HE MAN WHO NAMED Trex., Henry Fairfield Osbom, is also the one who gave several generations of scientists, artists, moviemakers, and so most of us, our sense of what T. rex looked like and acted like—ferocious, upright, and tail dragging. That was the pose of the best-known T. rex skeleton of them all, the one that has thrilled so many youngsters and inspired a bunch of them (including Harvard University's Stephen Jay Gould) to become pale-
That's how T. rex stood for most of this century at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. But it isn't how scientists now think of T. rex. And it wasn't the impression Osborn intended.
Osborn did envision T. rex as the top dog among dinosaur hunters, "the chief exterminator of Tricer-atops." Its massive teeth, "pointed like daggers," were used to "terrorize the other animals that lived at the same time." T. rex was vicious, in Osborn's mind, in keeping with its primitive nature, "the tendency of the older forms to be the more quarrelsome and wage their combats with greater persistence."
Osborn thought T. rex walked upright and slept lying down. Its big T-shaped pubic bone, Osborn thought, would have been the anchor for heavy abdominal muscles. Those gut muscles held T. rex up when walking.
Though he thought T. rex walked upright, Osborn also believed T. rex was a fast runner. "For an animal of
this size, Tyrannosaurus was unquestionably fleet of foot." So also thought T. rex's discoverer, Barnum Brown, who imagined T. rex as "active and swift of movement when the occasion arose."
Osborn thought its forelimbs, no longer than ours, were "apparendy of very littie use," except as "meat hooks." He did have one other interesting idea for how they might have been used—for stroking its partner during mating.
Henry Fairfield Osborn was not just a great and influential scientist, he was a smart administrator. As a scientist at the American Museum, and in the fifteen years he was its president (1908-1923), he made it into a world-class institution, in part by being a showman. He this classic and wrong mount of t. rex stood for decades in the american museum of natural history in new york until it was dismantled in 1992.
loved spectacular displays, and he had one in mind for T. rex. When he named T. rex in 1905, Osborn, then a senior researcher, promptly had what was available of the animal (hind limbs of yet another T. rex that Brown had found that year) mounted in a sttinning but unlikely upright pose that made the legs stand fifteen feet from hip to floor. In December of 1906, even before the partial skull of T. rex's namesake specimen was prepared, the legs of T. rex were put on display beside an Apatosaurus (then known as Brontosaurus and given a Camarasaurus-Uke head). The New York Times headlined its feature on the display of the mount "The Prize Fighter of Antiquity Discovered and Restored." Professor Osborn was credited with the discovery of the "swift two-footed tyrant."
With the two T. rex skeletons Brown had dug in the Hell Creek Formation, Osborn had enough fossil material to describe and recreate most of an entire T. rex skeleton. He immmediately set about doing so. The obstacles were great. Here were animals nearly twenty feet high and twice as long, whose heavy bones needed even heavier iron braces to support them. Once the metal frame was attached it was impossible to reposition the bones.
With T. rex, Osborn tried a method never before attempted for making dinosaur mounts. He had sculptor Erwin Christman make movable one-sixth-scale models of Brown's two Montana T. rexes and posed them in a variety of dynamic hunting tableaus. Osborn suggested three poses, showing T. rex lithe and agile enough to lift a leg like a chorus dancer. But when he saw the models of his high-stepping T. rex, Osborn wasn't satisfied that he'd come up with a design sufficiently stable and dramatic.
Osborn turned for advice, as he had in the past, to Raymond L. Ditmars, the curator of reptiles at the Bronx Zoo. Ditmars studied how large living lizards hunted and concluded T. rex would have hunted in the same manner—as Osborn said, with a "convulsive single spring and tooth grip that epitomizes the combat of
this is how osborn wanted t. rex to look. these poseable models were designed under his supervision but proved too difficult an d expensive to build.
reptiles from that of all mammals."
With new ideas from Ditmars, Osborn decided to have two T. rex models arranged in batde over the carcass of a third, based on another less complete specimen Brown had discovered. Osborn had one model squatting over the carcass while the other reared up to menace its competitor. The squatting pose was selected not just to reflect Ditmars' impression of how a giant lizard might arrange itself while feeding; Osborn wanted the skull and pelvis, two of the most dramatic skeletal features of T. rex,, close to the visitor's eye.
