Since 1895, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History has been capturing the imaginations of countless visitors. With 20 galleries and thousands of specimens on display, there’s really something for everyone here. But the stars of the museum have to be the dinosaurs. Here we’ll break down the Dinosaurs In Their Time exhibit in further detail, while also providing information you may need before attending.
With dozens of specimens on display, the Dinosaurs In Their Time exhibit will captivate any dinosaur enthusiast. The exhibit began with the arrival of a specimen that would affectionately be nicknamed “Dippy.” Andrew Carnegie heard of giant fossil bones being found in the American west and wanted to make sure Pittsburgh had its own. The discovery of Dippy by William Harlow Reed thrilled Carnegie, who had a number of casts made and shipped around the world. Dippy is the holotype specimen of the sauropod known as Diplodocus carnegii and first went on display in 1907. After that, a number of other dinosaurs would be mounted at the museum alongside the giant sauropod. Joining the ranks over time included the sauropod Apatosaurus lousiae and theropod Tyrannosaurus rex, both holotypes as well.
Decades later, the museum went under renovation and unveiled the newly updated Dinosaurs In Their Time exhibit. Rather than having the skeletons statically posed in the old postures, the mounts were updated to reflect the new ideas regarding dinosaur biomechanics and posture. They were also placed in an immersive environment designed to make visitors feel as if they stepped back into the Mesozoic.
The first dinosaurs you’ll see are actually displayed just outside the exhibit hall. Jane, a juvenile Tyrannosaurus is displayed in the gift shop and the skeleton of a Herrerasaurus is mounted just outside the exhibit, in front of the PaleoLab. The operating lab itself is viewable to the public.
After passing the PaleoLab, you’ll enter the exhibit at the starting point of the age of dinosaurs, the Triassic. Rather than being dominated by dinosaurs, the exhibit reflects the period by having the largest animal displayed to be the distantly related phytosaur, Redondasaurus. Dinosaur fossils and other remains are displayed alongside the giant predator.
The Triassic quickly begins to give way to the Jurassic. Along the way, fossils of other animals present during the Mesozoic help to complete the picture of the environment at the time. The first sign of the Jurassic comes in the form of a juvenile Camarasaurus, one of the most complete sauropods ever found. Following the young sauropod is a dynamic scene involving a young Ceratosaurus and its prey, an adult Dryosaurus.
The real heavyweights come quickly into view as the immersive environment opens up to reveal the giants of the Jurassic. Immediately to the right is an imposing Stegosaurus, one of the largest on public display. However, even it is dwarfed by the giant sauropods dominating the room. Huddled at the feet of the enormous Apatosaurus is the only known juvenile of the species. Displayed in an epic fight to survive, the adult is shown blocking the youngster from an attacking Allosaurus, the apex predator of the Jurassic.
With all the drama, it’s easy to overlook some of the more subtle and modest animals. Hidden in the brush behind the sauropods are a Camptosaurus and several even smaller animals. The scene is briefly broken by a wall of fossils, various species ranging from fish to dinosaurs. The Jurassic begins to draw to a close and you start to enter the final stage of the Mesozoic.
Like the Jurassic, the Cretaceous exhibit starts small. Modestly sized animals like Protoceratops and feathered dinosaurs begin the show. Things quickly escalate in size with the hadrosaur Corythosaurus. Once again, it doesn’t take long to notice the titans in the following room. Taking center stage is a battle between two skeletons, both belonging to one of the largest land predators ever, Tyrannosaurus rex. The crouched specimen is the holotype of the species, known as CM 9380. The other is a cast of Peck’s Rex, technically known as MOR 980. The tyrants are seen here fighting over food, in this case, an Edmontosaurus nicknamed by staff as “Dead Ed.”
