Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Portrait of a T. rex, or why I love Stan.

It's strange how you can develop an attachment to an animal that lived on another continent 65 million years ago, but I've done just that with a Tyrannosaurus rex called Stan.

Stan seen from head-on.
Illustration © Stuart Pond. 2011. Stan is a trademark of the Black Hills Institute.

Some years ago palaeontologist Dr. Phil Manning arrived at Manchester Museum and set about re-invigorating the fossil galleries. The centrepiece at that time was a Tenontosaurus skeleton which had seen better days; it was in need of a a bit of t.l.c. and had some dodgy restoration on it, so off to the lab it went. With characteristic vision and enthusiasm Phil decided to replace the old ornithopod with something altogether more dramatic, a full-size Tyrannosaurus rex in a controversial running pose. So a cast of Stan, a nearly complete T. rex from South Dakota was installed into the fossil galleries, posed so when you round the corner into the hall the beast looks like he's about to run you down (we assume Stan is a 'he' as he is the gracile form of the species, and with T. rex the robust morphotype is considered the female); A T. rex at full-tilt. Over the years Mrs Stu and I have often gone up to the museum to see Stan, to gain inspiration in the long months between actually getting out into the field, and dreaming of visiting the Hell Creek where he was found to see for ourselves this great fossil locality.

The Black Hills Institute, Hill City, South Dakota.

Stan was named after Stan Sacrison, an electrician and long-standing collector who found him in S.D. in 1987. Although he wasn't excavated until 1992, Stan turned out to be the most complete male T. rex ever found. The original fossil now resides with the Black Hills Institute (who found Sue, now located in The Field Museum, Chicago after a traumatic and protracted legal battle now famous in the annals of palaeontology), located in Hill City, S.D. As we were in the area last year after spending a week in the field in the Hell Creek we had to make the pilgrimage to see the original fossil from which the Manchester cast was taken. Sure enough, we rocked up in Hill City one bright sunny July morning and proceeded to the BHI museum. To see Stan in the, er, flesh was a surprisingly emotional experience; it was like meeting a famous artist or musician who you'd long admired and found inspirational. We spent a very happy couple of hours in the BHI's small but perfectly formed museum, carefully studying all the exhibits we had travelled so far to see, but paying special attention to the star of the show, the mighty Stan.
The Tenontosaurus that once held pride of place in the fossil
gallery at Manchester Museum. Note no Deinonychus present.

So at the top of the post is an illustration of Stan by myself. It's taken from a photo of his skull which I took whilst at the museum, and was created entirely in Adobe Illustrator, the vector graphic programme. This is obviously a simplified image, really meant to try to communicate the dramatic experience of standing eye-to-eye with that most iconic of dinosaurs, T. rex.

If you're any where near Hill City I would highly recommend a visit to the Black Hills Institute to visit Stan. In the meantime, we'll be off to Manchester any day now to see him dominating the fossil hall, bearing down on the awestruck visitors come to gaze at his mighty self.

Please note that Stan is a trademark of the Black Hills Institute.

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