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The Appeal of Dinosaurs

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My fascination with dinosaurs began at around two or three years old, like many children. I am not sure exactly how my obsession started, but I know that I would have books about dinosaurs read to me, watch movies and documentaries about dinosaurs, and go to museums with dinosaurs in them. I had tons of dinosaur figurines that I would play with and set up in dioramas. There was nothing in the world that I liked more than dinosaurs. I thought about them all day long and flipped through books on dinosaurs for hours a day at least until I was five or six years old.

At the mall in Pennsylvania that I used to go to, there was a Carnegie Store (named after the Pittsburgh museum that had a large collection of dinosaur fossils) that sold prehistoric themed products. The store itself had a very distinctive look. I remember that the store rested not in a wall, but right in the middle of the first floor. The store was a fairly large box nestled underneath a couple of escalators. The cube had windows on all four sides and a shingled roof. I liked this store partly because the place had the atmosphere of a museum gift shop, with the various items and crammed shelves. The Carnegie Store had tons of merchandise: there were Pterodactyl models that could be hung on strings from the ceiling, dinosaur models that had to be assembled from lots of tight fitting wooden bones, shelves and shelves full of books, and my favorite, the figurines. The Carnegie figurines had something special, and I know what that something is. Unlike "action figure" type dinosaurs, these figurines were made to scale, from a foot and a half long and six inch tall Apatosaurus to the inch by inch Deinonychus. These figurines had no moving parts or anything fancy, but I did not want to move them around and make them fight, I just wanted to look at them. The way their sizes were proportional allowed me to glimpse into what dinosaurs were really like right in my own home. Using a small human figuring that was approximately proportional, I could begin to understand just how big dinosaurs were, which added to the excitement. I used to take out my big, multicolored cardboard blocks in the basement and set them up into scenes for my dinosaurs. Sometimes I would split up all of my dinosaurs into their time periods, but most of the time I did not mind forgoing realism, although I made a point to tell anybody that saw my diorama about the inaccuracy, lest they should think less of my dinosaur knowledge. I usually made the same basic shape: a big island with a big mountain in the middle with peaks jutting out for Pterodactyls to rest on. Sometimes I would use different colors to signify different climates, like green for jungle and yellow for desert. Dinosaurs would then be placed according to their synergy with the blocks. The green Tyrannosaurs and stegosaurus belonged on the green blocks, and the sandy Spinosaurus and Carnotaurus were put on the yellow blocks. I would spend great amounts of time setting up this scene and then just sit there, admiring this imaginary island. I still have those dinosaur figurines, still in the same blue bucket they were piled in years ago, each with little smears of discolored paint from rubbing against each other for so long.

Museums were the place to really understand the majesty and greatness of dinosaurs. At museums, I could really appreciate the size of dinosaurs. I used to go to museums and spend a very long time sitting in a gigantic sauropod footprint, marveling at the eponymous "terrible claw" of Deinonychus and the three foot spikes on a Stegosaurus. The experience was always very amazing because I was finally able to imagine what these great creatures were really like. I knew from books that Tyrannosaurs were forty feet long, but until you actually see an actual skeleton, that figure is meaningless. Although I preferred fossil skeletons, life size dinosaur models that could sometimes be found in museums brought another degree of amazement to the table. These dinosaurs had color and skin, and glassy eyes. These models were as close as I could get to real dinosaurs. They were not just bones; they had more substance than fossils and therefore commanded a greater respect. My Ankylosaurus figurine did not look like much compared to my Tyrannosaurus Rex or Spinosaurus, but compared to me, Ankylosaurus was very, very big. Hadrosaurs that I had always dismissed as being defenseless herbivores were gigantic in reality. Seeing dinosaurs in museums was exhilarating for me. The experience always confirmed my love of dinosaurs.

I do not know the exact moment that hooked me on dinosaurs, but I think I have an idea of why kids like dinosaurs so much. Dinosaurs are big and cool, but I believe that there is something unique about them that draws so many young children in. Dinosaurs are real creatures that actually used to walk on Earth, but in many ways they are totally different from anything that exists on Earth. Some had large sickle claws, some had helmets of bone on their skulls, some had gigantic sails on their backs, and others had all sorts of armor and spikes lining their bodies. In fact, the very idea of giant lizards is almost fantastical, and so dinosaurs take on a mystical aura. To kids, dinosaurs are like dragons and griffins and other mythical creatures that everyone wished were real, except dinosaurs really are real. Dinosaurs can be read about in books and observed in museums. Eventually kids grow out of the initial amazement, but to an extent the excitement of learning about real creatures that look like products of an imagination will stay with me forever.





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Mr.Mysertious said...
Oct. 9, 2010 at 1:34 pm
I love dinosaurs, and this article is how i got hooked. I still haven't grown out of it yet though.....
 
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