Before visitors to the Virginia Museum of Natural History greet any tour guides or scientists, they have to meet the doorman—a towering allosaurus skeleton looming just inside the glass-walled main entrance. Once inside the Great Hall, they peer into tall windows to see scientists and their assistants cleaning, categorizing, and playing catch with each animal fossil. Though founded less than 30 years ago as a private foundation, the museum and its staff have assembled more than 10 million specimens in seven collections, which cover vertebrate paleontology, marine science, geology, and archaeology.
At the Uncovering Virginia exhibit, recreations of six Virginia research and dig sites draw visitors into 700 million years of local history. Interactive displays include the modern Grundy site coal mine, complete with tracks, carts, and buildings. When visitors push a button, the display shifts—altering through video animation and changing physically as museum curators channel the power of Zeus—to reveal what the site looked like as a 300 million-year-old swamp. The Hahn Hall of Biodiversity looks into the world of African animals, boasting full-body mounts of a lion and antelopes. The forthcoming Dinosaurs and Dinosaur Discovery, opening in 2013, will bring in skeletal casts of dinosaurs displayed alongside a dinosaur-themed maze to puzzle children, adults, and adult-sized children.