Dinosaurs, Chinasaurs

The one thing about being an 'RAF brat' is that you don't really have anywhere that you can call a home town. Well, in theory you do, there's the place your parents were living when you were born, but you don't grow up there...

On the other hand, there are lots of places that feel like they should be your home town even though they're not. You lived there for a few years and you were old enough to remember them.  Malta means blue seas, yellow stone and tea made with condensed milk (they really did do that!).  Marham means an adopted stray dog called Timmus and a fantastic Latin teacher.

To me, Nottingham is a place of occasional memories of extended family, but it would actually have been home if Dad hadn't joined the RAF.  I remember when we came back from Singapore to a very cold English April to stay with rellies there for a week or so before moving on to our next home (Driffield, seeing as you ask).  I remember our breath condensing in the air: "Look, Mummy, we're dragons!! Look at our smoke!!"  Ok, I now have many more memories of Nottingham as an adult, some happy family memories and some sad ones, and a rough knowledge of the city centre.  It doesn't feel like a home town, though.

I remember going to Wollaton Hall many years ago before heading on to our cousin's wedding in the city  Mainly I remember the stuffed birds there from that part of the day.  

On Saturday I was there again, this time with my Other Half, for the 'Dinosaurs of China' exhibition. Walking through the main gate and up the hill, your first thought is "Wow, that's a nice building [and as you walk up to it, "That looks like Lincs Limestone]."  Your second thought is "How do we get in?" 

When you've walked around the side of the hall and handed over your advance tickets (or money as appropriate)  you walk into the first part of the exhibition, which has the dinosaurs-you-grew-up-with in body form if not in species.  The Mamenchisaurus is a huge sauropod, here rearing up on its back legs with its neck craning upwards into the rafters, and there is the inevitable theropod - the Sinraptor has an impressive set of teeth (and sounds like a special forces priest).   I'm not going to go through all the specimens present, but they each bring a particular point to the exhibition.  One thing - actually two things - I must single out are the juxtaposed Guanlong and modern-day ostrich showcasing beautifully the similarities between the dinosaur and the modern-day bird.  As we were looking at these two, there was a chap pointing out the said similarities to his spellbound children who were clearly fascinated by the idea of birds being modern dinosaurs.  Speaking of children, there's a huge Mamenchisaurus bone that they (and adults!) can actually touch, a source of real wonder and a fuel for imaginations and probably careers.  The murals throughout the exhibition can't be doing any harm to young minds either, they're perfect for sparking flights of imagination and a perfect, colourful counterpoint to the fossils.

The exhibition then moves you on to 'Dinosaurs behaved like birds.'  Inevitably, there's an Oviraptor with is nest and an interpretation board which sets its record straight, and there's a tiny Mei long that was buried in ash while it was asleep with its head tucked under its wing. You would really need a hologram rather than a 2D picture to do it justice. There's a Sinosauropteryx, which was the first feathered - feathered, mark you - dinosaur ever described. There's a Linheraptor, there's the famous Sinornithosaurus... There's Caudipteryx with is feathers and gastroliths.  There's a mix of real fossils, casts of things that were probably way too delicate to transport halfway across the world, and in the case of Mei long, a 3D print.  I think it's the first such print I've ever seen in real life.  There are also lots of stuffed birds here just as I remembered them, really thought-provoking as you compare life ancient and modern here.

Then there's the Feathered Flyers section.  Think of the dinosaur Microraptor and the bird Yanornis, and of Protopteryx - a bird with clawed hands, (see left) - and the famous Confuciusornis with features like a deep sternum for strong muscles to attach to, showing that this was a bird that flew strongly and with, in this instance, the long tail feathers that identify it as a male.  The Wukongopterus is also worth a good look by way of contrast; this is a pterosaur.

The overwhelming impressions you get from the day are (i) the exquisiteness of the details preserved (below) in the smaller fossils, and (ii) the importance of this exhibition, and what a coup it is for Nottingham to host it.  we overheard people commenting that was amazing that it was here rather than at , for instance, the Natural History Museum in London.  I was talking to a couple from Cambridge who had read about it in Germany the previous weekend and had come to see it on the strength of what they had read and (iii) you get an overwhelming sense of the importance of the fossil record in telling the history of life and of what evolved into what.

I will leave you, dear Reader (she says affectedly), with the photo below of the Gigantoraptor, a huge flightless Oviraptosaurid.  It really was that huge!  Imagine it fully fleshed and with feathers...  I will also leave you with the thought that when my Other Half says that "this was a fantastic day out" as we're setting off for home, that really means something.  If you can get to this exhibition, you must. You really must.

I haven't mentioned the Art of Dinosaur Science part of the exhibition at Lakeside Arts - I'll leave that for someone who is a far more talented artist than me to talk about.


  1. Sounds a great day out! Hope they didn't have roaring and mooing automata. Must look up Sinraptor.

  2. Roaring and mooing automata? No, but there was the journey home... ;-)


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