Yale Peabody to transform iconic fossil halls

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Newly mounted skeletons of Allosaurus and Stegosaurus will greet visitors as they enter the hall, while a new balcony will provide a dinosaur's-eye view of the Peabody's famous Apatosaurus and "The Age of Reptiles" mural.

Since humans first stumbled across mysterious dinosaur bones protruding from the earth, the fascination with these gigantic creatures has captivated the imagination.

Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History — which houses discoveries by one of the earliest dinosaur bone hunters, O.C. Marsh — is raising funds to commemorate its 150th anniversary with a $30 million renovation project that will transform its renowned Great Hall of Dinosaurs and adjacent Mammal Hall to reflect advances in the study of the history of life on our planet.

“One of the museum’s major aspirations is to demonstrate how new scientific evidence can lead to innovative interpretations,” according to Derek E.G. Briggs, director of the Peabody. Briggs also noted that the collections are critical to teaching the history of life, evolution, and environmental change to Yale students, scholars, researchers, and the greater New Haven community.

The Great Hall of Dinosaurs, originally constructed in the 1920s, is home to such iconic fossils as the Apatosaurus, familiarly known as Brontosaurus, discovered by Marsh, and the famous mural “The Age of Reptiles,” painted by Yale alumnus Rudolph F. Zallinger in the 1940s. For this magnificent achievement he received a Pulitzer Award for Painting in 1949.

During the renovation, which will begin when funding is in place, the intrusive steel supports used to mount the dinosaurs in the 1930s will be removed, and the dinosaurs themselves will be disassembled, conserved, and remounted using modern techniques in dynamic poses that more accurately reflect current knowledge about how they lived. The Apatosaurus will be reconfigured so that its tail is raised, providing patrons with a view of the colossal creature as they enter the hall, says Briggs. New attractions will include a 40-foot-long mosasaur — an ancient swimming reptile that was the “T. rex” of the sea — and a display of the carnivorous Allosaurus attacking a Stegosaurus.

A new balcony facing Zallinger’s mural will provide aerial views of the exhibits below. Interactive touchscreen displays on the balcony will show a modern interpretation of the mural, based on current research. For example many of the meat-eating dinosaurs had feathers, which was not known when the original exhibit was created.

Together, the renovated dinosaur and fossil mammal halls will feature 1,000 fossils previously not on display, telling a 500-million-year story of life’s evolution on our ever-changing Earth.

“The mural is an international icon and we will not do anything to compromise its integrity,” said Briggs. “The striking images encapsulate our understanding of dinosaurs in the 1940s and will allow us to show how new discoveries enable us to reinterpret the lifestyles of dinosaurs in ways that were not possible in the past.”

In addition to featuring more than 1,000 specimens from the museum’s collections that are currently not on display, the renovated Fossil Hall will focus on a new theme: the impact of climate change on the evolution of life.

Some dinosaur fossils will remain on view during the renovation project, and visitors will be able to view the work through specially created windows into the hall. Detailed plans, images, and models will also be on display during the renovation, providing a preview of the halls for museum visitors.

With the renovation, the Peabody will provide an enhanced learning experience for both children and adults, said Briggs, and the museum will be competing once again with the best dinosaur exhibition halls around the world.

“We rely very much on the ‘wow’ factor,” he said. “When visitors enter the new halls they will be blown away by the displays of our unique specimens.”

Established in 1866 with a gift from George Peabody, the Peabody Museum of Natural History houses a collection of nearly 13 million artifacts. These include a world-renowned meteorite collection, and an Egyptian mummy dating from the 7th–4th century B.C.

Located at 170 Whitney Ave., the Peabody is open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sunday noon-5 p.m.

Yale Peabody Museum Director Derek E.G. Briggs discusses the museum's plans to renovate the famous Great Hall of Dinosaurs to restore and modernize the presentations to reflect current research on dinosaur natural history.
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