The scale model of the AMNH apatosaurine skeleton, AMNH 460

May 13, 2015

AMNH 460 skeleton model 2

In a recent post I showed some photos of the mounted apatosaurine at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, AMNH 460, which Tschopp et al. (2015) regarded as an indeterminate apatosaurine pending further study.

A lot of museums whose collections and exhibits go back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries have scale model skeletons and sculptures that were used to guide exhibit design. I have always been fascinated by these models, partly because they’re windows into another era of scientific research and science communication, and partly because they’re just cool – basically the world’s best dinosaur toys – and I covet them. In my experience, it is very, very common to find these treasures of history buried in collections, stuck up on top of specimen cabinets, or otherwise relegated to some out-of-the-way corner where they won’t be in the way. I know that exhibit space is always limited, and these old models often reflect ideas about anatomy, posture, or behavior that we now know to be mistaken. But I am always secretly thrilled when I see these old models still on exhibit.

AMNH T rex skeleton model

The AMNH has a bunch of these things, because Henry Fairfield Osborn was crazy about ’em. He not only used 2D skeletal reconstructions and 3D model skeletons to guide exhibit design, he published on them – see for example his 1898 paper on models of extinct vertebrates, his 1913 paper on skeleton reconstructions of Tyrannosaurus, and his 1919 paper with Charles Mook on reconstructing Camarasaurus. That genre of scientific paper seems to have disappeared. I wonder if the time is right for a resurgence.

So in a glass case at the feet of AMNH 460 is a model – I’d guess about 1/12 or 1/15 scale – of that very skeleton. You can tell that it’s a model of that particular skeleton and not just some average apatosaur by looking carefully at the vertebrae. Apatosaurines weren’t all stamped from quite the same mold and the individual peculiarities of AMNH 460 are captured in the model. It’s an amazing piece of work.

AMNH 460 skeleton model

The only bad thing about it is that – like almost everything behind glass at the AMNH – it’s very difficult to photograph without getting a recursive hell of reflections. But at least it’s out where people can see and marvel at it.

Oh, and those are the cervical vertebrae of Barosaurus behind it – Mike and I spent more time trying to look and shoot past this model than we did looking at it. But that’s not the model’s fault, those Barosaurus cervicals are just ridiculously inaccessible.

So, memo to museums: at least some of us out here are nuts about your old dinosaur models, and where there’s room to put them on exhibit, they make us happy. They also give us views of the skeletons that we can’t get otherwise, so they serve a useful education and scientific purpose. More, please.


Osborn, H. F. (1898). Models of extinct vertebrates. Science, New Series, 7(192): 841-845.

Osborn, H.F. (1913). Tyrannosaurus, restoration and model of the skeleton. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 32: 91-92, plates 4-6.

Osborn, H. F., & Mook, C. C. (1919). Characters and restoration of the sauropod genus Camarasaurus Cope. From type material in the Cope Collection in the American Museum of Natural History. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 58(6): 386-396.

12 Responses to “The scale model of the AMNH apatosaurine skeleton, AMNH 460”

  1. nwfonseca Says:

    Agreed, I love that model. It is so beautifully detailed and has a quality that contemporary models lack. The only ones I can think of that come close are Taburin’s dinosaurs.

  2. Chase Says:

    Gosh! This really brings back memories of perusing through dinosaur books like the comedically serious youngster I was and seeing the pictures of the old model.

  3. Chase Says:

    Then again, the model in my books might have been a different model from the one now displayed.

