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Life Before Dinosaurs: The Permian Monsters Exhibition

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by Gary (subscribe)
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Travel back in time
Image by Julius Csotonyi

Think weird. Think giant. Think prehistoric. You're thinking about dinosaurs, right? The dinosaurs were certainly weird, and giant, and prehistoric. Yet the creatures that preceded them were every bit as strange and bad-ass as the dinosaurs.

Fifty million years before the first dinosaur foot pressed into the dust, the earth was the domain of extraordinary creatures just as fascinating as the great beasts that followed them.

The age they lived in is called the Permian Period by scientists. The Permian began 280 million years ago and lasted 45 million years. During that time there was only one great land mass, Pangaea, from which the continents we now recognise would split and drift to their present positions. It was a world of extremes intense cold and an ice cap in the south, and extreme heat in the north, with pockets of rainforest struggling for existence. This world was home to bizarre reptiles and amphibians. Birds and mammals had not yet appeared, though the reptiles which would evolve into our furry ancestors were crawling through the undergrowth.

This is the world presented by Life before Dinosaurs: The Permian Monsters, a travelling exhibition soon to make its temporary home at the South Australian Museum. Using fossilised skeletons and life-sized models, this exhibition resurrects the Permian world. Life before Dinosaurs was created by Gondwana Studios, the same team that brought Hatching the Past: Dinosaur Eggs & Babies to the Museum.

Image by Gondwana Studios

So what can we expect to see? There's Edaphosaurus, an herbivorous lizard-like beast the size of a crocodile. It has a strange structure, like a sail, running along its back. And strange to tell, it is more closely related to us than it is to the dinosaurs that it resembles. Dimetrodon has a sail too, but it is a rapacious carnivore. Then there's Inostrancevia (no, I can't pronounce it either), a saber-toothed monster. Think of a cross between the Hound of the Baskervilles and a crocodile. One of the beasts it feeds upon is Scutosaurus. If Inostra-inostree-inostavich you know what I mean- is a reptilian wolf then Scutosaurus is a brutish reptilian armoured cow. For something not quite so confronting, there's the dicynodont- a small pig-like reptile with tusks, and the hair-covered reptile Dvnia, whose relatives will someday become us.

I can't tell you too much, of course. But I will tell you one more thing. At the end of the Permian Period 90% of all life on Earth became extinct. Now that's bigger than the extinction event that killed off the dinosaurs! Visit the exhibition and find out what happened, and why. Your eyes will goggle and your kids will be breathing 'whooaaa' the whole time.

Life before Dinosaurs: The Permian Monsters opens 14 December 2013 at the South Australian Museum and closes at the end of 10 March 2014.

Image by Gondwana Studios
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When: 14 Dec 2013 - 10 March 2014
Phone: (08) 8207 7500
Where: South Australian Museum, North Terrace
Cost: $13 adult ($10 concession), $7 child, $30 family
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