Chatting with A Palaeontologist – The Dinosaurs of China Exhibit

Wollaton Hall’s recent Dinosaurs of China exhibit was an incredible display of scientific knowledge, so I thought it would be fun to catch up with one of the people that made it possible, Adam Smith.

What was the initial idea behind the exhibit/ how long had it been in the process of being planned prior to its arrival?

The original thought was to popularise the idea that dinosaurs evolved into birds. We intended the main focus to be on feathered dinosaurs, but later, the scope expanded to include large scaly dinosaurs as well. That’s how we ended up with the tallest dinosaur skeleton ever displayed in Europe. This was important to show that feathered dinosaurs are part of a bigger picture of dinosaur diversity. The exhibition had been in preparation for about five years before it arrived.

The huge Mamenchisaurus skeleton, on display in Wollaton Hall as part of the Dinosaurs of China exhibition.

Why is the exhibit unique to Wollaton?

The fossils and skeletons have been specifically selected to fit inside Wollaton Hall and Lakeside Arts. The dinosaurs are interspersed among the existing natural history collections which help tell the story. This is a one-of-a-kind world exclusive to Nottingham, not a touring exhibition.

Why do you think the exhibit itself is important? What does this new research change about how we perceive Dinosaurs as a whole?

This exhibition is the first time many of these species have been to Europe, and it will be for first time many visitors will have a chance to inspect the evidence for feathered dinosaurs with their own eyes. The fossils in the exhibition suggest that dinosaurs were feathery and birdlike in appearance and behaviour, and prove beyond doubt that birds evolved from meat-eating dinosaurs.

The Oviraptor exhibit from the Dinosaurs of China event. Dinosaurs like these had a lot in common with today’s birds, including laying eggs in nests, and being covered in feathers.

What’s your favourite piece that’s on display?

My favourite object in the display is the Microraptor. The beautiful fossil specimen is small but iconic. The fossil shows the complete skeleton in fine detail, but also wing feathers preserved on its arms legs and tail. This four-winged species was a type of raptor dinosaur that could fly.

A comparison between the modern-day Ostrich and a dinosaur known as Guanlong, part of the Dinosaurs of China exhibition at Wollaton Hall.

All in all, I’m sure I won’t be the first to say that the Dinosaurs of China exhibit was a one of a kind experience and that we’re all sad it’s gone.

However, Wollaton offers a myriad of events, coming as soon as the Hall reopens later on in the month – including their heritage tours. Stay tuned and follow them on Facebook to learn more about upcoming events.

Esther Kearney

Featured image and article images courtesy of Isobel Sheene.

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