Roper Mountain’s new exhibit will bring dinosaurs ‘back to life’

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Roper Mountain Science Center's newest exhibit will feature between 14 and 16 replica dinosaurs, including a Triceratops. Photo by Andrew Moore.

Dinosaurs may be extinct, but Greenville’s Roper Mountain Science Center is working to resurrect the prehistoric giants.

The center, which provides hands-on courses for elementary and middle school students, is planning to open an outdoor exhibit next year that features realistic replicas of dinosaurs, according to Michael Weeks, director of Roper Mountain Science Center.

“We started planning this years ago after seeing similar exhibits at facilities and museums across the country,” said Weeks. “With the recent revival of the ‘Jurassic Park’ series, we knew it was time to finally do it. Dinosaurs are very popular right now.” 

The prehistoric-themed exhibit will feature more than a dozen replicas of herbivorous and carnivorous dinosaurs, including a Tyrannosaurus rex that stands about 19 feet tall. It will also include a Brachiosaurus, the largest known dinosaur, a plated Stegosaurus, a three-horned Triceratops, a group of Velociraptors, and various other species.

The dinosaurs will be located at individual “field stations” scattered along the center’s nature trail, which spans more than a mile through the wooded area between the Wilkens Conference Center and Harrison Hall of Natural Sciences. Each station will include a panel with details about the resident dinosaur’s species, habitat, and anatomical characteristics, according to Weeks. 

While the dinosaurs won’t be animatronic, visitors and students can use a free augmented reality app, called Aurasma, to bring the fiberglass replicas to life on their smartphones and tablets, according to Weeks. When a visitor or student scans one of the exhibit’s educational panels with their device, a digital version of that station’s resident dinosaur appears in the app.

The center had already installed a juvenile triceratops along the trail for visitors and students to test out. 

“The center doesn’t have enough indoor space for animatronic dinosaurs, so we’re getting the next best thing,” he said. “Aurasma is great, because it allows people to see how the dinosaurs would have moved and behaved when they were alive. In a way, it does sort of bring them back to life.” 

Each of the exhibit’s “field stations” will include a panel with details about the resident dinosaur’s species, habitat, and anatomical characteristics, according to Weeks. Photo provided by Roper Mountain Science Center.

Weeks added that while the center’s dinosaurs didn’t live in South Carolina, they did have distant relatives throughout the state. In 1992, for instance, paleontologists unearthed the bones of an unidentified genus of theropod, a cousin of the T. rex., in Florence.

“Our dinosaurs don’t have a direct connection to South Carolina, but they’re definitely going to give us a chance to discuss our state’s fossil record with students,” said Weeks.

Officials expect the dinosaur exhibit to expand the center’s paleontology curriculum for visiting middle schools. Over the years, the center has used a collection of dinosaur fossils to teach third-graders about early environments and other subjects.

Now, using the models, the center plans to teach eighth-graders about the diversity of life and environmental changes that have occurred during Earth’s history, and the relationships between past and existing life forms.

The shapes of the center’s dinosaurs, for instance, are based on skeletal remains from more than 65 million years ago. And the colors and scales on the skins will resemble those of Komodo dragons and alligators, some of the closest living relatives to the dinosaurs.

“The idea is to have students recognize similarities and differences between our dinosaurs and modern animals,” said Weeks. “There will be a lot of connections for them to find.”

The exhibit could also boost public attendance at Roper Mountain Science Center.

“Our planetarium and ticketed events are doing great, but we’d like to see more people on the trail. I think a lot of people believe we’re only open to students. And while most of our buildings are off limits the public, the trail is open daily,” said Weeks. “We’re hoping the dinosaurs bring in more people. … I’d like to think adults love dinosaurs just as much as kids.” 

The center hopes to install the exhibit’s remaining dinosaurs sometime next year and hold a grand opening for the general public. But for now, it’s seeking out corporate sponsors to fund the $50,000 exhibit.

“It may be delayed, but we’re pushing to open the exhibit before our Butterfly Adventure next spring,” said Weeks.

For more information, visit ropermountain.org.

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