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'Thomas' the T. rex ready for his closeup at Natural History Museum

July 2, 2011 |  8:00 am


Thomas does not exactly inspire warm fuzzies. The 34-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus rex stands lethal and massive at the new Dinosaur Hall of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, jagged teeth bared into a snarl. He looks ready to swoop over and swallow you whole.

But behind this gigantic beast is a sweet little story of one brother honoring another.

Thomas was excavated in 2003 in southeast Montana after a local schoolteacher, Robert Curry, found the bones and tipped off the Dinosaur Institute. It turned out that he had hit the jackpot. The remnants were not merely scattered dinosaur bone pieces but, rather, a 70% preserved fossil of a teenage T. rex that stomped the Earth 66 million years ago and one of the most well-preserved and youngest specimen of its kind to be discovered.

When Luis Chiappe, director of the Dinosaur Institute of the Natural History Museum, arrived with his excavation team, he offered to nickname the T. rex "Bob" after Curry. But Curry asked that the fossil be nicknamed "Thomas," after his brother, who had shared his love for fossil-hunting ever since they were young boys.

There are many more stories like Thomas' to be discovered at the new dinosaur exhibition, set to open to the public on July 16. The exhibition will showcase more than 300 specimens and 20 articulated dinosaur skeletons, ranging from the chicken-sized omnivorous Fruitadens haagarorum to the herculean long-necked Mamenchisaurus that measures at 68 feet long from head to tail.

"There aren't many dinosaur halls with display of such substance on this side of America," said Chiappe. "Our exhibit is really an exhibit that will bring people from all cities in search of a dinosaur experience."

Chiappe said he is certain that both children and adults alike will be wowed by the extensive dinosaur showcase, which is decked out in the newly renovated sunlit galleries of the museum's historic buildings, alongside modern touch-screen computers, do-it-yourself activities and vast digitally printed murals -- a juxtaposition of fancy modern science and ancient creatures.

Read the Arts & Books story about the new Dinosaur Hall here.

-- Sophia Lee

Photo: A collection of T. rexes is a main feature of the Natural History Museum's new Dinosaur Hall that opens in mid-July, a part of the museum's move into the 21st century and continuing renovation.
Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times


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