Fred Clouter (UK)
Just a few kilometres inland from the Mediterranean Sea in the south of France, and not too far from Montpellier, is an extraordinary theme park. Driving along the D613 from Mèze towards Pezenas, a life size model of a Spinosaurus comes into view perched high on an embankment. Apart from some other very small signs, this is the main indication that the park is nearby.
The Musée-Parc des Dinosaures (Dinosaur Museum and Park near the town of Mèze in the department of Hérault and is the largest site museum in Europe to feature dinosaur eggs and bones. Children can embark upon an amazing scientific adventure with the help of simple words displayed on large explanatory notice boards that are both fun and educational. All along the pathway that winds through the shady pine trees, children and adults can go back in time as they follow the trail punctuated with skeletons and life-size reconstructions.
The other museum park within the Mèze site features the origins and evolution of man – from man’s earliest fossil skulls from Africa and his evolutionary journey out of Africa towards Homo sapiens. As you walk around the park, there are various exhibits reconstructing scenes of life from the famous fossil skeleton named Lucy and the australopithecines from Africa, to the Neanderthals. Various exhibits show the development of tools, the control of fire and some of the animals that they shared their worlds with.
Life-size models, casts of important fossils from museums around the world and real fossils found on the site form a wonderful educational experience for both adults and children alike. Rarely has an important palaeontological site, where ongoing excavations are revealing new finds, been combined with a theme park providing financial support for the work carried out there.
It was in 1996 that this site was excavated and some dinosaur egg clutches were found. After further excavations took place the following year, it transpired that this site contained one of the largest deposits of dinosaur eggs in Europe. It is late Cretaceous, approximately 68Ma old, and predominantly comprised of soft sandstone layers. Various species of dinosaur used this site to deposit their eggs, including both herbivores and carnivores. Early in 1998, further excavations led to the discovery of an extensive fossiliferous layer containing dinosaur bones near to several nests.
During 1999, a team of palaeontologists from the museum and the University of Montpellier discovered a new species of dinosaur – an ankylosaur now called Struthiosaurus, which is a quadrupedal herbivore three metres in length. The site has also produced eggs of the smallest carnivore, Prismatoolithus, which are only 7cm long and 4.5cm across. The latest discoveries are a nest of unhatched eggs belonging to a herbivore and two new species of turtle.
Several clutches of eggs are displayed in situ complementing the egg clusters in glazed display cases at the beginning of the park. Those in situ are collapsed or hatched, but when removed and prepared, the undersides can retain their original shape.
If you are a dinosaur lover, and if you have children or if you haven’t, this is a great day out, being both interesting and educational. However, in the summer, it is very hot indeed, but the park offers some refreshments, along with activities for the children, a fossil hunt in a large sand pit and the usual site shop with casts of dino-related specimens, such as teeth and eggs as well as the usual toys for the children.
About the Author
Fred Clouter Dip. A D. ATC is an artist and designer, and has been a member of the Medway Fossil & Mineral Society since 1995. He wrote Ammonites and other Cephalopods of the Lower Cretaceous Albian (Gault Clay and Folkestone Beds) of South East England, and co-authored London Clay fossils of the Isle of Sheppey and London Clay Fossils of Kent and Essex. He is also webmaster of the popular palaeontology websites: http://www.gaultammonite.co.uk/, www.sheppeyfossils.com and www.mfms.org.uk.
Musée-Parc des Dinosaures. www.dinosaure.eu.