The Field Museum’s new exhibition, Antarctic Dinosaurs, is intriguing, dramatic and captivating. It is an immersive experience, transporting you back 200 million years to discover what life was like in prehistoric Antarctica. For me, it is very difficult to actually envision that a place so cold now has a fossil history of lush plant life and dinosaurs specific to this region. That this continent is isolated has made exploration especially challenging.
In the search for fossils, Field Museum scientists lived in extreme conditions and a remote location. There is a large video that depicts these conditions vividly.
Careful preparation including packing supplies from clothing to food, radios, and tents are shown on a smaller monitor. Once they’ve set up camp, paleontologists can only reach the dig site by helicopter: while much of Antarctica is covered in ice, exposed rock in the Transantarctic Mountains offers one of the few locations where it’s possible to excavate fossils. Watching the way one man sawing into the snow to make block to building a kind of igloo was amazing.
The search for fossils is very dramatic when one learns of the early explorers who did not survive and the way in which their demise influenced later explorers. As I wandered through the exhibition it was clear that children as well as adults were mesmerized.
The staff at the Field Museum generously answered the following questions:
The fact that Antarctic Dinosaurs was developed by the Field Museum, Chicago in partnership with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Discovery Place – Charlotte, NC, and the Natural History Museum of Utah is very interesting.
Can you explain how this group came together?
The Field Museum works with many museums around the US, both in hosting our traveling exhibitions and working to create exhibitions. When we announced we were creating this new exhibition, L.A., Utah, and Discovery Place have all hosted our exhibitions before, and all expressed interest in hosting this one. When we asked if they wanted to be partners in the development, they were all three eager to help be part of this project.
Can you share how the responsibilities were divided?
Field Museum was the lead museum in developing, designing, and producing the exhibition. The three partner museums participated in the design milestone reviews: Concept Direction, Design Preview, and Design Review. They gave feedback on content and presentation at all milestones. Also, representatives from each institution participated in weekly phone calls related specifically to the development of media and interactive elements in the exhibition.
This exhibit brings the viewer into the experience of discovering these fossils.
How did this approach come about?
Doing paleontology in Antarctica is unlike anywhere in the world. The harsh conditions (-15 degrees on Mount Kirkpatrick) mean that your time in the field is short. So, we really wanted our visitors to understand the difficulty of this work, from just finding the fossils all the way through getting them out of the ground, and all the work needed back in the lab.
This exhibition has been in place for a few weeks.
What kind of reactions have visitors had to being a part of this remarkable adventure?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. We could have made a dinosaur exhibition with any number of sub-themes. However, it’s the excitement and adventure of getting to and working in Antarctica that makes it a different story. Visitors have been responding especially to the amazing life-like replications of the various dinosaurs.
Research of these fossils sheds new light on our planet’s ever-changing climate and geology. I can’t imagine a greater contrast than tropical to arctic.
Would there be other examples as extreme as this in terms of climate change?
Not as extreme as this. While climate change is certainly a hot topic today, it was the extreme geological and meteorological forces that caused Antarctica to change so drastically.
One example of the unusual nature of this exhibition-
“Pompadour on Point
Fun fact, Cryolophosaurus gained the nicknamed “Elvisaurus” because of the distinctive crest on its head. The skull’s unique “pompadour” made it clear to scientists that Cryolophosaurus belonged to a new species. The name is derived from the Greek “kryos” for frozen and “lophos” for crest. This carnivorous theropod lived during the Early Jurassic, about 190 million years ago, when Antarctica was a temperate forest. Cryolophosaurus is the “King” of our new exhibition.” Antarctic Dinosaurs is part of the Griffin Dinosaur Experience, made possible by the generous support of the Kenneth C. Griffin Charitable Fund.
This is a great place to go on a very hot summer day. Don’t miss this experience!
For more information go to the antarctic dinosaurs website
Photos: Courtesy of the Field Museum unless otherwise noted.