WASHINGTON - Mention dinosaurs, and most people will think of fossil beds in South Dakota or the Gobi Desert. But Laurel, Md.?
Yes, Maryland had dinosaurs, too, and more than 100 fossil relics - most found in the Baltimore-Washington corridor - were shipped to Chicago this week for exhibition at next month's Dinofest.
The 2000 Dinofest, at Chicago's Navy Pier, is being billed as "The World's Fair of Dinosaurs" and the largest display of dinosaur fossils and robots ever. More than 500,000 people visited the 1998 Dinofest, which was held in Philadelphia.
The 800-square-foot Maryland exhibit, called "Before the Bone Wars: Dinosaurs of the National Capital Region," will be dwarfed by most Dinofest exhibits, including a 3 1/2 -story-high skeleton of a seismosaur, the world's largest land animal, and a 10,000-square-foot display of giant oceangoing reptiles.
But never mind. Think of it as Ancient Maryland in Miniature - the largest collection of dinosaur-related items from Maryland and the District of Columbia ever gathered for public exhibit.
Included are fossil dinosaur teeth, claws and bones from Prince George's County; dinosaur tracks from Emmitsburg; the fossil remains of plants, trees, shellfish and other invertebrates that lived among the dinosaurs, and paintings of dinosaurs in their natural habitat, lent by Baltimore dinosaur artist Gregory Paul.
The Maryland display was assembled by geologist Peter M. Kranz of the Dinosaur Fund in Washington from private collectors, the Laurel Museum and the Maryland Science Center.
Kranz is a dogged educator and popularizer of Maryland's seldom-seen dinosaur heritage. He said he has no qualms about participating in Dinofest - a commercial venture designed to make money from the public's endless fascination with dinosaurs.
"A lot of scientists are indignant about the idea of commercializing science," Kranz said. "But there is very little money for dinosaur research, and there are always resources in the fact that kids are interested. And we should exploit it."
He said the $15,000 paid by Dinofest to rent the Maryland exhibit will defray the costs incurred by Kranz and other contributors in putting it together. "We're providing an experience for the public to learn about dinosaurs," he said.
He also hopes to sell T-shirts to support the fund's work.
His exhibit includes fossils from the Triassic and Jurassic periods. But most date from the Upper and Lower Cretaceous, between 70 million and 100 million years ago.
Among the most notable is a cast of a tooth from Astrodon johnstoni, a giant sauropod named Maryland's state dinosaur in 1998. The original tooth was found in Muirkirk in 1858 and found its way to the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University, which provided the cast. The tooth was the first evidence for the presence of the long-necked sauropods in North America.
Kranz also has created interactive exhibits that will allow children to touch fossils and make tracks like those left by dinosaurs in ancient mud flats.
Dinofest opens in Chicago on Dec. 1 and continues through Jan. 7. Kranz is seeking opportunities to display the exhibit in Washington and Maryland when it returns.