Last Saturday I spent a few hours helping out as a volunteer at the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News. The museum is currently hosting an exhibit of animatronic dinosaurs, but the main attraction on Saturday was the fossil collection of Jim Rollings, retired director of the Science Museum of Western Virginia (and former VLM staff). Mr. Rollings had brought in a sizable collection of fossils he’d collected over the years, which were on display along with some of the museum’s fossils. Most of the time when actual fossils are on display, they are behind glass or otherwise out of reach. This was a rare opportunity for the public to handle real fossils and examine them up close.
I spent the morning showing off some trilobites and cephalopods from Morocco. A little farther down the table, there was some actual Spinosaurus material, also from Morocco. There were also some nice castings of Jurassic Period skulls of Allosaurus and Apatasaurus, fragments of marine reptiles that also dwelt in the age of the dinosaurs, and other assorted remnants of the prehistoric world.
A lot of children visit the Virginia Living Museum and Mr. Rollings prepared a brief presentation for them. He donned an “Indiana Jones” – style hat to discuss the difference between archeology (the study of ancient civilizations) and paleontology (the study of prehistoric life through fossils). While having a few young volunteers stretch a rope across the room to illustrate the size of a Stegosaurus, he showed the audience a casting of one its back plates. He also presented the giant claw of a Therizinosaurus, a rare two-legged vegetarian dinosaur that lived more than 100 million years ago. He ended with a description of the Chicxulub Meteor, thought to have ended the dinosaurs’ reign 65 million years ago, although he noted that some paleontologists still have questions about how the dinosaurs died. Others, he said, simply want to know how they lived.
With that, it was time to go, but on the way out I passed a dinosaur giving notice of a pajama party. I’m not 100% sure that the attire is scientifically accurate.