Building life-size standees of big dinosaur bones has been a gleam in my eye for a long time. What finally pushed me over the edge was an invitation from Oakmont Outdoor School here in Claremont, California, to come talk about dinosaurs. It was an outdoor assembly, with something like 280 kids in attendance, and most of my show and tell materials are hand-sized and would not show up well from a distance. Plus, I wanted to blow people away with the actual size of big dinosaur bones.


I started with a life-size poster print of FHPR 17108, the complete right humerus of Brachiosaurus from Brachiosaur Gulch in Utah (the story of the discovery and excavation of that specimen is here). I used the image shown above, scaled to print at 7 feet by 3 feet. You can see that print lying on my living room floor in the previous post.

It was simpler and cheaper to get two 2 foot x 4 foot pieces of plywood than one big piece, so that’s what I did. I laid them out on the living room floor, cut out the poster print of the humerus from its background, traced the outline of the humerus onto the plywood, and then took the pieces outside to cut out the humerus shapes with a jigsaw.

The big piece of darker plywood is the brace that holds the two front pieces together. The smaller piece down at the distal end is a sort of foot, level with the bottom of the humerus but wider and flatter to give more stability. I used wood glue and a bunch of screws to hold everything together. Probably more screws than were strictly necessary, but I wanted to build this thing once and then never worry about it again, and screws and glue are cheap.

Even just the plywood outline without the print glued on looked pretty good. Early in the project I dithered on whether to make the thing out of plywood or foam core board. Foam core board would have been cheaper, easier to work with, and a lot lighter, but I also had doubts about its survivability. I want to use this thing for outreach for a long time to come.

To make the thing free-standing I added a kickstand in the back, made from a six-foot board and a hinge.

I used some screw-eyes and steel wire from a picture-hanging kit to add restraints to the kickstand, so it can’t open up all the way and collapse.

I didn’t want the kickstand flopping around during transit, and I also did not want the whole weight of the kickstand hanging cantilevered from the hinge when this thing is being carried horizontally, so I added a couple of blocks on either side for support, and some peel-and-stick velcro to hold the kickstand in place when it’s not being used.

I took the thing to Oakmont Outdoor School this morning and everybody loved it. I think the teachers were just as impressed as the kids. That’s Jenny Adams, the principal at Oakmont, who invited me to come speak. 

This was a deeply satisfying project and it didn’t require any complex or difficult techniques. The biggest expense was the big poster print, and the most specialized piece of equipment was the jigsaw. You could save money by going black-and-white or just blowing up an outline drawing on a plotter, by scavenging the plywood instead of buying new (all my old plywood has been turned into stuff already), or by using foam core board or some other lightweight material.

Many thanks to Jenny Adams and the whole Oakmont community for giving me a chance to come speak, and for asking so many excellent questions. However much fun it was for you all, I’m pretty sure it was even more fun for me. And now I have an inconveniently gigantic Brachiosaurus humerus to worship play with!

I am about a great work

January 21, 2023

I’m also teaching in two anatomy courses and in the process of moving residences (hence bins and boxes and whatnot), so the timing’s…not great. But needs must when the devil drives.

Further bulletins as events warrant.

My Oct. 13 National Fossil Day public lecture, “Lost Giants of the Jurassic”, for the Museums of Western Colorado – Dinosaur Journey is now up on their YouTube channel. First 48 minutes are talk, last 36 minutes are Q&A with audience, moderated by Dr. Julia McHugh. New stuff from the 2021 field season — about which I’ll have more to say in the future — starts at about the 37-minute mark. Hit the 44-minute mark (and this and this) to find out what to do with all of the unwanted bird necks that will be floating around at the upcoming holidays.

Finally, big thanks to Brian Engh for finding our brachiosaur and for letting me use so much of his art, to John Foster, Kaelen Kay, Tom Howells, Jessie Atterholt, Thierra Nalley, and Colton Snyder for such a fun field season this year, and to Julia McHugh for giving me the opportunity to yap about one of my favorite dinosaurs!

I have the honor of giving the National Fossil Day Virtual Lecture for The Museums of Western Colorado – Dinosaur Journey, next Wednesday, October 13, from 7:00 to 8:00 PM, Mountain Daylight Time. The title of my talk is “Lost Giants of the Jurassic” but it’s mostly going to be about Brachiosaurus. And since I have a whole hour to fill, I’m gonna kitchen-sink this sucker and put in all the good stuff, even more than last time. The talk is virtual (via Zoom) and free, and you can register at this link.

The photo up top is from this July. That’s John Foster (standing) and me (crouching) with the complete right humerus of Brachiosaurus that we got out of the ground in 2019; that story is here. The humerus is in the prep lab at the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum in Vernal, and if you go there, you can peer through the tall glass windows between the museum’s central atrium and the prep lab and see it for yourself.

