|Dippy the Diplodocus|
The Natural History Museum
While the winter has been a quiet one in regards to my writing (or at least my writing here; there's been plenty of application and manuscript prep), as per usual paleontology has been making headlines. There's not much in addressing most of these after the fact, but there was one story that hit a nerve both personally and professionally that I felt was worth revisiting. I'm betting that the majority of what's left of my audience knows that back in January London's Natural History Museum announced that Dippy, the Diplodocus skeleton that's been the centerpiece of their main hall for nearly four decades is going to be replaced by a blue whale skeleton as part of the museum's renovation project. I've written before about the personal significance of Dippy to my own development as a paleontologist (the brief synopsis is that he was the key figure in my origin story) and so, like a whole generation of paleontologists, my first reaction was one of dismay. However, approaching things from a museological standpoint, it's not too hard to come up with a whole list of reasons why a blue whale makes for a better centerpiece. It's bigger, first of all; bigger, in fact, than any dinosaur or any other vertebrate that has ever lived (unless you buy the upper limits of the mass estimates for some sauropod species, of which it is wise to be extremely skeptical given the scrappiness of the material and the corresponding degree of extrapolation necessary in most cases). This may sound trivial, but the NHM's central hall was clearly envisioned by its founder Richard Owen and architect Alfred Waterhouse to evoke the style of Europe's great cathedrals, and it has stood the test of time as one of the most spectacular examples of monumental museum architecture in the world. Diplodocus was undeniably a big animal, but was quite svelte for its size, meaning that Dippy has always been dwarfed by his surroundings; architectural sketches seem to suggest that the whale will fill the space better. Also, Dippy hails from Wyoming, while the blue whale was found beached in Ireland, meaning that while the star of the museum's show still won't be English, it will at least be from the British Isles. Dippy, for all his fame, is a cast of a specimen housed in Pittsburgh, while the whale will be the genuine article. Even the argument that Dippy should be retained because he is the museum's traditional centerpiece don't hold water, as a whale skeleton occupied the space well before the dinosaur made its debut. And so, despite my personal attachment to Dippy, from pretty much practical and educational standpoint, the whale makes much more sense.
|Illustration of the NHM Blue Whale|
The Natural History Museum