I'm a museum educator with an eye for paleontology, science history, animals and the occasional bit of pop culture nonsense. My long-winded blog is here.
Taxon: Tylosaurus proriger
Specimen Number: KUVP 5033
Dimensions: 45 feet long
Year Created: 1999
In 1911, C.D. Bunker uncovered in western Kansas one of the largest mosasaur specimens ever found. The fossils remained in storage at the University of Kansas Natural History Museum for nearly a century, until the rediscovery of Bunker’s field notes renewed interest in the historic find. The bones had fallen into disrepair, so the museum hired the private company Triebold Paleontology to restore them. Triebold also provided the museum with a complete replica of the skeleton, which now hangs over the three-story entrance hall. Unfortunately, capturing the entire coiled length of the 45-foot sea lizard seems to have eluded most photographers.
The original Tylosaurus fossils are held in the University of Kansas collections, but Triebold still offers casts in its catalog of replica fossil mounts. Examples can be seen at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the Dinosaur Resource Center in Woodland Park, Colorado.
Taxon: Apatosaurus louisae
Specimen Number: CM 11162
Dimensions: 77 feet long
Year Created: 1915
The Apatosaurus on display at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History was the very first skeleton excavated from Utah’s Dinosaur National Monument. Recovered by a team led by Earl Douglass in 1909, it remains the most complete Apatosaurus specimen known. Museum director William Holland supervised the mounting of the skeleton in 1915, and placed it in the paleontology hall alongside the Carnegie Museum’s star attraction, the 1907 Diplodocus mount.
The story of the misidentified skull of Apatosaurus is widely known, but often told incorrectly. The first Apatosaurus (then labeled Brontosaurus) mount was built by Adam Hermann at the American Museum of Natural History. Since no skull was available, Hermann used a sculpted one that loosely resembled (but was not directly based on) Camarasaurus. A real Apatosaurus skull (still one of only two known) was discovered near the Carnegie skeleton, but it was not used in the mount because museum staff were reluctant to undermine the AMNH version. Douglass objected, and the mount remained headless for 20 years. Eventually a Camarasaurus-like model skull was quietly added. Finally, John McIntosh re-identified the specimen’s true skull in 1979, and unified it with the rest of the mounted skeleton. AMNH and other museums would eventually use casts of the Carnegie skull on their mounts, as well.
In 2007, Phil Fraley Productions was contracted to disassemble, conserve, and rebuilt the Carnegie Apatosaurus, and this version remains on view today.
Taxon: Tyrannosaurus rex
Specimen Number: MOR 555
Dimensions: 38 feet long, 15 feet high
Year Created: 2001
“Big Mike” is a bronze cast of MOR 555 (a.k.a. Wankel Rex, a.ka. the Nation’s T. rex), the second most complete Tyrannosaurus rex specimen yet found. The 60% complete, partially articulated skeleton was discovered by Montana rancher Kathy Wankel in 1988, on land owned by the US Army Corps of Engineers. Although the Corps retains ownership of the fossils, MOR 555 was held in the collection of the Museum of the Rockies for 25 years, before being loaned to the Smithsonian Institution in 2013.
Big Mike was constructed by the Toronto-based company Research Casting International (RCI), based on molds of the original fossils. The project was commissioned by the advisory board of the Museum of the Rockies in honor of Michael Malone, the museum’s former director who passed away in 1999. RCI completed the 10,000 pound bronze cast and stainless steel armature in a mere four months, and had it ready for an unveiling at the 2001 Society of Vertebrate Paleontology conference.
There are many other casts of MOR 555 on display around the world, including at the University of California Museum, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the National Museum of Scotland. The original skeleton will go on display at the Smithsonian in 2019.