Unfortunately, the heavy iron rods and braces needed to support the full-sized T. rex made it incapable of such off-balanced posing. So Osborn reluctandy had to settle for the static upright pose of T. rex that for so long shaped our view of how the creature would have looked in life. Osborn wrote that the mount was "more effective with the feet closer together, the legs straighter and the body more erect." T. rex might have ended up even more upright, but the ceiling of the hall into which it was first placed required posing it six or seven feet this is how osborn wanted t. rex to look. these poseable models were designed under his supervision but proved too difficult an d expensive to build.
short of the most upright posture possible.
To make T. rex look whole and stand steady, Osborn made other creative decisions. He added several feet of imaginary lizardlike tail, which also helped to stabilize the stand-up T. rex. For the missing forelimbs, he substituted those of the closest-known meat eater to T. rex in size, Allosaurus. That was a mistaken guess, as we later found out. In 1914, Canadian paleontologist Lawrence Lambe demonstrated that tyrannosaurs—in his discussion, Albertosaurus—probably had two fingers. As it happened, Allosaurus had three digits on each hand. T. rex had only two, as we proved for the first time with Kathy Wankel's T. rex.
Osborn's dream, a dynamic grouping of T. rex models, was supplanted by a full-sized and conservatively posed upright T. rex skeleton at the American Museum of Natural History, with the bones of another in storage. The museum's collection was narrowed to one in 1940 when World War n broke out in Europe. Concerned that German bombers might destroy the valuable skeletons, the American Museum sold the first Montana T. rex, the namesake of the species, to the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, where it was mounted for the first time and where it still stands.
So, for generations, in its most famous and influential representation, T. rex has been viewed as a stiff, long-tailed, lumbering beast. That reputation was spread by the first and foremost of American paleontological painters, Charles R. Knight (1874-1953). Knight was a talented and careful artist who relied heavily on scientific opinion in his painting. He thought of the dinosaur not as a fossil, but as "an animated, breathing, moving machine," and studied living animals in zoos and in the wild to help him conceive how dinosaurs might have moved. Knight also talked to Osborn, Brown, and Matthew, then sketched the bones and mounted skeletons and made clay models before attempting any restoration scene.
Knight spent much of his adult life working for the American Museum of Natural History. Shortly after the
above: pioneer dinosaur illustrator charles r. knight painted this battle of the tyrannosaurs for national geographic magazine in 1 9 4 2.
legs-only Tyrannosaurus first went on exhibit there in 1906, Knight produced a painting of a T. rex facing down a family of Triceratopses. Osborn advised Knight closely on the work, so it shows many of Osborn's goofs—an upright pose, three-fingered hands, and a long tail, barely off the ground. The eye was placed too far forward in the head. That's because Osborn and Knight fitted it into the wrong hole in the skull of T. rex, one in front of the actual eye socket.
Knight painted T. rex again, for NationalGeographic (in 1942) and in his masterpiece, a set of murals of life's history for the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago (1926-1930). That T. rex mural still inspires visitors there. Thirty years ago paleontologist Phil Currie saw it when he was a young kid. He credits it as one of his first inspirations to study dinosaurs.
Knight's Chicago T. rex is seen in a profile view, leaning forward with tail raised, squaring off against a Triceratops. Today, we'd make the legs more birdlike and the snout longer, and we might make the body lean forward more, and raise the tail farther. But at least Knight got T. rexoffhis haunches. A second T. rexinthe background is a lot less dynamic. It stands upright, its long, fat tail on the ground. Both animals' necks lack the S-shaped curves now known to be a feature of all dinosaurs' anatomy. And both T. rexes look a lot chunkier than we think they were.
Right or wrong, Knight's T. rexes were the ones that people took for real. They were reproduced in many magazines and books. Knight's T. rex was the one in the dime novel fantasies adapted from the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the man who wrote Tarzan.
