If you’re coming to Dorset to look for fossils and dinosaurs, The Dinosaur Museum in Dorchester is the place to find them.
This fairly small building houses a large collection of fossils and other displays from around the world and from throughout the time of the dinosaurs - although with 140 million years worth of dinosaurs to cover, inevitably only a snapshot of that history is possible.
The museum is marketed mostly to children, and appeals to their natural fascination with dinosaurs and other prehistoric monsters. But it is also worthy of the geekier end of palaeontology. Ross Geller of “Friends” would be beside himself at the number and quality of fossilised dinosaur remains and information on display.
There is something supremely humbling about looking at the preserved muddy footprints of massive beasts that walked the earth, in what is now the County of Dorset, millions of years before man. And something supremely scary and morbidly fascinating about looking at the fossilised jaw-bone and teeth of a real Tyrannosaurus Rex. And yes, they are big!
As well as the fossils themselves, there are plenty of pictures as well as models large and small. There are also multi-media displays and a small cinema theatre.
The exhibition as a whole and each part of it, tries to target something at all age-groups, with everything from “touch and feel” through pictures and quizzes to detailed display boards. In places there is a danger of information overload, especially for younger visitors and those with only a casual interest in the subject. The volume of material presented and some of the more traditional methods of displaying it can be a barrier to communication of the message. There is a lot to read that younger children in particular just won’t touch.
There are stories with which children will engage if they are read to them, although if the museum is busy that can become a bit tiresome.
One of the more bizarre stories is that of Mary Anning. She is one of the most famous and perhaps unlikely of fossil hunters and came from Dorset. Mary grew up in Lyme Regis and as a young child was struck by lightning. Whilst those with her were killed, it was said that the event helped turn Mary into a much brighter and more intelligent young woman than she had previously been. She followed in her fathers footsteps who, although a carpenter by trade, searched for and sold fossils to supplement his income. A cliff fall and TB did for Mary’s father, but she went on to make some of the most significant fossil finds in history, but like her father, she did it not for the science but for the money. But at a time when science was the preserve of the wealthy that was probably to be expected of a young woman from a lowly background!
The Dinosaur Museum is probably best viewed not as a visit in itself (although it is a good way to pass a wet morning or afternoon). Rather it is better viewed as being part of a suite of potential activities that can be undertaken in Dorset to better understand the Jurassic Coast and the dinosaurs’ place in the history of the world and the history of Dorset.
The Dorset County Museum, just up the road from the Dinosaur Museum, has an excellent display which shows how and why the Dorset coast developed in the way that it did. It also has some fossilised dinosaur remains, although these are incidental to the wider story its display is trying to tell.
If you are able during your visit to Dorset, mix a visit to the Dinosaur Museum with a trip to the County Museum along with as many of the significant coastal sites as you can.
If fossils and dinosaurs are your thing or it's what throws your children’s switches, this will give you all the information you need to feed their growing interest. If you can’t do all three, go to the coast for free and then let your budget determine what you do of what’s left!
If fossils and dinosaurs are your thing or it's what throws your children’s switches, this will give you all the information you need to feed their growing interest. ."