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Genghis Khan invades PNE for new exhibit

Mongol warlord exhibit has Canadian connection

Theres a Canadian connection to a new attraction opening at the Pacific National Exhibition Aug. 17, dedicated to the 13th-century Mongol warlord Genghis Khan.

The exhibits creator Dino Don Lessem first visited Mongolia 30 years ago with a friend who worked as a producer for the CBC Radio program Ideas. Together the pair set off for Inner Mongolia to revisit the Canada-China Ex Terra expedition of 1988, which was responsible for the discovery of the 100-foot long Mamenchisaurus.

Then I was able to go back to follow the trail of [19th century explorer and naturalist] Roy Chapman Andrews to the Flaming Cliffs, said Lessem Wednesday during a phone interview from his 18th-century home in Media, Pa.

Lessem, who is often referred to as a real-life Indiana Jones, said Andrews really deserves that title.

He carried the pearl handled revolver, wore the jaunty hat and even was afraid of snakes, said Lessem. Im none of those, though I have found my share of dinosaur eggs and ran excavations to put back together the biggest dinosaur and biggest meat-eating dinosaur in the world. But he was much better at inventing stories.

While Lessem may not wear a jaunty hat, he is still considered one of the worlds leading experts on dinosaurs, despite the fact hes not a scientist. Lessem was a science journalist at the Boston Globe when he won a Knight Journalism Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1980s. Since then, Lessem has travelled the world researching and discovering dinosaur fossils and is responsible for reconstructing the skeleton of an Argentinosaurus. At 100-ton and 120-feet long, the Argentinosaurus was 20 per cent larger than the infamous Tyrannosaurus rex.

Lessem has also written more than 50 books, including childrens works, about dinosaurs and is the founder of the Dinosaur Society and Jurassic Foundation, which have raised millions for dinosaur research. He was an adviser for the movie Jurassic Park. As reward for his dedication, in the 1990s the Prosauropod dinosaur was named Lessemsaurus.

I consider myself the poor mans David Attenborough, Lessem said of the famous British naturalist.

While travelling regularly to Mongolia, he came to realize Khan was not the brutal dictator hes been made out to be.

Hes had a bad rap all these years, Lessem said of the warlord who utilized paper money, passports and pants. He didnt discover them, but he did make them popular.

Lessem spent seven years working with the Mongolian government to get permission to bring the rare artifacts included in his Genghis Khan exhibit out of that country.

The interactive exhibition tells what Lessem calls the true story of Genghis Khan his life, his land, his people, his culture and his enduring legacy. The exhibit follows Khans life from illiterate, tormented child to the millenniums greatest ruler. Lessem added while the warlord was known as a dictator, he was also responsible for the rise of an unparalleled empire of freedom and innovation. Thats illustrated in the exhibit through interactive media, presentations, performances and a unique collection of artifacts from the world Khan so quickly created and which just as quickly dissolved with his death.

We also always have some Mongolian people taking part, said Lessem. Thats the most important part of the exhibit.

Genghis Khan launches on opening day at Rollerland at the PNE Aug. 17 and runs through Sept. 2. For more information, visit