And Knight's T. rex was brought to life, briefly, in 1933 *It showed up as one of the dinosaurs in the Sinclair Refining Company's dinosaur exhibit at the Chicago World's Fair. Sixteen million people came to see the twenty-five-foot-long roaring, animated T. rex and five other giant dinosaurs. T. rex was the main bad guy, described as a "giant nut-cracker" in the Sinclair publicity. P. G. Alen, an Indiana model maker for Hollywood films, based the first robot T. rex on Knight's Field Museum mural and the World's Fair sculpture it inspired. Alen stuck to Knight's vision, down to the three-fingered hands.
Also in 1933, T. rex looked the liveliest it had in 65 million years, at least until the giant gorilla killed it in King Kong That T. rex was a rubber cast of a model made by sculptor Marcel Delgado, straight from Knight's first painting.
T. rexwasalumbering beast inKingKong andaloser. And so it has been in many Alms, from The Valley of Gwangi (1969—that dinosaur was actually a T. rex— Allosaurus hybrid) to The Land Before Time (1988). It has even been portrayed by a real-life lizard blown up, such as the iguana turned T. rex in King Dinosaurs (1955). In most of these films, the monster dinosaur is Knight's original T. rex., mcluding the three-fingered hand. Writer Don Glut, an expert on dinosaurs' influence on popular culture (and my source for much of this information on T. rex's image), quotes Walt Disney as telling T. rex discoverer Barnum Brown he preferred an extra finger on T. rex because it "looked better that way."
From the stout, upright T. rex in Rudoph Zallinger's famous mural, The Age of Reptiles (1953), at Yale University's Peabody Museum to bulky sculptural restorations that stood at the New York World's Fair-and still stand in museums from Boston to Queensland, Australia—the old, inaccurate images of T. rex have persisted. Since they are effective and well-made images, and museums are slow to update exhibits, these T. rexes persist in portraying the animal in a way that science doesn't.
The fat T. rex standing tall is a fantasy based on outdated science and art. Toymakers and moviemakers may not yet know better. Or even if they do know a more accurate way to show T. rex., they'd still rather give us our favorite dinosaur the way we're used to seeing it.
In recent years a couple of top dinosaur artists have tried to remake T. rex according to how scientists now
above: t. rex scene is just one detail from rudolph f. zallinger's epic the age of reptiles mural for the peabody museum of natural history at yale university.
above: t. rex scene is just one detail from rudolph f. zallinger's epic the age of reptiles mural for the peabody museum of natural history at yale university.
above right: t. rex was still looking like a t ai l - d r ag g i n g , erect porker when the louis paul jonas studios built this model for the 1 9 6 0 new york world's fair. this cast is on display at the boston museum of science.
right: t. rex had three fingers and some tough luck in valley of gwangi, a horror movie in more ways than one. t. rex was still seen as a stand-up behemoth in the 1950s.
see it. A pioneer in the overhaul of T. rex's image was sculptor and exhibit builder Richard Rush of Chicago. With Princeton University paleontologist Don Baird as scientific advisor, Rush determined that "the typical pose of T. rex rearing up on its hind feet probably never took place." Instead, Rush posed T. rex "head down, tail sticking out for balance." Rush's dynamic thirty-four-foot-long T. rexes stand in museums in Indianapolis, Greensboro, and Milwaukee.
These days the big T. rexes most folks see are robots. The scaled-down robot T. rexes built by Dinamation and Kokoro (a Japanese company I'm an advisor to) and rented out to museums are built along the lines of how scientists now see these animals—tail up and head down. They move around a little, growl, and do a great job of scaring little kids.
But the best T. rex since the real thing is the life-size robotic one that animator Phil Tippett designed and special effects genius Stan Winston built for Jurassic Park, the Steven Spielberg movie of Michael Crichton's book. The book is about dinosaurs come back to life, and this T. rex comes darn close. The producers asked me out to the set a few times as a scientific advisor to the film. The T. rex is sleek and really scary. Not only is it a great-looking T. rex., but they've figured out ways to make it move that don't look clunky at all. If you somehow miss the movie, you'll probably be able to see this T. rex at a Universal Studios theme park.
Pose the Jurassic Park T. rex, or even one of Rush's T. rexes next to one of the museum paintings of T. rex from fifty years ago and I think you'd have a neat display of our changing view of T. rex. Of course, no two scientists or artists imagine T. rex quite the same way, so the best modern T. rexes don't look alike. They all start from the same skeletal parts. But they don't end up the same. And they usually don't end up as skeletons at all.
