The Tale Of The Disappearing Dinosaur Tail
Behind the Scenes at the Natural History Museum, London
The sale of a Diplodocus skeleton for £400,000 at auction in West Sussex last week brought to my mind a little titbit about the Museum’s specimen. The Diplodocus in the Central Hall, affectionately known as Dippy, is a cast taken from the type specimen of Diplodocus carnegii that was unearthed in Wyoming, USA in 1898.
When it was originally put on display in the Museum in 1905, the long tail drooped downwards and trailed along the floor.
I learned from Professor Richard Fortey that this placement was not popular with staff:
“Unscrupulous visitors would occasionally steal that last vertebra from the end of the tail. There was even a box of “spares” to make good the work of thieves so that the full backbone was restored by the time the doors opened the following day.”
It wasn’t until 1993, as scientific understanding of dinosaur biology improved, that Dippy’s tail was repositioned to curve above visitors heads, which is how it is seen today.