/ The London Traveler

A few of my favourite things: the diplodocus

Now here’s another of my favourite things. Nothing cultural or recondite about this one; it’s most kids’ favourite in London, and it was mine. It’s the hulking great diplodocus skeleton in the Natural History Museum [map].

Unlike some of my favourites, which you have to look around for, you really can’t miss this one – he’s in the entrance hall of the museum. It’s partly the setting that makes it so special – this huge dinosaur, in the cavernous, echoing hall.

A few facts. Diplodocus here is 26 metres long, and he’s an American.  Or rather, he’s three Americans – the skeleton was made out of casts of bones from three deparate dinosaurs. 324 bones in all. And he’s about 150 million years old.

He has changed over the past few years. When I was little I was told that diplodocus was too heavy to walk on land, and lived in swamps and lakes where the water would support his huge bulk. But now, apparently, scientists have had another look at the bones, and reckon this dinosaur was much nippier and more dynamic than the rather soppy waterweed-eater of my childhood. So his tail and head have been pulled up, making the skeleton look a bit more alert – though still not very frightening. (If you want the horrors, its Tyrannosaurus Rex you need to look for.)

The diplodocus is probably responsible for turning a lot of kids on to nature. I wonder how many scientists now working on genome sequencing or global warming got started by looking up at his huge grinning jaws, and going back to school with a different attitude to their biology lessons?

And of course unlike most museum exhibits – though like Pete Marsh in the British Museum, and a few others – this dinosaur has a nickname, which makes him all the dearer to me. He’s Dippy, of course.

Photo by Mariosp on flickr

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