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Seeing double Dippy

Posted by Amy Freeborn on Oct 15, 2014 4:00:54 PM

On a little trip to Paris recently I met Dippy's identical twin.


Our iconic Diplodocus in Hintze Hall, affectionately known as Dippy, is actually a cast taken from the type specimen of Diplodocus carnegii, which was unearthed in Wyoming, USA in 1898.


The original fossil stands in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. But there are said to be at least 10 replicas dotted around the world. One lives here with us. And another resides in Paris at the National Museum of Natural History in its Gallery of Palaeontology.



Our Diplodocus, left; and the Paris Diplodocus, right. The resemblance is uncanny.


However, on closer inspection at the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle de Paris, I realised that Dippy's French sibling wasn't so identical after all.


You may recall from my previous blog that when the original and casts were (re)constructed, their tails rested on the ground. However, advances in scientific understanding led to a determination that Diplodocus did not drag their tails, but held them aloft and used them as whip-like weapons. So in 1993 we repositioned our Dippy's tail to curve over visitors' heads, as you know it today.



A 1905 illustration of the original Diplodocus carnegii, which was described by John Bell Hatcher in 1901, and reconstructed by Hatcher and William Holland.


The Paris Diplodocus in original tail-dragging pose.



Our Dippy's graceful tail, which extends nine feet above the ground.


Of course it's not surprising that the Paris Diplodocus retains its historic pose. Repositioning a dinosaur's tail is no simple task. Our repositioning operation took several months to complete and involved the old tail being dismantled and the plaster of Paris vertebrae moulded and re-cast in hollow fibreglass. This ensured the tail was light enough to be mounted in an elevated position, and could accommodate a supporting strut inside it.



While the re-casting was being performed, Dippy was given a temporary cardboard tail.


But what about the other Diplodocus casts around the world? And the original fossil in Pittsburgh, for that matter? Well, I checked in with proto-Dippy and can confirm that its tail is elevated. Plus, I know that the cast at the National Museum of Natural Science in Madrid has been repositioned, as it was two of our conservators who assisted in that operation. And our palaeontologists Angela Milner and Paul Barrett, who visited the cast on display at The La Plata Museum in La Plata, Argentina, report that its tail remains on the ground.


As for the rest, I would love to hear your accounts of Diplodocus cast spotting around the world. Please post your comments and pictures below.

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