Hail to the King

NPR’s Tyrannosaurus tribute features fossil hunter Barnum Brown, skeleton news and short videos of a Tyrannosaurus strutting to “Stayin’ Alive”

One of the dueling Tyrannosaurus at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
One of the dueling Tyrannosaurus at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History Photo by author

As paleontologist Christopher Brochu once wrote, Tyrannosaurus rex is a mighty ambassador for paleontology. Citing the massive and nearly complete skeleton of “Sue” in particular, Brochu explained, “a wonderfully complete crocodile, bony fish, trilobite, or bivalve will simply not attract the same public interest as a tyrannosaurid, and any science we do with it can thus be done in the public eye.” Indeed, nothing capture’s the public’s attention quite like a Tyrannosaurus, so it’s no surprise that NPR has put together a new media package celebrating the legacy of the world’s most popular dinosaur.

NPR’s Tyrannosaurus tribute comes in three parts: a slideshow of notes and photographs from fossil hunter Barnum Brown (who found the first recognized Tyrannosaurus skeletons), a series of video reconstructions showing how the dinosaur might have moved, and a news item about how a missing part of Brown’s 1902 Tyrannosaurus skeleton was rediscovered in a museum collection and brought “home” to its parent skeleton at last year’s Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting in Pittsburgh. I was especially interested to learn that a small part of Brown’s famous find was present at the SVP auction—I saw plenty of well-known and influential paleontologists at the meeting, but I had no idea that the biggest celebrity in the room was being carried around in a styrofoam box!

Clearly, NPR had the most fun putting together the short videos about Tyrannosaurus movement. The skeleton is a little too smoothed out in places; some parts of the skeleton stay stiff while others are a bit jangly, and poor Tyrannosaurus can’t bring its toes together while walking, but there is a delicious irony in seeing a reconstructed dinosaur skeleton strutting to “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. Actually, that may be what the dinosaur is best at. Extinct for more than 65 million years, the prehistoric carnivore is the most prominent representative of both its dinosaurian kin and paleontology. Bigger and stranger theropod dinosaurs have been found, but I think the New York Times got it right when they called Tyrannosaurus the “Prize Fighter of Antiquity.” You just can’t keep this dinosaur down.

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