A sneak preview at the ROM's upcoming dinosaur exhibit.
No, liberal arts majors, Gondwana is not the name of an Upstate New York summer camp. It’s the name of the southernmost super-continent that encompassed parts of Madagascar, the African continent, Australia, and Argentina during the Triassic period, beginning some 200 million years ago. In a few weeks, the ROM will debut an exhibition of dinosaurs from that time and place, and as assistant curator Matthew Vavrek points out, the event marks a first for the already dino-friendly museum: a unique showing that focuses on the parallels between dinosaur evolution and the geographic changes happening on Earth over the same period of time.
“What people may not realize is that dinosaurs were these living, breathing creatures evolving in response to the environments that they were living in,” says Vavrek.
At the beginning of the age of dinosaurs, Vavrek explains, all continents were joined together in a giant landmass called Pangaea. Through the age of dinosaurs, this landmass broke apart into sort of a north and south section—Laurasia and Gondwana—and then eventually fragmented even more into the “sort of isolated island continents” we have today.
“So by the end of the age of dinosaurs, these dinosaurs were all living sort of isolated from one another. That’s what allowed them to gain this amazing diversity.”
The star of this diverse showing is arguably the fierce Giganotosaurus, who hung out around northwest Argentina 95 million years ago, during the early Late Cretaceous. Estimates peg this particular beast at over 14 metres in length and up to 6000 kilograms in weight.
But what’s the process involved in assembling these gargantuan creatures? Peter May, president and owner of Research Casting International—the team tasked with sourcing and building skeletons for the upcoming exhibition—likens it to “stringing together a pearl necklace.”
“You can see the steel coming up the leg,” says May, gesturing to the Giganotosaurus skeleton behind him, whose skull has just been mounted to the rest of its body over the course of 20 minutes. “Then there’s steel all the way down the backbone. Then we [arrange] the bones, and everything gets threaded on.” The assembly process for just this one dino, head aside, takes two to three months and involves a team of about 18 people including metalworkers, blacksmiths, painters, and molders.
“We get a little bit of breakage here and there,” May admits, “but it’s not too bad.”
While it’s extremely rare to find a complete skeleton (“when they die, scavengers come in and take the bones away and they get eroded”) May notes that this Giganotosaurus is a quality specimen, at about 70 per cent complete. It was found near Mendoza, Argentina—where the wine comes from. “[The ROM] should have a little wine tasting,” May jokes.
Curators, take note.
The dinosaur in question is the Giganotosaurus, not the Gigantosaurus, as previously stated (spelled). The corrections have been made to the article above.