This exhibition closed January 5, 2003

Dinosaurs are back in San Diego, and this time they are involved in a crime! The suspect--Tyrannosaurus rex. The victim--a Triceratops. "Who done it?" Was the hapless Triceratops alive or dead when T. rex selected him for a meal millions of years ago? In other words, was this infamous dinosaur really a predatory killer or an opportunistic scavenger?

T. REX ON TRIAL opens on February 16, 2002 and runs through January, 2003. Dinosaur detectives of all ages are being called to investigate this mystery and render a verdict of guilty, innocent, or hung jury.

Robotic T. rex photo taken by Bob Parks

In T. REX ON TRIAL, visitors to the museum will use scientific methods to recreate the ancient crime scene and determine the meat-eater's guilt or innocence. Then compare their verdicts with that of the "judge," Jack Horner, curator of paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies, and world-renown T. rex expert. "This exhibition is unique in two respects: it presents Tyrannosaurus as a scavenger, and it challenges you, the visitor, as a member of the investigation team, to use scientific thinking to reach your own conclusion," explained Horner, the exhibition's scientific consultant.

Complete casts of fossil skeletons of Tyrannosaurus, Allosaurus, and Deinonychus are the most significant witnesses to appear in the exhibit. Other rare fossil specimens, including the "vicitm" (a Triceratops pelvis with numerous bite marks that match those that could have been made by T. rex teeth) are on display. Other meat eaters, such as Troodon, Daspletosaurus, Coelophysis, Sauornitholestes, and Tenontosaurus, are also called to testify. Specimens are drawn from the extensive collections of carnivorous dinosaur specimens collected by the Museum of the Rockies at Montana State University in Bozeman.

To help solve the mystery, full-size robotic recreations of Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops, Deinonychus, and Tenontosaurus show how these animals looked and moved. The models were created by Kokoro Dinosaurs, Ltd. In all, nine animatronic dinosaurs are featured.

Murder weapons panel

Throughout the exhibition are hands-on activities and text panels show how paleontologists decipher clues found in a dinosaur's skull shape, arms, and legs to understand the animal's behavior. For example, consider T. rex's small arms, no longer than the average human's, but many times stronger. What could they be used for?

Another series of exhibits show how paleontologists (the detectives in this crime story) uncover evidence and develop hypotheses, and excavate or "exhume the body" at paleontology research sites. Some of the most famous dinosaur discoveries are highlighted, including those made by early dinosaur hunters like Othniel Marsh, Edward Drinker Cope, and Barnum Brown.

At the end of the exhibition, it's up to visitors to weigh the evidence and cast their vote for a T. rex's guilt or innocence. According to Horner, if the verdict is based on the scientific evidence, the conclusion will be that Tyrannosaurus rex, was a scavenger. However, not all paleontologists agree. As for the public, picturing T. rex as a scavenger instead of the fierce predator depicted in books and movies may be difficult. In this "trial of the centuries," the verdict is still out.

T. rex photo by Bob Parks; Weapons photo © 2002 Kokoro Dinosaurs