Dino-Tours: AMNH Sauropoda exhibition

Well, the latest news is that I've just returned from a whistle-stop visit to New York, the sole purpose of which was to encounter the 'World's Largest Dinosaurs' exhibit before it closes on Jan 2nd!

This was not my first trip to New York (I visited once as part of a school trip, so that would have been about 10 years ago!), but it was my first visit to the American Museum of Natural History. This was immensely exciting for me, as it has been on my list of top places to see since I was a kid and finally getting to see that beautiful Barosaurus in the entrance hall was a truly spine-tingling moment!

But before covering the museum itself I'd like to talk about the special exhibit that lured me all the way across the Atlantic. I should explain first that the focus of the exhibition was to investigate the engineering of the largest dinosaurs: the Sauropod family. First of all, as an ex-model maker, I have to say the sculptures on display were astounding. The centre-piece of the exhibit is a life-sized model of a Mamenchisaurus (not quite full-grown, but at 18 ft long, not a baby either). One half of the model is cut away to reveal the muscle structure underneath and towards the forelimb this is cast in clear resin (lovingly airbrushed with blood vessels) to show some of the bones that hold the animal aloft. The icing on the cake is an animated sequence projected onto the animal's belly, which shows the life-sized organs of the respiratory and digestive systems.

This incredible centre-piece is surrounded by many other models, showing various aspects of the engineering of Sauropods in closer detail. A painting that runs along the far wall shows several more species of Sauropod at 1x1 scale (from the diminutive Europasaurus to the gigantic Argentinasaurus). The display was housed in a fairly small space, but there was so much information on offer I ended up spending a full hour wandering around a relatively small room and I'm sure I still didn't get to read everything that was on offer!

I had to move on though, because I still had a whole museum to explore. My first stop, naturally, was the dinosaur halls, divided into Sauriscian and Ornithischian groups. The entire third floor is in fact laid out according to a cladistic map, dividing the specimens on display according to where they fit in the evolutionary chain. I thought this was a pretty ingenious idea and it certainly helps to give context to the exhibits as visitors walk around.
By far the most spectacular exhibits in the permanent collection were the rare and beautiful dinosaur mummies! These were both Hadrosaurids: an Anatosaurus and a Corythosaurus, both fossilized in such a manner as to retain preserved portions of their soft-tissue. To see folds of leathery skin enveloping the wasted remains of these creatures was another one of those spine-chiller moments. I even found myself getting a little bit choked up!

My one teensy gripe with my visit to the AMNH (and it is hardly the museum's fault!) is that by midday the entire place was so crowded I was getting quite exhausted and not a little stressed. I guess that's what I get for visiting a Natural History Museum during the school holidays! However, I managed to find some space amidst the heaving throng of excited kids and desperate parents to do some sketches based on the skeletons on display (see below).

I could bore you all with a lot more about the amazing dioramas in the mammalian and marine galleries, but since this is more of a Dino-related blog, I won't waffle on. I can only recommend that if you've never been to the AMNH then you absolutely must go and check it out for yourself! It's a brilliantly well-thought out building (I only got lost once and that's got to be a record for me! I do think it extremely odd that the museum of Natural history would have galleries filled with human artifacts from various cultures, but let's not split hairs on what is largely a semantic issue. In truth it really is more a 'Museum of Everything' and even if you're not a dinosaur nut, the cenozoic displays, particularly the marine gallery, are an absolute must-see.

Many thanks to all the kind and helpful staff at the American Museum of Natural History and the amazing team of scientists who continue working behind the scenes!


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