On Monday we went to visit the Dinosaurs of China Exhibition at Wollaton Hall which I’ve been very excited to see since it was first announced. Running until the end of October it is a display of dinosaur fossils and skeletons that have never been shown outside of Asia before, and includes the tallest dinosaur skeleton ever displayed in the UK, the magnificent Mamenchisaurus which you can see below.
Given its name in 1972 the Mamenchisaurus is a herbivore with curved claws like a bird and had a neck that could grow up to 12 metres long and had 19 bones in it, more than any other dinosaur. I was most struck though by the thickness of its legs – in order to fit inside the Hall it’s been specially built into a rearing position, but usually all four of its legs would be on the ground and its tail may have been used to defend against predators.
One of the largest carnivores known from China and one I was surprised to learn would have preyed upon the Mamenchisaurus is the Sinraptor, below. Named in 1994 and around 160 million years old, it generally would have grown to about 7.2 metres long and 3 metres tall – the one on display here was not fully grown when it died.
My favourite dinosaur is the Diplodocus but close behind is the Ankylosaurus and the Pinacosaurus, below, belongs to that classification. A herbivore from the Cretaceous it was named in 1933 and has a heavy armour of bony plates embedded in its skin. The specimen here was found in a group that had probably died in a storm and been preserved in sandstone. When dinosaurs are excavated they are protected with plaster of Paris jackets and the Pinacosaurus on display here is still wearing its jacket from when it was excavated in 1990 which is a really good way of showing the kind of care paleontologists undertake to preserve their specimens.
In China fine volcanic ash is responsible for the preservation of so many skeletons in such wonderful conditions and it was because of the dinosaurs in China that we now know the extent to which dinosaurs were actually feathered – the first ever feathered dinosaur was discovered in 1996 in China. My favourite of those on display was the Epidexipteryx, because of its long tail feathers. Named in 2000 it was about the size of a pigeon and though covered in fuzzy feathers was probably flightless.
The other highlight was the Gigantoraptor, named in 2007 and one of the largest bird-like dinosaurs in the world. Obviously so large that its feathers were most likely for display it was discovered almost by accident in 2005 in Inner Mongolia.
One final highlight is this dinosaur egg. I hadn’t realised that dinosaur eggs have their own system of classification – Ovaloolithus – which is the name of the egg itself, since it’s often not possible to tell what dinosaur laid an egg if it’s found separately to its parents. The egg here has been sliced in two so you can see the crystals that form inside. (The dinosaur print on the right was, interestingly, discovered in Nottingham!)
It’s a really well curated exhibition in one of my favourite Nottingham buildings and I can’t recommend it highly enough – pictures really aren’t the same as seeing them in person. There’s also a sister exhibition at Lakeside Arts on Nottingham University campus which I need to find time to visit as well.
You can find more photos from the exhibition at Wollaton Hall here.