I’m in Melbourne for a week to both attend a conference and enjoy a bit of holiday time. My first stop was Melbourne Museum to see Horridus, the new Triceratops skeleton. I absolutely adore dinosaurs so I was excited to see the skeleton and the accompanying exhibition – Triceratops: Fate of the Dinosaurs. This is going to be a very short review as I only want to cover this exhibition and provide a bit of context.
First things first, Horridus is called Horridus as the full species name for the Triceratops is Triceratops horridus. It is estimated that this skeleton is about 85% complete with the skull an incredible 98% complete. When I first heard about Horridus I thought, where did the skeleton come from and why is it in Melbourne? To answer the first part of the question, Horridus was discovered in 2014 in Montana. A small part of the skeleton’s pelvis was discovered poking out of the sandstone in Hell Creek. Once excavations had taken place, palaeontologists could confirm it was one of the most complete Triceratops skeletons ever discovered. Horridus was purchased by the Museum and began its journey from Montana to Melbourne in eight shipping crates. Once it arrived in Australia, the bones were measured, 3D scanned, then placed on display. The most intact dinosaur skeleton I had seen before Horridus was Sue the T-Rex at the Field Museum in Chicago. It was amazing to see the skeleton of another dinosaur species almost complete.
Skeleton of Horridus
Before writing about the accompanying exhibition, I want to first focus on the skeleton. Although it’s not the first thing you see, clearly the entire exhibition has been designed around Horridus. After walking through a couple of rooms showing cartoon-like video footage on the walls, you exit to see the skeleton standing in the middle of a large room. The first thing that really struck me was just how massive Horridus is in real life. The images online don’t do it justice. The skeleton is about seven metres long and two metres tall. It’s standing on a raised plinth with plenty of seating area surrounding it so you can just sit, relax and stare at the skeleton.
This is a really well planned out part of the exhibition. So much space to see Horridus from every angle and even when it’s busy, you don’t feel overcrowded. Not only can you observe the skeleton from this level, but there are two viewing platforms on the second level so you can see the skeleton from above. Well worth going to all vantage points as you start to see little pieces here and there that you might have overlooked or couldn’t see from where you were standing. I spent the majority of my time in this exhibition looking at Horridus and how all the bones connect together. There is, however, much more to the exhibition.
I entered the exhibition on the ground floor after walking through the old dinosaur gallery. This is a nice way to start your visit as you first walk through a couple of rooms with video footage projected onto the walls. Room one has footage of a riverbank, Hell Creek swamps. Watching the screen you see soft-shelled turtles, salamander and crocodiles moving across. You then walk through the deep forest and see a T-Rex and Triceratops foraging around. These two rooms set the context for the skeleton and, from my observations, were really popular with young children. There is a didactic in each room providing some information but the use of video as opposed to interpretive text was a wise decision.
Surrounding Horridus are a couple of display areas. My favourite related to the 3D scans they took of Horridus when the skeleton arrived. For a more tactile experience, visitors can feel 3D printings of different parts of the skeleton. Even a rough print out of the brain, determined by the empty space in the skeleton’s skull. Just from one CT scan, they can tell that the Triceratops most likely made a low, deep sound and listened for footsteps of large dinosaurs. Amazing what technology can reveal!
I did not spend a long time on the second level of the exhibition. It mostly displays some further contextual information such as the ecosystem of Hell Creek. There was a standout interactive teaching visitors how fossils are formed. It was in constant use while I was there so I didn’t get the chance to explore it in more depth. I will say that the graphics of the exhibition are fantastic. It is a bit heavy on the digital side including static digital screens of cartoon-like dinosaur figures that worked well in the space, but caused some digital screen fatigue. It wasn’t overwhelming, just something I can now reflect on.
The exhibition does cater to different learning styles and accessibility levels. Not only with the 3D printed tactile elements, but the use of sound too. There is a small section where you can go into little hub spaces, each representing a different ecosystem, and listen to the birds that would have existed in these spaces.
Overall, I enjoyed walking around the exhibition and interacting with the different elements. It certainly provided a technologically enhanced, modern exhibition experience while not overwhelming the skeleton and its impact on visitors.
Melbourne Museum is now home to Horridus so there is no rush to come and see the skeleton. The Museum is open daily from 9am to 5pm (closed Good Friday and Christmas Day). Entrance to the exhibition is included in general entry fees – adults: $15, seniors: $10, children/members/concession card holders: free. The Museum is accessible and there is heaps of great information on their website to help plan your visit.