REVIEW: Dawn Of Life exhibit at the ROM

We viewed the Royal Ontario Museum's newest gallery on opening day, which explores the origin of life on Earth in ways never done before!
Greetings! The impressive Dunkleosteus welcomes you at the start of the Dawn Of Life exhibit. (ROM)

When we arrived at the Royal Ontario Museum last Friday, one of the friendly staff members had a request.

"You're from OWL?" he asked. "That's great! Make sure you let kids know that fossils aren't just about dinosaurs!"

Of course, all of our loyal readers (that's you lovely people!) already know that we are way ahead of this one! But it's a good point. In the world of fossils, dinosaurs are the movie stars, glamourous and larger than life. And yet, their era—the Mesozoic—is just a 190 million-year slice in the over 4 billion-year history of life on Earth. So what about everything else?

That 'everything else' is what the ROM's newest exhibit is all about! From the earliest bacteria on Earth right up to the animals that lived alongside the earliest dinosaurs, Dawn Of Life covers it all. In fact, it is the largest and most complete exhibit of its kind ever shown anywhere in the world!

Canadian connection

British Columbia's Burgess Shale is a huge part of this exhibit. (ROM)

In the world? How did it end up in Canada?, you might ask.

Well, as it turns out, no country is home to more of these kinds of fossils than Canada! Though the over 1,000(!) fossils on display at Dawn of Life are pulled from all over the world, most of them come from six sites in Canada.

One of these is the famous Burgess Shale in British Columbia, which is the greatest site of Cambrian era fossils anywhere. The Cambrian was a time where life forms really exploded, going from mostly tiny microbes to fascinating—and quite large!—multicellular creatures.

Another is in northern Quebec and just so happens to contain fossils of the oldest known life on Earth—tiny bacteria trapped inside 4 billion-year-old rock. Incredible!

Touch and see

Want to touch the oldest example of life on Earth? You can! (ROM)

It's all on display in Dawn Of Life, and often not just in ways that you can see. The curators at the museum went to great length to make sure that this was an exhibit that you could also feel.

All throughout the exhibit are bronze casts (3D replicas) of fossils that you can really touch! From some of the earliest plant life ever known to dozens of curious creatures from half-a-billion years ago, it's all there. You can even crawl inside the head of the massive bony fish Dunkleosteus or touch a four-billion-year-old rock from Quebec (yep, the real rock!).

Climb inside the head of Dunkleosteus ... if you dare! (ROM)

And that's only the beginning of what can be found in this groundbreaking exhibit. And once you're finished, you can walk through the doors, right into the ROM's permanent dinosaur exhibit. In fact, you can walk through the second floor galleries and follow the entire history of life on Earth, right up to the present day. Mindblowing stuff!

Here are a few other highlights from Dawn Of Life. If you find yourself in Toronto, it is a must-see!

It's not just animals on display. There are lots of examples of plants, too, as well as fungi, algae, and more! (ROM)

Gotcha! A model of an Acutiramus snags a fish! (ROM)

A real highlight of the exhibit is the virtual aquarium of a Cambrian era seabed. Watch as these ancient creatures swim and hunt before your eyes. Wow! (ROM)

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  1. 😆 I realy like the exhibit of Life on Earth and wish I could be in Ontario to see it. The new animals were amazing and cool. The plants were so beautiful and detailed.

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