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The permanent Dinosaur gallery at the Museum is open every day of the year (except 24 to 26 December) but the recent temporary exhibition 'Age of the Dinosaur' closed last week and now sets off on its travels to another temporary location. Keen eyed visitors to Age of the Dinosaur may have seen some microfossil pictures lurking at the back of the exhibit. Microfossils and dinosaurs are at different ends of the size scale so how can work on microfossils be related to dinosaur research?

 

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The display in the 'Age of the Dinosaur' exhibit including the microfossil images

 

A neat piece of work published in 2008 by several former colleagues in the Journal Cretaceous Research described some ostracods, spores and pollen from a dinosaur excavation site at Ockley in Surrey. These microfossils show that an Iguanodon died and was buried in a temporary freshwater pond, while the spores and pollen indicate that the Iguanodon lived in a world dominated by certain types of ferns and conifers. The microfossil assemblage tells us that the Iguanodon died in the early part of the Barremian, a stage of the Cretaceous 121-127 million years ago.

 

Dinosaur officionados will correct me and say that Iguanodon is now called Mantellisaurus. Details about dinosaurs can be found on the Museum web site if you are interested to read further.

 

In 2001 a large party from the Department of Palaeontology spent two weeks excavating a site at Ockley where the partial skeleton of an Iguanodon had been found by a members of a Geologists' Association field excursion. News of the find had spread very quickly to the popular press so we had to take it in turns to stay overnight in a tent at the site so that we could make sure that is wasn't ravaged by opportunist collectors.

 

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The parts of the Ockley Iguanodon skeleton that were recovered in the excavation.

 

I remember being asked to wield a pick axe and shovel so that we could clear the overlying rock from the rock bed that the fossil bones had been found in. Meanwhile my vertebrate colleagues were on their hands and knees preparing away the bones that had become exposed on the surface. These were then taken back to the museum still encased in the rock so that they could be further prepared by David Gray in the Palaeontology Conservation Unit.

 

My former colleague Susanne Feist-Burhardt collected samples for microfossil study from the dinosaur bed and the beds above and below. These were studied for palynology by MSc student Elly Nye and by David Horne and John Whittaker for ostracod microfossils.

 

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Examples of some of the spores and pollen obtained from the dinosaur site. The palynological record suggests that the dinosaur came to rest on a warm subtropical flood plain surrounded by ferns and conifers.

 

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The freshwater green algae Scenedesmus novilunaris found in the dinosaur bed suggests that its final resting place was a freshwater pond.

 

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The ostracod Cypridea clavata along with other evidence suggests that the pond dried out periodically.

 

Samples close to the dinosaur bed produced the first recognisable ostracods from the Ockley site allowing a firm date of the age of the sediments to be established. The single species of the genus Cypridea found suggests that the pond dried out on a regular basis. The eggs that this group of ostracods produces are resistant to dry periods. As a result, their relatives are often found in modern day temporary ponds. More common Cretaceous ostracods that require permanent water bodies are absent from the Ockley assemblage giving further evidence for the temporary nature of the pond where the Iguanodon came to rest.

 

This was a very interesting project to play a small part in and shows the power of tackling projects as a group. It also shows some excellent potential applications of micropalaeontology so I was very glad that it became part of the 'Age of the Dinosaur' exhibit.

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Its seems only yesterday that I was thinking ‘summer is icumen in, loud sing cuccu’. That was back in April and I’m not sure that summer ever did turn up. Anyway, we still have our two hot summer exhibitions on at this Friday’s After Hours, so why not join us for some pre-bank-holiday-weekend downtime?
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Sex, shopping and dinosaurs at After Hours on Friday 26 August. Select images to enlarge them.

One of those exhibitions, Sexual Nature is with us until 2 October, but Age of the Dinosaur bows out on 4 September, so this is your last chance to catch it on Friday evening.