I'm not partial to museum skeletons myself. It's not that I don't like skeletons; it's mounted ones I don't like. Often, mounts are discovered to be wrong not long after they're made. As soon as we take a skeleton out of the
left: a full-sized and amazingly mobile t. rex was fashioned at stan winston studios for the movie jurassic park.
right: i'm an advisor to kokoro, the japanese robotics manufacturer that crafted this t. rex.
below: t. rex is more active and horizontal in this 1976 model built by the richard rush studios under the supervision of my boss at the time, dr.
donald baird of princeton university.
ground and reposition it, we're on the trail of fantasy.
And I think skeletons on display make museums into halls of death. Our Museum of the Rockies dinosaur hall was finished a few years ago, and it doesn't have a single dinosaur skeleton. You go to one of those big eastern museums and you're looking at just a bunch of skeletons that have been stood up—dead animals in a standing position. I think that's a peculiar way to look at dinosaurs. And I think it's part of the reason most people think of dinosaur paleontologists as guys who just dig up bones and stick them together.
I don't know what we should do to remake our image as scientists. Maybe we should be called dinosaur paleobiologists instead. As for T. rex, scientists have begun remaking its image with the bones themselves. In the last decade a couple of museums have bought fiberglass molds of the bones from the T. rex mount at the American Museum in New York and have reposi-tioned them for their own displays.
The "new" T. rex is a star attraction at the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences' excellent dinosaur hall. Ken Carpenter, who has studied tyrannosaurs and worked for the Museum of the Rockies and is now working as a preparator at the Denver Museum of Natural History, did this T. rex. It's a great mount, very believable. T. rex is nearly horizontal, striding with its tail up (minus several of the American Museum's extra vertebrae) and mouth open. The folks at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology in Canada used a similar pose when they positioned the cast bones from the T. rex they excavated at Huxley (with a cast of the American Museum skull).
Colorado dinosaur paleontologist Bob Bakker reconstructed T. rex differendy at the Denver Museum of Natural History. With the lightweight hollow fiberglass casts of the American Museum T. rex and a few iron supports, Bob was able to bring Osborn's dream of a highly dynamic T. rex mount to life. In Denver, T. rex is kicking up one leg like a football punter, its head turned to the side to menace visitors as they enter its hall. It's an exciting stance. (Peter May did a similar mount of T. rex for the visitors' center set of Jurassic Park.} But looking at a kicking T. rex, I agreed with Peter Dodson, a University of Pennsylvania dinosaur scientist who has studied dinosaur mechanics. Peter said, "It's great art, but not great science." It's unlikely to both of us that a several-ton animal could stand on one foot and kick.
The American Museum's T. rex is going to be a completely different-looking animal when it's remounted for the 1994 reopening of the dinosaur halls. Mark Norell, an American Museum curator and paleontologist, told me one idea museum staff considered was to pose two tyrannosaurs, one in the original upright stance and another stalking. This idea was voted down in favor ofjust the stalker, a T. rex with its head down and its back horizontal. The curators and exhibit designers also wanted the T. rex posed with its mouth shut, instead of with the gaping jaws you see on other T. rexes. They got their wish there, though it will be mounted next to a T. rex skull with its mouth open.
We'll be mounting our own T. rex display in 1993, thanks to the support of a Japanese museum. We'll have two T. rexes crouching over a dinosaur corpse. It will be different from any T. rex display before, except perhaps for one Osborn had in mind.
Reared back, leaning forward, or high kicking—
bob bakker rearranged a cast of the american museum t. rex to produce this t. rex rockette for the denver museum of natural history.
they're all T. rex. You can force casts into any position. And for a moment at least, T. rex might have been able to lean back on its tail, or raise one leg high. But if you ask me which pose is the most likely, the one we might see T. rex in if we ran into it on the street, I'd say Ken Carpenter's forward-leaning T. rex in Philadelphia.
Building skeletal replicas is an expensive business, and I'm not sure it's worth the expense. For one, I'd never use the bones themselves. They're too delicate and important for study to have them glued and drilled and put out of reach.
