.marylandsciencecenter.org on the Web.

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"Dinosaur Dream" by Dennis Nolan is a highly requested book at our house. In the story, a little boy dreams that he finds a baby dinosaur. His mission is to return the creature to his family. The story is designed for ages 4 to 7, but you may catch older children listening as well.

For a book about dinosaurs from a Creation standpoint, look for "What Really Happened to the Dinosaurs?" by John Morris and Ken Ham.




Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at lisap@herald-mail.com.

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