By Betsy Momich
He roamed what’s now known as the American West 150 million years ago, one of the largest land animals to ever live. The world didn’t even know he existed, though, until 1899, when a dinosaur hunt commissioned by Pittsburgh industrialist Andrew Carnegie unearthed one of his bones in a rocky outcrop not far from Sheep Creek, Wyoming. There was a lot more of him where that came from, and he was soon christened Diplodocus carnegii after his wealthy benefactor. By the close of that same year, he would get a free, cross-country trip to Pittsburgh, one crate at a time. And it would take all of 130 crates to transport this 85-foot-long giant to the Steel City, where he would eventually be pieced back together for display, albeit in a pose not entirely comfortable or anatomically correct. He’s been the pride and joy of Carnegie Museum of Natural History ever since, even after he was no longer the only tall, good-looking dinosaur on the block. And now, after spending 10 months in New Jersey for a much-needed makeover, Diplodocus carnegii is back.
Photo: Josh Franzos
How does it feel to be back?
Fantastic! My old bones haven’t looked and felt this good in millions of years. And it’s wonderful to be back in the ‘burgh. Jersey’s nice to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.
I’d like to send a shout out to the folks at Phil Fraley Productions. They thought they had their hands full with “Sue,” the Field Museum’s much ballyhooed T.rex. Ha! They had no idea what they were in for when they accepted the challenge from Carnegie Museum of Natural History. We Carnegie dinosaurs—one of the most esteemed and largest collections of real dinosaurs in the world, I might add—were quite a handful. It’s taken Fraley and his team, joined by the museum staff here, nearly two years to make us look like new again.
Fraley and company are still hard at work on Tyrannosaurus rex. Not a very pleasant fellow, that cranky carnivore.
What do you think of your new digs?
Love ‘em. I can’t tell you how nice it is to be back in my own Jurassic environment. Needless to say, my fellow sauropods and I are relieved to no longer have T.rex at our tails. He and his Cretaceous crew never quite fit in. And for good reason—we were separated by almost 100 million years of geologic time!
Now we have our own spaces, in the familiar environments of our own time periods, situated with our own kind. My thanks to Carnegie Museum of Natural History for being the first museum in the world to finally get it right.
Does the exhibit remind you much of your Jurassic home in Sheep Creek, Wyoming?
Sure does. The weather was just about always warm then, perfect for a big reptile like me. And we plant eaters got to munch on our pick of plants that thrived in these hot, seasonal conditions: ferns, conifers, cycads, ginkgoes, club mosses, and more. I see those plants all around me now, just like the old days.
But let’s remember: It wasn’t Sheep Creek, Wyoming, when my friends and I inhabited our part of the world. Just before the end of the Jurassic Period, Earth’s one large land mass, the supercontinent called Pangaea, had sepa-rated into two smaller masses, called Laurasia and Gondwana. I resided in Laurasia, which included most of today’s Northern Hemisphere—North America, Europe, and Asia.
I hear you have seven continents today. Cool!
Do you know you’re still considered the most seen dinosaur in the world?
That’s what I’ve heard.
That little Scotsman sure was proud of me back in the early 1900s, wasn’t he? And he couldn’t say no to anyone. For instance, when the king of England wanted one of me for his country, Carnegie asked his museum team here in Pittsburgh to get busy creating a cast of my bones that he could send across the pond, to London. He’d end up doing the same for museums in Berlin, Paris, Vienna, St. Petersburg, Bologna, La Plata (Argentina), and Mexico City.
Of course, there’s nothing like the real thing. Pittsburgh will always be home to me, the original Diplodocus carnegii, as well as the real, nearly complete skeletons of 14 other dinosaurs of all types. In the United States, only the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History in New York have more.
Something looks different about you. What is it?
Just about everything about me is different. Decades of paint, shellac, and varnish have been removed from my bones, which was a huge relief. I guess the museum folks of years gone by thought they were protecting me with all those chemicals; but they only served to make me look less like myself. And my tail is finally off the ground. It sure did take you humans a long time to figure out that we sauropods didn’t lumber around, dragging our tails behind us!
In fact, our tails counterbalanced our long necks, and made us a lot more nimble than any of you previously thought. Sure, I weighed 15 tons. But in my prime, I could really move—about as well as those little tusked, trunked mammals you have today. You call those things elephants, right?
Did sauropods like you disappear at the end of the Jurassic Period?
No, we hung around through the last period of the Age of Dinosaurs, the Cretaceous Period, and then disappeared with all of the other dinosaurs (except for those feathery little things you call birds) about 66 million years ago. But my sauropod cousins had evolved even bigger in the Cretaceous. Some of them even weighed as much as 100 tons!
Sometime over the past few decades, someone came up with the nickname “Dippy” for you. What do you think of the name?
Suits me just fine. If it helps people remember me, that’s all that matters. Kids love it. And I love kids. Some people might be surprised to hear that.
We dinosaurs just want to be remembered. Even the mean and nasty ones, like Allosaurus and T.rex. And, hopefully, you’ll all learn a thing or two about your own world in the process.
I think that’s the whole point of Dinosaurs in Their Time, isn’t it?