A two-day dinosaur extravaganza is set to descend upon the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH) in Martinsville on Friday, July 22 and Saturday, July 23. The event will feature life-size cast skeletons of some of the most iconic creatures of the Mesozoic Era, a large variety of dinosaur fossils, expert paleontologists, and dino-themed activities and crafts.
“A prehistoric adventure awaits everyone visiting the museum July 22 and 23 for Dino Festival,” said Robbie Hendrix, VMNH visitor services and events manager. “From the moment visitors enter the museum’s doors, they will be greeted with a festive atmosphere full of amazing activities and displays, including life-size cast skeletons of some of the most incredible dinosaurs to have ever roamed the earth, such as Triceratops, Stegosaurus, Tentontosaurus, Acrocanthosaurus, and Allosaurus.”
While the age of dinosaurs is best known for, well, dinosaurs, VMNH Assistant Curator of Paleontology Dr. Adam Pritchard is quick to point out that Earth had an amazing diversity of life during this time and the museum’s Dino Festival will also highlight other long-since extinct creatures that lived alongside dinosaurs.
“Life on our planet during the age of dinosaurs had incredible diversity,” said Pritchard. “While Dino Festival puts the spotlight on dinosaurs, we also want to give visitors an idea of other types of phenomenal life that existed during this same time period, as well as some of the amazing animals that even preceded dinosaurs.”
One such animal was Platecarpus tympaniticus, a massive sea-going reptile that lived 84 to 81 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. This animal, a species of mosasaur, once swam in waters that covered what is now the central United States. A 17 foot long cast skeleton of Platecarpus tympaniticus will be on display at Dino Festival, along with other life-size cast skeletons and skulls, including:
Triceratops (cast skeleton): a large, plant-eating dinosaur distinguishable by its large frill and three horns that lived during the Late Cretaceous period, from approximately 68 to 66 million years ago.
Stegosaurus (cast skeleton): a large, plant-eating dinosaur distinguishable by two rows of bony plates on its back. It lived during the Late Jurassic period, from approximately 155 to 150 million years ago.
Acrocanthosaurus (cast skeleton): a massive, carnivorous theropod dinosaur that existed in what is now North America during the Early Cretaceous period, from approximately 125 million to 100 million years ago.
Allosaurus (cast skeleton): a large, carnivorous theropod dinosaur of the Late Jurassic period, from approximately 155 to 150 million years ago.
Tentontosaurus (cast skeleton): an herbivore dinosaur that lived during the Early Cretaceous period from approximately 120 to 110 million years ago.
Platecarpus tympaniticus (cast skeleton): a massive sea-going reptile that lived 84 to 81 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. This animal, a species of mosasaur, once swam in waters that covered what is now the central United States.
Tyrannosaurus rex (cast skull): one of the most iconic dinosaurs of all time, T. rex was a large carnivorous dinosaur that lived in what is now western North America approximately 68 to 66 million years ago.
Dromaeosaurus (cast skull): a medium-sized carnivorous dinosaur and a very close relative of the famous Velociraptor that lived in what is now the western United States and Alberta, Canada during the Late Cretaceous from approximately 77 to 74 million years ago.
Albertosaurus (cast skull): a genus of tyrannosaurid theropod dinosaurs that lived in western North America during the Late Cretaceous Period, from approximately 70 million years ago.
Edmontosaurus (cast skull): a genus of duck-billed dinosaur that lived in western North America during the Cretaceous Period approximately 73 to 66 million years ago.
Dunkleosteus (cast skull): an armored fish from a group of fish called placoderms that lived approximately 360 to 380 million years ago.
Tylosaurus (cast skull): a gigantic, sea-going relative of lizards, Tylosaurus was one of the biggest ocean predators ever to live. With a skull almost six feet long, a body over forty feet, and a mouth full of pointed teeth, it could pretty much eat whatever it wanted, from fish to other giant lizards.
In addition to the cast skeletons and skulls, Dino Festival will feature a large variety of actual dinosaur fossils, including the only fossil evidence that Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops engaged in battle, as well as the debut of an assortment of sauropod (long-necked) dinosaur fossils never before exhibited at the museum.
“The museum has a long history of conducting paleontological field work in Wyoming, with efforts yielding a tremendous amount of sauropod fossil material,” said Pritchard. “We’re very excited to be able to allow the public to see some of these specimens for the first time during Dino Festival.”
