The American Museum of Natural History will open its doors to a new exhibition, T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, exploring the latest research and discoveries related to the dinosaurs known as Tyrannousaurs as a kick-off to the Museum’s 150th Anniversary celebration. As part of this exhibition, the Museum will introduce visitors to the entire tyrannosaur family, and reveal the amazing story of the most iconic dinosaur in the world.
“Dinosaurs, and Tyrannosaurus rex in particular, are such an important and iconic part of the Museum and have been throughout our history,” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History. “So it seems fitting to launch the Museum’s 150th Anniversary celebration with a major new exhibition on the ever-intriguing King of Dinosaurs. This exciting and fascinating exhibition will do what the Museum has done throughout its history and continue to do today: share the latest scientific breakthroughs with the public, introduce visitors to the researchers on the cutting-edge of discovery, shed new light on the great story of life on Earth, and inspire wonder and curiosity in visitors of all ages.”
Our tour of the new exhibition begins with the fact that the first T. rex skeleton was discovered in 1902 by the Museum of Natural History’s legendary fossil hunter, Barnum Brown ~ with one of the few original specimens of T. rex on public display in the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs. But first, take a look back in time to the original findings, courtesy of The American Museum of Natural History.
Above, c. 1908, T. rex skeleton in quarry, Big Dry Creek (Hell Creek Formation), Montana.
Above, c. 1908, Peter Kaisen working on the T. rex skull, Big Dry Creek (Hell Creek Formation), Montana.
Above, c. 1908, Tyrannosaurus skull, Big Dry Creek (Hell Creek Formation), Montana.
Above, c. 1908, Boxing the T. rex pelvis, Big Dry Creek (Hell Creek Formation), Montana.
Above, c. 1942, Charles Lang and Barnum Brown working in lab with the T. rex skeleton.
Images above and below ~ the first T. rex skeleton, on public display in the Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs.
While emphasis is placed on the most impressive member of the family ~ Tyrannosaurus rex, most Tyrannosaurs were not giants. Early species were small and fast, able to avoid confrontations with larger dinosaurs. This presents many questions, with the most obvious ones ~ How did the species grow so quickly, from a size of a chicken to the size of a truck in just 21 years? These and many other questions are answered in this new exhibition, T. Rex: The Ultimate Predator.
The exhibition includes life-sized models, fossils and casts, along with interactive and immersive multiplayer virtual reality experiences that span 100 million years of evolution, and includes dozens of species discovered around the world,.
And ~ a massive life-sized model of a T. rex with patches of feathers ~ the definitive representation of this prehistoric predator. In addition, reconstructions of several T. rex hatchlings and a four-year-old juvenile T. rex.
Exhibition visitors will come face to face with life-size models of a number of tyrannosaurs, including Proceratosaurus bradley i, the earliest known tyrannosaur that lived about 167 millions years ago and was about the size of a wolf with a crest on its snout; Dilong paradoxes, which like many early tyrannosaurs, had arms that were relatively long and capable of seizing small prey, and was the first tyrannosaur found with fossilized feathers (discovered by exhibition curator Dr. Mark Norell and his colleagues in China); and Xiongguanlong baimoensis, a mid-sized tyrannosaur that, when it was discovered in 2009, offered a rare glimpse of a transitional species between the smaller early tyrannosaurs and the later giants.
The exhibits explores ‘Getting Big’ ~ ‘Getting Bad’ ~ and a Sensitive Side. Did you know that scientists still can’t tell the sex from the remains.
The exhibition has a plethora of interactive stations including a shadow theater featuring a floor projection of an adult T. rex skeleton coming to life, and a life-sized animation of T. rex in a Cretaceous environment that responds to visitors’ movements (below) was a big hit with everyone who walked by, especially kids!
Above and below, At the end of the exhibition, visitors will encounter a massive animated projection of a T. rex and its offspring in a Late Cretaceous setting. The huge dinosaur will react to visitors, leaving them to wonder, “Did that T. rex see me?”
Below, exhibition visitors can spin the dial to compare the movement of a young T. rex with an adult.
Above and below, Visitors can experiment with a Praxinoscope that animates the difference between walking and running ~ T. rex could only truly run when it was young.
Below, At a tabletop “Investigation Station,” visitors can explore a variety of fossil casts ranging from coprolite (fossilized feces) to a gigantic femur, using virtual tools including a CT scanner, measuring tape, and a microscope to learn more about what such specimens can reveal to scientists about the biology and behavior of T. rex.
