As a child my year was not complete without my mum taking a couple of friends and me down to London for the day to visit the Natural History Museum. The NHM is many people’s choice as the capital’s most beautiful building and also houses one of the world’s great collections: insects in their millions, fossils by the tonne and a shop selling those little rubbery monster things you stick on the end of your pen.
It was always the dinosaurs towards which we gravitated: the enormous Diplodocus in the entrance hall towering over visitors as they enter, the Iguanodon with his pointed thumb, the Ankylosaur’s massive armoured back on which one could still make out the fine texture of the creature’s skin and of course the great predatory therapods with their still razor-sharp teeth.
In truth the NHM’s display is in need of a revamp and a rethink but the fossils themselves retain their power to amaze. As Mira Cohen neatly pointed out in her recent post, Developing Uniquely 21st Century Museum Experiences , kids like “real” stuff, things they can’t see at home, things that are unique to museums. And it was the skulls, the fossilised eggs and the tracks these reptiles left in the mud that transfixed me. These things were actually alive and walking the earth, they were not constructs of some science fiction writer’s imagination but were real, living, breathing animals. I always found this amazing and seeing their skeletons up close was, to this child at least, awe inspiring each time. The mind boggling numbers fascinated me too: dinosaurs died out around 65 million years ago and such numbers have their own intrinsic thrill, hinting at the sheer vastness of prehistory.
This summer sees the “Walking with Dinosaurs” tour hit the UK ( Themed Entertainment : Animatronic Dinosaurs and Proto-Feathers ) and the major daily papers are engaging in a marketing blitz to accompany the show (“Prehysteria”?). The Brachiosaur at the Children’s Museum of Illinois was not walking – indeed it arrived in pieces, by truck- but nonetheless created its own arresting spectacle as it was put in place on the museum wall. The building it seems, is literally bursting at the seams with dinosaurs and I can only imagine how many young children in the vicinity are badgering their parents for a visit…