Dinosaur exhibition is a roaring success

The Gentle Giant dinosaur exhibition at Shetland Museum and Archives opened on Saturday and was greeted with enthusiasm.

It is the first time dinosaurs have been featured and there was huge interest in them – and lots of dinosaur-themed events are planned during the exhibits’ three month loan period.

The exhibition includes the massive skull of a triceratops, cast from a real skull belonging to Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum. This three-horned creature stood three metres high and 10 metres long, with sturdy rhino-like legs and a parrot-like beak for slicing fruit.

An exhibition with bite: Liam Ward, five, and Jack Taylor, four, have a close look at the triceratops skull. Photo: Dave Donaldson
An exhibition with bite: Liam Ward, five, and Jack Taylor, four, have a close look at the triceratops skull. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Also in the show is a model allosaurus and baby tyrannosaurus rex, both loaned from Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh.

Allosaurus, meaning “different lizard”, with a huge head, shortened forearms and growing up to 12 metres long, was a carnivore with serrated teeth and slashing claws.

Tyrannosaurus rex, or “terrible lizard”, was one of the largest dinosaurs, six metres tall and up to 12 metres long, with a one and a half-metre skull, and capable of eating up to 500 lbs of meat in one mouthful. Despite its fearsome reputation, the baby in the exhibition proved to be a hit with children.

A collection of fossils, including dinosaur footprints, is also on show.

Museum officials had been working since last year to secure the exhibition, which was finally agreed with the Hunterian Museum in November. Planning started in February which involved how to get the exhibits to Shetland. Sponsors Shetland Transport became involved in the logistics in May.

The unusual objects were wrapped in blankets and shrinkwrap and packed into crates for the journey.

Curator Ian Tait said: “It’s great fun, the bairns just love it. We deliberately picked something non-Shetland that [otherwise] folk would have to travel a long way to see.”

Speculating on the appeal of dinosaurs, especially to youngsters he said: “Bairns like mysterious things like outer space and big creatures like sharks and lions, but the key is that dinosaurs are safe because they are extinct. They are exciting, real and mysterious, but have been rendered gentle.”

Saturday also saw two talks on dinosaurs of the Jurassic and Cretacious periods and Scotland’s Jurassic past by Hunterian Museum palaeontologist Neil Clark.

Neil Clark curator of palaeontology at Hunterian Museum with the tyrannosaurus rex model. Photo: Dave Donaldson
Neil Clark curator of palaeontology at Hunterian Museum with the tyrannosaurus rex model. Photo: Dave Donaldson

Dr Clark’s daytime talk to children was fully booked, with 120 attending.

Dr Tait said museum talks were often perceived as “worthy”. This, he argued, was “just as worthy but more populist”, and added that the young audience had been “unalarmed by gore”. The evening talk for adults was also well attended.

Dr Tait thanked Shetland Transport for their “very generous support” which had made the exhibition possible.

Lifelong learning officer Yvonne Reynolds said: “There has been an amazing response from the public, with lots of families and children enjoying it [on Saturday]. In the learning room they could make triceratops headbands and get dinosaur tattoos and have their faces painted.

Some of the visitors at Saturday's launch in the Shetland Museum. Photo: Dave Donaldson
Some of the visitors at Saturday’s launch in the Shetland Museum. Photo: Dave Donaldson

“We’ve got lots of school bookings for tours and workshops, we’re flat out until October. It’s hugely popular.”

There are even plans for a dinosaur disco.


Add Your Comment
  • Robin Wynford

    • September 16th, 2013 12:55

    I am interested to know if the journalist was at the exhibition on Saturday morning? I was, with my family, and feel that the article is not reflective of the aforementioned exhibition. Looking around, most children had lost interest in the first 10 minutes. Questions posed by the children were not answered, “we’ll talk about that later” but never did, or an unclear answer given. The demise of the dinosaur was delivered better by some of the children, and an opinion on the current train of thought, appeared to overule those shared by the children. BOnes and foorprints on riverbeds were said to be importatn to the paleantology, but we wer enot told why.
    There was little structure to the whole event on sSaturday morning, and certainly my children and those I spoke to did not feel or show a better understanding of dinosaurs. I understand there were slides accompanying the later exhibition. Why not for the children, to help them focus on the subject.
    In summary, the news article does not reflect the exhibition in my view, and is really some creative journalism to applaud a poorly structured, presented topic. A missed opportunity for the kids.

  • Peter Leybourne

    • September 17th, 2013 0:16

    I’m not sure I wholeheatedly agree with Mr Wynford’s comments. I have had an interest in Dinosaus and other extinct fossil remains for more than 60-years and I am by no means an expert. One of my prized possessions is the jawbone of a Mosasau which could possibly be a fake. However, I do think every child in Britain knows what Dinosaus are. I’m not so sure how many may think they are the work of fiction writers? Surely it’s up to parents and schools to educate youngsters in a subject as important as natural history and not wait for an exhibition to fill in the gaps. These exhibitions cannot hope to cater for everyone. We are all expected to know about dinosaurs. If not, a little research would not go amiss. Those foot prints for example indicate the type and size and possibly the weight of animal, wheather it ran on two or four legs, how fast it travelled by the length of stride, and may also indicate if it was the hunter or hunted. How many guides would it take for the exhibition to tell everyone everything there is to know? Be thankful the people of Shetland had the oportunity to visit a dinosaur exhibition on their home ground without the need to travel south to one of the big cities.

  • Robin Wynford

    • September 18th, 2013 14:08

    Mr Leybourne, you miss my point, almost completely. Your letter to me, looks like a sounding/soap box for you to show your knowledge. Given your interest in dinosaurs, if you were at the exhibition, you may be more inclined to undetrstand that the point I make is that this was a lost opportunity, for an ‘expert’ to impart knowledge and understanding to a young crowd. Do you imply that I have not supported my children to understand what the dinosaurs were? My family have not waited for an exhibition to fill in. We have had the opportunity to spend many a day in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, the Nururhistoriches Museum Vienna, and smaller exhibitions, learing about the subject. One of my children actually gave a fine description on one of the theories of the demise of the dinosaurs on Saturday – you surely were not there. Further, your assumption that a little research is needed is inaccurate and somewhat rude. Exhibitions should attempt to cater, a bit, for everyone. Otherwiswe they become exclusive to a specific audience to the detriment of others. Children are our only hope for the future and the best way to maintian what we have learned from the past. This did not happen at Mareel that Saturday morning. You explain more about why footprints are important, than was explained at the exhibition, I doubt many children or adults will be aware this information is available on the Shetland Times letter column. To imply I am not thankfull, again is an assumption you make, wrong, disrespectfull and unecessary. I am thankfull that this opportunity was made for everyone to enjoy, learn. I am disappointed that the opportunity was missed, and the report inaccurate. If no learing is taken from failed opportunities, or reports are inaccurate, we run the risk of missing future opportunities.
    Perhaps you, with your years of study and gained knowledge, would care to share this with some of us, children adn adults, who are less knowledgable in the subject…?


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