Classic Jurassic

26th January 2001 at 00:00
Fossils and footprints can be fun when you go on the trail of our prehistoric ancestors. Deedee Cuddihy reports on two new exhibitions.

If you have any interest in the giants that roamed the Earth millions of years ago, you'll probably want to visit "Walking with Dinosaurs - The Exhibition". Created by Yorkshire Museum and the BBC, the show will be running in the Hunterian Museum at Glasgow University - possibly its only Scottish venue - from tomorrow until April 29.

The exhibition allows visitors to get "up close and personal" with the six-part series that cost pound;6 million to produce and was more than two years in the making.

Like the series, the show is divided into six themed parts, starting 220 million years ago with an introduction to some early dinosaurs and other "residents" living around a seasonal river. One hundred and fifty-five million years later, mighty Tyrannosaurus is king of the dinosaurs but the extinction of these amazing creatures is not far off.

What the exhibition does that logging onto the BBC's impressive "Walking with Dinosaurs" website can't do for you is show excerpts from the series on big screen televisions alongside actor Stephen Fry's presentation of how the series was made. As well as explaining how scientists developed their theories about dinosaurs, he shows specifically how the animators and model makers helped bring the dinosaurs "back to life" again after 65 million years.

"Fleshing out" the televised material are a number of the actual dinosaurmodels used and casts of some of the rarest dinosaur fossils in existence as well as real dinosaur bones from around the world.

The Hunterian Museum has added Jurassic marine reptiles from its own collections and commissioned two life-size dinosaurs from a firm of specialist model makers in Glasgow. One is a reconstruction based on a limb bone discovered on the Isle of Skye in 1994, the first dinosaur bone to be found in Scotland. The second model is a spectacular 42 foot long Tyrannosaurus which will be on show outside the main university building for the duration of the exhibition.

The bulk of the displays are mounted on the ground floor of the Hunterian's splendidly refurbished Kelvin Gallery but upstairs are two special features, exclusive to the Glasgow show, which are bound to attract a lot of attention.

The Dino Track is a 20-metre long runway, incorporating light-up dinosaur foot prints and scary dinosaur sounds, that allows visitors to rae against a dinosaur for whom you have chosen the fitness level, bearing in mind that some of these beasts could travel as fast as 22 kilometres per hour.

A little more serious and generally available only to school groups is the Dino Dig, which offers a "realistic dinosaur excavation experience".

Schools should book their visits to take full advantage of admission charge reductions and educational facilities including the Dino Dig and archaeology student guide. A free teachers preview evening is being held on February 7.

Not quite as spectacular, but full of fascinating information, photographs, large-scale drawings, casts and actual fossils, is the "Tracking Dinosaurs" exhibition at Perth Museum and Art Gallery. It's a touring show from the National Museums and Galleries of Wales and is presented in both English and Welsh. Visitors are greeted in the foyer by Perth's own add-ons: a model of a flying reptile (dubbed a "Perthteranodon" by museum staff) and an activity table where children can produce fossil and dinosaur rubbings or colour in a picture.

The exhibition which attracted 27 local primary teachers on the preview night, shows how much scientists have been able to learn about dinosaurs by studying their fossilised footprints. (A track is a single fossilised footprint and a trackway is a trail of prints.) Some of the first dinosaur tracks were recognised in England as long ago as 1862 and the most ancient - 225 million years old - were discovered in France.

Most dinosaur tracks were destroyed before they had a chance to become fossils and it's reckoned that fewer than one per cent have survived. Still, what has been called a "mega-tracksite" in Utah in the United States - an area measuring 1,000 square kilometres - contains an estimated one billion tracks. It's believed the site may have been a "stomping ground", where herds of dinosaurs moved around with no obvious purpose or direction. (A bit like a Jurassic disco!) Trackways have given proof of walking and running dinosaurs - some exerting as much pressure underfoot as a single storey building. There is no evidence that dinosaurs ever hopped, as had once been suspected, but another trackway in Utah shows a limping dinosaur, due to injury to its right foot.

Walking with Dinosaurs - The Exhibition. Hunterian Museum, Glasgow University. Tel 0141 330 4221. January 27-April 29.

Tracking Dinosaurs. Perth Museum and Art Gallery. Tel 01738 632488. Until April 21.

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