This is a bit of a convoluted tale about creatures that date back eons ago. With man's limited knowledge of prehistoric dinosaurs at the turn of the 19th Century, it was not surprising to learn that piecing together a triceratops' skeleton for a museum was more about guesswork than accuracy. In fact, in 1905 what was assembled to look like one was more akin to something out of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. Paleontologist John Bell Hatcher took charge of connecting bones from a number of dinosaurs to make up one less-than-perfect replica. But at the time, there was no one to attest to its attention to detail, or lack thereof.
A bit of a Frankenstein . . .
The triceratops that went on display in 1905 was stooped and awkward. Since no one had yet found a complete skeleton of this species that dated back 66 million years, curators used the bones that were their excavated from various digs. The result was a creature cobbled together, with a head too small for its body and arms of different lengths. Its feet came from a duck-billed dinosaur, an animal from an entirely different family, and so on, and so on.
“That skeleton was a little bit of a Frankenstein,” admitted paleontologist Matthew Carrano, dinosaur curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
Flash Forward to the 21st Century . . .
It took nearly a century of research for the museum to become cognizant of its mistakes and finally reconstruct the triceratops more authentically. In 1998, the fossils that constituted the dinosaur were taken off display and replaced with a new, properly proportioned version, made from casts of the bones. Some were scaled up or reduced in size to the more accurate dimensions.
At the unveiling, the triceratops was officially christened “Hatcher,” in honor of the Dr. Frankenstein, erh, Mr. Hatcher, who originally created him.
No Longer Numero Uno
After that accomplishment, one would think the newly-created Hatcher would finally get his ‘just do’ now that he was no longer a monster-of-sorts. But not the case. According to a recent Washington Post report: “Now Hatcher faces his greatest indignity yet: He's going to be fed to a Tyrannosaurus rex.”
Yes, the new-and-improved Hatcher will soon become a second-banana of sorts. When the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History opens its new Fossil Hall in 2019, a brand new T.rex will be the star of the show. And, Hatcher will be displayed at the predator’s feet, with a big question mark as to whether or not the carnivore will have him for his supper meal.
It's not conclusive if the more dominant T.rex actually preyed on triceratops all those many millions of years. Scientists don't really know how much truth there is to the storied antagonism between triceratops and T.rex. While it’s great fodder for historic action flicks, it’s never been proven that the two ever fought in real life-and-death battles.
More Prehistoric Creatures to come . . .
That's why, for its future exhibit, the NMNH will intentionally leave the circumstances of Hatcher's outcome with the T.Rex ambiguous. And perhaps in years to come, we might learn the true story behind the interactions of these two extinct creatures.
Speaking of extinction, you might be interested to know that the prehistoric woolly mammoth just might be making a return visit to Earth. Except in this case, we’re not talking about a museum exhibit — since this creature is part of de-extinction experiment that will actually resurrect a modern-day version of the prehistoric animal. When and if completed, this will provide modern-day man with an opportunity to experience a real-life glimpse of the prehistoric era, up close and personal . . . well, maybe not that close . . . but a woolly experience nonetheless.