|Albertosaurus on the hunt.|
All photographs were taken by me. Click to see them below the break...
|Travelling back in time...|
|Age of Dinosaurs? Age of Dinosaurs?! Crocodile cousins object to |
the Mesozoic just being called the 'Age of Dinosaurs' - he'd like to see
some measly little Triassic dinosaur try and take him on!
One of the first major displays in Prehistoric North Carolina is a Triassic Period horsetail forest diorama, starring the replica skeleton of a land-dwelling crocodile relative called a 'rauisuchian' - a term once considered a legitimate biological classification but recently thought to instead represent a grade of similar, related animals of varying degrees of taxonomic closeness to each other. This one isn't identified to a particular genus but I'm pretty sure that the South American Prestosuchus was the model here.
North Carolina has an extensive Triassic record, mainly represented by the Pekin Formation. Recent fossil finds from the Pekin Formation include the bipedal Carnufex carolinensis - the aptly-named 'Carolina butcher,' a predatory reptile even more closely akin to modern crocs than the 'rauisuchians' - that made a media splash when it was discovered by scientists working with the NCSM. I got to see some original Pekin specimens on my visit, as I spent some time speaking with the palaeontology curator and he very kindly took me to see the collections - museum people are the BEST!!! Among these beautiful specimens were the remains of some relatives of us mammals, including barrel-bodied, tusk-bearing herbivores called dicynodonts and small, carnivorous cynodonts that are very very close to our mammalian ancestry.
Moving on, the exhibit goes deeper into the Mesozoic Era where we see some actual dinosaurs. The Late Cretaceous dioramas represent animals from the American West, though they likely had some relatives in the Eastern US too. These are really good displays. The skeletons are close by, and the narrow walkway, framing foliage, and selective lighting create a sort of natural, vaguely foreboding, claustrophobic vibe that I think really heightens the experience.
|Is there Jaws music for land animals?|
|Edmontosaurus - if you like, anyway - showing off why it's called a 'duckbill.'|
|Nice view, nice lighting, nice duckbill - and who's that back there?|
|And since you are no doubt wondering, yes, someone else at the museum|
called this a T. rex. My Beneski docenteering kicked in and I promptly
- yet (hopefully) politely - corrected them and explained what this critter
really was, which seemed to make them appreciate it a bit more.
|She takes 'heart of stone' to a whole new level.|
Leaving the Age of Reptiles behind, the exhibit shows off some whale fossils. The Southeastern US is a major locale for discoveries concerning early whale evolution, and some fossils from the region are on display here.
Creepy-yet-awesome: the perfect phrase to describe the short 'underwater' walkthrough. Unfortunately, the dim lighting made photographing this display pretty much impossible. Sorry. Below you can see a picture of a Zygorhiza skull, though...
|I usually don't bump into others from Alabama when I'm out of the state,|
but a fossil whale is just about the best same-stater I could've hoped for!
|I think we need to appreciate our Pleistocene ancestors a lot more. Not|
only did they not have the internet or indoor plumbing, but they had to
live alongside some totally impressive, bizarre giant beasts like this...
Since this post is long enough as it is, I'll wrap it up here. I have yet to cover the museum's centrepiece exhibit and the palaeontology displays in its newer wing, which while not exactly brand-spanking-new were added after my last visit several years ago. So, tune in tomorrow for a museum wrap-up, featuring... THE TERROR OF THE SOUTH!
|A couple of boneheads.|