Thursday, November 12, 2009

Diplodocus Diplomacy

In 1907, the American Museum of Natural History made the remarkable gift of a Diplodocus skeleton to Kaiser Wilhelm II for display in the then-brand-new Senckenberg Museum in Frankfurt. While the Carnegie Musem had given a Diplodocus mount to the British Museum in 1905, it was a plaster cast, a replica. This AMNH gift to the Germans consisted of actual fossil bone, mounted in relief on a wood-framed slab of plaster.

From the July 1907 issue of WORLD TODAY

Here's an excerpt of an article from the July 1907 issue of a magazine called World Today about the gift - it starts on page 846 if you care to check out the original. It's a nice piece of old-timey dinosaur lore. My favorite bit describes an ingenious (if utterly silly) hypothetical function of a sauropod's tail:
One of the most remarkable structural features of the diplodocus was the whip-like and powerful tail, thirty feet long, over half the length of the body. This served the creature as a propeller, enabling him to swim very rapidly through the water when attacked and pursued by the carnivorous dinosaurs of the same period. Another peculiar function of this ponderous tail was that it acted like a lever and balanced and supported the animal when he assumed an upright position, which he is thought to have done both in water and on land.
Silly but harmless outdated thinking (the article entitled "The Negro Situation - One Way Out" is not so harmless). I'd love to know what happened to this mount. I haven't been able to find any recent pictures of it, though the Senckenberg Museum does have a free standing Diplodocus mount in their dinosaur hall, and a statue outside. Very curious.

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