Night at the Museum: LACM’s Camp Dino

April 8, 2013

LACM dino camp 3 - Mamenchisaurus and Triceratops 1

Last night London and I spent the night in the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (LACM), as part of the Camp Dino overnight adventure. So we got lots of time to roam the exhibit halls when they were–very atypically–almost empty. Above are the museum’s mounted Triceratops–or one of them, anyway–and mounted cast of the Mamenchisaurus hochuanensis holotype, presented in glorious not-stygian-darkness (if you went through the old dino hall, pre-renovation, you know what I mean).

LACM dino camp 1 - dueling dinos

We got there early and had time to roam around the museum grounds in Exposition Park. The darned-near-life-size bronze dinos out front are a minor LA landmark.

LACM dino camp 2 - fountain

The rose garden was already closed, but we walked by anyway, and caught this rainbow in the big fountain.

LACM dino camp 4  - Mamenchisaurus and Triceratops 2After we checked in we had a little time to roam the museum on our own. I’ve been meaning to blog about how much I love the renovated dinosaur halls. The bases are cleverly designed to prohibit people touching the skeletons without putting railings or more than minimal glass in the way, and you can walk all the way around the mounted skeletons and look down on them from the mezzanine–none of that People’s Gloriously Efficient Cattle Chute of Compulsory Dinosaur Appreciation business. Signage is discreet and informative, and so are the handful of interactive gizmos. London and I spent a few minutes using a big touch-screen with a slider that controlled continental drift from the Triassic to the present–a nice example of using technology to add value to an exhibit without taking away from the real stuff that’s on display. There are even a few places to sit and just take it all in. That’s pretty much everything I want in a dinosaur hall.

Also, check out the jumbotron on the left in the above photo. It was running a (blessedly) narration-free video on how fossils are found, collected, prepared, mounted, and studied, on about a five-minute loop. Lots of pretty pictures. Including this next one.

LACM dino camp 5 - big ilium photo

There are a couple of levels of perspective distortion going on here, both in the original photo and in my photo of that photo projected on the jumbotron. Still, I feel confident positing that that is one goldurned big ilium. I’m not going to claim it’s the biggest bone I’ve ever seen–that rarely ends well–but sheesh, it’s gotta be pretty freakin’ big. And apparently a brachiosaurid, or close to it. Never mind, it’s almost certainly an upside-down Triceratops skull. Thanks to Adam Yates for the catch. I will now diminish, and go into the West.

LACM dino camp 6 - ceratopsian skulls

Triceratops, Styracosaurus, and Einiosaurus–collect the whole set!

LACM dino camp 7 - tyrants

Of course, the centerpiece of the second dinosaur hall–and how great is it that there are two!?–is the T. rex trio: baby, juvenile (out of frame to the right), and subadult. Yes, subadult: the “big” one is not as big as the really big rexes, and from the second floor you can see unfused neural arches in some of the caudal vertebrae (many thanks to Ashley Fragomeni for pointing those out to me on a previous visit).

LACM dino camp 8 - baby rex

Awwwww! C’mere, little fella!

LACM dino camp 9 - pneumatic diplodocid caudals

Still, this ain’t Vulgar Overstudied Theropod Picture of the Week. Here are some sweet pneumatic diplodocid caudals in the big wall o’ fossils (visible behind Mamenchisaurus in the overhead photo above). The greenish color is legit–in the Dino Lab on the second floor, they’re prepping a bunch of sauropod elements that look like they were carved out of jade.

Sculpey allosaur claws

Sudden violent topic shift, the reason for which will be become clear shortly: London and I have been sculpting weapons of mass predation in our spare time. In some of the photos you may be able to see his necklace, which has a shark tooth he sculpted himself. Here are a couple of allosaur claws I made–more on those another time.

LACM dino camp 10  - molding and casting

The point is, enthusiasm for DIY fossils is running very high at Casa Wedel, so London’s favorite activity of the evening was molding and casting. Everyone got to make a press mold using a small theropod tooth, a trilobite, or a Velociraptor claw. Most of the kids I overheard opted for the tooth, but London went straight for the claw.

LACM dino camp 11 - raptor claw mold

Ready for plaster! Everyone got to pick up their cast at breakfast this morning, with instructions to let them cure until this evening. All went well, so I’ll spare you a photo of this same shape in reverse.

LACM dino camp 12 - Camp Wedel in the African bush

We were split into three tribes of maybe 30-40 people each, and each tribe bedded down in a different hall. The T. rex and Raptor tribes got the North American wildlife halls, but our Triceratops tribe got the African wildlife hall, which as a place to sleep is about 900 times cooler. Someone had already claimed the lions when we got there, so London picked hyenas as our totem animals.

LACM dino camp 13 - London with ammonite

Lights out was at 10:30 PM, and the lights came back on at 7:00 this morning. Breakfast was out from 7:15 to 8:00, and then we had the museum to ourselves until the public came in at 9:30. So I got a lot of uncluttered photos of stuff I don’t usually get to photograph, like this ammonite. Everyone should have one of these.

