During a summer dominated by the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing you may have missed an equally intriguing look at part of our planet’s (and very likely your childhood’s), past: The David H. Koch Hall of (Dinosaur) Fossils—Deep Time at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
Reopened on June 8, 2019 after a five-year, 125 million dollar renovation that was the largest in the museum’s history, the 31,000-square-foot hall features more than 700 specimens of dinosaurs, plants, animals, insects, and a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton.
The day-trip-worthy exhibit is permanent and free, and as I learned while visiting it with my sister and dinosaur-loving three- and five-year-old nieces (who both gave the exhibit a 10/10), it’s awe-inspiring and engaging for eyes and brains of all ages.
The most eye-catching of these specimens is, inarguably, the Triceratops-eating “Nation’s T. rex,” one of the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons ever unearthed. It’s also impressive, big and bad fossilized peers include the woolly mammoth, diplodocus and stegosaurus. You also don’t want to miss the “Irish Elk,” a mounted fossil skeleton that’s been on view since 1872; the tylosaurus, a large marine reptile that was discovered with two additional fossils in its stomach; or the massive 52-foot megalodon model that hangs in the museum’s Atrium Café.
The Fossil Hall also contains a tremendous amount of diverse educational content. It tells a story of evolution that begins with the Earth’s distant past—3.7 billion years ago—and explains how both humans and natural events have brought us to its present and will define its uncertain future. According to the Smithsonian, the overarching message that this content seeks to convey is that all life and all ecosystems always have been and always will be in a state of interconnectedness and constant change. And while it’s unlikely that any visitor will read the roughly 75,000 total words that articulate this message, some of the most memorable displays that help deliver it include:
- An interactive touch-screen demonstrating dinosaur-to-bird evolution.
- The “Will you become a fossil?” game, which allows you to pick an organism and habitat, spin a wheel, and discover whether you’re eaten, eroded, or fossilized.
- “Love. Protect. Act.” which shows how everyday activities and hobbies impact and change the environment.
- A replica coal mine, where you’ll learn why coal and oil and gas are called “fossil fuels,” and the implications of their use.
- The FossiLab, where you can watch volunteers extract actual fossils from earth and learn what they, and eventually we, learn by studying them.
- Touchable bronze rabbit poop (not real) and freeze-dried mummified remains of a 28,000-year-old Alaskan bison (real).
The list could go on but, as with any great museum, there are too many cool things to see to name them all. Siobahn Starrs, an exhibition project manager, eloquently summed it up ahead of the Hall’s opening, “If you only have 30 minutes, you can find something awesome. If you have an hour, you’ll find even more.”
The Museum of Natural History is located at 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW, and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Learn more at naturalhistory.si.edu.