Beijing Museum of Natural History Exhibit (Lotosaurus Confusion)
Team members have read with interest the various media reports about a Chinese museum exhibit being used as a wishing well. Such is the hold that the Dinosauria seems to have over us, that any vertebrate fossil in a museum, ends up being described as a dinosaur by the media. We can understand why this happens, but let’s try to put the record straight.
First the story, the Beijing Museum of Natural History has a huge collection of fossils and an amazing array of exhibits of long extinct animals. Both vertebrates and invertebrates are exhibited, the vast majority of the displays highlighting the extremely diverse fossil assemblage from this part of Asia. There are lots of dinosaurs to see. However, the Museum has encountered a problem, it seems that tourists (and we suspect some superstitious locals too), have a habit of putting coins and notes inside the glass case of one of the many Chinese prehistoric animal mounted fossils on view. The animal concerned is a Lotosaurus adentus, it might sound like a dinosaur but a member of the Dinosauria this reptile most certainly was not.
Museum Exhibit Treated like a Wishing Well
Picture credit: ECNS
The picture above shows the mounted exhibit of the quadruped L. adentus. Tourists and other visitors have taken to stuffing notes and coins through gaps in the glass case, the specimen makes a rather unusual “piggy bank”. According to the media reports this practice has been going on for about a year, we suppose it’s a question of one person doing it and others following the trend.
A security guard at the Museum, one of Beijing’s leading tourist attractions stated:
“Most of it is five or ten Yuan bills [around £0.50 GBP to £1.00 GBP] and coins from kids and grown-ups…they do it for fun. We usually don’t stop them since it doesn’t damage the booth or the exhibits.”
The Director of the Museum Zhou Ying has been quoted saying that people might be tossing in money as they believe the specimen will bring them wealth, good luck or better health. This habit of “donating” to the glass case is going to come to an abrupt end as the Museum has taken steps to prevent this from happening. Construction workers have been hired to seal the glass case and make it “coin and note proof”.
Perhaps it might be sensible to position a donation box close by. We are not sure of the Museum’s policy on such matters, but if visitors wish to make a donation, perhaps something could be installed to enable them to do so. Funds raised could support the educational work of the museum, that’s just a suggestion, but you never know.
Lotosaurus Not a Dinosaur
If you look at the display panels behind the Lotosaurus skeleton in the picture above, you can see some pictures of dinosaurs. Lotosaurus may be displayed alongside the dinosaurs but it was not a member of the Dinosauria. Let us explain…
Lotosaurus might be being exhibited in the dinosaur gallery as it was around at approximately the time when the very first basal members of the Dinosauria are believed to have evolved. The fossils of this barrel-chested reptile come from Hunan Province (south-central China) and date from between 245 and 237 million years ago (Anisian faunal stage of the Triassic). Most palaeontologists now believe that this bizarre creature is a member of the Poposauroidea clade, part of the archosaur group, but this phylogenetic analysis has been disputed. Trouble is, Lotosaurus is such a bizarre creature. It measured in size from 1.5 to 2.5 metres long, the neural spines were many times taller than they were wide and this suggests that this animal had some sort of sail or large hump running down from its neck, down the back to the tail. The top jaw is curved over and the robust skull suggests a powerful bite, but there are no teeth in the jaws. What this animal ate has been debated, the fossil material is associated with having been laid down in a swampy environment. Lotosaurus could have been a herbivore, but it has also been suggested that this slow-moving reptile might have specialised in eating the abundant shellfish, fossils of which are also associated with sediments to be found in the Hunan Province. The species was formally named and described in 1975.
Although, there may be some debate as to the exact phylogenetic position of Lotosaurus, it was not a dinosaur. The genus name (we think) means “Lotus lizard” and whilst to some observers it might look like a dinosaur and its genus name does end in “saurus” but it was most definitely not a dinosaur.
A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:
“Whilst we doubt much of the exhibit in question consists of actual fossil material, we can’t condone this behaviour as money being thrown into a display case would have to be retrieved and the opening of the case and working in close proximity to any fossils could lead to their accidental damage. In addition, if coins are thrown in and they hit the preserved fossil bone then this could result in the fossil material being chipped and scratched.”