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Jurassic Skies - When Dinosaurs Took to the Air

An exhibition exploring how dinosaurs took to the air and the origin of birds. In collaboration with National Museum Wales.

10 December 2018 - 1 September 2019

NMI – A Natural History, Earth Sciences Exhibition at Collins Barracks

The Jurassic Period was an exciting time in the evolution of reptiles. Ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs dominated the oceans, dinosaurs dominated the land and pterosaurs dominated the air - although the dinosaurs were about to launch their own bid for domination of the Jurassic skies.

Duria Antiquior watercolour by Henry De la Beche (1830)

Long before, the first animals to reach for the skies were insects. They took flight in the Carboniferous period, beating reptiles into the air by over 100 million years.

Mounted insects in Jurassic Skies exhibition

These insects provided a rich source of food, tempting some reptiles into the air. The first of these were the pterosaurs – cousins of the dinosaurs with a wing made from a membrane stretched from one long finger.

Rhamphorhyncus fossil from Jurassic Skies exhibition

Dinosaurs took their time in getting into the skies. It might seem strange, but fossils show that many of the meat-eating dinosaurs had feathers for display and temperature control, but not flight.

Megalosaurus replica from Jurassic Skies exhibition

However, feathers proved to be useful for building a strong and lightweight wing allowing one lineage of the dinosaurs to fly, giving rise to the birds. Taking flight offered these dinosaurs the chance to use new habitats and spread all around the world. Today they live on every continent and ocean, their amazing diversity is thanks to Archaeopteryx – the first bird to take flight.

Archaeopteryx in the Jurassic Skies exhibition.

Archaeopteryx lived and died near a lagoon in what is now Solnhofen, Germany. The fossils they left behind help us unpick the story of the evolution of feathered flight. In this collaborative exhibition with the National Museum of Wales, we present some of the National Museum of Ireland’s most important specimens and offer a glimpse into the Jurassic skies.

Archaeopteryx fossil in the Jurassic Skies exhibition

Taxidermy specimens showing some of the extremes in the diversity of modern flying dinosaurs