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Baby duck-billed dinosaurs will star in new museum exhibit

Mike Dunham
Bill Roth

Artist James Haven's latest "Painting with Dinosaurs" project, underway at the University Center in Anchorage this month, is a grand mural of an Arctic duck-billed dinosaur that once roamed the northern landscape by the thousands.

The ancient animal found around the Colville River in northern Alaska is presently described as an "Edmontosaurus-like dinosaur" by people working with the fossils. A more specific identification of the species is still pending, but several mounted skeletons of juveniles -- baby duck-bills -- will be prominently featured in an upcoming display at the University of Alaska Museum of the North.

The "Expedition Dinosaurs" exhibit will include other Alaska fossils, interactive displays and animations and a film about the search for dinosaurs in remote areas of the state. The exhibit is scheduled to open in the summer of 2015.

Patrick S. Druckenmiller, the museum's Earth Sciences Curator, said the plant-eating Alaska duck-billed dinosaurs in question would measure 25 feet or longer when fully grown.

"They primarily walked on two hindlegs," he said. "But they also had forelegs that they could use for walking. And they lived in herds, which is probably why we're finding all these bones in one area. They were caught in some sort of catastrophe."

Thousands of bones have been collected along the Colville River, "the largest site in the world for understanding what dinosaurs were doing in the Arctic," Druckenmiller said. "They're not complete skeletons. They look like they were put into a blender. But we've now done a lot of study and can eventually find every bone to tell us what the animal looked like."

The bones are currently in the collections of the museum, he said. "The next step is to select individual bones to make a composite construction."

The UA Museum display will consist of casts made from the fossils and will spotlight young animals. "Most of the remains we've dug up come from juveniles, 9 to 10 feet long," Druckenmiller said.

He noted that at the time the museum was planned, in the 1980s, it was designed to include the limited available information about dinosaurs in Alaska. As that information has been superseded by a succession of rapid discoveries, the gallery has not kept up.

"We don't have very much on display right now," Druckenmiller said.

The brood of baby duck-bills in "Expedition Dinosaurs" will be a first step in updating the museum's dinosaur display, he said. "The new exhibit will be temporary for starters, but elements will go into a new permanent gallery design."

Havens hopes his painting will be part of it. He has previously executed large paintings and models of other Alaska dinosaur species at the University Center. During the current project, which he expects to last another couple of months, members of the public are invited to stop by while he's working -- which is most days between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. -- watch and ask questions. They can even do some of the painting, at least for the next week.

"After that, I have to get serious," Havens said.

Havens' most prominent piece of public art in Anchorage is the Tyrannosaurus Rex mural on the outside of the Alaska Museum of Science and Nature in Mountain View. He plans to begin a Kickstarter fundraising project soon, possibly in collaboration with that museum, for a diorama of the ancient marine environment, including the finned reptile known as an ichthyosaur.

"Looks like a dolphin," he said.

Reach Mike Dunham at mdunham@adn.com or 257-4332.


By MIKE DUNHAM
mdunham@adn.com
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