He’s behind you…

Dino Zoo

Last weekend the dinosaurs rumbled into town; a whole menagerie of them. Indeed, it was a veritable Dinosaur Zoo. They’d come a long way too – all the way from Australia – and so their names were not so familiar to us: the Australovenator, the Titanosuar (above), the Dryosaur, and the cutely-named Leaellynasaura, so-called after the discoverer’s daughter Leaellyn (Leaellyn’s lizard, see?).

If you didn’t catch it, these creatures were all part of a show at Oxford’s New Theatre. There was a sneak preview of this in the Museum earlier in the year. Produced by Australian company Erth Visual and Physical, the Dinosaur Zoo Live production mixes the thrill of brilliant puppetry with facts and explanations about the adaptations, environments and possible behaviours of these long-lost Australian lizards.

This wasn’t an opportunity to be missed, so we teamed up with the New Theatre and the show’s production team to bring some of our own fossil specimens to the event. With a handling table set up in the theatre’s bar area, families spent up to an hour before the show examining our selection of theropod and sauropod material, getting up close to teeth, eggs, jaws, and more.

We had the lower jaw and fossilised tooth from Oxfordshire’s very own Megalosaurus, famous for being the first dinosaur to be scientifically described, by William Buckland in 1824 (actually the term Dinosauria came later, coined by Richard Owen in 1842). As it was Easter we had some ancient eggs too, including the fossil of an egg laid, probably, by a sauropod dinosaur, cracks in the shell still clearly visible.

A family enjoy pre-show ice creams while learning about the Megalosaurus
A family enjoy pre-show ice creams while learning about the Megalosaurus

To represent the the Cretaceous period, which is when the Australian beasts in the show were around, we brought the teeth and a hefty vertebra of an Iguanodon. Unlike the still-serrated Megalosaurus tooth fossil, the flat Iguanodon teeth show that this dinosaur was a herbivore. There’s a nice story, possibly apocryphal, that these teeth were actually spotted not by Gideon Mantell, the geologist who described Iguanodon in 1825, but by his wife Mary Ann as she waited in their carriage for her husband to visit a patient in Sussex.

Meeting the stars after the show with brilliant host Lindsay Chaplin
Meeting the stars after the show with brilliant host and zoo-keeper Lindsey Chaplin

We threw in a couple of tricksy things too. On the handling table there were two non-dinosaur specimens – could people work out which they were? In many cases, yes they could: if there’s one thing we learnt it’s that young kids know a heck of a lot about dinosaurs. The two red herrings were an ichthyosaur skull, because ichthyosaurs were marine reptiles rather than dinosaurs; and the fossil imprint of a leathery egg, probably laid by a prehistoric crocodile or turtle.

All in all, everyone had a great big dinosaur overdose. Still, better that than chocolate eggs.

Scott Billings, Communications coordinator

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