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Sunday, January 29, 2023

This 122-Foot-Long Dinosaur Will Barely Fit in London's Natural History Museum

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A cast of Patagotitan mayorum's skull
A cast of Patagotitan mayorum’s skull Courtesy of Egidio Feruglio Paleontological Museum

A life-size replica of a titanosaur—one of the largest known dinosaurs—is headed to the Natural History Museum in London. The cast represents Patagotitan mayorum, a massive plant-eating dinosaur with a long neck and tail that lived roughly 100 million years ago. 

After a rancher discovered fossilized remains in Patagonia, Argentina, in 2012, a team of researchers from the Egidio Feruglio Paleontological Museum (MEF) began carefully excavating the bones, which they think belonged to six different titanosaur dinosaurs.

Scientists don’t know why the six dinosaurs died. “They were all almost fully grown and died at the same site,” Sinead Marron, the exhibition’s lead curator, tells the Guardian’s Robin McKie. “But why? What could have done that? It is not clear, though the mystery gives an extra dimension to the story of these wonderful animals.”

The original fossils are housed in MEF’s collection. However, because of great demand from museums, the paleontologists began creating replicas of P. mayorum, which measured 122 feet long. Versions of P. mayorum have since been on view at the Field Museum in Chicago (nicknamed Máximo) and the American Natural History Museum in New York.

Dig site in Patagonia
The dig site in Patagonia, Argentina Courtesy of A. Otero / Egidio Feruglio Paleontological Museum

The upcoming exhibition in London, called “Titanosaur: Life as the Biggest Dinosaur,” will mark the creature’s debut in Europe. It will also feature touchable specimens, interactive elements and artists’ renderings of the plants and animals that lived during the Cretaceous Period.

While dinosaurs have been extinct for 65 million years, plenty of other towering animals roam the planet today. As such, the exhibition also asks museum-goers to contemplate the best ways to protect them. 

“Comparable in weight to more than nine African elephants, this star specimen will inspire visitors to care for some of the planet’s largest and most vulnerable creatures, which face similar challenges for survival, and show that within Earth’s ecosystems, size really does matter,” says Paul Barrett, a paleobiologist who helped organize the exhibition, in a statement.

Cast of Patagotitan mayorum
A replica of Patagotitan mayorum Courtesy of D. Pol / Egidio Feruglio Paleontological Museum

The dinosaur has a gouge in its tail, likely caused by “a large predatory dinosaur taking a bite,” Barrett tells the Telegraph’s Sarah Knapton. “We don’t know if the animal was alive or not when its tail was bitten.” Visitors to the museum will be able to inspect the gouge up close.

The cast barely fits inside the museum’s Waterhouse Gallery—which has ceilings nearly 30 feet tall—but the museum is no stranger to large specimens. It previously displayed a replica of a Diplodocus dinosaur called Dippy, as well as the skeleton of a blue whale nicknamed Hope. As the museum notes, the titanosaur cast is four times heavier than Dippy and nearly 40 feet longer than Hope.

“The sheer scale of this creature is extraordinary,” Barrett tells the Guardian. “Even when you see it next to one of today’s giant animals, like an elephant, it simply dwarfs them. It’s humbling.”

Titanosaur: Life as the Biggest Dinosaur” will be on view at the Natural History Museum in London from March 31, 2023 to January 7, 2024.

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