If you’ve forgotten what a humerus like that looks like in context, here’s the mounted Brachiosaurus skeleton at the North American Museum of Ancient Life with my research student, Kaelen Kay, for scale. Kaelen is 5’8″ (173cm) and as you can see, she can just get her hand on the animal’s elbow. The humerus–in this case, a cast of the right humerus from the Brachiosaurus altithorax holotype–is the next bone up the line. Kaelen came out with us this summer and helped dig up some more of our brachiosaur–more on that story in the near future.

Want more Brachiosaurus? Tune in next week. Here’s that registration link again. I hope to see you there!

My favorite t-shirt

February 1, 2021

If you’ve been around SV-POW! for long, you’ve seen me in this shirt:

“Retro Brontosaurus Dinosaur T-shirt” by Dinosaur Tees, modeled by Matt Wedel, cast right forelimb of Brachiosaurus for scale.

I found it on Amazon. Well, actually the first one I found was this rather dapper plesiosaur:

One of the things I like best about the recent movies in Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse — Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and the upcoming Godzilla vs Kong — is Monarch, the shadowy organization tasked with finding and studying giant monsters. By the time of King of the Monsters, Monarch is basically SHIELD, with bases scattered around the globe and a giant flying carrier-aircraft, the USS Argo.

I prefer the scrappier, always-on-the-verge-of-being-shut-down Monarch from the 1973-set Kong: Skull Island. And, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I was instantly taken with that plesiosaur t-shirt because in my headcanon it was the official garb of Monarch’s Loch Ness division in the 1970s. I had to go with the sauropod version, though, for obvious reasons — maybe Monarch has a Mokele-mbembe division (not so far out since old M-M shows up as a dot on a map in King of the Monsters). 

I have zero stake in Dinosaur Tees, mind. I just dig their retro dinosaur shirts. Find them here.

And as for Monarch — at least in its early incarnation, as a ragtag group of underfunded folks from wildly differing backgrounds that goes to remote places to search for monsters — I flatter myself that I have a not-entirely-different job.


My eldest son Dan went out to visit his girlfriend Beth, shortly before the Coronavirus crisis began, during her university placement in Toulouse. While they were there, they bought me this gift:

As you can see, it’s a Lego-like self-assembly kit; but as you can also see from the mug in the background, it’s tiny. As  best I can make out, the blocks are half the length and width of Lego blocks, and about third the height. The whole model is about seven or eight inches (18-20 cm) from nose to tail.

Here’s a very quick walk-round, so you can appreciate the 3d shape.

I am properly impressed with this. It has the shape of the ribcage right, and the hips and shoulders, and the proportions are right so that it conveys with absolute conviction the quality of brachiosaurosity. It has a very posable neck that can be placed in a realistic life posture, and there are even hints of scapulae and ilia.

I made only one change from the instructions: I reoriented the forefoot so that we have a vertically oriented arcade of metacarpals rather than a plantigrade forefoot.

It was a very picky build. The instructions recommend using Nanoblock tweezers, sold separately, but I just used my big clumsy fingers, so that ribs and legs and things were constantly falling off. The process was rather like what this video shows, but much slower.

If you want one of your own, you can get it from Amazon UK or from Amazon US. I recommend it for serious sauropod lovers, but would be infuriating for children, and requires patience and precision to assemble.

Oh, and kit came with plenty of spare parts, in case you lose some of them: enough that Dan was able to make a juvenile with the leftovers.


Storm Giant

March 12, 2020

Challenge: can you spot the Iguanodon pelvis in this photo?

Big news: I will be at the Burpee Museum PaleoFest this year. I’m speaking at 10:30 AM on Sunday, March 8. The title of my talk is, “In the Footsteps of Giants: Finding and Excavating New Fossils of Brachiosaurus from the Lower Morrison Formation in Utah”. Brian Engh, John Foster, and ReBecca Hunt-Foster are all coauthors.

The main page for PaleoFest 2020 is here (link), and on the right side of that page there’s a block of quick links to the speaker list, daily schedules, and so on. If you’re in the Midwest and not already booked for the weekend of March 7-8, come on out and I’ll talk your legs off about dinosaurs.

The photo above is of me at a table at the Raymond M. Alf Museum Fossil Fest on February 8, 2020. It’s nothing to do with the Burpee PaleoFest, I just needed a photo of me talkin’ Brachiosaurus. And yes, you can have that t-shirt — objectively the greatest in the history of the universe — when you cut it off my cold, dead carcass. (Or you can order your own; this model is the “Retro Brontosaurus Dinosaur T-shirt” by Dinosaur Tees and the Amazon link is here.)