LACM dino camp 14 - Wedel boys with Carnotaurus

London’s favorite dino in the museum is Carnotaurus. It’s sufficiently weird that I can respect that choice.

LACM dino camp 15 - London with rexes

Not that there’s anything wrong with the old standards, especially when they’re presented as cleanly and innovatively as they are here.

LACM dino camp 16 - Matt with Argentinosaurus

Finally, the LACM has a no tripod policy, and if they see you trying to carry one in they will make you take it back to your car. At least during normal business hours. But no one searched my backpack when we went in last night, and I put that sucker to some good use. Including getting my first non-bigfoot picture of the cast Argentinosaurus dorsal. It was a little deja-vu-ey after just spending so much time with the giant Oklahoma Apatosaurus–elements of the two animals really are very comparable in size.

If you’re in the LA area and interested in spending a night at the museum–or at the tar pits!–check out the “Overnight Adventures” page on the museum’s website. Cost is $50 per person for members or $55 for non-members, and worth every penny IMHO. It’s one of those things I wish we’d done years ago.

16 Responses to “Night at the Museum: LACM’s Camp Dino”

  1. Dean Says:

    What is the giant mystery Ilium? Is it under study? How does it compare to our current supply of brachiosaur ilia?

  2. Matt Wedel Says:

    What is the giant mystery Ilium?

    If you’ve read the post and looked at the photo, you know literally everything I do about it.

    Is it under study?

    Presumably. The LACM has had a dig going in the Morrison for a few years now, and I know that they are moving toward publication on a number of things from that quarry.

    How does it compare to our current supply of brachiosaur ilia?

    Um, it has roughly the same outline. I honestly don’t know how big it is–do not underestimate the perspective distortion in that photo above. I have seen Giraffatitan ilia in the basement of the MfN that are also scary big. No bigger than SII, but as we’ve discussed here before, big bones often look even bigger when they’re no longer with the rest of the skeleton.

    My guess–going from memory, without having looked anything up–is that it’s about the same size as the ilia of the mounted brachiosaurs in Chicago and Berlin. If it’s bigger, I reckon the folks at the LACM will tell us in good time.

  3. let’s see if this works.


  4. oh, yeah, that ammonite….. I think every museum has a cast, and I am sure you can have one for your own. Provided you move to a bigger house, that is ;)

  5. Adam Yates Says:

    Are you sure its a brachio ilium? When I saw it I confessed that it looked like the laterally compressed trike skull they have on display there. eg. the frill is your preacetabular process, the postorbital horn is the pubic peduncle, the nasal horn is the ischiadic peduncle and the postacetabular blade the beak, That makes sense of the big hole above the ‘ischiadic peduncle’.



  6. Matt Wedel Says:

    Ah–ooh–er. Dammit. You are almost certainly correct. Now that I’ve had my brain reoriented, I can see the cheek horn and the notch between it and the frill.

    Pareidolia–it’s not just for Jesus toast!

  7. Mike Taylor Says:

    “The darned-near-life-size bronze dinos out front are a minor LA landmark.”

    Who the heck makes near-life-size bronze dinosaurs? Have a bit of self-respect, people. If you’re going to do 90% of a job, do the whole job. Life-size or bust!

  8. Mike, I am darn sure Matt was referring obliquely to the inherent uncertainties in soft tissue reconstruction and the Paulian trend of undermuscle-ing dinosaurs. Sahelian dinosaurs, if so you like.

    (cough, cough)

  9. Matt Wedel Says:

    Actually I was just hedging because I don’t know how big those statues are and I was too lazy to look it up. Mea culpa.

    Man, rough night on SV-POW! Last night–in the museum, with no computer–was much better. :-)

  10. Mike Taylor Says:

    BTW., nice Diplodocus caudals (though the photo is disappointingly fuzzy given your violation of the mean-spirited no-tripod rule). Interesting to see how the zyg rami are so elongate, and the zyg facets have so completely fused, that they almost look like part of the centrum, with a long, deep foramen underneath.

  11. Are those little Tianyulongs?

  12. Mike Taylor Says:

    What’s that isolated vertebra in the case in front of the sauropod’s feet, next to the T. rex skull?:

  13. Matt Wedel Says:

    Ha! For the second time in this post, an SV-POW!sketeer has mistaken an ornithischian skull for a sauropod element. That “isolated vertebra” is a Lambeosaurus skull.

    Did you do that just to make me feel better? Because it worked!

  14. Mike Taylor Says:

    Haha, no it wasn’t deliberate. I guess I just see sauropod vertebrae everywhere. Like you said, it’s not just for Jesus Toast. (At least I had the decency to see an imaginary vertebra instead of a crappy ilium.)

  15. […] few weeks ago I threw this picture into the “Night at the Museum” post and promised to say more later. Later is […]

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