In 1913, Barnum Brown, the man who discovered Tyrannosaurus rex, unearthed a similar but smaller dinosaur near the Red Deer River in Alberta, Canada. Now known as Gorgosaurus, the dinosaur was half-encased in plaster, and positioned in the classic “death pose” with its head arching backward over its spine. It stayed that way for decades on the wall of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s classic Dinosaur Hall. But now that the hall is entering the final year of its momentous, five-year renovation, the Smithsonian’s staff have to dig Gorgosaurus out all over again.
It currently sits in a cavernous basement room beneath the hall. The petrified bones protrude from a layer of plaster that’s been painted and textured to look like rock. Below that is actual rock, more plaster, chicken wire, and burlap fibers that were part of the field jacket originally used to move the dinosaur from its resting place. And those layers sit atop several wooden beams and steel rods that were used to fix the specimen in place. “It’s a lasagne of materials,” says Kirk Johnson, the museum’s director. “We had to drill it out of the old exhibit.”
The museum’s staff now have several months to “prepare” the dinosaur, which means extricating it from all the gunk that it’s encased in. The same is true for other fossils from the old hall. In the same basement room, there’s a Corythosaurus—a duck-billed dinosaur with a distinctive crest on its head. It also had to be pried out of a wall, and it is also sitting amid a mess of plaster, metal, and burlap. “We have to remove all of that,” says Siobhan Starrs, who is project manager for the renovation.