Friday, March 14, 2014

Dinosaurs - Dawn to Extinction Exhibition @ ArtScience Museum - Part 1

Location: Marina Bay, Central Business District (CBD), Singapore

Note: This is the first of a two part sharing of a visit to Dinosaurs exhibition in ArtScience Museum. The coming article can be read in Dinosaurs - Dawn to Extinction Part 2.

I admit it here - I was a dino fan, the operative keyword here being 'was'. The rat race and reality altered my path out of my dream of being a palaeontologist, a job which involves multiple disciplines, a lot of patience and very little to show unless you struck gold (dino gold that is). Still, with a dinosaur exhibition in town, the deadened amber rekindled into a fire of passion. I may not be able to be a dino hunter, but I could still get to see what others managed to hunt face-to-face instead of going through still photos. ArtScience Museum, here I come!

Roar! Here comes the dino!

Prehistoric animals marketing on behalf of ArtScience on the lily pond will definitely rope in curious passer-bys. Notice that the marketing materials chose amphibious animals to harmoniously fit the pond itself. It would have been creepier though if they were half-submerged instead of postured on a dais.

A large poster greeted visitors in the lobby of ArtScience Museum, advertising the exhibition which runs from late January to late July.

The exhibition received no lack of visitors, and the younger audience was especially enthusiastic about it. Marketing the event outside the museum were two dais on a lilly pond with prehistoric animals on display. They would have been a shock to visitors if they were half-submerged instead of lying prone on the dais. That would definitely be met with disapproval, but the reaction of unsuspecting passer-bys would have been fun to watch.

In hindsight, even though the exhibition waved the attention grabbing keyword 'Dinosaur', the fact that they chose to display other prehistoric animals for marketing instead of dino bones just hinted that the majority of their exhibition are not dinosaurs. So if you are visiting for the sake of dinosaurs, be prepared that you may be surprised by the relative scarce amount compared to other prehistoric beings. That being said, it was still an entertaining and educating visit, and you may not be that picky when everything are just skeletons.

A snarling dinosaur at the entrance to the exhibition site. Remember to take some souvenir photos with this model. Get creative!

Herrerasaurus - the first to greet visitors upon entering the exhibition site. The skeletal shadow cast upon the screen is actually a projected image instead of their real shadow, and patient visitors will get to see those shadows slowly come to life.

Oh wait, did I mention only skeletons? Let me redact my mistake here. It would be hard to not bump into a skeleton in every section of the exhibition, but the items on display consisted of real fossilized remains, model skeletons and model of the animals in colour. How would the modellers know how the beings looked like in flesh? They don't. But having them modelled this way would invoke a more vivid imagination than just hollow bones.

The exhibition was laid out chronologically, educating visitors in an orderly manner while they streamed in a single direction, much as how life struggled through the ravages of time to reach this particular evolution. It started with Life In The Beginning, where dinosaurs had yet to emerge and life maintained its existence under the sea. Displays here, with its lack of large skeletons, lacked the punch visitors enthused for, but it was the most educative section of all. To match the theme of life's existence under water, the theme in the section was aquatic, the colours and projected waving textures imitated an underwater environment.

A timeline helped visitors to understand the different terminology employed to describe different era, with simple lifeforms dominating the Precambrian era, followed by Paleozoic era where more complex life evolved and started crawling out of the water. The dinosaurs only emerged in the Mesozoic era, which was subdivided into Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous before all of them disappeared mysteriously.

The first section large section of the exhibition is an educative one. Eager visitors may skip this for its lack of skeleton display, but a short stay here is a very worthy one. Exhibits here shed some light on life before the dinosaurs, when the very earliest life crawled and swam upon the surface of Earth and struggled to maintain their existence. Most of them were invertebrates, so discovering their fossilized remains was even tougher and rarer. It takes a practised eye and lots of patience to stumble upon these.

Fossilised remains are not as easily found as they are embedded in the earth, easily mistaken as another piece of rock. To have found a full fossil like the Mesosaurus skeleton remains (below) is rare.

Life in the beginning existed in the water, hence an aquatic theme for this section.

