Martinsville, Virginia


Annual dinosaur takeover of the Virginia Museum of Natural History set for July 21 and 22

By: Zachary Ryder, Virginia Museum of Natural History

July 7, 2023

Family Fun

A two-day dinosaur extravaganza is set to take place at the Virginia Museum of Natural History (VMNH) in Martinsville on Friday, July 21 and Saturday, July 22, when the museum hosts its annual Dino Festival from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days. Dino Festival will feature life-size cast skeletons of some of the most iconic creatures of the Mesozoic Era, a spectacular variety of dinosaur fossils, the ability to interact with expert paleontologists, dino-themed activities and crafts, food trucks, and access to the museum's newest special exhibit Dinosaur Discoveries: Ancient Fossils, New Ideas.

"The annual Dino Festival has long been the most popular event that the museum hosts and this year's version won't disappoint," said Robbie Hendrix-Wirt, VMNH Visitor Services and Events Manager. "From the moment visitors step foot on museum grounds, they will be greeted with a festive atmosphere full of amazing dino-themed activities and dinosaur displays, including life-size cast skeletons of some of the most incredible dinosaurs to have ever roamed the earth, such as Triceratops, Stegosaurus, Acrocanthosaurus, and Allosaurus."

New to this year's Dino Festival is Dinosaur Discoveries: Ancient Fossils, New Ideas, a special exhibit from the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Using a combination of major fossil finds, captivating computer simulations, and provocative models, Dinosaur Discoveries: Ancient Fossils, New Ideas introduces a dynamic vision of dinosaurs and the scientists who study them. The exhibit examines, in great detail, recent scientific sleuthing and the array of investigative tools—from bioengineering computer software to CT scans—used by modern scientists to reinterpret many of the most persistent and puzzling mysteries of dinosaurs: what they looked like, how they behaved, and how they moved. It also explores the complex and hotly debated theories of why—or even whether—they became extinct.

While the Age of Dinosaurs is best known for - wait for it - dinosaurs, Earth had an amazing diversity of life during this time that included more than just dinosaurs. Museum paleontologists will take the opportunity during Dino Festival to highlight some of these other long-since extinct creatures, including some that even predated dinosaurs.

"Our planet had incredible diversity during the Age of Dinosaurs," said VMNH Assistant Curator of Paleontology Dr. Adam Pritchard. "We want to give visitors an idea of some of the other types of phenomenal life that existed during this same time period, such as Platecarpus tympaniticus."


Platecarpus tympaniticus was a massive sea-going reptile that lived 84 to 81 million years ago during the Cretaceous period. The animal, a species of mosasaur, once swam in waters that covered what is now the central United States. A 17 foot long cast skeleton of which will be on display at Dino Festival.

Additional life-size cast skeletons and skulls that will be displayed during the festival include:

Triceratops (cast skeleton)

A large, plant-eating dinosaur distinguishable by its large frill and three horns that lived during the Late Cretaceous period, from approximately 68 to 66 million years ago

Stegosaurus (cast skeleton)
A large, plant-eating dinosaur distinguishable by two rows of bony plates on its back that lived during the Late Jurassic period, from approximately 155 to 150 million years ago

Acrocanthosaurus (cast skeleton)

A massive, carnivorous theropod dinosaur that existed in what is now North America during the Early Cretaceous period, from approximately 125 million to 100 million years ago

Allosaurus (cast skeleton)
A large, carnivorous theropod dinosaur of the Late Jurassic period, from approximately 155 to 150 million years ago

Tyrannosaurus rex (cast skull)
One of the most iconic dinosaurs of all time, T. rex was a large carnivorous dinosaur that lived in what is now western North America approximately 68 to 66 million years ago

Dromaeosaurus (cast skull)
A medium-sized carnivorous dinosaur and a very close relative of the famous Velociraptor that lived in what is now the western United States and Alberta, Canada during the Late Cretaceous from approximately 77 to 74 million years ago

Albertosaurus (cast skull)
A genus of tyrannosaurid theropod dinosaurs that lived in western North America during the Late Cretaceous Period, from approximately 70 million years ago

Edmontosaurus (cast skull)
A genus of duck-billed dinosaur that lived in western North America during the Cretaceous Period approximately 73 to 66 million years ago

Dunkleosteus (cast skull)
An armored fish from a group of fish called placoderms that lived approximately 380 to 360 million years ago

Tylosaurus (cast skull)

A gigantic, sea-going relative of lizards, Tylosaurus was one of the biggest ocean predators ever to live. With a skull almost six feet long, a body over forty feet, and a mouth full of pointed teeth, it could pretty much eat whatever it wanted.