I recently read an article that said women think about shopping as much as men think about sex. Men allegedly think about sex every 52 seconds, whilst 74% of the women in the survey thought about shopping once a minute. Well, our enticing Sexual Nature exhibition offers an excellent opportunity for you to do both things at the same time.

clap.jpgThe Sexual Nature shop is at the exit of the exhibition and stocks an interesting array of items, including some very unusual soft  tocuddly-chlamydia.jpgys. When I was there recently, one young couple were ferreting amongst the cuddly sex diseases, as I had been.

‘It’s the clap, ha ha,' said the male half of the couple, holding up a soft blue toy. ‘I like that one, I think I might get it,’ said his girlfriend innocently. Cue immoderate laughter all round. (Cuddly clap and chlamydia toys shown left and right for clarification.)  I suspect the retail assistants have heard plenty like that during their stint in the shop.

You can also buy a Kama Sutra getaway travel kit or pop up book, a mini Kama Sutra weekender kit, Belgian chocolates, books on the erotic art of Japan and body language, lots of feathers and copies of famous sexually based literature.

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Talking of chocolates, if you fancy something a little more exotic than a Belgian truffle, come and see if a chocolate-dipped ant wafer takes your fancy at Edible Insects: Food for the Future, our special event on Friday.

 

There is certainly much innocent and enjoyable fun to be had at our Sexual Nature exhibition and some terrific animatronic dinosaurs in Age of the Dinosaur, so we hope you will come by this bank holiday Friday. Kick off your shoes on the grass on the Darwin Centre Courtyard Terrace and unwind with us over a late summer glass of Pimms and one of our tasty pre-orderable picnics or even a tasty edible insect!

Our romantic roving troubadour, Sebastian D’arcy Heathcliff is back once more, serenading you with his renditions of classic love songs to spice up your evening. 

And although our summer exhibitions will soon be leaving us, it is only so that we can bring in some really fabulous new exhibitions. Watch this space for more information of the late night openings of the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition opening in October.

Browse the Sexual Nature exhibition gift range online

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Today, instead of ‘Summertime’ playing in my head as it was at May's After Hours, Victoria Wood’s ‘Let’s Do It' is ringing out loud and clear. Why? Because we hope you will enthusiastically embrace the late-night opening of our Sexual Nature summer exhibition.

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I asked Mike Sarna, our cheerful American head of exhibition planning, to tell me how After Hours visitors might consider Sexual Nature. Mike told me that the exhibition is about animals and us – as we are human animals - and seeing the Sexual Nature exhibition (pictured above) is a good way to learn about ourselves and our loved ones.

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‘People can take a very active approach to the exhibition or a passive approach, they can leave comments, discuss it with their friends, anonymously vote if they believe in true love or not. The range in the sexual spectrum mirrors itself in the animal kingdom.’

 

To get you even more in the mood for Sexual Nature, tonight we also have our smoky-eyed roving troubadour Sebastian Darcy-Heathcliff (right), aka Jack Merivale, who will be smoulderig near the exhibition gallery with his guitar. Sebastian will be reciting some of your favourite lurve songs with more than a glint of humour in his roving troubadour eye. And if you are lucky, he may even compose a new one just for you

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Left: Fingerprinting kit for tonight's Crime Scene NHM special event at After Hours

Switching seamlessly from sex to death, we have a really fascinating event, Crime Scene: NHM, at this Friday's After Hours. At this you’ll get the chance to learn some of our world class forensic experts’ tricks of the trade as you take part in a ‘forensic investigation’ here at the Museum. The event culminates in a ‘trial’ where real barristers, police officers and a judge will demonstrate just how important forensic evidence is to a verdict. But there are only a few tickets left so hurry to get in on the crime scene.

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Switching less seamlessly to dinosaurs, don’t forget that our equally immersive dinosaur experience, the Age of the Dinosaur exhibition, is also available for you to experience after hours.

