Dippy on Tour audio guide
If ever evidence was needed to explain why dinosaurs have captured our imagination – then this is it: Diplodocus. Enormous yet elegant, this animal was just one of the hundreds of dinosaur species that dominated the world for millions of years. The first thing you notice about this magnificent beast is its awe-striking size. One of nature’s ancient giants, this dinosaur is more than 26 metres long (that’s the same length as two double decker buses) and would have weighed almost the same as 10 cars – you would not want a Diplodocus standing on your foot.
Oh, and about the name, scientists say dip-low-dock-us, but you can also say ‘dip-lod-oh-cus’ or even ‘dip-low-doe-cus’. Among friends, he’s affectionately known as Dippy.
Dippy arrived at the Natural History Museum in London in 1905 and has been the star of the Natural History Museum’s collection for more than 100 years. Now, he’s going on tour around the UK to discover the incredible natural history of this country and inspire a new generation of scientists and nature lovers.
These bones are actually copies of the originals found in America – a cast. But don’t be disappointed, it’s such a good copy that it’s still really important. Dippy was the first Diplodocus to go on display anywhere in the world when it was first revealed in 1905. The original bones were discovered at the end of the nineteenth century by palaeontologists employed by the wealthy Scottish industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Edward, Prince of Wales and the future king, saw an illustration of the skeleton hanging in Carnegie’s castle and wanted one for the Museum. Carnegie agreed to send a super-accurate copy and this striking full-sized skeleton arrived in London, hailed by Londoners at the time as ‘a colossal stranger’ and ‘the greatest animal that ever lived’.
Dippy is a 26-metre-long skeleton, with a tiny skull compared with the rest of his body. His skull is 50 centimetres long and 25 centimetres wide, with a long snout and blunt pencil-like teeth that give him an eerie grin.
The bones of his long horizontal neck gradually increase in size towards his shoulders, where the largest is more than half a metre long and half a metre wide. Dippy’s neck is seven metres long in total. If he stuck his neck through the front window of a bus, his head would reach the back row!
His right front leg is slightly further forward than his left, as if he’s walking forwards. Dippy walked on his fingers and toes – like a horse. The bones of his hands make a horseshoe shape that is dwarfed by the two sturdy leg bones. These are topped by smooth, wide-grooved shoulder blades, angled down at 45 degrees to meet a heart-shaped set of breast bones. The biggest ribs in the enormous ribcage are 10 centimetres wide and nearly 2 metres long. Along the top of the backbone and much of the horizontal tail are short, vertical bone projections a few centimetres apart – like a comb.
Starting from clawed feet, Dippy’s back legs are even bigger than his front legs – each thigh bone is one and a half metres long, slotting at the top into a socket made up of huge, smooth fan-shaped hip bones. It’s the upright, tucked-under pose of his legs in particular that define Dippy as a dinosaur.
Mirroring his neck, Dippy’s tail curves another seven metres backwards to a point high above our heads. Starting half a metre wide, each bone is smaller than the one before down to a whiplash end that is only the width of a finger. Scientists think this thin, flexible tail might have been used to make a noise like a whip, as a defence from big predators like Allosaurus.
Hanging at regular intervals under Dippy’s tail is a series of coat-hanger-shaped bones, designed to support and protect the blood vessels there. These bones gave Dippy’s species its name – Diplodocus, which means double-beamed after the particular shape of them.
The colour of fossils depends on what minerals replaced the original bone over time. The original Diplodocus fossils are very dark brown so our Dippy was painted to look the same.
Diplodocus died out 145 million years ago, but we can still learn a lot about how dinosaurs like Dippy lived and behaved from studying the fossils that are left behind. And we can also apply this approach to learn more about ourselves and the natural world around us today.
Script based on work developed in collaboration with Antenna International.