And I don't think people appreciate the expense involved in mounting a dinosaur skeleton. It can cost tens of thousands of dollars to buy casts of the bones from the American Museum, more if you want to prepare and cast your own museum's bones as we'd do.
Then you've got to put them all together. At the Tyrrell Museum it took a crew of five three years to prepare and mount the T. rex. That's several hundred thousand dollars in labor. When the American Museum finishes fixing up its T. rex in a more modern pose, and putting it and the museum's other vertebrate fossils in new halls, the bill will run to about $40 million! And they'll have some fleshed-out models, not just skeletons.
One great value of these huge skeletons is that when they're done right, it gives all of us, and especially the artists who depict T. rex., a good jumping-off point for imagining T. rex in the flesh. When it comes to putting flesh and scales on the bones of a T. rex, we can really get to speculating. No one knows what color a dinosaur was. But if we've got to guess—for museum restorations, models, and illustrations—what color do we choose? Green has been a longtime favorite since many living reptiles are green, and dinosaurs were long imagined as lumbering cold-blooded reptiles. Lately, artists who want to depict agile, hot-blooded, birdlike dinosaurs have gone to the opposite extreme.
Now dinosaurs are as bright as overgrown parrots in a lot of illustrations. If you look at living animals today, most blend into their environment. That's important for predator and prey alike. The biggest animals, however, come in solid and drab colors, from whales to elephants. Of course, these animals are mammals, and most mammals are color blind. Dinosaurs' nearest relatives, birds, can be colorful, though ground-dwelling birds are less bright than canopy fliers. If T. rex blended into the forests and well-vegetated river deltas of its time, it might have been a mottled green and brown. Its close cousin Tarbosaurus lived in drier territory, in what is now the Gobi Desert of Central Asia. It might have been decorated in dustier, paler tones.
As far as we know, any coloration was possible for T. rex. I just happen to prefer mine in conservative colors.
As for what the skin looked like, we have a better idea. T. rex is customarily given a scaly hide made up of many small bumps. That's a reasonable assumption because
we have skin impressions from several dinosaurs. The nearest predator in size and shape to T. rex for which we have skin is Albertosaurus, and its skin was packed with small bumps. It is possible these raised areas were display features. That means they might have been colored all the time, or sometimes flushed with color to attract a mate or to show dominance to a rival.
Stephen Czerkas, a leading sculptor of dinosaurs for museum exhibits, takes his own dinosaur studies very seriously. When he built his first full-sized dinosaur in his garage, a twenty-five-foot Allosaurus, he copied a skin pattern of keel-shaped rosettes from the mummy of a duckbilled dinosaur because no skin was known from any meat-eating dinosaurs (we've now got some from an Albertosaurus at our museum). Steve hand-stamped that pattern on his clay sculpture scale by scale. When he heard of a Carnotaurus skin discovery by Argentine scientist Jose Bonaparte, Czerkas erased his entire pattern. He not only redid the skin of his allosaur, he went to Argentina and helped discover more Carnotaurus skin impressions with Bonaparte.
Czerkas adapted those Carnotaurus skin patterns when he designed a full-scale fiberglass T. rex replica that is now displayed in an entire dinosaur hall of Czerkas creations at Taipei's Natural History and Dinosaur Museum in Taiwan. Czerkas's Taipei T. rex is a muscular animal. Its head is turned, and its body is leaning forward, but its feet are planted squarely on the ground. Czerkas has colored it gray-green with brownish banding. That's colorful by Czerkas's standards.
The best modern dinosaur painters have gone further in coloring T. rex John Gurche, Doug Henderson, Brian Franczak, and Greg Paul are among the top dinosaur artists who've painted T. rex. All of them have made T. rex into a far slimmer, more graceful-looking animal than Knight and Zallinger did. Of today's top dinosaur painters, Mark Hallett has been the boldest in coloring T. rex. Before painting T. rex, Mark consulted with experts—Ralph Molnar on T. rex anatomy, Steve Czerkas about dinosaur skin patterns. Then he painted T. rex in green with magenta and brown stripes, a giant camouflage suit. He says, "They probably needed a pattern to break up their huge body size, like a tank on maneuvers, to hide from their prey." While that's not how I imagine T. rex,, it is certainly possible.
