My son and I are walking through a dark, jungle, all by ourselves. There’s little sound, other than our footsteps. I stop, having lost track of my son when – all of a sudden – a terrible roar lets loose from close by. I turn and look and towering eight feet above my head, an adult Allosaurus is screaming at me, it’s yellow eye cast in my direction. Of course, there was no need to worry. John Hammond hasn’t extracted dino-DNA from amber-trapped mosquitos — we were catching an early preview of Dinosaurs Unearthed, a traveling exhibition, which presents animatronic dinosaur models that are representative of evidence that some dinosaurs in the Triassic, Jurassic & Cretaceous periods were once covered in feathers.
The exhibition we viewed at Union Station in Kansas City, which is based on fossils found at the excavation located at the Dashanpu Formation near Zigong, China, is one of four exhibitions currently on tour from the Dinosaurs Unearthed company. The Kansas City exhibition is currently the largest, with the newest technology. Each exhibit features similar animatronic dinosaurs, but the exhibit we saw included interactive games, a dig area where kids can try to find dinosaur tracks and the largest collection of feather-related dinosaur fossils outside the Zigong Dinosaur Museum. What’s more, the Union Station exhibit includes a 3-D Dinosaur movie and a Build-A-Dino shop for kids, along with the ubiquitous gift shop.
We didn’t know what to expect when we showed up for our tour, it seems like there are plenty of exhibits that are heavy on the flash and visual effects and light on the science and education. But Dinosaurs Unearthed does a good job of straddling that line, presenting enough concrete information and unique artifacts that we walked away feeling like we had learned something.
However, this is a show aimed squarely at kids and the stars of the show are – without a doubt – the animatronic models. From feather-covered T. rex juveniles to spiky Stegosauruses, there were two dozen life-like foam covered models, mixed among five life-sized skeletons. The animatronics were impressive – as I studied the juvenile T. rex’s quill-like feathers, he swung his arms and blinked. But there was something else that made the experience seem more real … and then I realized his chest was expanding as he breathed in before letting loose a roar.
Dinosaurs Unearthed allows visitors to get very close to the models and you can’t help but think how small and vulnerable you feel next to some of these huge beasts. But, as humans, you can find a away to maintain the upper hand. In this case, it’s a button-laden kiosk associated with certain models that allow visitors to control the tails, jaws and limbs of these giant beasts.
Dinosaurs Unearthed can be viewed at Union Station in Kansas City through mid-autumn. There are similar exhibitions being shown now in San Antonio, Texas; Calgary, Alberta and Sudbury, Ontario. Look for Dinosaurs Unearthed to visit science museums and exhibition halls in late 2010 through 2011 … and beyond.