Think “dinosaur” and your brain is likely to default to a Tyrannosaurus rex, triceratops, stegosaurus, velociraptor—all the superstar fauna of the Mesozoic era.
Beyond guest appearances in the Jurassic Park movies, the tie that binds these popular prehistoric creatures is their place of birth: they’re all found in the U.S. or Canada. But where’s the love for Giraffatitan, the giraffelike African sauropod, or Glacialisaurus, the beefy beast whose bones were discovered in an antarctic glacier?
We’re too focused on the northern hemisphere when it comes to the dinosaur world, a diversity problem the Field Museum is trying to help rectify this spring. Last week, the natural history museum installed a fiberglass cast of a titanosaur skeleton from Argentina in Stanley Field Hall, and it’s also putting the finishing touches on a new exhibit featuring the dinosaurs of Antarctica.
“We want to show that there’s more to dinosaurs than T. rexes and all of the very familiar North American species,” says Eric Gorscak, a postdoc research scientist at the Field.
Step one in diversifying the Field’s dinos: moving Sue out of the museum’s vast white-marbled main room after 18 years. The T. rex skeleton was taken down and rebuilt in a new suite on the second floor earlier this year to make way for Máximo—a massive herbivore native to South America.
The 70-ton titanosaur was initially discovered in 2010 at the Mayo family farm in the Patagonia region of Argentina (hence the name chosen for the species: Patagotitan ). On Friday, crews needed a crane to attach its skull—the final piece of the dinosaur’s frame. In its finished state, Máximo measures 122 feet long from head to tail, four-fifths the height of the Chicago Water Tower. At 28 feet tall, the dinosaur’s fearsome-looking skull is at eye level with visitors standing on the museum’s second-floor balcony.
“If you’re going to move Sue, the biggest and T. rex around, you have to go with something equally impressive, and we’ve got that in Máximo—the biggest dinosaur that’s ever walked the earth,” says Hilary Hansen, the museum’s senior exhibitions project manager.
The titanosaur’s rust-colored bones reflect the claylike soil common in South America, and its name was an intentional nod to the dinosaur’s regional roots, Hansen noted. “It’s also a nice play on words because it means ‘maximum’ in Spanish,” she said.
There are also other creatures in the 12-week “Antarctic Dinosaurs” exhibit that aren’t as physically spectacular as Máximo, but they’re likely to be just as unfamiliar to the public. That’s partly because they’re fairly new discoveries, including fossils dug up in 2010 and 2011 by a team of scientists encamped at Shackleton Glacier that included Field Museum paleontologists Pete Makovicky and Nate Smith.
The exhibition—which opens at the Field Museum on June 15—will include about 40 species from the icy continent from a time 200 million years ago when it was part of a bigger supercontinent called Gondwana. Then Antarctica was a wooded, lush habitat with a temperate climate that contained a number of dinosaurs—many of whom were covered with feathers.
“The climate was similar to northern Alaska, where you have high latitude but you still have seasonality. So you had a lot of feathered dinosaurs running around in Antartica,” says Gorscak.
Arguably the most famous Antarctic dino is the unique-looking Cryolophosaurus. Unearthed in 1991 and named in 1994, the meat-eating monster has been nicknamed “Elvisaurus” because of the curved forward-facing crest on its head that vaguely resembles young Elvis Presley’s pompadour haircut.
With the Field Museum’s help, maybe Elvisaurus or Máximo will get their own cameos in the next Jurassic World sequel, but Gorscak will settle for exposing people to new dinosaurs from places far from America.
“There are so many cool dinosaurs from different parts of the world and we’re excited to open the public’s minds to them.”