Dinosuar Hall | Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Most dinosaur exhibits treat museumgoers as observers, said Lauren Gravitz in LA Weekly. Not this one. Rather than lead visitors through Mesozoic history “with an old-school, timeline-based approach,” the Natural History Museum’s new Dinosaur Hall treats visitors as fellow paleontologists, bringing them in on the interpretive process. Much of what we know about dinosaurs is informed conjecture, not indisputable fact. By offering up evidence rather than conclusions, this show’s interactive displays had me “asking more questions, batting ideas around, thinking about the what, the why, and the how of dinosaur research.” Instead of “walking away feeling as if I’d been formally schooled on dinosaurs—an incredible feeling I have every time I leave the dino exhibit at New York’s American Museum of Natural History—I left filled with a completely different, equally exciting feeling of engagement.”

Also refreshing is the rejection of cartoonish artifice, said Edward Rothstein in The New York Times. Trapped in “the age of the diorama,” traditional museums strive to bring scenes to life using preserved fur and skin. “Taxidermic specimens are posed in re-creations of their natural habitats, against meticulously painted backdrops showing, perhaps, the expanse of the veldt or the dense growth of a rain forest.” Here, by contrast, “we are reminded repeatedly that these dinosaurs might as well be posing with their once-unnoticed re-creators,” given the level of subjectivity that such tableaux require. This museum smartly stresses its own newness: So much has changed in paleontology in just the last decade—from advances in preservation techniques to important new field discoveries—that the institution has a leg up even on its more comprehensive competitors.

The centerpiece, hands down, is a trio of Tyrannosaurus rex fossils, said Sophia Lee in the Los Angeles Times. “Crouching, with their great heads and menacing teeth hovering just above an unlucky duck-billed Edmontosaurus skeleton,” these fearsome predators represent a paleontological first, showing a single species at three different ages. They’re also “the youngest T. rex fossils ever found. The oldest, nicknamed Thomas, age 17, is at the peak of puberty, already 34 feet and 7,000 pounds at full body weight. The youngest is a 2-year-old toddler, but at 11 feet tall, he’s no pushover, and neither is the 13-year-old adolescent, at 20 feet and 4,000 pounds.” Which one might have killed the Edmontosaurus? That’s “an ongoing investigation.”

Reprinted from LA Weekly