 

With apologies, our Darwin Centre Courtyard terrace will only have limited access this Friday due to construction work, but you can still enjoy your Pimms out there. Mini picnics should be picked up from the Darwin Centre atrium as usual.

 

Right: Pick up your Mini picnic in the Darwin Centre atrium, where you can also sip Pimms from the bar.

 

Find out more about After Hours

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Yes today, our most iconic and much-loved Central Hall Diplodocus dinosaur display is 106 years old! And looking good on it too.

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Diplodocus carnegii in the Central Hall. The famous skeleton cast is 26 metres long and has 356 individual bones. Select image to enlarge

Thanks to King Edward VII and the Scottish-born millionaire Andrew Carnegie, Dippy - as our 26-metre-long sauropod skeleton plaster cast is affectionatey known here - was unveiled at 1pm in the Museum on 12 May 1905.

 

It was the first full skeleton of a sauropod dinosaur to go on display in the world and understandably caused a stir. Sauropods were the very large, plant-eating dinosaurs, with famously long necks and tails that lived about 150 million years ago in the Late Jurassic Period.

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Diplodocus means 'double-beam' which refers to the shape of some of the lower tail bones, called chevrons. Although there are estimations that Amphicoelias is the longest dinosaur, Dippy is still the longest dinosaur from a completely known individual.

 

A recent Museum book about Dippy written by our dinosaur expert Paul  Barrett (along with Polly Parry and Sandra Chapman), opens with this:

 

dippy-book-angle-drop-800px.jpg''Dippy is not a real skeleton, but an exact plaster replica of fossilised  bones found in the badlands of Wyoming, USA, and now housed in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh. The London Diplodocus was first revealed to an astonished public in 1905 and became an instant media star, depicted in numerous newspaper cartoons and news reports. Dippy continues to enthral the public and has even had a  starring role in movies and TV shows.'

 

According to the book, visitors often ask how to pronounce Diplodocus. As the name is a combination of two Greek words, it should sound like 'dip-low-dock-us' with the emphasis on the 'dip' and the 'dock'. However, there are lots of variations on this, ranging from 'dip-low-doe-cus' to 'dip-lod-oh-cus'. I'm still not sure myself, which is probably why a lot of us just stick with Dippy.

 

Dippy: the tale of a museum icon is a great read, and is on sale in the Museum shop and our online shop.

 

Read all about Dippy's 106 years here at the Museum in the latest news story


Other dinosaur delights for our visitors and featuring animatronic models are the Age of the Dinosaur summer exhibition and the Dinosaurs gallery.

 

Find out lots of fantastic facts about Diplodocus on our Dino Directory Top 5 fact file.

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Pretty much everything in the Age of the Dinosaur exhibition, which opened today, is big.

 

Huge graphic timeline panels, vast silhouettes of prehistoric creatures, tall palm-like trees, giant skulls and teeth, and of course, towering animatronic dinosaurs. I feel sure this journey back into a world more than 65 million years old is going to be a big hit through the summer months with visitors young and old.

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Children stare in wonder at the 1.5 tonne Tarbosaurus. The last but certainly not the least, animatronic beast in the Age of the Dinosaur's Jurassic zone. This fearsome T.rex twin lived about 70 million years ago.

But there are many smaller wonders in this exhibition to look out for. Weird-looking bugs and insects nestling in the fern-filled Jurassic swamp and rocky Cretaceous desert. Dinosaur eggs - one is actually hatching - that are guarded by an Oviraptor and Protoceratops. Delicate fossil bones. Smells and sounds bouncing around. And snippets of amazing scientific facts and research that even the most hardcore dino boffins may not be familiar with.

 

Sandy Clark, our Visitor Services manager told me about the opening day which happens to be Good Friday: 'The queues in the morning at the Red Zone's ticket desks were probably the longest we've ever had, so there's a real interest in this exhibition. By about 3pm we had sold out. And then we were busy putting up signs to warn people. We actually sold about 2,000 tickets on the day. We had a few refunds I heard, but this was only because children got too scared and had to leave!'