All of these artists are very diligent about doing research on their subjects. They consult closely with paleontologists. But their conclusions and their images of T. rex vary, in more ways than their colors. Czerkas may be conservative about coloring dinosaurs, but he is more daring in depicting T. rex's skull anatomy. He gives it bulbous pointed horns around the eyes and nose. There are few indications for all these features on the skull of a T. rex.
But I can see adding small hornlike structures around the eyes of T. rex, and my former boss at Princeton, paleontologist Don Baird, agrees. When he looked at a top view of a cast of the American Museum T. rex skull, he noticed a rugosity, or bumpy patch, around the eyes. Donsays, "It's clear to me 7! rexhadhornsoveritseyes." (Don made his conclusion after he'd advised Richard Rush on Rush's first T. rex sculpture, so Rush retrofit his dinosaur with a bump.)
Bony protrusions are found on earlier dinosaur predators like Carnotaurusand AUosaurus. However, sometimes animals have horns for which we find no evidence on their skeletons. Lots of horns can be seen on the head of Steve Czerkas's pet rhinoceros iguana (named Don, as in Iguanodori), which he uses as a model for his sculptures. "It has several horns, but indications of only one on its skull," says Czerkas. Paleontologist and artist Bob Bakker thinks T. rex (and the pygmy tyrannosaur he, Phil Currie, and Mike Williams of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History identified) had bumps over its eyes, not horns. And those bumps were for headbutting (see Chapter 6). As with many behaviors imagined for T. rex., calling it a head-butter seems like too much guesswork to me.
Paintings often show T. rex doing things I don't think it ever did. Mark Hallett has painted two T. rexes right: special-effects creator jim danforth made this hungry t. rex for the movie caveman.
below: 1 9 3 0 world's fair sinclair exhibit drew millions to see t. rex and friends.
below: 1 9 3 0 world's fair sinclair exhibit drew millions to see t. rex and friends.
wheeling menacingly in the dust around a herd of Triceratopses. The horned dinosaurs are lined up, horns outward, in a defensive ring, sheltering their young in the center. To me, it looks like pioneers putting the wagons in a circle when Indians attacked. I think it's unlikely it could have happened that way. T. rex wouldn't waste its energy attacking a herd, and I don't thinka bunch of pea-brained Triceratopses would get together so neady. There's absolutely no evidence for cooperative hunting in T. rex or cooperative defense among horned dinosaurs. Mark says, "Paleontologists, Bakker among them, have suggested they might do this. Musk oxen do, and dinosaurs might have done many things like modern mammals."
here's the way i think t. rex really looked. sculptor matt smith made this model by studying kathy wankel's t. rex skeleton, then carefully sculpting muscle and skin. this t. rex looks a lot leaner, if not meaner, than it's ever been before.
Maybe. But it seems to me that we've bounced from one extreme to the other in how we depict T. rex. If T. rex isn't the drab, lumbering lummox I grew up with anymore, it's now a giant killer ballerina in a tutu, the flashy animal Osborn first wanted it to be.
I'm not interested in dancing dinosaurs. I'd like to see a T. rex sculpted or painted accurately according to what we now know of how its bones looked and usually moved.
Sculptor Matt Smith has donejust that. Matt made his T. rex by looking at the bones of an animal he'd helped dig out of the ground and clean in our lab. Matt's dug and researched our T. rex, and prepared other fossils, and made many replicas for the Museum of the Rockies and other museums. (He and Ken Carpenter did an eye-opening study of the arm motion and power of T. rex. See Chapter 5.) Matt's made a T. rex model based as closely as anything yet done on the most current fossil evidence. The coloring is Matt's preference, but the sculpture is modeled on what the bones and the insertion marks of the muscles suggest this animal could do. His T. rex doesn't leap around like the Karate Kid, but it is agile and hostile, and real enough to scare the hell out of me. And most importantly for all of us,it is real, because Matt's T. rex is based on fossil evidence, all of Matt's art and our science on T. rex are based on what we do with the bones we dig out of the ground.
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