A Delayed Tyrannosaurus Showdown

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In 1913, paleontologists at the American Museum of Natural History made plans for what would have been a spectacular reconstruction of a prehistoric battle. Too bad that their plans did not come to fruition.

Tyrannosaurus rex—the most celebrated dinosaur of all time—made its debut at the AMNH. The first partial skeletons of this dinosaur were recovered by the museum's own expert bone-hunter Barnum Brown and described by Henry Fairfield Osborn, and Osborn had big plans for two of the better specimens Brown had recovered. In a short note published in the Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, Osborn proposed reconstructing the two dinosaurs in competition over a kill—one Tyrannosaurus crouched low, jaws agape, in an attempt to ward off an equally large interloper.

Creating such a scene would not be easy. "The size and weight of the various parts are enormous," Osborn wrote, and it was difficult to conceive how the bones could be adequately supported. To come up with a strategy for creating the mounts, Osborn instructed museum artist Erwin Christman to make two models at one-sixth scale under the direction of museum paleontologist William Diller Matthew and Raymond Ditmars of the New York Zoological Park. The scene was meant to show off the size and ferocity of the dinosaurs, meant to show the Tyrannosaurus "just prior to the convulsive single spring and tooth grip which distinguishes the combat of reptile from that of all mammals, according to Mr. Ditmars."

Sadly, the mount was never made. Only Brown's second, more-complete Tyrannosaurus went on display at the AMNH (though this skeleton was certainly impressive enough on its own!). The idea of two Tyrannosaurus squabbling over a meal was appealing to other museum curators, though. Variations of this idea have been constructed at other museums, including Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania's Carnegie Museum of Natural History. During the 1940s, the first, less-complete specimen collected by Brown was sold to the Pittsburgh museum, and when the Carnegie's dinosaur hall was revamped in 2008, museum curators created a modern version of what Osborn, Matthew, Christman and Ditmars had planned. After almost a century, the fantastic Tyrannosaurus showdown was brought to life.

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