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Friday, February 28, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Yes, these big, scary, dead' dinos are real

Seattle Times staff reporter

Event preview


Dinosaur Day, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, University of Washington; $5-$8, FREE for children 5 and younger, museum members and university staff/faculty/students (206-543-5590).

What's the secret to making words like "vertebrate" and "fossil" 10 times more interesting?

Pair them with "dinosaur" and you instantly attract more visitors to the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture than with any other exhibit.

The 12th annual Dinosaur Day is expected to draw the largest crowd of the year on Saturday. But visitors aren't all as little as you think. From amateur paleontologists to professionals to (of course) parents of child experts, dino fans come in all ages.

"I think dinosaurs are so fascinating because they're big and they're scary and they're dead," said Liz Nesbitt, curator of paleontology at the Burke.

The most obvious display will be dinosaur skeletons running 20 feet long and 8 feet high. Leading into this room is a huge dinosaur head that greets visitors almost immediately after they enter the museum.

"A lot of kids see that right away and they want to run over and see the dinosaurs," said Natasha Dworkin, public-relations manager.

There's a stegosaurus, an allosaurus and other sauruses that kids, surprisingly, have no trouble remembering.

"I know a lot of the kindergartners, they know all the dinosaur names," Nesbitt said. "If I say something wrong, they'll correct me."

The most common question she gets asked is "Is it real?"

Nesbitt loves to answer that, yes, everything is real.

The Burke, which is more than 100 years old, has accumulated fossils, bones and other historical relics that teach visitors about long-extinct dinosaurs and even some mammals. Most of the fossils come from Western states — Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Colorado — including invertebrate fossils of giant clams and giant shell squid; microscopic-size fossils, and plant and insect pieces derived from

50 million-year-old deposits.

Some of the rarer, less-often-exhibited fossils will be brought out for Dino Day to help teach how dinosaurs became extinct.

"Kids absolutely love fossils of any sort. I don't know why they're so fascinated, but they just love them," Nesbitt said.

Other exhibits include a chance to watch scientists excavate fossil from rock, art stations where kids can make dinosaur drawings and dinosaur chains, a personal fossil dig and a table of fossil collections from the Northwest Paleontological Association.

Visitors can also make a "Dinosaur Field Notebook" out of the drawings and other projects they complete that day, Dworkin said.

Nesbitt said it's rare for a child to get scared learning about a dinosaur's teeth, claws and other menacing-looking body parts.

"I think they can understand that they were very fierce and scary during their time," she said. "But they know they're not there anymore." Except at the Burke on Dinosaur Day, that is.

Young Chang: 206-748-5815 or ychang@seattletimes.com

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