Pope Francis will visit Ireland in 2018. Whether he will venture into the North isn’t yet known but, later in the year, Belfast will welcome another distinguished visitor.
Dippy the dinosaur goes on display at the Ulster Museum in Belfast, one of eight venues on a grand tour the giant reptile will make following his rehabilitation in Canada. Norwich cathedral will host him in July 2020.
Remembering the anger of Bishop Wilberforce and his supporters when On the Origin of Species appeared in 1859, this may be one for the books. The dean of the cathedral, Jane Hedges, said:
“The presence of Dippy in Norwich will naturally bring people from all backgrounds and beliefs and will stimulate questions and debate about creation and the origins of life.”
Anyone who has visited the Natural History Museum in London will remember Dippy. His skeleton, 21.3m length and 4.25m high, dominated the large hall at the entrance to this great secular cathedral.
The original fossilised skeleton, nearly complete, was discovered by workmen building a railway through the badlands of Wyoming in 1898.
The species was named Diplodocus carnegii in honour of the great philanthropist and housed in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.
Carnegie had 10 plaster copies made of the bones, one set of which he sent to London. The reassembled skeleton went on show to the public there in 1905.
The giant reptile lived about 150m years ago. Standing on four stocky legs, this vegetarian browser, resembling a suspension bridge, had the horizontal posture of a cow.
A very long tail counter-balanced the long neck. It may also have functioned as a defensive whip, capable of producing loud warning cracks.
The experts, a century ago, did a remarkable job in working out how a diplodocus might have looked but today’s palaeontologists think they didn’t get it entirely right. The beast’s head and tail were carried higher than was formerly thought.
The fossils of the front feet were not found; it was assumed that, elephant-like, they were similar to the back ones.
Examination of diplodocus footprints, however, shows that the animal’s weight was carried mainly by the back legs. The front feet were small.
The restored plaster cast will present a thoroughly modern, 21st century, version of Dippy.
The embalmed bodies of Chairman Mao Zedong in Bejing, and Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi, are on permanent display to the public.
I didn’t pay my respects to Mao on a visit to Tiananmen Square, the queue was too long, but I did call on Ho in his huge mausoleum in the Vietnamese capital.
The constant adulation of millions of pilgrims takes its toll on the cadavers and, I was told, the remains are sent away for servicing from time to time. Dippy needs similar maintenance.
Despite his size, he should be somewhat easier to repair than the bodies of ‘the great helmsman’ and Uncle Ho; he consists mainly of plaster, a material which crumbles into dust over time.
The countless admirers, who insisted on touching Dippy, accelerated the process. He was dismantled and sent to Toronto in 2017.
A blue whale, the largest animal ever to have lived, and twice the size of titanosaurus the largest known dinosaur, has taken Dippy’s place up front at the museum.
This is an actual skeleton and not a plaster cast. The giant, injured by whalers, came to grief when he was ‘beached’ in Wexford Harbour in 1891.
Dippy goes on show at the Ulster Museum from September 28 next to January 6 2019.
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