Perhaps it’s just a by-product of temperature-controlled rooms, but The Field Museum’s “Antarctic Dinosaurs” exhibit feels a little chilly. Upon entering, patrons are greeted by a looping video of Antarctica’s swirling pure-white landscape, along with displays of weather-appropriate gear and a model section of the interior of a research plane.
Through the tent-like, yellow canvas portal to the next room, the scene is markedly different. Deep blue and green walls are flush with painted trees and ferns, and, in the center of the room, what looks like the mock-up of the love child of a crocodile and a slug issurrounded by its ancestors’ fossil fragments.
This is a different Antarctica than the one we know; this is the Antarctica of the dinosaurs.
Using the research methods and discoveries made by Peter Makovicky – the Field Museum’s curator of dinosaurs – and his team in their 2010 Antarctic expedition, the exhibit aims to not only show visitors the fossils the team excavated, but also the challenges in releasing them from their icy graves, said exhibition developer Marie Georg.
These two goals were accomplished by having the exhibit “toggle between two storylines” with half the rooms educating visitors about the team’s excavation process and the others presenting the dinosaur fossils.
To help differentiate the two time periods, the rooms with a pre-historic setting were designed to depict Antarctic winters, with dark skies and ethereal auroras creating an unlikely backdrop to the fossilized remains of the great beasts. In contrast, the rooms depicting a modern dig site were set in the summer, which is when Antarctica is most hospitable for research.
Makovicky was pleased with how close the interactive recreations of the Antarctic digs sites were to the original locations.
“Short of putting you at twelve and a half thousand feet and in minus-10 degree weather, we’ve tried to be faithful to (the original site),” he said.
Of course, no dinosaur exhibit is complete without a crowd-pleasing carnivorous monstrosity. Here, Cryolophosaurus fits the bill. The largest carnivorous dinosaur of the early Jurassic period, the 25-foot-long titan is presented both as a skeleton and in a full-scale model of its presumed flesh-covered form.
Most striking about the fleshy mock-up: it’s almost completely covered in grey feathers. Makovicky explained that since scientists have discovered dinosaurs to be the ancestors of birds, the team decided to be bold and debut Cryolophosaurus with a feathered look.
Just beyond Cryolophosaurus is a gaggle of juvenile Sauropodomorphs (envision a golden-retriever size Brontosaurus). Makovicky shared that two of these sauropods are each a brand new species — both still unnamed. In the absence of official species titles, one of the puppy-like dinos is currently nicknamed “Jolly Roger” in honor of the team member that discovered it.
The exhibit will be open through January, and new discoveries from Makovicky’s most recent Antarctic exhibition might be added during that time. Makovicky said all this research is helping scientists to better understand how the earth has changed over time.
“We’re filling in an important gap in our knowledge about the history of the earth,” he said. “We can start understanding the geological history of Antarctica in a global context.”