The most famous single dinosaur skeleton in the world, Dippy the Diplodocus has been on display at more places than any other sauropod dinosaur. After a cast of Dippy’s skeleton was first unveiled at London’s Natural History Museum in 1905, he inspired the subsequent popularity of the entire Diplodocus genus and was, for many, the first dinosaur they had ever seen.
Discovered in Wyoming in 1898, Dippy’s discovery, skeleton casting and distribution to museums around the world popularised the word ‘dinosaur’ for the first time amongst the general public, and today he is a subject of scientific study as well as a fascinating sight for dinosaur-lovers around the world.
Here are 10 facts about the extraordinary Dippy the Diplodocus.
1. His skeleton is between 145-150 million years old
Diplodocuses existed during the Late Jurassic Period around 150 million years ago in the middle of the Mesozoic era. They then died out around 145 million years ago. Dinosaur contemporaries included the Stegosaurus and Allosaurus: in contrast, other famed dinosaurs such as the Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops lived far later, during the Cretaceous period (100-66 million years ago).
2. His skeleton is huge
Dippy’s skeleton is huge, measuring 21.3 metres long, and over 4 metres wide and high. Constructing Dippy is an epic undertaking, since his 292 bones have to be assembled in precise order. On average, it takes a week (around 49 hours) to construct Dippy by a team of four technicians and two conservators. At the time that Dippy was unearthed, newspapers heralded the discovery as the ‘most colossal animal ever on Earth.’
3. He would have lived in modern-day western USA
All Diplodocus specimens ever found have been in modern-day western USA such as Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. When they lived, America was part of the northern supercontinent known as Laurasia. What are now large, acrid desert areas in the US were originally, during Dippy’s era, warm, green and biodiverse floodplains.
4. He was discovered from 1899 onwards
Dippy’s discovery was catalysed by the announcement of the excavation of a large thigh bone, not belonging to Dippy, in 1899 in Wyoming. Scottish industrialist Andrew Carnegie financed further excavation a year later, and in 1899, the first part of Dippy’s skeleton, a toe bone, was discovered. It was discovered on US Independence Day, meaning that he has been nicknamed the ‘star-spangled dinosaur’.
5. His ‘proper’ name is ancient Greek
The name ‘Diplodocus’ comes from the ancient Greek words ‘diplos’ and ‘dokus’, which translates to ‘double beam’. This refers to the double-beamed chevron bones from the underside of the tail. Palaeontologist Othniel Charles Marsh named the creature ‘Diplodocus’. He also went on to name the Brontosaurus, Stegosaurus and Triceratops.
6. His skeleton is a composite cast of five different discoveries
Dippy is actually a cast from five different Diplodocus discoveries, including a fossil discovered by railroad workers in 1898 in Wyoming, USA. While most of the skeleton is from the same animal, it has been supplemented by missing tail bones, skull elements and foot and limb bones.
7. He is one of ten replicas around the world
There are 10 replicas of Dippy around the world. The original skeleton has been displayed at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History since 1907, named for the Scottish-born millionaire businessman and museum owner Andrew Carnegie. The original was displayed two years after the first cast was shown because the museum needed to be expanded to house the skeleton. Today, the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh has a full model of Dippy, rather than just a skeleton.
8. Andrew Carnegie aimed to strengthen international bonds through the discovery
Andrew Carnegie financed the acquisition of the skeleton in 1898, as well as the donation of the casts in the early 20th century. Speaking in 2019, his great-grandson William Thompson explained that Carnegie aimed, in donating casts to the heads of state of eight countries, to show that nations have more in common than what separates them. Carnegie wanted to advocate for scientific research and world peace, with Thompson calling his actions ‘a form of dinosaur diplomacy’.
Indeed, London’s replica came about when King Edward VII became interested in drawings of the skeleton owned by Carnegie, leading Carnegie to commission a replica.
9. His skeleton has changed in appearance
Over the years, as our understanding of dinosaur biology and evolution has changed, so has the appearance of Dippy’s skeleton. His head and neck originally pointed downwards; however, in the 1960s they were raised to a horizontal position. Similarly, in 1993, the tail was repositioned to curve upwards.
10. He was hidden during the war
During World War Two, Dippy’s skeleton was disassembled and stored in the museum’s basement to protect it from damage, in the event that the museum was bombed.