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The dinosaurs are dead, long live the dinosaurs!

Life before Dinosaurs: Permian Monsters closes 25 February 2018. Here Marketing Assistant Louis Graham explores the meaning behind the name.



Come in before 25 February 2018 to find out what this is


Life before Dinosaurs: Permian Monsters shows us how the world was during the Permian – a time period which started around 298.9 million years ago and ended with the largest extinction Earth ever experienced. It wiped out 90% of all species on the planet. The exhibition is filled with full and partial replica skeletons, interactive sandpits and roaring life-size animatronics.

Exhibitions like this come ready-made for display, and are transported all around the country. All the content is finalised before arrival at the Museum;  there is very little we need to, or can change. One small adjustment was made though, and there’s no way to know for sure what effect it had on the final outcome. The original title for the exhibition was Permian Monsters: Life before the Dinosaurs. We rearranged it to Life before Dinosaurs: Permian Monsters. All we did was flip it round, thinking that bringing the word Dinosaurs to the forefront would bring in more excited children and families to learn about the monsters before the dinosaurs.

The power of the word dinosaur was greater than we could have guessed. For the first week of marketing development I diligently corrected my co-workers each time they slipped and asked about ‘the dinosaurs’. In the second week I found myself occasionally referring to ‘the big dinosaur head’ on the poster, and quickly corrected myself. By the third week all hope was lost; any and every Permian reptile – from gorgonopsians to pelycosaurs – was referred to as a ‘dinosaur’.

This phenomenon was not just contained to our marketing office. Reports came in from far and wide. Families enquired about ‘the dinosaur exhibition’; children excitedly pointed at the gorgonopsian asserting that ‘the T-rex’ is their favourite; science communicators fruitlessly corrected — their reputations at stake — as entire classrooms marched out of the exhibition to tell their parents new facts about ‘dinosaurs’.

This can make it all seem a bit hopeless – if the team responsible for marketing the exhibition cannot consistently call the subjects by their correct names, are we really educating anyone?
But nobody has spent their childhood watching Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed ‘Permian Park’, nor have we been raised with inaccurate plastic models of Permian era creatures filling our toy-boxes. The behemoth that is ‘dinosaur’ will not be toppled by one correctly named exhibition.

We are here to inspire lifelong learning and wonder, and sometimes that means exploiting the cultural obsession with dinosaurs to get attention. Is it important to get basic facts like this correct? Of course! Is it important for everyone to get these correct right now? The Permian extinction happened over the course of a million years; big changes take time. Life before Dinosaurs: Permian Monsters closes on 25 February, so come in and get the names wrong while you’ve still got a chance.