Dinosaurs come alive in Basel

The museum boasts the best-preserved skeleton of a flesh-eating dinosaur, an allosaurus (Natural History Museum Basel) The museum boasts the best-preserved skeleton of a flesh-eating dinosaur, an allosaurus (Natural History Museum Basel)

An exhibition on dinosaurs has opened in Basel, boasting an unprecedented display of complete original skeletons as well as the latest theories on their existence.

This content was published on August 3, 2003 - 12:10

The entire dinosaur period, believed to span from about 220 million to 65 million years ago, is covered in the show.

Christian Meyer, director of Basel’s Natural History Museum, claims the exhibition contains a number of world firsts.

“We have the best-preserved skeleton of a meat-eating dinosaur in the world, an allosaurus,” Meyer told swissinfo. “And what is unique about the specimens on display is they are original. Usually in museums you just see casts and mounts.”

There are also a number of almost complete skeletons on display, including a stegosaurus.

But what may be more immediately impressive for the visitor is the 27-metre-long, life-size reconstruction of a diplodocus, which looms over them as they enter the exhibition hall.

Swiss dinosaurs

Although most of the dinosaur specimens in the exhibition come from Wyoming in the United States, there are also a number of bones and footprints found in Switzerland.

Meyer explains that dinosaur remnants are rare in Switzerland, because the area was mostly covered in sea during the period in which they lived.

But he says, the tracks in particular give concrete proof that the creatures lived here, as they cannot be moved from elsewhere by water flow, unlike bones.

Full picture

Although the first dinosaur remnants were found back in the early 1800s, continuing work in the field, as well as advancements in laboratory and computer technology, have all built up a clearer picture of what the prehistoric creatures were really like.

Meyer says the exhibition shows the latest findings and theories, including new evidence which may prove that birds evolved from dinosaurs.

The displays, he claims, also present all facets of the dinosaurs’ lives. There are screens showing computer-generated dinosaurs in action, along with displays showing the flora, fauna and sea life around in the dinosaur period.

“We think the full picture is more important,” Meyer said. “We focus on the biology and the life of the dinosaurs and not the death of the dinosaurs.”

Lost in archives

Despite the museum’s claims to have the most up-to-date findings on display, some key specimens, Meyer says, may be lost in museum archives.

He cites an instance when his research team found dinosaur teeth in museum showcases labelled as belonging to a crocodile. This, he says, can be a common problem.

“Natural history museums have such large collections. Our museum has about ten million specimens in the basement, and this a fifth or sixth of what the British [Natural History] museum has.”

“The problem nowadays is that we don’t have the staff available to work full time on the collections.”

Sleeping with dinosaurs

Dinosaurs have proved popular with children over the years, and this has not gone unnoticed by the museum, which has set up a range of events for younger visitors.

These include “Sleeping with dinosaurs”, where children can spend the night sleeping among the exhibition skeletons.

There is also a trip to a workshop, where children can make chocolate versions of the prehistoric beasts.

swissinfo, Joanne Shields

In brief

Basel’s Natural History Museum boasts the best-preserved skeleton of a carnivorous dinosaur in the world as well as an unprecedented amount of original dinosaur bones.

Most of the dinosaur remnants on display come from Wyoming, US, but there are also some bones and footprints found in Switzerland.

The museum claims the exhibition shows the latest findings and theories on dinosaurs’ existence.

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Key facts

The first remains identified as belonging to a dinosaur were found in England in 1824.
The dinosaur era spanned from the Late Triassic period, around 220 million years ago, to the Late Cretaceous, about 65 million years ago.
A few theories abound as to why dinosaurs died out, including a meteorite collision in Mexico and climate change.
Researchers believe dinosaurs lived to between 70 and 300 years old.

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