Monday, April 11, 2011


So, on Monday we did something different: picked up my father-in-law and drove over to Rockford to the Burpee Museum (just on the far side of the Rock River), where we spent the afternoon wandering around looking at their Dinosaurs of Africa exhibit. These were all creatures I'd never heard of before, excavated either in Morocco or Niger. I didn't write down the various names, because I thought I'd buy the book that inevitably accompanies such a visit in the museum bookstore afterwards. Turns out there is no such book, or if there is the museum store didn't have it. Alas.

But that doesn't distract from the exhibit itself , wh. was v. well done. The dinosaurs weren't too crowded, and most of the displays were real skeletons, rather than "casts" (fakes) -- they were even careful to note on the accompanying signs which bones were original and which were replicas to fill the missing whole. The strangest looking creature was a hippo-faced fern-eater w. v. unusual teeth; this moderate-sized brontosaurus-style dinosaur had hollow bones -- which make sense in a pteradon (the display also having a partial fossil of an African pteradon as well) but is rather odd in a large plant-eater. And the only one whose name I can remember (partly because I liked the sound of it, partly because it's on the little flyer I picked up at the hotel through which I learned about the exhibit) is Carcharodontosaurus -- wh. had apparently been discovered circa early in the 1900s but all existing fossils lost in the bombing of Berlin, only to be re-discovered through new fossils quite recently. It's basically an African T-Rex.

The gem of their display, however, was not part of the travelling African Dinosaurs exhibit but one of their permanent displays: Jane, the most complete T-Rex skeleton in the world. Only about eleven when she died (and hence a juvenile, Tyranosauruses living to about thirty), "Jane" is still pretty fearsome looking. And in the basement, in addition to the big plate windows where you cd see workers separating fossils from the matrix, was "Homer", one of a pair of Triceratops fossils, young adults found jumbled together and still in the process of being separated and sorted out and mounted. Also in this room, I think, was a little cayman-like dinosaur said to have survived the Great Extinction by a few million years; I'll have to try to find out what this one is called and find out more about it.

Once we'd seen enough of the dinosaurs (for one visit), we went up to the top floor to look at the Native American exhibit, and then the stuffed birds (esp. owls) &c. next to this. I was amused to see that the explanatory posters talked about the notorious "Ice-Free Corridor" as the "old theory", setting it alongside the "new theory" of coastal migration into the New World. Amused to watch a spider busy w. its web on the outside of a fourth-floor window, going about its business quite unconcerned by the vast drop for a creature its size dangling beneath it.

Finally, once we reached the parking lot I begged Janice's and Mr. Coulter's patience while I walked a few blocks south to see something I'd just learned about in the museum: the existence of Beattie Park, in which were preserved several Indian Mounds. Most of the original Mound Builders complex had been destroyed over the years, but there was a distinct barrow (the classic "Indian Mound" of the sort found all over Arkansas), a long ridge of a linear mound, and the remnants of an effigy mound that they claimed was shaped like a turtle. I cdn't see the turtle-shape, just a somewhat worn-down linear mound with some outliers. Still, glad to see it and walk around what's now simply a pleasant little city park w. a lot of history around it. Here's a link to a brief description of the place ( ): if you click on the link near the bottom of that entry about the Rohrbough report ( ) and page down a bit you can see some drawings of the various mounds as they appeared in better days.

All in all, a most enjoyable and interesting outing!

--John R.


Jason Fisher said...

I've never heard of Carcharodontosaurus, but the name looks to me like it means shark + tooth + lizard. That sounds like a dino who means business!

Steve Morrison said...

Evidently it's named for a shark genus, Carcharodon. But my first thought was even more terrifying—it looked to me like "lizard with the teeth of Carcharoth"!

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi Jason. Hi Steve.

Yes, it was essentially named 'shark-toothed dinosaur'.
I too thought the name sounded like one of Morgoth or Thu's wolves.

Poking about today, found there's a little more information about the dinosaurs we saw at the wikipedia entry for the leader of the excavation, Paul Sereno. Looking at the list, I'm pretty sure we saw
Arovenator, Jobaria, Nigersaurus, and Suchomimus, as well as the ragment (one wing) of 'the African Pterosaur'. In addition to Carcharodontosaur himself, of course. Great exhibit; sorry there's so little about it at the Burpee website and, as I said, apparently no non-technical book write-up on their discoveries at Gadoufaoua