Shedloads of Awesome, part 1: the Humboldt brachiosaur remount
November 27, 2008
We warned you that the Awesome was coming … now it’s here. The first installment of Awesome, anyway, and there’s plenty more to come.
Matt and I have just returned from a nine-day trip to Germany that was pretty much Heaven-on-Earth for us. The first three days were spent in Bonn, at the first open workshop of the DFG-funded Biology of the sauropod dinosaurs: the
evolution of gigantism project. Happily, Matt and I were each able to give two talks: his on the sauropod lung and the repeated evolution of very long necks, mine on limb-bone cartilage strength and habitual neck posture. (There is a lot more to say about this workshop, which was fascinating for all sorts of reasons, but I am going to press quickly onwards because you want to get to the pictures.)
After the workshop proper came a three-day field-trip, which took us first to the Dinopark at Münchehagen, where we saw the quite startling Europasaurus material, then to the Langenberg Quarry where Europasaurus is found, and finally to Berlin, home of the Humboldt Museum für Naturkunde and therefore also of Brachiosaurus brancai (at least, since it was dug up in Tanzania and sent there). Matt and I, and Mike D’Emic, stayed on for two further days after the field-trip’s visit to the Humboldt, to work on the Tendaguru sauropod material.
Soon we’ll show you some of the great stuff in the collections, but for now I want to concentrate on the public gallery. It’s three years since, at SVPCA 2005, I described this gallery’s brachiosaur mount as “the single finest object in the known universe”, and that was true even then. But now the glorious material has been remounted by RCI, under the supervision of Kristian Remes, in a more anatomically correct and far more dynamic pose, and it’s better still. (The photo at the top shows the remounted brachiosaur, with me for scale next to its elbow. I bet you didn’t even notice me there when you first looked at it.) Not only that, but Dicraeosaurus has also been remounted, along with the museum’s cast of the Carnegie Diplodocus (standing in for the Tendaguru diplodocines Tornieria and Australodocus), so that the three sauropods together make a stunning display of Tendaguru sauropod diversity. (There’s a picture of the whole exhibit at the end of this post). This is so awesome that I have had to revise my previous opinion that the public gallery of the OUMNH is my favourite in the whole world. It is now an honourable second.
The Humboldt staff were very good to us, and allowed us quite a bit of quality time alone with the mounts, in the mornings before the public arrived and in the evenings after they’d gone. Not only that, but they equipped us with a stepladder and a pair of arsegravies to stand it on, so it wouldn’t damage the exhibit’s floor covering — so we were able to get close to the material. Here, for example, is Matt, carefully checking the proximal caudals for [REDACTED], with Dicraeosaurus‘s head and neck in the background:
Better still, I was able to get right up inside the brachiosaur’s torso, which I needed to do in order to measure its girth:
(There was no possible way to run a tape measure across the rib-cage without a second ladder, so I had to drop lines to the ground: Matt marked where they fell, then measured the distance between the marks. Brachiosaurus brancai is A LOT bigger than Diplodocus.)
When palaeontologists gather around a mounted skeleton, it’s traditional to pick holes in the mount: in extreme cases, you can find silly mistakes like the scapulae being mounted upside down (juvenile Mamenchisaurus casts at the FMNH), but there is always something to criticise. Well, almost always, it turns out. Matt and I stared at that brachiosaur mount pretty intensely for three days, and we came up with, basically, nothing. Kristian and RCI did a great job on it: it’s completely convincing not only as a piece of skeletal anatomy but also as an animal. It looks alive. (After a while I did manage to come up with one criticism: the most posterior cervical ribs are too long and thin. But that’s all I’ve got.)
Finally, here is that whole-exhibit photograph that I promised you. In case you need to be told, the brachiosaur is the big one, Diplodocus is to the right, and poor little Dicraeosaurus is half-hidden off to the left, behind the big fella.
(Sorry about the glass refections in this photo: it was taken from a room that has been fitted with unopenable windows, so I think this is unavoidable. Also sorry that the head is out of focus. To fit the whole exhibit in, I had to use a wide-angle lens, and it distorts the edges of the picture.)
In future Shedloads of Awesome posts, we’ll show you Dicraeosaurus in more detail, some of the Awesome down in the collections (including the brachiosaur skull, if we can find a way to fit something so off-topic into SV-POW!), and maybe, if you’re luckly, some of that Europasaurus material.