No, not his new Brachiosaurus humerus — his photograph of the Chicago Brachiosaurus mount, which he cut out and cleaned up seven years ago:

This image has been on quite a journey. Since Matt published this cleaned-up photo, and furnished it under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC By) licence, it has been adopted as the lead image of Wikipedia’s Brachiosaurus page [archvied]:

Consequently (I assume) it has now become Google’s top hit for brachiosaurus skeleton:

Last Saturday, Fiona and I went to Birdland, a birds-only zoo in the Cotswolds, about an hour away from where we live. The admission price also includes “Jurassic Journey”, a walking tour of a dozen or so not-very-good dinosaur models. In an interpretive centre in this area, I found this Brachiosaurus skeletal reconstruction stencilled on the wall:

I immediately knew it was the Chicago mount due to the combination of Giraffatitan anterior dorsals and Brachiosaurus posterior dorsals; but I found it more hauntingly familiar than that. A quick hunt turned up Matt’s seven-year-old post, and when I told Matt about my discovery he filled me in on its use in Wikipedia.

So this is 99% of a good story: we’re delighted that this work is out there, and has resulted in a much better Brachiosaurus image at Birdland than the rather sad-looking Stegosaurus next to it. The only slight disappointment is that I couldn’t find any sign of credit, which they really should have included given that Matt put the image out under CC By rather than in the public domain.

But as Matt said: “Even though I didn’t get credited, I’m always chuffed to see my stuff out in the world.” So true.


This is the Jurassic World Legacy Collection Brachiosaurus. I think it might be an exclusive at Target stores here in the US. It turns up on other sites, like Amazon and eBay, but usually from 3rd-party sellers and with a healthy up-charge. Retails for 50 bucks. I got mine for Christmas from Vicki and London. Here’s the link to if you want to check it out (we get no kickbacks from this).

I thought it would be cool to leverage this thing at outreach events to talk about the new Brachiosaurus humerus that Brian Engh found last year, which a team of us got out of the ground and safely into a museum last October (full story here). But I needed a Brachiosaurus humerus, so I made one, and in this post I’ll show you how to do the same, for next to no money.

Depending on what base you start with and what materials you use, you could build a scale model of a Brachiosaurus humerus at any size. I wanted one that would match the JWLC Brach, so I started by taking some measurements of that. Here’s what I got:


  • Head: 45mm
  • Neck: 455mm (x 20 = 9.1m = 29’10”)
  • Torso: 320mm
  • Tail: 320mm
  • Total: 1140 (x 20 = 22.8m = 74’10”)


  • Max head height: 705mm (x 20 = 14.1m = 46’3″)
  • Withers height: 360mm (x 20 = 7.2m = 23’7″)

The neck length, total length, and head height are pretty close to the mounted Giraffatitan in Berlin. The withers are a little high, as is the bottom of the animal’s belly. I suspect that the limbs on the model are oversized by about 10%. Nevertheless, the numbers say this thing is roughly 1/20 scale.

The largest humeri of Brachiosaurus and Giraffatitan are 213cm, which is about 3mm shy of 7 feet. So a 1/20 scale humerus should be 106.5mm, or 4.2 inches, or four-and-a-quarter if you want a nice, round number.

Incidentally, Chris Pratt is 6’2″ (74 inches), and the Owen Grady action figure is 3.75″, which is 1/20 of 6’3″. So the action figure, the Brachiosaurus toy highly detailed scientific model, and a ~4.2″ humerus model will all be more or less in scale with each other.

I used a chicken humerus for my base. The vast majority of chickens in the US are slaughtered at 5 months, so they don’t get nearly big enough for their humeri to be useful for this project. Fortunately, there’s a pub in downtown Claremont, Heroes & Legends, that has giant mutant chicken hot wings, so I went there and collected chicken bones in the guise of a date. The photo above shows three right humeri (on the left) and one left humerus (on the right) after simmering and an overnight degreasing in a pot of soapy water. I used the same bone clean-up methods as in this post.

What should you do if you don’t have access to giant mutant chicken wings? My method of Brachio-mimicry involves some sculpting, so any reasonably straight bone that bells out a bit at the ends would work. You could use a drumstick in a pinch. Here are my humeri whitening in a tub of 3% hydrogen peroxide from the dollar store down the street.

Brachiosaurid humeri vary somewhat but they all have certain features in common. Here’s the right humerus of Vouivria, modified from Mannion et al. (2017: fig. 19) to show the features of interest to brachiosaur humerus-sculptors. The arrows on the far left point to a couple of corners, one where the deltopectoral crest (dpc in the figure) meets the proximal articular surface, and the other where the articular surface meets the long sweeping curve of the medial border of the humeral shaft.

