The Great Dinosaur Plot

One of my most cherished memories of London was visiting the Natural History Museum to see my favourite dinosaur – or, rather, the famous cast of it – Diplodocus carnegii. I’ve been twice: once as a wee guy, and once as a not-so-wee guy. Both occasions filled me with the same sense of wonder, history, and awe regardless of the gulf in space and time. And soon, many wee Scots who haven’t had the opportunity to meet Dippy will have their chance!

I wrote a piece which contained a history of Diplodocus‘ discovery to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Edgar Rice Burrough’s “The Land That Time Forgot,” a book and author which means a great deal to me. While I’d be thrilled if you read the original post, I’ll replicate the relevant sections regarding Dippy here:

Although Diplodocus was well known for many years, a series of events thrust it into celebrity status over the turn of the 20th Century – due in no small part to the legendary industrialist-philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie was fascinated by dinosaurs, and so was a significant donor and financier of many palaeontological expeditions, particularly through the Carnegie Museum of Pittsburgh, but it was the great sauropods in particular that captivated him: something about that enormous but gentle giant seemed to appeal to his sensibilities.

Arthur Coggeshall, preparator-in-chief of the Carnegie Museum’s Vertebrate Paleontology Department, made an astounding discovery on the 4th of July, 1899, on a dig at Sheep Creek, Wyoming – an almost complete skeleton of what was surely Diplodocus. The completeness of the remains, followed by a similar companion skeleton shortly later, convinced Hatcher that this was a Diplodocusa new species of Diplodocus, in fact. In 1901, Hatcher named the species Diplodocus carnegii, in honour of the museum’s patron. This skeleton was initially given the collection number CM 84: after it was mounted at the Carnegie Museum, it eventually became affectionately known as “Dippy.”

The museum director, William Jacob Holland, was so proud of the discovery he made a sketch of the skeleton and mailed it all the way to Castle Skibo – Carnegie’s home in Scotland. Carnegie was evidently just as impressed, as he hanged the picture on the wall: he finally got his Diplodocus. When visiting, Edward VII inquired about the curious skeleton. The British Museum of Natural History simply must have one of those, he surely thought. Carnegie asked for Holland to find another skeleton, but seeing as complete skeletons for dinosaurs are rare enough as it is, Carnegie had another idea – a replica.

This idea in itself would prove revolutionary: usually museums mounted the fossils themselves, often damaging them in the process, and restricting the amount of research that can be carried out. Mounting plaster casts meant that the real fossils could be preserved and studied, while providing the public with a potent and powerful interaction with the creatures themselves. Thus, in 1905, the first skeletal cast of a Diplodocus was presented to the BMNH, where remained for the rest of the century.

Dippy was such a resounding success that Carnegie ordered more replicas to be produced and transported to museums across the world: to the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin; the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle in Paris; the Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna; the Museo Geologico Giovanni Capellini in Bologna; the Zoological Museum of the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg; the Museo de la Plata in Argentina; the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid; the Museo de Paleontología in Mexico City; and finally the Paläontologische Museum München in Munich. Dippy was the first global dinosaur skeleton.

Dippy has not been free of controversy: Ray Lankaster, the BMNH’s director at the time, mildly lamented the imposition of an American dinosaur when there were plenty of perfectly good British dinosaurs for people to see – a notion reflected in many cartoons of the time (and, indeed, today) – and made great pains to point out that Diplodocus was, after all, simply “an improved and enlarged form of an English creature, for we have recently discovered in the Oxford clays a specimen of a dinosaur not quite as large as Diplodocus, but in a measure a rival… You will find the remains of this creature in the Hall of Palaeontology.”

Likewise, John Lubbock was bizarrely condescending in his acceptance, commenting that “the size of the animal does not indeed necessarily add much to the interest.” The notion that Dippy is not a “real” fossil skeleton is also something very intelligent and not at all tedious bores love to point out, ignoring the historical, sociological, & cultural value the cast itself retains. Unlike tiresome one-upmanship between imperial powers, Dippy has withstood the tests of critics and time, and is currently on a tour of museums around the isles.

So that’s the story of Dippy, which will no doubt be expanded and illustrated at Kelvingrove itself. If there’s one thing I’ve always really wanted for Scotland – apart from, well, the obvious – it’s a Diplodocus carnegii. Museums around the world have their own, after all, so it isn’t like it would be something different. Carnegie’s own Scottish roots are well-documented too. And Scotland’s own contributions to the field of palaeontology mean surely we could justify the presence of one of the most famous dinosaur skeletons in history?

Alas, we’ll only be looking after Dippy for a short while: after its tenure at Kelvingrove, Dippy will be crossing the border to Newcastle:

Dippy, the Natural History Museum’s iconic Diplodocus cast, is going on a natural history adventure across the UK, and will visit Glasgow between 22nd January – 6th May 2019!

Wait a minute – what’s that date?

will visit Glasgow between 22nd January – 6th May 2019!

Guys.

22nd January – 6th May 2019!

Guys.

We have a golden opportunity here. Right. This sounds crazy. It is crazy. But…

<<<DISCLAIMER: WHAT FOLLOWS IS SATIRE AND NOT INTENDED TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY BY THE KELVINGROVE MUSEUM AND ART GALLERY, POLICE SCOTLAND, OR ANYONE, DON’T BE A GRASS>>>

We know – I know there’s still technically ambiguity, but come on, look at the way things are going – that the UK is going to leave the EU on the 29th March 2019, deal or no deal. As such, it is the Scottish Parliament’s duty to begin the process for giving the people of Scotland the opportunity to choose independence – whether it’s by Section 30, no Section 30, a General Election with a direct mandate for independence, whatever the case. We don’t have the luxury of waiting for an optimum time given the natural disaster 2019 promises to be. It’s coming – and so is another independence referendum.

But rather than focus on the negatives, look at the positives – If we have a referendum/election/whatever before 6th May 2019, we might be able to keep Dippy.

I saw this on that documentary, One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing. If three grannies can thwart the UK and Chinese security agencies (or UK security posing unconvincingly as Chinese security agencies) and steal a dinosaur, then surely we Scots can too? We just have to make sure Dippy never leaves Kelvingrove. Kelvingrove is an imposing fortress to be sure, but it isn’t insurmountable: I say two dozen stout champions could take it without loss of life.  Look, I have it all planned out:

What could the UK do? They’d have much bigger problems to deal with than a plaster skeleton. Heck, they’d probably sell it to some rich Sheik or Russian bankster to recoup the costs of their ludicrous adventure. So I issue a call to arms: people of Scotland, form a human ring around Dippy! Hands Off Our Diplodocus! We can do it if we believe!

… No?

Well, I can dream, can’t I?

In truth, Dippy on Tour is a great idea: it brings one of the most important pieces of palaeontological history around the isles, to people who normally couldn’t make it to the Natural History Museum. It isn’t just for dinosaurs and palaeontology that this is important, but to redefine the nature of museums and antiquities themselves: to bring the past outside of the hallowed halls and citadels of London, and to show the greater context of such knowledge in a world that seems increasingly less likely to be interested. 2019 could do with all the good news stories it can get.

Happy New Year, all!

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