Permian Monsters: Life Before the Dinosaurs

As a kid, I always dreamed about being a paleontologist. Dinosaurs and prehistoric life fascinated me to no end. I was constantly reading books about lizard-like behemoths and how their bones were regularly being discovered all over the world. So, imagine the child in me getting very giddy when I visited the National Wool Museum in Geelong recently. My ticket to the museum included entry into the exhibition Permian Monsters: Life Before the Dinosaurs.

Map of the world during the Permian period.

Map of the world during the Permian period.

The Permian period existed over 290 million years ago, way before my childhood idols such as Tyrannosaurs Rex and Brontosaurus were clomping their way around the world. It was a time when unique creatures roamed the earth and seas, paving the way for future generations of earth-life. They were roaming around for 40 million years!

The Permian period was a thriving time for life on Earth. There were promising signs of diversification that existed on Earth’s one big continent, Pangaea, and in one massive ocean called Panthalassa. However, the Permian period also marked a catastrophic event in Earth’s history. The largest extinction that the world has ever faced was at the end of the Permian period.

A fossil and model of Lystrosaurus.

A fossil and model of Lystrosaurus.

Scientists have documented that this extinction occurred due to global warming; a familiar issue we’re facing now. About 70% of land creatures during the Permian period were wiped out, as well as 90% of life in Panthalassa. It took millions of years, not until the Triassic period (about 250 million years ago), for life on Earth to recover.

Permian Monsters: Life Before the Dinosaurs is an insightful journey back to a time when life on our planet was at its most diversified. Not only are there the obligatory re-enactment pictures and slabs of interesting text to digest, there are some fascinating fossils and scale models to check out too.

Permian herbivores roaming for food.

Permian herbivores roaming for food.

Fossilised ferns can be found as well as crustacean-like shells. Fossils and models of some of the world’s first herbivores and carnivores are here too, naturally. There are life-sized models such as the toothless Lystrosaurus, an impressive fossil of the formidable sabre-toothed carnivore Inostrancevia and, my favourite part of the exhibition, Dimetrodon with its flashy sail along its spine. I did have to refrain from jumping head first into a couple of sand-filled stations where kids can dig for fossils. I wish this kind of interaction was around when I was little!

A fossilised Dimetrodon complete with sail.

A fossilised Dimetrodon complete with sail.

Though intimate, Permian Monsters: Life Before the Dinosaurs brings to life a time when Earth was at its most fascinating and at its most devastating.    

Permian Monsters: Life Before the Dinosaurs is showing daily until June 3, 2013 at the National Wool Museum, 26 Moorabool Street Geelong 3220. Adults $7.50, children $4, concession $6, family $25 and students $4.