Far more than just cast skeletons and skulls, Dino Festival will feature a spectacular variety of actual dinosaur fossils, including the only fossil evidence that Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops engaged in battle. Additionally, VMNH scientists will exhibit numerous other fossil displays throughout the inside and outside of the museum, with an emphasis on specimens discovered by museum research teams conducting field work in Wyoming that is now being funded by a National Science Foundation grant.

"The museum has a long history of conducting field work in Wyoming, which has yielded a tremendous amount of sauropod (long-necked) fossil material, as well as other herbivore and carnivore fossil material," said Pritchard. "We're very excited to show off these specimens during Dino Festival."

While Wyoming is a hotbed for unearthing dinosaur bones, Virginia is a very different story. In fact, the only confirmed dinosaur fossils that have ever been discovered inside the Commonwealth have come in the form of footprints; not bones.

During Dino Festival, visitors will be presented with a special display of fossils found in Virginia from the Age of Dinosaurs and learn why dinosaur bones are not among them and why that may soon change.

"VMNH research teams, in collaboration with amateur paleontologists, continue to work field sites in the Richmond area that yield fossil material from the earliest parts of the Age of Dinosaurs," said Pritchard. "The only dinosaur fossils we have from the Commonwealth are footprints of small meat-eaters. So far, we have many fossils from the environment of the early dinosaurs, such as teeth and bones of crocodile-like reptiles, plants and ancient trees, and many fish skeletons. Our goal is to find dinosaur bones at these sites, confirming their presence and discovering their place in the ecosystem of ancient Virginia."

Dino Festival isn't just about what visitors can see, but what they can do. The event will feature an abundance of dino-themed activities and crafts throughout both days of the event, along with festival staples, such as face painting and balloon animals. The event also offers visitors with plenty of souvenir opportunities, with the Dino Festival photo booth, commemorative t-shirts and posters, as well as a plethora of dino-themed items in the Museum Store for sale.

Visitors will also have access to the Dino Festival Food Truck Station. On-site food and drink vendors will include Chick-fil-a, Super Dogs, Palumbo's (pizza), D's Hot/Ice, Bahama Sno Shack, and Kona Ice.

"Dino Festival is the perfect blend of a dino-themed entertainment experience and an exceptional scientific learning opportunity," said Hendrix-Wirt. "The event provides visitors with an incredibly fun, festive atmosphere, while also providing them with the scientific expertise and actual scientific specimens that create an incredibly impactful learning experience they won't soon forget."

Dino Festival takes place Friday, July 21 and Saturday, July 22 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.  Visitors who attend the first day of the event will be allowed to experience the event again on the second day at no additional charge.

Admission is $10 per adult and $5 for ages 3-17, seniors 60 and older, and college students.  Admission is free for children under 3, museum members, and members of museums and science centers that participate in the ASTC Passport program.

The museum also participates in the Museums for All initiative, offering discounted admission to EBT cardholders. Through this program and additional funding provided by Hooker Furnishings and Carter Bank & Trust, visitors who present their EBT card and accompanying ID at the gate will receive free admission to the festival.

Dino Festival is sponsored by Bassett Furniture Industries, Carter Bank & Trust, SOVAH Health, The Helen S. & Charles G. Patterson Jr. Charitable Foundation Trust, Boxley Materials Company, and Martinsville First Savings Bank.

Dinosaur Discoveries: Ancient Fossils, New Ideas is organized by the American Museum of Natural History, New York (, in collaboration with the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco; The Field Museum, Chicago; the Houston Museum of Natural Science; and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh.

For more information about Dino Festival and other museum offerings, visit