Where are the dinosaurs?
Posted On: 04/24/2017 - 12:46pm, Posted By: Glenn Storrs, Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology
One of the more common questions that visitors ask at the Museum is, “Where are the dinosaurs?” One of our most popular dinosaur exhibits can now be seen at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. This free exhibit in downtown Cincinnati is part of our Curate My Community project, taking place during the renovation of our Union Terminal home. Looming over library visitors is the fossil skeleton of the well-known carnivorous dinosaur Allosaurus fragilis. This twenty-five-foot long theropod, or bird-like dinosaur, is from the Late Jurassic Period and was a major predator 145-million years ago. Its stout, clawed feet, bipedal (two-legged) stance, and large head with numerous knife-like teeth are reminiscent of its distant cousin Tyrannosaurus rex.
Our Allosaurus was collected in the early 1960’s by the University of Utah at a remarkable dinosaur site in Emery County, Utah, known as the Cleveland-Lloyd Quarry. Here, over forty individuals of Allosaurus of various sizes and ages were entombed in the mud of an ancient waterhole. Such an accumulation is rare by any standard and makes this site famous to paleontologists the world over, particularly as the deposit is dominated by the remains of this one large predator. The quarry and its fossils continue to be studied to this day, with a variety of explanations for the concentration of Allosaurus bones still under debate.
To support excavations, the University of Utah, or “The U” as it’s known, solicited contributions from museums and colleges around the world, in return for which a composite skeleton or cast replica of Allosaurus was supplied to each. This “dinosaur department store” was a unique solution to the age-old problem of obtaining funds for not-for-profit scientific research. Our skeleton was initially acquired by Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana in the 1960’s. Earlham, however, did not pay for their example, but rather received their skeleton in exchange for an Indiana mastodon that for many years was on exhibit at the Utah Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City. A plaster cast of Allosaurus is in turn exhibited at Earlham’s Joseph Moore Museum. The actual fossil bones remained in storage at the college for nearly forty years until transferred to Cincinnati in 2004. Earlham received a new cast of the “Ice Age” (Rancholabrean) saber-tooth “tiger,” Smilodon californicus, to exhibit. Through exchanges such as these, everyone benefits as museums are able to share specimens with a broader public audience.
CMC staff and volunteers spent over two years cleaning and restoring the Allosaurus for exhibit, much of the work performed in front of visitors to our Paleontology Exhibit Lab in the Museum of Natural History & Science. The bones comprise about fifty-percent of a skeleton, as is typical for specimens from Cleveland-Lloyd. The remainder of the skeleton was constructed from high-quality resin casts of comparable bones in other museums. Many of these were lent to CMC from the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University for reproduction. Happily, the skeleton at Yale also came from the Cleveland-Lloyd Quarry and was of a similar size to our own. The lightweight casts produced allowed mounting of the skeleton in a realistic, fluid pose, one much more bird-like than many older, traditional mounts in other museums.