A 100-Year-Old Mistake On Dippy The Dinosaur Is Finally Being Corrected

Dippy being assembled in London's Natural History Museum in 1905. Natural History Museum. 

James Felton 18 Dec 2017, 15:17

Dippy the Dinosaur is possibly the most famous dinosaur in the world, other than the T. rex from Jurassic Park and Barney. Just like the T. rex from Jurrasic Park, Dippy is returning very shortly, heading back to the UK after major renovations in Canada. And just like Barney, it turns out Dippy was anatomically incorrect. Something that is now being put right before he returns to tour the UK.

Dippy is currently in Toronto being restored by experts from the Natural History Museum London. While they are at it, they are finally going to correct a mistake that was made when Dippy was first put together. They will be removing the front feet and replacing them with hands. 

Dippy as he looked before he was taken away for renovations. Natural History Museum.

Dippy is a plaster cast replica of a diplodocus that lived between 156 and 145 million years ago, discovered in the west of the USA in 1898. When the replica was first assembled in London in 1905, the front feet were missing. At the time, they had a solution, but it wasn't ideal. 

“Dippy is actually five different sauropods, cobbled together, but they never had diplodocus hands so they just made copies of the feet," Professor Paul Barrett, from the Natural History Museum told the Telegraph.

They had assumed that such a large creature would need bulky feet at the front and back, in order to prop up its enormous weight (an estimated 15 tonnes). So they gave Dippy four feet, instead of two feet and two hands.

However, analysis of footprints have revealed that whilst the back footprints were heavy, the indents from the front footprint show a much lighter tread. The sauropod put most of its weight on its back legs and tail, and used its front, more delicate hands, lightly. 

"Dippy would have walked on the tips of his fingers in a sort of graceful ballet step," Barrett said. 

A similar Sauropod, rearing up. Most of the weight in Sauropods was held up by their back legs and tails. Flickr / Greg.

The stance of the dinosaur will also be changed to more accurately capture how it walked, and will be mounted on a new plinth. Dippy's stance has only been chagned twice before to reflect the most up-to-date scientific thinking.

Once Dippy has been fully restored, he will return to the UK for a tour from February 10, 2018 to late 2020, taking in museums, galleries, and even a cathedral.

“We wanted Dippy to visit unusual locations so he can draw in people who may not traditionally visit a museum," Sir Michael Dixon, Director of the Natural History Museum, said in a statement, "and we have ensured he will still be completely free to view at each stop on his tour.” 

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