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Diggin' For Dinosaurs - Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Updated on March 30, 2010

Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh's hospitals are renowned for organ transplants, but an equally noteworthy head transplant took place down the road in Dinosaur Hall at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. For years after it was dug out of Jurassic rock in Utah in 1909, the most complete skeleton of an Apatosaurus ever found was displayed headless at the museum, because a skull found 12 feet from its neck was considered too small and wimpy for such a massive beast. To compound the indignity, it was capped with the wrong head for 40 years while the real head sat forgotten on a basement shelf.

This dinosaur alone is worth a visit to the Carnegie, where a spectacular parade of dinosaurs winds its way through the museum. The procession starts in the lobby with a Tyrannosaurus rex mounted in full run to greet visitors, whether busloads of schoolchildren or the Rolling Stones, who stopped in for a private tour when they played Pittsburgh some years ago.

With more than 500 specimens from 28 different species, the Carnegie holds one of the largest collections of dinosaur bones in the United States, and the best collection of sauropods - the largest animals known to have walked on Earth.

With their long necks and tails, sauropods are familiar to most people. As you enter Dinosaur Hall, stunning sauropods stand single file before you in two columns. The old-fashioned exhibit dates to the end of the 19th century, when industrialist Andrew Carnegie caught "bronto fever" and was swept up in the race to find the biggest and best dinosaurs for his beloved museum. One Sunday morning in November 1898, Carnegie's eye was caught by a headline in the New York Journal: "Most Colossal Animal Ever on Earth Just Found Out West!" The accompanying drawing showed a dinosaur peering into an eleventh-story window of the New York Life Building. Carnegie wanted the behemoth and fired off a note to museum director William J. Holland, instructing him to "Buy this for Pittsburgh." He enclosed a check for $10,000.

Holland immediately set out for Wyoming, where he soon learned that only a single bone of the colossus had been found. But within a year, in excavations in the Morrison Formation of Sheep Creek, Carnegie collectors found another dinosaur that met the philanthropist's standards - a huge Diplodocus, which at 84 feet long and 12 tons was one of the longest creatures to ever walk on Earth. Nicknamed "Dippy," it became an instant celebrity. Carnegie built a hall large enough to hold the skeleton and proudly sent casts of it to the British monarch and other European leaders.

Today, you can see the original of Diplodocus carnegii - actually a composite of bones from two individuals - in the middle of the left column in Dinosaur Hall. With peglike teeth, it was a plant eater that browsed on low-story vegetation some 120 million years ago.

Until his death in 1919, philanthropist Carnegie funded many dinosaur expeditions. Perhaps the most famous involved the discovery of the richest Jurassic dinosaur quarry, now part of Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, where most of the Carnegie's display skeletons were excavated.

Continued in: Diggin' For Dinosaurs - Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Part 2

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