While the phrase “When dinosaurs roamed the earth” would not be factual to this region, there is one exhibit that has wandered into the East Tennessee State University and General Shale Brick Natural History Museum Visitor Center and Gray Fossil Site that has plenty of prehistoric history.
“Hatching the Past: Dinosaur Eggs, Nests and Young,” a traveling multimedia exhibit, has opened at the museum and includes a variety of authentic dinosaur eggs and nests, as well as replicas of embryos and hatchlings of dinosaur eggs and other findings to scale.
Detailed drawings of dinosaurs and pictures of dinosaur discoveries also populate the exhibit floors, as well as hands-on stations for exploration and multimedia platforms for further explanation.
Blaine Schubert, director of the Center for Excellence in Paleontology and its Natural History Museum, said the exhibit is a treat for the museum and its visitors.
“Throughout the exhibit you will actually be able to see eggs from around the world and how these dinosaurs actually took care of nests like alligators and birds do today,” Schubert said. “There are things for adults to see, things for kids to do. You can dress up as a dinosaur, you can hatch as a dinosaur and there are dig pits as well where you’re digging up some of these different dinosaur eggs. There are lots of different opportunities to learn about the dinosaurs and their reproduction.”
He said a lot of recent findings about dinosaurs have revealed that the reptiles are a lot like birds.
“What we didn’t know about dinosaurs, until relatively recently, is that they laid eggs in nests and they actually cared for their young and so what we have found in the fossil record is evidence for this actual development of these animals,” Schubert said.
“When we actually look at the detailed anatomy and skeletal structure of animals like birds and dinosaurs, we can see they are closely related ... but we can also look at how they’re behaviorally related and the fact that they both care for their young ... this shows another connection between extinct dinosaurs and living birds. In reality, birds are a very specialized form of dinosaurs. They’re the type of dinosaur that survived the extinction.”
Schubert said another link in recent fossil records included the discovery of feathers on dinosaurs. Schubert said while the feathers were not meant for flight, the simple fact that they had feathers on them is yet another connection to the two species.
Looking around the room at the different shaped eggs that the larger-scale dinosaurs incubated in shows visitors the extreme growth rate these reptiles went through after they hatched.
“I think one of the neat lessons about this is that even though dinosaurs got to be really, really large, eggs can only get so large and still be stable. So, dinosaurs are basically being born at relatively small sizes, but they have really quick growth,” he said. “They grew much faster than most large animals.”
Schubert said the eggs behind the glass are real eggs that were discovered in Mongolia and China at well-preserved fossil sites, and even some from Northwestern North America.
He said he thinks the overall theme of dinosaur reproduction is exciting because of the new discoveries still being made this far along in dinosaur exploration.
“Dinosaurs were not just laying eggs and walking away. Dinosaurs had families. Dinosaurs raised their young,” he said. “There was parental care that went along with being a dinosaur that people had no idea about 50 years ago, even 30 years ago.”
He said a lot of people come into the fossil site and expect to see dinosaur fossils and are disappointed to learn that the reptiles were not living in the area.
“We didn’t have dinosaurs right here. This area was actually covered over by a shallow sea when dinosaurs were here and so this ... particular region where we’re at right now didn’t have dinosaurs,” Schubert said.
He said that the exhibit also serves as a valuable teaching tool that schoolchildren, teachers and other adults will be able to utilize until May.
“We have a temporary exhibit space and what that allows us to do is bring the world to you,” Schubert said. “You have opportunities to explore the entire world and so that’s what we’re doing here, is teaching lessons about dinosaurs from all over the world.”
The exhibit is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at the fossil site, located at 1212 Suncrest Drive in Gray. “Hatching the Past” tickets are $6 for children and $9 for adults. Discounts are available for seniors, veterans, active military personnel and reservists, students and ETSU faculty and staff.
For more information, call 866-202-6223 or visit www.etsu.edu/naturalhistorymuseum.