Rare Stegosaurus skeleton to be unveiled at the Museum

15 November 2014

Stegosaurus laid out

The Museum's new Stegosaurus specimen laid out before assembly

The world’s most complete Stegosaurus skeleton goes on display next month. The specimen will welcome visitors to the Museum’s Exhibition Road entrance from 4 December 2014.

It will be the only Stegosaurus on display in a public museum outside the USA.

Dinosaur dimensions

The skeleton is 560 centimetres long and 290 centimetres tall, and in life the animal would have been the size of a 4x4 vehicle.

The skeleton was uncovered 11 years ago in Wyoming, USA, and is amazingly complete, including 18 back plates and four tail spikes. The only significant portions missing are the left arm and base of the tail, although many small hand, tail and toe bones are also absent.

Museum Director Sir Michael Dixon said: 'We are extremely grateful to the 70 generous donors, with particular thanks to Jeremy Herrmann, who made this iconic acquisition possible.'

'It inspires genuine wonder when you see it, but unlike our much-loved Diplodocus cast, this is the real thing. We hope that this amazing specimen will inspire a new generation of young visitors to learn more about the natural world and our place within it.'

Rare find

The Stegosaurus lived around 150 million years ago, in the Late Jurassic period. Stegosaurs have been found in North America, Africa, China and Europe. They did not live in herds, preferring to live alone or in small groups, and their skeletons are rarely discovered.

'Stegosaurus fossil finds are rare. Having the world’s most complete example here for research means we can begin to uncover the secrets behind the evolution and behaviour of this intriguing dinosaur species,' said Professor Paul Barrett, lead dinosaur researcher at the Museum.

'It’s an honour to have this extraordinary specimen permanently on display to inspire Museum visitors.'

Illustration of Stegosaurus

How the Stegosaurus might have looked in its Jurassic surroundings © NHM London/Nicholls (paleocreations.com) 2014

 

Scientific marvel

Determining the sex of dinosaur skeletons is notoriously difficult, and the sex of the Stegosaurus specimen is still unknown. But we do know that it belonged to a young adult as at it is just over five-and-a-half metres long, while a fully grown Stegosaurus could reach up to nine metres in length.

The cause of the animal’s death is not known as there are no obvious marks or breaks in the skeleton that indicate how it died.

The Stegosaurus  first arrived behind the scenes at the Museum in December 2013. Since then, scientists have been taking measurements, photographs, laser surface scans and CT scans of the skeleton to find out more about the stegosaurs’ lives.

Clues to elusive lives

The bones of the skull are all three-dimensional, and, unusually, have not been squashed together by the fossilisation process. This makes it one of the most scientifically valuable dinosaur skulls ever found. 

It allows scientists to analyse exactly how the skull was assembled in life, and could answer long-held questions about how Stegosaurus was able to use its tiny teeth to get enough food for its huge body.

Mechanical analysis could also help settle the question of what the animal’s bony back plates were used for. Theories range from defence to body temperature regulation, with the plates acting either as radiators or cooling surfaces as necessary.

The new skeleton becomes part of the Museum’s collection of 80 million specimens, which includes eight million fossils.

  • by Hayley Dunning