 

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One of the huge evolutionary graphic timelines you'll encounter as you start your exhibition journey.

The exhibition gallery is arranged into two main immersive habitats, the Cretaceous and the Jurassic zones, with surrounding and central areas that showcase many spectacular specimen displays, images, fact panels and interactive tables and an underwater CGI film.

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Jurassic zone's, animatronic Archaeopteryx, the earliest known bird.

There are six roaring animatronic dinosaurs and one dino-bird. In order of who you'll meet first, they are: Camarasaurus and Archaeopteryx, both in the Jurassic zone; moving into the Cretaceous zone, there's Protoceratops with Velociraptor, who face Gallimimus, and finally round the corner, still in the Cretaceous zone, are Oviraptor and Tarbosaurus.

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Cretaceous zone's Protoceratops guards its eggs from the approaching feathery Velociraptor. Tarbosaurus is a shadowy threat in the distance.

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A spectacular Protoceratops skull. There are about seven dinosaur skulls to examine in the exhibition displays

Among the exhibits, you'll find some great interactive challenges. At the Dig It Up and Examine It tables you can piece together the evidence of how we know what the Jurassic and Cretaceous worlds were like. Also check out the kiosks, pictured below, before you leave for the chance to make an online dinosaur scrapbook. If you keep your ticket you can continue your dinosaur and fossil exploration at home on your computer.

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Examine fossils or create your own dinosaur scrapbook at one of the fun interactive tables

Enjoy it. And Happy Easter. You can book exhibition tickets online

 

Find out more about the Age of the Dinosaur exhibition

 

Oh and I'm kinda chuffed that it's my 100th What's new blog on the same day Age of the Dinosaur opened.

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We held three special previews for the Age of the Dinosaur exhibition on Wednesday, 20 April. As you can imagine, it was a pretty frantic day for all involved. There was a fab response and lots of photos too.

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Cheeky Ben Brockman (actor Daniel Roche) star of the Outnumbered TV comedy series, finds his rightful place in front of the exhibition's roaring animatronic Tarbosaurus at the special preview on Wednesday night.

Press and media came first thing in the morning armed with film crews and cameras. Some of you may have caught some of the great coverage in the press and on TV yesterday.

 

Mid-morning, for the first time we invited some of our Twitter followers along with their families to share their thoughts on the exhibition.There was some enthusiastic feedback. Here are some of their comments:

 

'One word 'wow'.

'I'm 27 and I feel 7 years old  all over again this is amazing'

'Mac’s favourite part... Dinosaur poo'.

 

The video review by Euan of the DadTalk blog really sells it for parents of young kids I think. And we enjoyed this blog post and a great set of photos on Flickr.

 

Our thanks to all our Twitter guests who attended the #nhmdino event for their enormous enthusiasm and support. You can read more of what they had to say here on Twitter.

 

Then came the special evening preview where celebrities and children leapt at the chance to appear in a roaring session in front of our biggest and most ferocious animatronic in the exhibtion, Tarbosaurus.

 

Emily Smith, our Head of Communications, says: 'It was a fabulous evening with plenty of fun from dino snacks, a swamp lucky dip to piñata bashing. I was quite scared at first but my mind was put to rest when I realised there were responsible palaeontologists in charge of the dinosaurs.'

 

Read the news story about the Age of the Dinosaur exhibition opening

 

Enjoy the brilliant reviews from some of the kids who also joined the preview night in this video. My favourite is: 'I really like the roboticals'.

 

See some more celebrity photos from the preview night. Select the images to enlarge them

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Comedian Bill Bailey goes rrrrr

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Olympic gold medallist Denise Lewis OBE goes rrrrrr

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TV presenter Gail Porter and her daughter go rrrrrrr

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Actor John Hannah goes rrrrrrrr

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Actor Toby Stephens grrrrins