After visiting earlier lifeforms, I entered the next section where it started to get interesting. Skeletons finally showed up in the Triassic, where early ancestors of dinosaurs emerged. Not all dominant beings in the prehistoric scene were giants. In fact some of them were just about the height of an adult. Some were even smaller, fitting right into your opened palm.

The more I explored the Triassic period, the more I found that dinosaurs were hardly the featured beings here. Although dinosaurs were the famous ones, they hardly could claim the land for its own in this earlier era. Competing for exhibition floor, just as they had competed for food and space in the past, were two other kinds of animals - the mammal-like reptiles and the amphibians. Life on land was a struggle for them all.

I did not realize it until I walked past a glass display with an embedded fossilized remain of Scaphonyx with its distinctive beak that full skeletons are rarely found, and rarely intact. Most of the skeletal remains were scattered, making the job of a palaeontologist even more difficult as he needs to piece them together through educated guesses. Sometimes only pieces of bones were found, leaving them confounded as to the species and size of the animal.

Most of the displayed animals, fossilised and otherwise, were excavated from an Argentinian site called Ischigualasto, the Valley of the Moon. Hundreds of skeletons were covered in volcanic ash and buried in ancient lake beds, preserved as a prehistoric animal hunter's dream. In this case, the being's demise became a hunter's life.

Triassic period in reality is the beginning of dinosaur's era, although the famous ones did not enter the picture until Jurassic. Herrerasaurus (above), now snarling in full color, was one of those less known early predecessors. Sharing the same era were other reptiles, such as Ischigualastia (below right) and Saurosuchus (below left). Herbivores were already larger in size since Triassic, as was the case with the former, which height towered slightly over an adult.

This parrot like reptile is Scaphonyx, a herbivore sharing the Triassic with the earliest dinosaurs. It is one of the first exhibits which visitors will encounter its fossilized remains instead of only skeletal and stuffed model. I took a look at the fossil and realized that palaeontologists did not see the skeletons the way we see the models. To them it was a jumble of bones, and they need to figure out which bone goes to where as they are scattered from their original positions after millions of years.

Not all are giants. Meet Eoraptor, its height barely reaching your waist, with hollow bones making it light as a bird. Another even smaller predecessor of the dinosaurs, not shown here, was Marasuchus. It would have content with a mouse for size, fitting snugly in an opened palm.

This family of Exaeretodon looked rather homely. The elongated body shape was quite comical, yet those canine teeth and its outlook, a cross between hyena and bear, would have warned most away from cuddling with them.

Ischigualastia was one of the beings known as mammal-like reptiles, just as Exaeretodon was. What caught my attention was how unique its skull was. It had a beak like Scaphonyx, but was considerably rounder, lending a look as comical as the latter's cubic skull.

Wandering past the Triassic section, I finally entered a room with impressively large skeletons. This was what I came for. I have entered the Jurassic "park". These titans will have to wait for my next post to continue upon.

Important things to note about the exhibition Dinosaurs - Dawn to Extinction:

  1. Photography is allowed, but flashes are NOT allowed.
  2. There are displays of prehistoric beings and dinosaurs, the former more than the latter.
  3. Most exhibits are within the reach of hand, and these are models, not fossils. The fossils are protected from harm by display glasses. Even so, do not touch the models, unless the display mentioned the model are meant to be touched.
  4. The models are life-sized, so one could compare the size to a human by just standing beside it.

Note: The coming article could be read in Dinosaurs - Dawn to Extinction Part 2.

Environment:      Interactive museum in a down town area
Suitable for:         To visit the thunderous giants that had once roamed the Earth

Entrance Fee:                 SGD24 for non-residents
                                              SGD20 for residents (inclusive of PR and Pass Holders)
Opening Hours:             10.00 a.m. - 7.00 p.m. daily (last admission at 6.00 p.m.)
Exhibition dates:          25 January - 27 July 2014
Best Moment to Visit:  Morning visits will see less visitors
Length of Visit:              1 - 2 hours, especially for dino lovers and children

Website:                 Dinosaurs: Dawn To Extinction tickets page
Contact:                 +65 - 6651 7871 (Marina Bay Sands general hotline for entertainment packages)
E-mail:          (Marina Bay Sands contact e-mail for entertainment packages)
Address:                 10 Bayfront Avenue, Singapore 018956, Singapore

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