Travel Story 

Dragon Bones at Royal B.C. Museum

The shapeless brown wad on display at the Royal British Columbia Museum is known to paleontologists as "coprolite." But anyone can see it's dinosaur poo-poo.

The artifact is among the more eclectic items featured in Dragon Bones: When Dinosaurs Ruled China, a six-month exhibition to open in Victoria March 13. Dwarfing the dung will be giant dinosaur skeletons, including Mamenchisaurus, ("Ma" for short) a 22-metre dinosaur with the longest neck (10 metres) of any land animal ever; Yangchuanosaurus, a 10-metre meat eater renown for its flesh-piercing teeth; and Velociraptor, the small, lightning fast predator familiar to Jurassic Park fans (although Hollywood depicted the creature at twice its actual size). On display at the opposite end of the size scale will be a tiny fossilized dinosaur embryo.

Set against ambient lighting and the booming thuds of dinosaur footsteps, the Dragon Bones exhibit will not just be a gallery experience, says RBCM curator Richard Hebda, "it will be a learning experience."

"The idea is for people to go away with new knowledge about dinosaurs and the time they lived in," says Hebda. "There's so much controversy and new thinking about dinosaurs and their relationships with animals today. I don't come with a view, just an interest," adds Hebda, who has written Dinosaurs Walking, a 64-page guide to complement the exhibit.

Creating that learning experience has involved 15 to 20 people, including artists, lighting and sound technicians, and tradespeople, who have turned 10,000 feet of gallery space into a journey through time – specifically the triassic, jurassic and cretaceous periods. Children will get to unearth the remains of a dinosaur in a dig pit; touch the real fossilized back bone and leg bone of a dinosaur that once roamed Alberta; and watch classic dinosaur B-movies. Dinosaur fossils unearthed in B.C. will also be featured, including the 65 to 75 million-year-old Hornby Island Bird, a gull-like creature with lower leg bones unlike any bird in the province today.

But most of the dinosaurs on display will be assembled from Beijing's Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology. China's geographical isolation, particularly during Jurassic times (140 million to 205 million years ago), is said to account for its abundance of diverse, well-preserved fossil remains.

The Royal B.C. Museum is the first venue in Canada and western North America to exhibit these dinosaurs and the six-month run will feature several events to complement the dinosaur theme. Three of North America's most renowned dinosaur experts – Don Lessem, Philip Currie and Jack Horner – will present a talk and slide show billed as The Dragon Hunters on March 28 at the University of Victoria; and Fossil Weekend, May 17-19, will feature everything you ever wanted to know about fossils and more at the museum; and the museum's IMAX cinema will present T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous four times daily during the exhibition.

For more information, call 1-888-447-7977 or visit the museum's Web site at www.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca.

• Victoria's Hotel Grand Pacific and the Fairmont Empress are offering a range of children's goodies in family package deals to coincide with the Dragon Bones exhibition. The Grand Kids Package is $362 for two nights accommodation and museum admission for a family of four. Call 1-800-663-7550 for details. The Empress's Dino Discovery package costs a family of four $255 per night, including admission. Call 250-389-2717.

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