  4. Allen Hazen Says:

    (1) It looks as if the model has the old conjectural skull, not the more diplodocoid one installed at the end of the 1970s.
    (2) I think these models– well, certainly the Allosaurus one– WERE used to guide the exhibited restorations. Before the latest revision of the paleontological halls (in the ??? 1990s ???) there were two “dinosaur” halls, but whereas the current iteration organizes things cladistically (so there’s a hall of Saurischian dinosaurs and a hall of Ornithischian), the organization was chronological: one hall had Jurassic (and earlier) critters, and one Cretaceous. (So Tyrannosaurus was in the hall with the Ceratopsians and Hadrosaurs, and “Brontosaurus” the same Hall as Allosaurus and Stegosaurus.) TheJurassic hall had smaller exhibits around the walls, with a large “island” in the middle dominated by “Brontosaurus,” with Allosaurus (in the pose of the model, bending over bones that I think bore fossilized tooth-marks) and Stegosaurus representing the rest of the Morrison community.

    And– like you– I find these miniature models somehow very enthralling: thanks for posting the piccies.

  5. Matt Wedel Says:

    Yep, the model apatosaur does have the old camarasaur-esque skull. I have to confess, my inner child feels a bit cheated that Brontosaurus came back, but without its old skull. For better or worse, the August 1978 National Geographic fixed my inner image of Bronto as the blunt-headed titan of yore. I can accept a slender diplodocoid skull on Apatosaurus, but on Brontosaurus it just seems wrong.

    The AMNH Allosaurus is still leaning hungrily over the tooth-marked apatosaurine caudals on the other side of the Saurischian hall from AMNH 460. It’s a pretty great combo. To my irritation – and amusement – the only photos I have of the allosaur are bits and pieces that got in the way as I was trying to photograph the sauropod vertebrae.

    The AMNH must have been lousy with tyannosaur models at some point. In his 1913 paper, Osborn wrote that the dual mount shown therein constituted the “fourth pose or study”, implying that at least three others existed. The model shown up in the post is presumably one of those earlier three. It’s pretty cool (for a stinkin’ theropod model) – like the model apatosaur skeleton, it’s clearly not just a generic tyrannosaur but the AMNH skeleton specifically. That is a heck of a thing to carry off at that scale.

    …I would freakin’ kill if the AMNH would take these old models, cast them, and sell kits. You hear me? KILL.

  6. Allen Hazen Says:

    Maybe not KILL, but, yes, kits of casts of these models would be a great thing. (Though, as a mammal chauvinist, I have to ask: did they also make models of the skeletons of INTERESTING animals, like Mammut and Brontops?(*))
    (*) And yes, I know that Titanotheres were over-split and that “Brontops” is no longer the name to use… but it has a nice ring to it!

  7. Mark Hallett Says:

    Very good shots of beautifully done models, wrong skull or not. The Brontosaurus/Apatosaurus one looks the spitting image of the one ITC Modelcraft offered in the late `50’s early `60’s.

  8. jrabdale Says:

    I’ve always liked this model. There’s an indescribable “something” about seeing the classic, nostalgic, traditional, albeit anatomically incorrect, rendition of a sauropod – the image that was so familiar to me and to countless others when we were children. I’d love to have a fully-poseable articulated copy of it, but I’ve got nowhere to put it in my rather cramped living quarters.

  9. I too would celebrate with wild enthusiasm if such skeletons (or skeletons of any species extinct or extant!) were to be laser-scanned and 3D-printed (or the specs made available online for local printing on demand). I think there is HUGE scope for profit in this, if priced reasonably and fairly, and likely great benefit from getting scaled bone material into the hands of as many enthusiasts at as young an age as possible, to stimulate their interest and for their worthwhile insights that might then be forthcoming.

  10. Mike Taylor Says:

    Given that the Berlin Giraffatitan has already been laser-scanned, it seems like them most horrible missed opportunity that scale models are not already available.

  11. Matthew Says:

    Some of these models were actually poseable or somewhat articulated weren’t they? I have a book that shows what looks like this exact same model in a sprawling posture, and remember reading that they were used to experiment with the plausibility of different poses.

  12. […] was my personal favorite, and, like the Tyrannosaurus and Stegosaurus models in the series, was very obviously based on the AMNH mount. The models were reissued at least three times over the years and can still be found either “mint […]

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