When it comes to celebrity skeletons, size matters – but it isn’t everything. Consider Dippy, the diplodocus who presided over the Natural History Museum’s Hintze Hall for years before being forcibly retired. His mahoosive replacement Hope the blue whale is bigger, for sure, but she’s never won hearts like Dippy.
Now there’s a new guy in the house who’s bigger than both of them. Patagotitan mayorum is a titanosaur whose giant thigh-bone was discovered poking out of the ground by an Argentinian rancher in 2010. Paleontologists spent a decade reconstructing patagotitan’s 37-metre skeleton out of the bones of six related beasts found nearby. The result has now been cast in stunning detail and shipped to London to wow museum-goers in a ticketed exhibition dedicated to the mighty beast.
‘Titanosaur: Life as the Biggest Dinosaur’ shows the Natural History Museum at its colossal best. It’s groundbreaking: this is the first European outing for a record-smashing, (relatively) recently discovered titan of the Cretaceous period. It’s diligently curated and tastefully presented: the in-house dino experts really know their bones. And it’s perfectly kid-friendly: this place bleeps more families through its bodyscanners every day than Gatwick in July; it has edutainment down.
The show opens with the femur fossil, a man-sized hunk of bone which looks wonderfully pitted and strange housed in its glass showcase. It then takes you through the life and times of Patagotitan with the aid of artful and artily designed interactive animations. Kids can slap buttons and choose tactics to help the hatchlings escape fire, lightning, hunger, and various predators on the journey to adulthood. This creature’s survival strategy was its size: four times heavier than Dippy and 12m longer than Hope the whale, it could barge and tail-slam its way out of all kinds of trouble once fully grown. But only around one in 100 hatchlings made it to adult heavyweight class.
Interactive elements in exhibitions are often a bit meh; why bother dragging your children across town for some substandard screentime when they could just do whatever it is they do on the sofa at home? But these ones are very nicely judged and include physical, tactile interactions that even tinies can enjoy. The physical heft and fascinating biological adaptations of this huge beast are conveyed in smart, accessible ways, like a big plate that you jump on to weigh yourself off against a junior titanosaur, a set of huffable model lungs and a swooshing, beating heart.
The dino skeleton itself is so vast its tail pokes out of the gallery. These wide-hipped vegetarians were the largest mammals ever to walk the earth and it’s awe-inspiring and wondrous to be able to linger underneath their huge ribs and to touch the minutely detailed casts of their bones. Like Dippy, Titus has tons of personality (around 67 tons, in his livelier days). He’s destined to be a star.