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Meeting our ancestors on a trip back in time
By Wing Tan

NEW museum to trace origins of life, reminding us just how small we are in the process of evolution, Wing Tan reports.

An intact giant skeleton of a 140-million-year dinosaur from Sichuan Province, creepy Loulan corpses from an ancient Silk Road city and a rich collection of mummies and fossils are the fodder of childhood fascination, and all will be on display when the Shanghai Natural History Museum reopens by the end of the year.

In short, visitors to the museum will be able to travel through hundreds of millions of years during a one-day excursion.

The old museum, established in 1956 on Yan’an Road E., has been officially closed and a new 20,000-square-meter facility has been built in the leafy environment of Shanghai Jing’an Sculpture Park on Shimen No. 2 Road.



Many of the fossils actually ‘talk’ to us

The new site has four levels, two of them underground, and an IMAX cinema and an array of special function rooms. Seen from a distance, the architecture looks like a giant prehistoric nautilus shell.

One highlight of the building is a rooftop garden accessed by a pathway that winds its way up from the ground floor, providing a gentle walk to a magnificent bird’s-eye vista of the museum complex and surrounding parkland.

The central square of the new building features a sunken pond flooded with natural daylight. The main outside wall is designed with numerous irregular polygons.

“Don’t they look like cells?” asks Xu Xiaohong, senior engineer of the museum’s engineering management department. “The cell wall symbolizes the evolution of life, from single-celled creatures to modern day humans. It’s an invitation to come in and journey through our origins.”

The new museum will feature a collection of more than 10,000 animals, mummies and fossils, all purchased, donated and borrowed from across seven continents. Almost 70 percent of the exhibits will be displayed here for the first time, while the remainder come from the old museum.

Among the wonders that await the public are some very precious dinosaur fossils from the Mesozoic era, such as the Lufengosaurus fossil found in Yunnan Province, and ancient mammals from the Cenozoic era.

The splendor of the African savanna ecosystem will be recreated by audio and visual techniques.



The 140-million-year complete Mamenchisaurus skeleton that was always the most eye-catching exhibit of the old museum won’t lose any prominence in its new home. It will be joined by a 24-meter-long mechanized model of the Argentinosaurus, the world’s biggest dinosaur.

As for us human latecomers in the story of evolution, our relatively short time span, from australopithecine to homo sapiens, will be recreated in an imaginative exhibit using fossils and models.

Visitors walking along sloping pathway will first encounter an exhibition zone entitled “Mystery of Origin.” It will feature animal specimens, including apes, monkeys, polar bears, goats, deer as well as the Mamenchisaurus skeleton and the Argentinosaurus mechanical model.



Overhead, models of marine animals such as the blue whale, jellyfish and plesiosaurs will “swim” in the air above recreations of the ancient mammoth, glyptodont and megaloceros.

The museum will be “touchy, feely.” Visitor can finger original gold, silver and bronze from ancient mines and touch hardwood fossils hundreds of millions of years old.

Children will be able to get up close to dinosaurs fossils and specimens, such as pterosaurs, mosasaurs and tyrannosaurus, among many others.

At the other side of the hall, the exhibition zone will feature relics from the Cambrian, Triassic, Cretaceous and Cenozoic periods — all collected from archeological digs in Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou provinces and other parts of China.

Those interested in more “modern” times can view exhibits depicting the Triassic period about 220 million years ago, when qianichthysaurus, anshunsaurus and trachyceras were Earth’s creatures.



One underground level deals with evolution mechanisms, such as the Cambrian explosion, when many of major animal groups suddenly appeared about 500 million years ago.

On this floor also will be the “Heyday of the Dinosaurs” exhibition, displaying dozens of large reptile fossil skeletons from land, sea and air, including the precious fossils of Sauropterygia and Polycotylus.

The exhibition materials were collected from Zigong in Sichuan Province, Junggar in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Erenhot in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Zhucheng in Shandong Province and Liujialing in Gansu Province, among other places.

The new museum will replace the traditional read-and-tour method with innovative ways to encourage visitors to do a little scientific research on their own. They will be able to measure the size of an ancient humans brain, restore a dinosaur fossil and observe the homing routes of bees.

In order to make fossils and specimens “talk,” the new museum has installed augmented reality equipment. After downloading the app to a smart phone, a visitor can “hear” specimens describing themselves.

“You will see how tiny we human beings really are against the huge backdrop of hundreds of millions of years,” said Zhang Yunfei, deputy director of the museum’s specimens department. “We sincerely hope visitors will come out of the museum feeling a new respect for nature and history.”

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