Here’s a more printer-friendly version of the same diagram. Why did I use Vouivria for this instead of one of the humeri of Brachiosaurus itself? Mostly because it’s a complete humerus for which a nice multi-view was available. Runner-up in this category would have to go to the humerus of Pelorosaurus conybeari figured by Upchurch et al. (2015: fig. 18) in the Haestasaurus paper–here’s a direct link to that figure.

I knew that I’d be doing some sculpting, and I wanted a scale template to work off of, so I made these outlines from the Giraffatitan humerus figured by Janensch (1950) and reproduced by Mike in this post (middle two), and from the aforementioned Pelorosaurus conybeari humerus shown by Mike in this post (outer two). I scaled this diagram so that when printed to fill an 8.5×11 piece of printer paper, the humerus outlines would all be 4.25″–the same nice-round-number 1/20 scale target found above. Here’s a PDF version: Giraffatitan and Pelorosaurus humeri outlines for print.

Here’s the largest of my giant mutant chicken humeri, compared to the outlines. The chicken humerus isn’t bad, but it’s too short for 1/20 scale, the angles of the proximal and distal ends are almost opposite what they should be, and the deltopectoral crest is aimed out antero-laterally instead of facing straight anteriorly. Modification will be required!

Here’s my method for lengthing the humerus: I cut the midshaft of another humerus out, and swapped it in to the middle of the prospective Brachiosaurus model humerus.

To my immense irritation, I failed to get a photo of the lengthened humerus before I started sculpting on it. In the first wave of sculpting, I built up the proximal end and the deltopectoral crest, but missed some key features. On the right, I glued the proximal and distal ends of the donor humerus together; I might make this into a Haestasaurus humerus in the future.

I should mention my tools and materials. I have a Dremel but it wasn’t charged the evening I sat down to do this, so I made all the humerus cuts with a small, cheap hacksaw. I used superglue (cyanoacrylate or CA) for quick joins, and white glue (polyvinyl acetate or PVA) to patch holes, and I put gobs of PVA into the humeral shafts before sealing them up. For additive sculpting I used spackling compound, same stuff you use to patch holes in walls and ceilings, and for reductive sculpting I used sandpaper. I got most of this stuff from the dollar store.

Here we are after a second round of sculpting. The proximal end has its corners now, and the distal end is more accurately belled out, maybe even a bit too wide. It’s not a perfect replica of either the Giraffatitan or Pelorosaurus humeri, but it got sufficiently into the brachiosaurid humerus morphospace for my taste. A more patient or dedicated sculptor could probably make recognizable humeri for each brachiosaurid taxon or even specimen. I deliberately left it a bit rough in hopes that it would read as timeworn, fractured, and restored when painted and mounted. Again, a real sculptor could make some hay here by putting in fake cracks and so on.

The cheap spackling compound I picked up did not harden as much as some other I have used in the past. I had planned on sealing anyway before I painted, and for porous materials a quick, cheap sealant is white glue mixed with water. Here that coat of diluted PVA is drying, and I’m holding up a spare chicken humerus to show how far the model humerus has come.

Before painting, I drilled into the distal end with a handheld electric drill, and used a bamboo barbeque skewer as a mounting rod and handle. I hit it with a couple of coats of gray primer, then a couple of coats of black primer the next day. I could have gotten fancier with highlights and washes and so on, but I was scrambling to get this done for a public outreach event, in an already busy week.

And here’s the finished-for-now product. A couple of gold-finished cardboard gift boxes from my spare box storage gave their lids to make a temporary pedestal. When I get a version of this model that I’m really happy with, either by hacking further on this one or starting from scratch on a second, I’d love to get a wooden or stone trophy base with a little engraved plaque that looks like a proper museum exhibit, and replace the bamboo skewer with a brass rod. But for now, I’m pretty happy with this.

The idea of making dinosaurs out of chicken bones isn’t original with me. I was inspired by the wonderful books Make Your Own Dinosaur Out of Chicken Bones and T-Rex To Go, both by Chris McGowan. Used copies of both books can be had online for next to nothing, and I highly recommend them both.

If this post helps you in making your own model Brachiosaurus humerus, I’d love to see the results. Please let me know about your model in the comments, and happy building!


  • Janensch, Werner. 1950. Die Wirbelsaule von Brachiosaurus brancai. Palaeontographica (Suppl. 7) 3: 27-93.
  • Mannion PD, Allain R, Moine O. (2017The earliest known titanosauriform sauropod dinosaur and the evolution of BrachiosauridaePeerJ 5:e3217
  • Upchurch, Paul, Philip D. Mannion and Micahel P Taylor. 2015. The Anatomy and Phylogenetic Relationships of “Pelorosaurus” becklesii (Neosauropoda, Macronaria) from the Early Cretaceous of England. PLoS ONE 10(6):e0125819. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0125819