While the tyrannosaurs demand attention, it’s important to look around and take in all of the animals on display. Familiar giants like Triceratops stand at attention nearby, while smaller animals like Pachycephalosaurus and Anzu go about their own business. Additional fossils are displayed as well, but it’s important to look even closer. Added details like flowers showcase the change in the plant community that started in the Jurassic but escalated in the Cretaceous. Meanwhile, soaring above it all is one of the largest flying animals of all time, Quetzalcoatlus. Taken together the entire scene encapsulates everything we’ve all come to know and love about dinosaurs.
As a follow-up to the great reptiles of the Mesozoic, the Carnegie also showcases two more exhibits that deal with other prehistoric animals. Moving away from the dinosaurs plunges you into the Mesozoic seas where giant reptiles and terrifying fish glide through the water. Further on lands you in the Cenozoic where Ice Age behemoths dominate. While less immersive than the Mesozoic land and sea exhibits, this portion does feature a “dinosaur dig,” perfect for kids.
While Dinosaurs In Their Time will catch the attention of most visitors more than anything else, the Carnegie does feature a number of other displays worthy of attention. In a similar vein to the dinosaurs, there is an exhibit that focuses on geology and life before the dinosaurs, the Hall of Geology. Nearby is the award-winning Hall of Minerals and Gems. Other highlights include ancient Egypt, polar life, architecture, North American and African wildlife, and a number of other small exhibits around the museum.
In many ways, the museum itself is an exhibit. The Grand Staircase is worthy of attention and standing in the beautiful space will cause you to think back and ponder the wonders you just explored. As mentioned earlier, the attached Carnegie Museum of Art is included with base admission and you could easily spend more time there exploring the various pieces on display. If you’re interested, the Carnegie Library is also in the same complex. You’ll actually catch a glimpse of it in the Jurassic portion of the Dinosaurs In Their Time exhibit.
When visiting, be sure to dedicate some time to walk around the museum. The Oakland neighborhood is beautiful, and a nice park sits just outside the building. Standing guard outside the museum is a lifesize statue of Dippy, ready for a photo op. Across the street is the imposing Cathedral of Learning, the tallest educational building in the Western Hemisphere and second tallest Gothic-style building in the world. Between the museum and the immediate area, you can easily dedicate an entire day to the museum and its surroundings.
The museum is located at 4400 Forbes Avenue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This will put you in the Oakland neighborhood. Paid parking is available at the museum, in addition to various spots in the surrounding area if you’re willing to drive around. Of course, some parking will be metered, though Sundays are free. Museum hours can fluctuate due to the pandemic, but typically run 10-5pm with closure on Tuesdays. Be sure to visit the website linked below for the most up-to-date information on hours and to find out if any temporary exhibits are currently active.
Adult admission is $19.95 with discounts available for students, children, and seniors. Not only will base admission gets you into the natural history museum, but it also counts towards the Carnegie Museum of Art, which is joined to the rest of the building. Essentially you’ll get two museums for the price of one.
While you’re in the area, there’s plenty of places to grab a bite to eat. That said, if you wish to stay at the museum for the duration of your day, there are two cafes available inside the museum. The pandemic has limited their ability to serve visitors, but vending machines are also available for a quick snack and drink. Just be prepared before you arrive and have a game plan.
All in all, a day at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History will be a good day for any fan of science, history, and art. There’s plenty to see and, if planned out correctly, one could easily spend a whole day navigating the halls and exhibits, taking it all in. While being a good place to learn as is, the museum is also a place of ongoing research. As such, the dedicated staff and scientists do an excellent job of trying to keep things as up-to-date as possible. So do yourself a favor the next time you’re in Pittsburgh. Swing by the Carnegie. Visit Dippy, see the first Tyrannosaurus, experience history, and science. You’ll leave with sore feet from all the exploring, but it’ll be well worth it for the knowledge and memories you’ll take home.
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Taylor has been volunteering at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History since 2019. His work has primarily been with the vertebrate paleontology department under paleontologist Dr. Matt Lamanna. He and his wife will be joining Dr. Thomas Carr on a dig in eastern Montana during the summer of 2021. Taylor currently lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and pets.