Dinosaur fossils

My son has previously enjoyed excavating a pretend ammonite fossil, and learning a little about fossils as he played. I thought we could have a go at a similar activity with a bit more science thrown in, so I used salt dough to make something that resembles a fossilised dinosaur skeleton.

I wanted a species of dinosaur which was small so I could make something that looked like a complete skeleton. I went for a compsognathus, inspired by Julia Donaldson's book 'Tyrannosaurus Drip'. My son isn't massively into dinosaurs, but he enjoys that book and the little dinosaur that steals the Duckbill dinosaur egg in the story is a Compsognathus. They were about the size of a turkey when fully grown and lived about 150 million years ago, during the Jurassic period. Anyway, I found a picture of a Compsognathus skeleton online and attempted to replicate it in salt dough, using a sharp knife and a pumpkin carving tool. I used the same dough recipe as for our pretend ammonites (link above).

Salt dough pretend Compsognathus fossil

I decided this time we would make use of nicer weather and use real sand outside. My son had fun excavating it with a paintbrush but was puzzled about what it was. We talked about what we could see, and how things looked like a head, arms, legs and a spine. I explained that it was meant to look like a Compsognathus. I asked him what paleontologists might be able to work out about the dinosaur that is now extinct from the fossils they find. It was a bit of an open question and he wasn't sure, but with a bit of promoting, he decided that they could tell how big the dinosaurs were, but not what colour they had been. I also explained that we could work out from the arms and legs that the Compsognathus had walked on two legs like us, rather than on four like next door's cat which came to see what we were doing.

After 'excavation' with a paintbrush

He had fun putting the pretend fossil back into the sand and then brushing it off again repeatedly before he and his brother moved on to throwing sand at each other and I decided we should try something different for a while...