How do you take down a Tyrannosaurus rex? Back in the Cretaceous Period, a mammal wouldn’t stand a chance of being able to take down this apex predator; but for the mammals employed at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, taking down a T. rex is just another day at the office.
This particular T. rex was featured in the Museum’s Lords of the Land exhibit for nine years, from 2007-2016, and in Extreme Theropods before that.
Cast in-house by one of our technicians, from a T. rex at the American Museum of Natural History, this mighty beast has been used in several Museum exhibits over the years. To pave the way for a new exhibit, this lord of the land was taken down for the last time.
In theory, taking the T. rex down shouldn’t have been hard. It was built like a giant puzzle, with the pieces all slotted together, and technicians should have simply had to disconnect the different components. But in reality, this puzzle was around 11.5 metres from tip to tail, almost four metres tall, and weighed at least 363 kg (800 lbs). Not to mention that it had been up for a while, so the pieces had all settled and were therefore much harder to separate.
Another challenge was keeping the whole thing balanced. The hips and legs on their own were stable, but too much weight on one end could cause the skeleton to tip over and go flying, breaking one of its pieces or smacking a hole in the wall (we may have been planning to take down some of the walls in that gallery anyway, but we wanted it to be on our terms, not one of our dinosaur’s).
The monumental task of taking the T. rex apart took an entire day using specialized equipment, including a cherry picker and a forklift. The technicians began by pulling off the smaller, easily-removed pieces, like the ribs and tiny forearms. Then they moved on to the tail and the head.
Once the T. rex had been stripped to just its legs and hips, it was time to remove it from the galleries and into the back of the Museum. The legs were far too tall to disconnect from the hips without the use of a ladder and too heavy and awkward to disconnect with a ladder. They needed to be tipped over and disconnected with the preparation lab’s crane and a lot of clear space. Luckily, the cast was mounted on a chassis so moving it involved a lot of careful pushing, rather than using a lot of heavy equipment. But the sheer size of the cast made even this relatively simple maneuver a challenge. Even with its head and torso gone, T. rex was a big animal. While it would have been too tall and wide to fit through a normal doorway, the Museum was planned during construction around big skeletons, so there are large, purpose-built bay doors to move a large specimen like this.
Once the T. rex had been moved into Collections and taken completely apart, the final step was to crate it up for storage. For this task, the Museum hired a company that specializes in packing up large, delicate objects. First, each piece was placed in its packing case and covered with a protective tarp. Then the crate was filled with expanding foam. The foam dries quickly and, when hardened, it creates a perfect impression that the object can fit into snugly. For the skull, the procedure was performed on both sides, to create a perfect storage case.
The final product looked like this:
Finally, the T. rex was placed into storage, where it will be safe until it is needed again. The space it once occupied has been given over to our new exhibition, Grounds for Discovery, where a new species of nodosaur (armoured dinosaur) now takes centre stage.
Is T. rex your favourite dinosaur? Not to worry! We have two more on display in the Museum.