Natura Docet: Dinosaurs of Denekamp

Museums

It was a coincidence, really. It so happened that my work took me to Twente, the far Eastern corner of the Netherlands, and I saw these posters along the side of the road, advertising a dinosaur exhibition at Natura Docet. Of course, Natura Docet. The local nature museum. That’s here somewhere, isn’t it? Had I not befriended its curator, Eric Mulder, a couple of years ago? I immediately wrote it down and paid a visit to the museum at the first opportunity, starved as I was to go out for once. It was to be my first museum visit since February 2020.

Natura Docet Wonderrijck Twente is located in Denekamp, a town in the most remote corner of the country and a little bit beyond that, so far up Germany’s armpit that I was mildly surprised not to get texted by my provider that I had crossed the border. It took a while to get to, but it’s lovely and it was a nice day for it. A tapir and a butterfly guard the entrance. Natura Docet doesn’t usually have a Mesozoic collection, but dinosaurs are everywhere these days and this summer the museum houses the “Dinosaurus!?” exhibition. I might not even have known about it if I hadn’t seen those posters around.

If Naturalis is the flashy, high tech postmodern experience-museum and Teylers the old-fashioned looking-at-stuff-in-dusty-cabinets museum, Natura Docet is somewhere in between, but (happily) closer to the latter. I was particularly charmed by these beautiful taxidermy halls, of which there were a good few.

The cassowary’s family have come to visit. The Caudipteryx model (maker unknown) almost looks like another taxidermied bird.

This hall, which used to be the office of J. B. Bernink, founder of the museum, now displays this half-mammoth (a companion to that half-tyrannosaur they used to have in the NHM?) which frames this awesome German historic classroom poster of the history of the world. The illustrations (by one Professor Strassner) are based on Zallinger’s mural.

On the wall is this cool piece of vintage palaeoart. I can’t quite make out whose name that is on the signature, except that they based themself on Heinrich Harder.

Here’s one of the fossil halls, with in the foreground a small-scale replica of one of the Bernissart iguanodonts, and in the background a Stegosaurus made by Aart Walen (the very one I saw at Teylers, back in 2020).

Vintage(ish) dinosaur stamps, from the 90s.

The newer wings of the building house the temporary parts of the exhibtion, with pieces on loan from the collection of, among others, Oertijdmuseum Boxtel and Sauriermuseum Aathal. The museum promises to pay particular attention to dinosaurs found in Europe, but it doesn’t cling rigidly to this – often, we see American dinosaurs as stand-ins for their European cousins, because the American fossils are often much more complete. There’s among other things a Plateosaurus skeleton, a Kaatedocus skull and some big Diplodocus bones.

The main attraction is nothing short of a saurian celebrity: none other than Big Al!

This is actually a faithful replica of Big Al the second, SMA 0005, the one that is still in the collection of Sauriermuseum Aathal’s Kirby Siber, the most complete specimen of Allosaurus jimmadseni found. The first Big Al, the one they made a Walking With Dinosaurs special on, was declared American property and is no longer in Siber’s collection, but the second one is, if anything, bigger and more complete, so who’s complaining? What a cool skeleton. Thanks to our friend Al here, it is Allosaurus rather than tired old T. rex that gets to be the poster child of the exhibition, showing up on all the advertisements.

Along with Big Al II and some Torvosaurus material from the Morrison formation, we have this curious – and very hypothetical – tyrannosaurian creation called Betasuchus, made once again by Aart Walen and comissioned by René Fraaije for the Oertijdmuseum Boxtel. Betasuchus is the name given to the only theropod dinosaur material found in the Netherlands, near Maastricht. I could write a whole blog post on Betasuchus, its history and its conception, so I’ll keep this particular can of worms closed for now.

Here’s a baby sauropod of unclear affiliation, found by Siber and his gang in the Morrison. Cool stuff.

The museum also has a nice, big outside terrain with a garden and some forest, perfect for a couple of fibreglass dinosaurs from Wolter Design. Here, they really made it a point to show mostly (but, again, not exclusively) European dinosaurs like Plateosaurus and Europasaurus, seen above.

