Children's Museum Launches Major Dinosaur Project

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Phil Manning and Victoria Egerton show off a Brachiosaur femur found at the Wyoming site that is on display at the museum. (photo courtesy of the Natural History Museum) Phil Manning and Victoria Egerton show off a Brachiosaur femur found at the Wyoming site that is on display at the museum. (photo courtesy of the Natural History Museum)

The Children's Museum of Indianapolis has announced a more than $27 million project involving a paleontological excavation effort in Wyoming. Known as Mission Jurassic, the museum is partnering with The Natural History Museum in London, the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands and the University of Manchester in England to excavate a large amount of Jurassic Period fossil bones, trackways and fossilized plants found at the site, many of which will be displayed at the museum.

Nearly 600 specimens have been found at the site, also known as "The Jurassic Mile," including the bones of an 80-foot Brachiosaur and a 90-foot Diplodocid. The project is being led by Professor Phil Manning and Dr. Victoria Egerton from the University of Manchester, who also serve as Extraordinary Scientists-in-Residence at the museum.

In an interview with Inside Indiana Business, Manning talked about the scientific significance of the project.

"When you get into deep geological time, it's even harder to reconstruct that tapestry of life. So, occasionally you get a whole scene and this is the Jurassic scene," said Manning. "And we're seeing it in such high fidelity at this site due to the vast concentration of bones, its associated trackways of the dinosaurs that these bones we're finding, and on top of that we've got the fossil plants. So if you want to reconstruct what the Jurassic Period looked like, this is where you would land and so for us, it's an internationally important site."

Jeffrey Patchen, chief executive officer of The Children's Museum, says the project is the result of the popularity of the museum's Dinosphere exhibit. He says officials decided to add more pieces from the Jurassic Period, but were challenged to do more than just acquiring a couple specimens. Over the course of two years, the museum found the Jurassic Mile site and leased it for 20 years. Mission Jurassic was created after officials realized how much there was at the site.

Manning said there is a big difference between acquiring these specimens and actively searching for and finding them.

"It's the difference between watching a race and being part of it and running in it," said Manning. "The excitement, the anticipation, the adrenaline rush, the real-world experience that we can bring to kids. Yeah, we can paint a picture of it if we didn't actually do it, but it's not real. I think this is something The Children's Museum really believes in is the reality of the science we're doing and it's engaging kids with actual science. The end product is real, so should be the process of digging the dinosaurs out of the ground and I think that's a really bold step that The Children's Museum has taken because it's been probably 100 years before such a group of museums have gotten together like this to do a project like this."

Watch the full press conference in the video below, courtesy of The Children's Museum of Indianapolis:

The museum says the project would not be possible without a $9 million grant from Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc. Patchen says the project will not only endow the positions of Manning and Egerton, but it will also cover the costs to get the two giant dinosaurs out of the ground in Wyoming, prepared, mounted and put on display at the museum. 

Egerton says they will begin working in earnest on digging the dinosaurs out of the site this summer. 

Manning talked about the scientific significance of the project.
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