Dippy the dinosaur unveiled in Dorset on first leg of UK tour

Diplodocus skeleton that graced Natural History Museum begins new life on Jurassic Coast

For more than a century Dippy the dinosaur amazed and inspired visitors to the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London.

On Friday, the diplodocus skeleton cast was unveiled 130 miles away near the Jurassic Coast at the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester on the first stage of an eight-stop tour of the UK.

Five million people are expected to see Dippy over the next two years at venues ranging from the Welsh assembly to Norwich Cathedral.

Sir Michael Dixon, the director of the NHM, said the idea was to make Dippy accessible to as many people as possible.

“We wanted Dippy to visit unusual locations so he can draw in people who may not traditionally visit a museum,” he said. “Dippy has a special place in all our hearts – few museum objects are better known, and fewer still can better evoke the awesome diversity of species that have lived on earth.”

It has been quite a journey already for Dippy.

The plaster of paris cast was dismantled and removed from the NHM’s Hintze Hall in January 2017. It took just over three weeks for conservationists and engineers to carefully remove, label and clean each bone.

Dippy the dinosaur’s skeleton is made up of 292 bones
Dippy the dinosaur’s skeleton is made up of 292 bones. Photograph: Finbarr Webster/Rex/Shutterstock

It was decided that a new mount and base would allow engineers to quickly and easily dismantle and reassemble the dinosaur skeleton at each tour venue. A Canadian firm was chosen to carry out this work and Dippy’s 292 bones were shipped across the Atlantic in 13 crates.

In December, Dippy returned to the UK and has been carefully put back together in Dorchester. It is no simple task – the full skeleton in its displayed pose is 26 metres (85ft) long, and more than 4 metres high and wide. It squeezed into the space at the Dorset museum with just 10cm to spare.

The director of the Dorset County Museum, Jon Murden, said the town was agog with excitement. “As the birthplace of palaeontology, there is nowhere in the UK more appropriate for Dippy to start his tour than Dorset, and we’re thrilled to have been chosen as the first host venue.”

Harry Swift, 11, from Eastleigh in Hampshire, completed the installation of the Dippy cast by putting a toe in place. He declared himself “excited and amazed” and declared the diplodocus his joint favourite dinosaur (along with the spinosaurus).

Dippy will visit Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and five regions across England. In chronological order it will be shown at:

· Dorset County Museum, Dorchester

· Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

· Ulster Museum, Belfast

· Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow

· Great North Museum: Hancock, Newcastle upon Tyne

· National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff

· Number One Riverside, Rochdale

· Norwich Cathedral

Dippy arrived in London in 1905. During the second world war the skeleton was relocated to the basement to protect it from bomb damage. In 1979, the diplodocus made the move to Hintze Hall but in the summer of 2017, Hope, a blue whale skeleton, took centre stage in the hall.

Dippy is pieced back together in Dorset
Dippy is pieced back together in Dorset. Photograph: Dare & Hier Media Ltd/Natural History Museum

Dippy’s long-term future is unclear. The arrival of Hope is seen as a chance for the NHM to reposition itself from an institution that looks after dusty old bones to one that stresses the urgent need to conserve the natural world.

A spokesperson said: “Dippy is a permanent part of the collection and therefore the museum will always have a duty of care for the cast. The museum is open-minded to future opportunities to displaying Dippy back in London, and elsewhere.”

Contributor

Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

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