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Press release

Diplodocus: Celebrating 100 years at the Museum

12 May 2005 – 26 February 2006

Celebrate the hundredth birthday of the Natural History Museum’s most iconic exhibit. The 26-metre-long Diplodocus that dominates the Museum’s Central Hall will celebrate its centenary at the Museum on Thursday 12 May 2005. A free display of specimens and archival information will highlight its history at the Museum and a series of events will also be taking place around the anniversary date.

‘The Natural History Museum’s Diplodocus is certainly one of the world’s best-loved dinosaurs’, said Dr Paul Barrett, palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum, ‘But maybe it’s more important for scientists, as our studies on Diplodocus kick-started a renaissance in our understanding of sauropod biology.’

Known affectionately as ‘Dippy’ by Museum staff, the Diplodocus is a cast of bones from three individual Diplodocus skeletons discovered in Wyoming, USA. The bones date back 150 million years to the late part of the Jurassic Period. The original fossils became part of the collection of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, USA, after three years of excavation.

Dippy was donated to the Museum by King Edward VII and was unveiled on 12 May 1905. The King had admired a detailed reconstruction of the skeleton that adorned the walls of Andrew Carnegie’s Scottish castle, Skibo, when he visited in 1902 and enquired about the possibility of buying a similar skeleton. The director of the Carnegie Museum, WJ Holland, baulked at the thought of finding another skeleton, but instead suggested that it would be possible to make an exact replica of the one in the Museum’s collections. Carnegie agreed and paid for the casting of the skeleton (with missing bones copied from another specimen), shipping to England (in 36 packing cases) and for a team of American technicians to assemble the mount in London as a gift for the King. It was the first time that many had ever seen a complete dinosaur skeleton.

Dippy has been moved around the Museum as our knowledge of dinosaurs has grown. After first being placed in the Hall of Reptiles it was then situated in the Marine Reptile Hall, as palaeontologists believed Diplodocus was a lake- or swamp-dweller. The legs were thought to be too weak for supporting its enormous bulk and the long neck was interpreted as a snorkel to allow breathing while submerged. Palaeontologists now consider Diplodocus to have been much more active, perhaps roaming vast distances in search of vegetation. The elephantine legs acted as sturdy columns and the neck enabled feeding over a wide area.

Dippy remained in the Marine Reptile Hall until the outbreak of the war in 1939, when it was moved for safekeeping. Dippy then returned to the Marine Reptile Hall until 1979 before being moved to its current home in the Central Hall. In 1993 the tail was lifted from its ‘traditional’ pose (dragging along the ground in a lizard-like manner) to the more dynamic raised position that can be seen today.

Associated events: all free

  • Darwin Centre Live series: Happy Birthday Diplodocus!
    Join the centenary celebrations with an exploration of what this dinosaur would have looked like, where it would have lived and how it came to the Museum.
    Dates and times: Friday 6 May, 12.00, Saturday 7
    – Sunday 8 May, 12.00 and 14.30
  • Dippy floor puzzle
    Celebrate the hundredth anniversary of our Diplodocus, affectionately known as Dippy, using our new soft toy floor puzzle. It’s free and can be borrowed from the Life Galleries reception desk at the main entrance on Cromwell Road.
    Dates and times: from 12 May 2005, Monday to Saturday 10.00–17.50, Sunday 11.00–17.00
  • Diplodocus Animation Day
    Join us for a fun drawing-based activity to mark our Diplodocus dinosaur’s birthday. Draw part of this famous skeleton and see your work digitally animated, using state-of-the-art technology, and then published on our website. To reserve a place, please visit the Life Galleries reception desk at the main entrance on Cromwell Road on arrival. Suitable for families with children aged seven and under.
    Dates and times: Saturday 14 May, 11.00–13.00
    and 14.00–16.00

Notes for editors:

  • The Palaeontology Department at the Natural History Museum contains over nine million fossil specimens. They range from the smallest single-celled plants and animals mounted on glass slides, through the great range of invertebrates such as worms, corals, brachiopods and molluscs including ammonites, to the fossilised remains of the vertebrates, including marine reptiles, dinosaurs and mammals such as the woolly mammoth. The department’s research programme is the largest and most comprehensive of any comparable institution worldwide. The breadth of research spans more than 500 million years of life on Earth, from the Precambrian to recent times, and covers everything from micro-organisms to mammals
    – including us. Staff collaborate with hundreds of other scientists around the world and research activities generate more than 160 books, scientific papers and web contributions every year.
  • Sauropods were characterised by their gigantic size with exceptionally long necks and tails, bowel shaped bodies and columnar pillar-like legs, they walked on all fours, were all plant eaters and first appeared in the late Triassic period around 215 million years ago. Sauropods were very abundant during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods and their remains are found on all continents except Antarctica. Other famous sauropods include the Brachiosaurus and the Apatosaurus (formerly known as Brontosaurus).

Visitor information

Admission: FREE
Venue: the Natural History Museum
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 10.00–17.50,
Sunday 11.00–17.50
Visitor enquiries: 020 7942 5000
Monday–Friday, 020 7942 5011 Saturday and Sunday
Website: www.nhm.ac.uk

For further information please telephone +44 (0)20 7942 5654 or email press@nhm.ac.uk

Issued March 2005