19 June 2007

Feathered dinosaurs invade Seattle!

Today I paid a visit to my old stomping grounds, the Pacific Science Center, and after doing so I feel obliged to put in a plug for them. If any of you have an interest in paleontology and are in the Seattle area, I heartily recommend their current exhibit on dinosaurs. There are several skeletons and casts of large Chinese dinosaurs (Mamenchisaurus, Tsintaosaurus, and the like) as well as a nice display on dinosaur eggs, but the real reason to go is for the several specimens from Liaoning. Liaoning, for those of you outside the paleontological loop, is a region in northeastern China that first came to international attention in the early 1990s. It's a lagerstätte (a site of exceptional fossil preservation) that has yielded, among other things, many exquisitely preserved birds and feathered dinosaurs. It was these specimens, in fact, that effectively ended the debate over whether birds evolved from dinosaurs (to say nothing of the fact that they're some of the most beautiful fossils you'll ever see). The exhibit at PSC runs the gamut from the dinosaur Sinosauropteryx to the true birds Sapeornis (one of the most primitive birds known), Confuciusornis, and Yixianornis. Considering their scientific, monetary, and even cultural value (paleontology is very closely tied to nationalism in China), it is rare for the Chinese government to allow Liaoning fossils out of the country, and it may be a long time before they make their appearance in the Great Northwest again. So, for those of you with the time and inclination, a trip would be well worth your while.

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