Dinosaurs have a special status that transcends their importance to science. But none among prehistoric animals creates as much fascination as Tyrannosaurus Rex. The first skeleton of the predator was discovered by paleontologist and fossil hunter Barnum Brown, in 1902. American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), since March 11, it is the great protagonist to start celebrating the commemoration of its 150th anniversary, with a sample in which it exposes the last known of this killing machine.
"The Tyrannosaurus Rex was and will continue to be an important part and an icon in the history of the museum," says the president of the institution, Ellen Futter. It is also an extraordinary starting point for the public to be interested in the advancement of science and ask questions about the world. The AMNH dinosaur collection is the most important and complete on the planet, with 34 million specimens and artifacts.
The exhibition offers the visitor a personal encounter with the Rex. Start with a reproduction of a one-year-old, vulnerable specimen, the size of a turkey. From there, the exhibition explores the first phases of its development. By age four he was big enough to kill any animal that was on his way, except for an adult of his species.
The Rex gained weight at that age at a rate of 65 kilograms a month. The full development achieved it at 20 years. To make sense of the size it reached, a femur and a foot bone are exposed. Although what allowed him to dominate his competitors was his penetrating jaw and teeth. "The strength I had to bite is equivalent to the weight of three Mini Coopers," said Gregory Erickson.
Feathers to camouflage
Now it is known by its relationship with other species that the T. Rex had feathers to camouflage itself, although no fossils of them were found. It is unknown the sounds that these animals emitted, although it is not an obstacle in the sample, with a reproduction of roars in an interactive area. The shadows of two adult tyrannosaurs fighting are also projected on the ground.
The exhibition allows us to follow the evolution of this species for 100 million years, until it becomes the gigantic dinosaur that has captivated the masses. Thus, it introduces two dozen species that make up the tyrannosaurus superfamily, all dangerous, but not as fierce as the Rex. Proceratosaurus bradleyi lived 168 million years ago and was the size of a wolf, while Xiongguanlong baimoensis is considered a transitional species.
"Every year new species are discovered," says Michael Novacek, the paleontologist in charge of the show. He explains that disciplines are also incorporated in research, such as biology, chemistry and medicine, which provide new information on their evolution. When the movie premiered Jurassic Park, in 1993, he points out, they were known to be carnivores and little else. Now it is known that his vision, smell and hearing were very sensitive.
Mark Norell insists on all this that the Tyrannosaurus Rex is much more than an icon of modern popular culture. The show, he explains, allows in this sense to explore how science uses the most cutting-edge technology, its creativity and ingenuity to know the biology of the predator and its behavior, which only two decades ago would not have been possible to imagine. "We can explore complex questions about these highly charismatic animals," he explains. "I never imagined that we would be able to study the shape of your brain or analyze the growth lines of your teeth to determine how fast you gained weight." As Erickson points out, there are still many mysteries to solve that are essential: "What sex did the animals of these fossils have?", "And how did they mature?".
Jasmine Wiemann is part of the new generation of paleontologists that seeks to give answers to the great enigmas of these prehistoric beings. She is an expert in molecular biology. Integrating the methods of other scientific disciplines, he explains, makes it possible to pave the way for new discoveries to emerge. "It's a fascinating moment, there's much more preserved than just bones."
The exhibition is completed with an experience in virtual reality, in which the visitor is introduced in a space similar to the room where the dinosaurs are found in the AMNH. In teams of three people you can assemble the T Rex skeleton, bone by bone. When completed, it comes alive in the same land where the fossil was found by Brown, which was his home 66 million years ago in Montana.