New Dinosaur Gallery at COSI in Columbus brings ancient animals to life (or maybe they never really died); photos

November 16, 2017 GMT

New Dinosaur Gallery at COSI in Columbus brings ancient animals to life (or maybe they never really died); photos

COLUMBUS, Ohio – It’s been 65 million years since dinosaurs vanished from the Earth.

They’ve resurfaced this week in dramatic form in Columbus, where a new exhibit at COSI asks the provocative question: Did they ever really leave?

The new gallery is a partnership between Columbus’ Center of Science and Industry and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, home to one of the world’s most extensive dinosaur collections. The addition further cements COSI’s standing as one of the top science museums in the country.

Among the exhibit’s features:

* A 40-foot long, 12-foot high skeletal Tyrannosaurus rex, lording over the entrance as a dramatic welcome.

* A diorama of a forest scene, set 125 million years ago in Liaoning, China, where paleontologists continue today to find fossilized remains of feathered dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures.

* A feather-covered, ferocious-looking Yutyrannus, a cousin to the T. Rex, which promotes the exhibit’s primary theme: dinosaurs evolved into modern-day birds over millions of years.

Josh Kessler, COSI’s director of experience production, says this dinosaur exhibit differs from many others because it is so current – housing discoveries made in the past few years.

“And we’re still making discoveries,” he said. “So much of this is so fresh. Fossils are turning up at a faster rate than ever before. Science is not a static thing.”

Collaboration connects

The bulk of the 14,000-square-foot exhibit comes from the collection of AMNH, one of the world’s great museums, founded in 1869.

Officials from COSI and Columbus approached AMNH several years ago with the idea for the collaboration. COSI President Frederic Bertley said local leaders decided that the Columbus museum could increase both its visitor numbers and appeal by adding a stronger natural history presence.

“Dinosaurs connect with everybody – regardless of gender, race, age,” said Bertley, who has been at the helm of COSI for 11 months. “Having natural history is such a lure.”

He added: “We are a science illiterate nation. It’s getting worse and worse. People are getting more comfortable about being ignorant. One of my goals is to figure out how COSI can be that nucleus, that entity to help get people more excited and comfortable around science. One way to do that is to offer the sexiest eye candy possible – which is dinosaurs.”

The exhibit takes over space on the museum’s first floor, previously occupied by the Columbus Historical Society and WOSU public radio. Its $7 million price tag has been picked up by the state of Ohio ($5 million) and Columbus philanthropists Les and Abigail Wexner ($2 million).

The American Museum of Natural History also will develop another large gallery at COSI, this one for a series of traveling exhibits. First up: “Traveling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World,” which opens in March.

The main attraction

But the dinosaurs are expected to be the big draw here.

The massive T. Rex, a cast of an original in New York, opens the exhibit, which begins with a discussion on movement, and busts the myth that the T. Rex was a fast runner. The animal probably maxed out at about 25 mph, according to Kessler: “a quick walker.”

Adjacent to the T. Rex: A sleek Apatosaurus louisae, made out of steel and fiberglass, 80 feet long and 30 feet high, a 3-D version of a computer simulation, designed to show how the long-necked creature -- with its tail high and its head low – did not raise its head like a giraffe.

From these large-scale reproductions, the gallery shrinks in scale, in an effort to offer some environmental context for these prehistoric creatures.

One area discusses the uses of Triceratops’ horns – probably not used as a weapon, but to attract a mate. Another shows the clear imprints of four sauropods meandering through Texas Hill Country 100 million years ago. And another: a “trophy wall” of dinosaur skulls, discovered in Montana and western Canada.

The highlight here: the recreated Chinese forest where small dinosaurs coexisted with turtles, crayfish and dragonflies. Aside from a few unfamiliar creatures, the forest, with a soundtrack of insects and burbling water, could be a woodland of today.

Kessler estimated that about 40 percent of the exhibits feature “real” historic artifacts, with 60 percent casts. “But remember, fossils in and of themselves aren’t real bones either.”

The end and a beginning

About halfway through gallery, the focus changes: A catastrophic asteroid hits Earth and dinosaurs die out.

The rest of the exhibit provides evidence of their rebirth – as modern day birds.

The exhibit offers plenty of evidence, including similarities between dinosaur and bird eggs, nests, lungs and feathers.

“Even prior to extinction, some were starting to evolve into modern-day birds,” says Kessler.

The petite, feathered Velociraptor on display here might not look familiar to fans of “Jurassic Park.” The moviemakers modeled their famous predator after a different, much larger, dinosaur, Deinonychus. “But Velociraptor sounds more dramatic and is easier to say,” said Kessler.

Several interactive exhibits here will drive home the dinosaur-bird theme to younger visitors, including a Whose Egg Is It Anyway game, and a supersized Gigantoraptor nest, with 20 long, green eggs that kids can sit on.

Also on display here, a case filled with bird wishbones, just in time for Thanksgiving. There’s one for a cormorant, a great horned owl, Canada goose, red-tailed hawk and others.

And there in the middle: a 12-inch T. Rex wishbone.

Much thicker than the others, this wishbone looks like a boomerang, which seems appropriate given dinosaurs’ apparent ability to keep evolving, to keep coming back.

“More kinds of dinosaurs live on earth today than have ever been described by paleontologists,” concludes the exhibit. Need proof? Just look in the sky.

IF YOU GO: Dinosaur Gallery, COSI

Information: COSI’s new Dinosaur Gallery opens to the public on Saturday, Nov. 18. COSI is open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving but open Dec. 26 and Jan. 1-2. The museum offers extended hours Dec. 20 through Jan. 6.

Admission: $20; $15 ages 2-12. Parking in the new underground garage is $6.

Contact: cosi.org, 614-228-2674

Address: 333 W Broad St, Columbus, 43215

In the neighborhood: The expansion at COSI is part of a larger redevelopment of Columbus’ Scioto Peninsula, on the west bank of the Scioto River, just west of downtown.

The city recently completed work on the new 8-acre Scioto Peninsula Park, outside COSI’s main entrance. In addition, the museum’s main parking lot has been moved underground, beneath the park.

Still to come: The new National Veterans Memorial & Museum, under construction across Broad Street from COSI. The 50,000-square-foot museum is expected to open in summer 2018.

Meanwhile, work is expected to begin next spring on a $500 million mixed-use development – featuring office, retail and residential space – just west of the museum.

Related: Service, not war, saluted at National Veterans Memorial & Museum being built in Columbus