Below, What did a T. rex should like? No one knows. But a logical place to start is to study their closest living relatives. In the exhibition, a “roar mixer” allows visitors to combine the calls of birds and crocodilians with the sounds of contemporary large animals such as elephants, whales, and bison to create a customized roar that accompanies an animated T. rex.
Below, Tyrannosaurus rex ~ Extra Fingers ~ these fingers were part of the original T. rex display.
The American Museum of Natural History continues to be the launch pad for over 100 expeditions a year.
“Through VR (below), visitors can engage with the subject of the exhibition in an exciting, in-depth way that enriches their knowledge and leaves a lasting memory for years to come,” said Victoria Chang, Director of HTC VIVE Arts. The facilitated experience will “transport” up to three players at a time to a space similar to the Museum’s Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs, where they will team up to build a T. rex skeleton bone by bone. Once all of the bones are in place, the players will watch as the T. rex comes to life in marshland that is now Montana, its home 66 million years ago.
Above and below, As part of T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, the Museum will present T. rex: Skeleton Crew, its first interactive, multi-player virtual reality experience, created in collaboration with HTC VIVE. The five-minute experience will be offered to visitors ages 12 and older within the exhibition.
Another of the interactive exhibits is a “roar mixer” where visitors can imagine what T. rex may have sounded like by blending sounds from other animals. Image below, brain casts indicate that T. rex had excellent vision. Its eyes, the size of oranges ~ some of the largest eyes of any land animal ~ faced forward like a hawk and were set wider apart than most other dinosaurs, giving it superior depth perception.
New research on this powerful hunter’s senses show that its keen vision, smell, and hearing made it very hard for prey to avoid detection. The exhibition explores how scientists use brain casts, and observed behaviors of living t. rex relatives (birds and alligators) to learn more about how T. rex navigated its environment.
Above, in conversation (from L-R) Michael Novacek, Senior Vice President; Provost of Science; and Curator, Division of Paleontology ~ Mark Norell, Chair and Macaulay Curator, Division of Paleontology, and Curator of T. rex: The Ultimate Predator ~ Gregory Erickson, Paleobiologist, Florida State University ~ and Jasmine Wiemann, Molecular Paleobiologist, Yale University.
“In the last 30 years, we’ve seen a huge increase in both the number of tyrannosaur fossil discoveries as well as the availability of technology that lets us explore complex questions about these charismatic animals,” Norell said. “I never would have imagined that one day we’d be able to look at the shape of T. rex’s brain, analyze the tiny daily growth lines on their massive teeth to determine how quickly they put on weight, or use advanced biomechanics modeling to figure out the force of its bite.”
Above photo of Mark Norell, Chair and Macaulay Curator in the Museum’s Division of Paleontology, in his office which is the entire top floor of the Museum’s historic turret on the corner of 77th Street and Central Park West.
Dr. Norell joined the Museum in 1989 and has led and participated in an number of scientific investigations into the biology and evolutionary history of tyrannosaurs and other theropods ~ the group of dinosaurs most closely related to modern birds ~ including the first discovery of a feathered tyrannosaur, Dilong paradoxes, in 2004.
Many of the studies led by Dr. Norell and his colleagues and former students are reflected in the new exhibition. Gregory Erickson, professor of anatomy and vertebrate paleontology at Florida State University, is a consultant for this exhibition.
Take a look at a few photos, behind the scenes in the Paleontology Division and the Microscopy and Imaging Labs, on our way to Dr. Norell’s office on a visit in 2016.
Above, the Microscopy and Imaging Facility, which aids in the research of the Museum’s whole scientific community with state-of-the-art imaging instruments, including scanning electron microscopes (SEM), a transmission electron microscope (TEM), and an x-ray computed tomography scanner (CT Scanner). This lab has the ability to investigate internal features using non-destructive methods, allowing for the exploration of their priceless collection.
It is interesting to note that the CT data can be used to reconstruct the central nervous system to study the evolutionary history of the brain. 3-D representations of physical objects can be reconstructed, such as the interiors of fossilized skulls. These are known as digital endocranial casts, or endocasts.
The above image is of the CT scanner, which has the ability to capture thousands of sequential x-ray images, as if digitally dissecting. It also can view high-resolution images of objects from fossils to meteorites.
Above, image of one of a back hallway lined with lockers from floor to ceiling and below, the Division of Paleontology’s collection storage spaces.
T. Rex: The Ultimate Predator is curated by Mark Norell, Chair and Macaulay Curator in the Museum’s Division of Paleontology. The exhibition will be on view from March 11, 2019 to March 14, 2021. The American Museum of Natural History is located at Central Park West at 79th Street, NYC.