This Wiehenvenator (“Das Monster von Minden”) is particularly nice. If this is the future of lifesize dinosaur modeling, I’m here for it.

Here’s Betasuchus again! It actually looks like a modified version of Wolter Design’s Guanlong, with the crest and one finger on each hand taken off. All I will say for now is, again, this is all highly speculative.

Life size sauropods, you love to see it. This one is absolutely colossal, probably the most impressive one I’ve seen since the brachiosaur in Amersfoort. 40 meters snout to tail apparently, and I believe it. It’s idendified as “Seismosaurus“, and the signage says it’s found in Portugal as well as the USA. Really? Isn’t it supposed to be Supersaurus, then, as per Tschopp et al 2015? I bet they went with Seismosaurus because Eric Mulder likes that name better…

Some real live dinosaurs, too! There’s an emu pen on the terrain, which the kids love. Among the other live animals found in displays at the museum are stick insects, hissing cockroaches and even an electric catfish, which I had never seen before. There’s also, believe it or not, a small scale live show for kids, featuring some local actors and a hilariously creative dinosaur suit. (Did I take a picture of it? Yes. Am I going to show it to you? No. I’d rather leave it to the reader’s imagination.) I don’t envy my colleague who has to wear that on a hot day…

My points of criticism for the museum mostly concern the signage – I would have liked to know more about where, exactly, certain pieces came from, what was real fossil and what was replicated, and who were the authors of some of the pieces of art on display. I also would have liked a more varied selection of books in the gift shop, which only stocked frankly mediocre children’s books. This in contrast with Teylers, which sold high quality books by Zoë Lescaze, Steve Brusatte and Greg Paul. For instance, this would have been a great opportunity to sell Joschua’s Europsaurus book, a perfect companion piece to the exhibiton as a showcase for European dinosaurs.

I had a lovely day at Natura Docet. The museum had some wonderful pieces on display, some from the normal collection, some from the dinosaur exhibition, some I was already familiar with. It’s not necessarily easy to get to, but if you can (safely) manage the trip to Denekamp, it’s well worth it. You can find Natura Docet’s website here. The exhibition, which is, indeed, called “Dinosaurus!?”, runs until September 5.

6 thoughts on “Natura Docet: Dinosaurs of Denekamp”

  1. Just a few criticisms/thoughts:
    1. Depicting Betasuchus as both a tyrannosaurian is a bit inaccurate, mostly because most evidence points to it being anabelisauroid, so its less guanlong then majungasaurus.
    2. That baby sauropod looks a lot like a cast of Toni, back when she was thought to be a diplodocid rather then a brachiosaurus. See this cast at the Royal Ontario Museum? (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c8/Sauropod_juvenile.jpg) Try telling me if they look different from you
    3. I’m quite sure the Portuguese taxon is a separate and still valid one, Dinheirosaurus.

    1. Some replies to the replies:
      1. Betasuchus is Theropoda indet, beyond that, it could be absolutely anything. The abelisaur interpretation made it to Wikipedia but is tenuous at best (do you know any other European Maastrichtian abelisaur?). Eric Mulder retrieved it as a tyrannosauroid related to Bagaraatan, so obviously that’s the route the museum goes, but I don’t know if he’s published that somewhere. Stay tuned for my full Betasuchus story.
      2. Yes. It’s Toni. Toni was found by Kirby Siber, like plenty of Morrison dinosaurs.
      3. Tschopp et al folded Dinheirosaurus into Supersaurus. I don’t know if someone brought Dinheirosaurus back since, but that might come down to opinion right now. It’s certainly not Seismosaurus.

  2. Yes!! I 100% agree that it’s so refreshing to see an Allosaurus headline an exhibit (Big Al II no less), and NOT a T-Rex for once.
    And that baby sauropod is adorable. 🙂

    Also: the Caudipteryx model mixed in with the other birds is genius. It may be one of the best displays of an extinct bird alongside modern relatives I’ve ever seen.

  3. Thank you for this lovely post. A great insight into a (relatively) small museum in the Netherlands. A country I miss so much that I could weep hagelslaagen.

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