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122-Foot Dinosaur Makes Its Colossal Debut at the American Museum of Natural History

The Titanosaur at the American Museum of Natural History
The debut of the Titanosaur at the American Museum of Natural History (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic unless noted)

A cast of one of the largest dinosaurs to walk the Earth some 100 million years ago is being unveiled this week at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York. The Titanosaur is not just a new permanent installation, which the museum hopes will become an icon alongside its blue whale, it’s a dinosaur so recently discovered it doesn’t have an official name. By adding the creature to its fourth-floor dinosaur galleries, AMNH is encouraging curiosity about the still-buried mysteries of our planet’s past and engaging with the current direction of paleontology.

Excavation site for the dinosaur on which the AMNH's new cast is based, in the desert near La Flecha, 135 miles west of Trelew, Patagonia. It was discovered by a team from Argentina’s Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio (© Dr. Alejandro Otero)
Excavation site for the dinosaur on which the AMNH’s new cast is based, in the desert near La Flecha, 135 miles west of Trelew, Patagonia. It was discovered by a team from Argentina’s Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio. (© Dr. Alejandro Otero) (click to enlarge)

The Titanosaur opens to the public today; the preview yesterday included the grand dropping of a black velvet curtain hiding the 122-foot skeleton, to enthusiastic applause. Titanosaur is a catchall name for large plant-eating sauropods that were characterized by long necks and tails and incredibly heavy girth.

It’s estimated that AMNH’s Titanosaur, a Late Cretaceous specimen found in Argentina’s Patagonia desert in 2014 by a team from the Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio, weighed 70 tons, or roughly 10 African elephants, as a museum graphic helpfully conveys. It’s so big it can’t even fit into the spacious gallery, with its 39-foot neck poking out into the adjacent elevator bank.

“Other giant species of dinosaurs are mostly known from fragmentary remains,” Diego Pol, a paleontologist on the team that discovered the dinosaur, said at the preview. “For this animal, we have over 70% of the skeleton.”

Five bones excavated over 18 months at the site — including an eight-foot-tall femur — are on temporary view at AMNH. These are too heavy to include in the fiberglass cast. According to the Wall Street Journal, Pol’s team has submitted a publication which, on approval, will give the Titanosaur its official name.

The Titanosaur at the American Museum of Natural History
Real Titanosaur fossils on temporary view at the American Museum of Natural History
The Titanosaur at the American Museum of Natural History
Beneath the rib cage of the Titanosaur

It’s remarkable that in the 21st century, scientists are still discovering new dinosaurs on such a scale, and Titanosaur is hardly the only one. Mark Norell, curator and chair in the Division of Paleontology at the AMNH, stated at the preview that there are dinosaur fertile parts of Central Asia that have long been inaccessible for geographic or political reasons, but where “there are likely to be other large animals found, there are certainly traces.”

Natural history museums often face a challenging decision, between showcasing scientific discoveries and preserving beloved museum displays. For example, at London’s Natural History Museum, a plan to replace the cast of a Diplodocus that had been installed in the entrance hall since 1979 with an actual blue whale skeleton caused an uproar.

At the AMNH, the Titanosaur has itself displacedBarosaurus that had been on view since 1996. Some visitors might miss the fleshed-out Barosaurus model, but it’s valuable that the museum is giving a huge amount of real estate to such a new discovery. The opening of the Titanosaur installation launches a series of events at AMNH concentrating on new developments in paleontology. That such massive creatures can still be found, and that the deep history of our planet still holds such discoveries, add up to an important message about the essential nature of science.

The Titanosaur at the American Museum of Natural History
Entrance to the Titanosaur gallery at the American Museum of Natural History
The Titanosaur at the American Museum of Natural History
View of the Titanosaur’s 39-foot neck stretching out of the gallery
The Titanosaur at the American Museum of Natural History
Feet of the Titanosaur
The Titanosaur at the American Museum of Natural History
The Titanosaur installed at the American Museum of Natural History
The Titanosaur at the American Museum of Natural History
A view of the 39-foot Titanosaur neck
The Titanosaur at the American Museum of Natural History
Looking at the Titanosaur from another fourth-floor gallery at the American Museum of Natural History

The Titanosaur is on longterm view at the American Museum of Natural History (Central Park West at 79th Street, Upper West Side, Manhattan). 

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