While Wyoming is a hotbed for unearthing dinosaur bones, Virginia is a very different story. In fact, the only confirmed dinosaur fossils that have ever been discovered inside the Commonwealth have come in the form of footprints, not bones.
During Dino Festival, visitors will be presented with a special display of fossils found in Virginia from the Age of Dinosaurs and learn why dinosaur bones are not among them and why that may soon change.
“VMNH research teams, in collaboration with amateur paleontologists, are working on fossil sites in the Richmond area from the earliest parts of the age of dinosaurs,” said Pritchard. “The only dinosaur fossils we have from the Commonwealth are footprints of small meat-eaters. So far, we have lots of fossils from the environment of the early dinosaurs. These include the teeth and bones of crocodile-like reptiles, plants and ancient trees, and many fish skeletons. Our quest is to find dinosaur bones at these sites, confirming their presence and discovering their place in the ecosystem of ancient Virginia.”
VMNH Director Dr. Joe Keiper pointed out that “most of Virginia’s surface geology is older than 225 million years old, which is when dinosaurs first appeared on earth, or younger than 66 million years, which is when most dinosaur lineages went extinct. The exception to that is birds, and we do find bird fossils.”
Though no dino fossils have been found in Virginia (yet), dinosaurs are still relevant to the state’s natural history museum. “We use dinosaurs as an exciting subject of earth’s past as a gateway for people to learn more about ecology, extinction, animal diversity, and other STEM-based (science, technology, engineering, and math) topics,” Keiper said.
In addition to plenty of learning opportunities, an abundance of dino-themed activities and crafts will be offered throughout the festival, along with classic festival staples, such as face painting and balloon animals. Additionally, the museum will offer the Dino Fest Food Truck Station outside of the museum for visitors to purchase a wide variety of lunch and snacks items.
“Dino Fest actually predates the current museum facility at 21 Starling Avenue,” said VMNH marketing and public relations manager Zach Ryder. “The event was originally called Dino Day and was first held in January 2007 at the original museum facility on Douglas Avenue. Due to the event’s increased popularity over the years, Dino Day became a 2-day event and was renamed Dino Festival.
Though the event does feature a number of activities for youth and families, Ryder said it is not specifically a child- and family-oriented event. “The displays are not geared toward any specific age group and the festival provides plenty of opportunities to meet and interact with museum scientists, researchers, and other staff on a one-on-one basis. Making our science team accessible to our visitors is a major emphasis of our festivals and gives visitors a unique and highly valuable experience.”
In the past, those visitors have been numerous and wide-ranging.
“Dino Festival has historically been one of the museum’s most popular festivals,” said VMNH Deputy Director Ryan Barber. He said the 2-day event has drawn an average of 3,000 visitors over the past 3 festivals, held in July 2017, 2018, and 2019.
“At the last Dino Festival, 74 percent of visitors came from outside Martinsville and Henry County, resulting in a significant tourism boost for the area,” Barber said. “The 2019 Dino Festival drew visitors from 18 states (which included Nevada, Oklahoma, New York, Wisconsin, and Illinois) and the District of Columbia.”
“Dino Festival is a fantastic combination of a dino-themed entertainment experience and an exceptional scientific learning opportunity,” said Hendrix. “Not only will Dino Festival offer an extremely fun, festive atmosphere, but also the scientific expertise and actual dinosaur specimens that will provide visitors with an incredibly impactful learning experience. We want every visitor to be mesmerized by the life-size dinosaur skeletons and prehistoric fossils, while also providing everyone with opportunities for fun, engaging, hands-on experiences that they won’t soon forget.”
Dino Festival takes place Friday, July 22 and Saturday, July 23 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Visitors who attend the first day of the event will be allowed to experience the event again on the second day at no additional charge.
Admission is $10 per adult and $5 for ages 3-17. Admission is free for children under 3, museum members, and members of museums and science centers that participate in the ASTC Passport program.
The museum also participates in the “Museums for All” initiative, offering discounted admission to low-income families. Through this program and additional funding provided by Hooker Furnishings, visitors who present their EBT card and accompanying ID at the museum’s box office will receive free admission to the festival.
Dino Festival is sponsored by Carter Bank & Trust, SOVAH Health, Bassett Furniture Industries, The Helen S. & Charles G. Patterson Jr. Charitable Foundation Trust, the Community Foundation Serving Western Virginia, and long-time museum supporter Didi Pancake.
For more information about Dino Festival and other museum offerings, visit www.vmnh.net.