The Stan Gallery

The first-ever mounted skeleton of Tyrannosaurus rex went on display at the American Museum of Natural History in 1915, and for nearly 30 years, the New York museum was the only place in the world where one could see the world’s most famous dinosaur in person. The situation today could not be more different. More than 50 individual Tyrannosaurus specimens of varying degrees of completeness are now known, and thanks to casting technology the number of Tyrannosaurus skeletons on display may well exceed one hundred.

A significant fraction of those displays are casts of BHI 3033, the T. rex specimen more commonly known as Stan. Excavated in South Dakota in 1992 by the Black Hills Institute (a for-profit outfit specializing in excavating, preparing and mounting fossils), Stan is significant for being over two-thirds complete and for including the best preserved Tyrannosaurus skull yet found. Since 1996, BHI has sold dozens of casts of the complete Stan skeleton (missing bones are filled in with casts from the original AMNH T. rex, among others) to museums and other venues around the world. At a relatively affordable $100,000 plus shipping, even small local museums and the occasional wealthy individual can now own a Tyrannosaurus mount. Stan is, by a wide margin, the most duplicated and most exhibited dinosaur in the world today. As of 2008, BHI had sold more than 30 Stan casts, and that number has grown substantially since then, particularly with the increased interest in dinosaur displays in Asia.

One might argue that this extreme amount of replication lessens the cultural value of museum displays. What allure do museums have when the specimens on display are fiberglass replicas, of which identical versions can be seen at dozens of other venues, including corporate offices and amusement parks? I would counter that this is a small price to pay when we consider the immense educational benefits of this unprecedented availability of dinosaur skeletons. Children and adults around the world now have  the opportunity to see a T. rex in person, an experience that was until recently limited to citizens of a handful of large cities. What’s more, the huge body of research on Tyrannosaurus makes it a veritable model organism for vertebrate paleontology, so increasing access to T. rex fossils for international scientists is definitely helpful.

Besides, a fossil mount is far more than the fossil bones it is composed of. Mounts are in equal measures natural specimens and man-made objects, works of installation art designed to communicate a story through pose, posture and a carefully arranged mise-en-scene. Below are 14 examples of Stan on display, highlighting the great range attainable with a single dinosaur.

Image sources: Orientation UofMa_leistra, Bill and Sandra WayneReluctant Drifter, Roadschooling America, dinonikes, Texas Tigers, Momotarou2012, Helana Handbasket and Marie Thomas.

5 Comments

February 2, 2014 · 11:55 am

5 responses to “The Stan Gallery

  1. cool speciemens do you know if the parts were all authenic where whole dino skeletons were found or did they have to fill in gaps with imagination?

    • Ben

      That’s a really good question. The original Stan skeleton that was found in South Dakota was missing about 1/3 of the bones, but among the 50+ T. rex specimens that have been found we have at least one example of almost every bone in its body. The Stan skeletons on display at museums around the world use replicas of bones from other T. rex individuals to fill in the gaps.

      T. rex, however, is an unusually well-known dinosaur. Most dinosaurs are only known from partial skeletons, so virtually all dinosaurs on display in museums use bones from several individuals, and some missing bones are sculpted by hand. These sculpture stand-ins aren’t pure imagination though…all backboned animals have nearly all the same bones in the same places, so scientists have a good idea of what pieces are missing.

      This is a good article on why museums use casts and replicas in their display skeletons: http://paleocoll.blogspot.com/2010/07/f-word.html

  2. Pingback: This Week I Found: February 1-7 2014 | Scientia and Veritas

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