Boonshoft’s baby dinosaur
By Joyell Nevins
Photo: Hatching the Past: The Great Dinosaur Egg Hunt is on display through August 23 at The Boonshoft Museum
It started with a trip to China to collaborate on fossil preparation, then became an unprecedented scientific discovery and continues to evolve as an exhibit your family can see at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery sponsored locally by Dayton Power & Light and Extermital.
Hatching the Past: The Great Dinosaur Egg Hunt is an opportunity for children and adults alike to learn how certain dinosaurs raised their young, feel a real tibia fossil, see what dinosaur eggs look like, participate in a dinosaur “dig” and view a fossilized dinosaur embryo. There’s even an animatronic baby dino “petting zoo.”
By way of China…and a baby
Hatching the Past is the brainchild of Charlie and Florence Magovern of The Stone Company out of Boulder, Colorado. Charlie’s background was in geology and stonework, and Florence was an engineer when they met (on a chair ski lift, of all places) and married in the early 1980s. Along the way, they began periodically working with museums and fossils—but that work stepped into high gear when the Magoverns met a Chinese geology student who was studying in Colorado. The student set up a meeting in China between his geology professor and Charlie.
According to Florence, the Chinese way of obtaining and cleaning up fossils involved a hammer and chisel, which could be disastrous to small bones and particles. Charlie’s method, which originated with the Germans, was more time-consuming—but also more precise. When Charlie arrived in 1993, he found that in the Hunan Province, the Chinese had unearthed great chunks of sandstone with eggs in them. Eggshells are common in fossil digs; full eggs are not. The group in China gave Charlie permission to bring several of those chunks back to the states to his own prep lab, where he continued to work on unearthing the eggs.
The method Charlie uses is often referred to as “micro-preparing” and is painstakingly precise. It involves removing one grain of sand at a time under a big microscope. While working on one of the nests of fossilized dinosaur eggs, he made an unprecedented discovery—a fully articulated dinosaur embryo.
“Baby Louie is probably the only dinosaur discovered at 2 a.m.,” Charlie later told National Geographic Magazine. “I was working late at night on a large block of eggs…I noticed what appeared to be a few bone fragments in the chisel gouges left by the crude excavation by the Chinese field crews. I could not sleep until I confirmed that this was something more than merely wishful thinking on my part. After two more hours of careful cleaning and inspection in this miniature dig site, I uncovered the first bone.”
This was the first time a full embryo had been found by archaeologists. And to this day, Florence notes it is still the only articulated dinosaur embryo that has ever been unearthed.
Between the embryonic dinosaur, nicknamed “Baby Louie” in honor of National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos, and the sandstone nests, the Magoverns saw the beginnings of a traveling exhibit to present at museums.
They partnered with Harvard Museum of Natural History to create the informational panels, and the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture to design large, wooden crates for the displays. The Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History was also instrumental in development.
Psihoyos’ photography is prevalent throughout the exhibit. Luis Rey, who vividly illustrates children’s books about dinosaurs, was commissioned to do several pieces. Florence happened to see one of his books and contacted him about using some of the artwork for their exhibit—some of it is from the books directly, and some of the images were specifically designed for Hatching the Past. The exhibit also includes documentaries with insight from many experts in the paleontology field at that time.
A family affair
In 2012, the exhibit went through a rebuild to become more current and interactive. The Magoverns’ daughters, who had grown up with fossils and Hatching the Past helped create more user-friendly spaces.
Alison Magovern, graphic designer, graduated from the Art Institute of Denver with a degree in graphic design. She helps create new graphic elements for the exhibit and marketing packages. Alanna Magovern, exhibit designer, used to help prep eggs on her summer breaks. She graduated from University of Colorado, Boulder with degrees in anatomy and fine art. She brings a new design outlook to Hatching the Past making a more interactive hands-on experience for visitors.
Alanna’s boyfriend, Nicholas “Nick” Register (who she met skiing just like her parents did), brings a carpentry and audio/visual element to the exhibit. One of the additions has been full-size dinosaur costumes for children as part of the “Play the Dinosaur Parent” section. That section also includes two dinosaur nests with vinyl fabric eggs and an 8-foot tall background mural designed by Rey with dinosaurs represented to scale. Register’s sisters help with media relations and set design.
“I’m loving that they love it,” Florence says.
Hatching The Past: The Great Dinosaur Egg Hunt is on display now through August 23 at The Boonshoft Museum, 2600 DeWeese Pkwy. in Dayton. Public hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $13 for adults, $11 for seniors and $10 for children (ages 3-16). Children under 3 and members are free. Admission to the exhibit is included with regular admission; exhibit opens at 11 a.m. Monday-Saturday and at noon on Sunday. For more information, please visit BoonshoftMuseum.org or hatchingthepast.com or call 937.275.7431.
Reach DCP freelance writer Joyell Nevins at JoyellNevins@DaytonCityPaper.com.