2008-12-04 / Local & State

New Jersey Dinosaur Back In Philadelphia Museum

By Tom Avril THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - He was one of the first rock stars.

So many people came to gawk at the long-limbed figure that handlers started charging 10 cents' admission in a vain effort to limit the crowds.

By the next year, his fame would spread to far-off London, where a magazine called him "a reptilian master of the world.''

It was 1868 in Philadelphia, and Hadrosaurus foulkii was the world's first dinosaur skeleton to go on public display. Last weekend, he - or perhaps she (as with some rock stars, scientists say it's hard to tell) - went back on view at the Academy of Natural Sciences. The exhibit combines the latest science with a dose of the Victorian-era wonderment that initially greeted the prehistoric giant.

"It's more than just a dinosaur,'' says Barbara Ceiga, director of exhibits at the red-brick museum and research institute on Logan Circle. "It's a whole story.''

The exhibit, titled "Hadrosaurus foulkii: The Dinosaur That Changed the World,'' opened runs through April 19. Eventually, the skeleton of the plant-eating beast will be incorporated into the academy's main dinosaur hall, where most of its eight other mounted dinos are housed, including the more familiar Tyrannosaurus rex. But for now, the 25-foot-long Hadrosaurus is surrounded by displays that evoke the era when the bones were found.

Curators have re-created the office of Joseph Leidy, the academy scientist who identified the bones 150 years ago, complete with a vintage microscope and his handsome wooden desk. Off to one side are a few yellowish jars containing wormlike parasites from Leidy's collection, preserved in alcohol.

Another nook in the exhibit features a re-creation of the muddy pit where the bones were found, across the Delaware River in Haddonfield, N.J. A few of the fossils were dug up in the 1830s on the farm of John Hopkins. Amateur naturalist William Parker Foulke dug up more in 1858, and enlisted Leidy's help in making sense of the find.

Leidy named the specimen partly after Foulke, and the animal went on display a decade later. (Hadrosaurus means bulky lizard. The fact that it shares a syllable with Haddonfield is a coincidence.)

There were a total of 49 recognizable bones, plus an additional 20 or so bits and pieces. Though it was by far the most complete dino skeleton that had been found at the time, it was just a fraction of the full animal, and it didn't include a key element: the skull.

Yet many of the bones came from the same side of the animal, so the other side could be made by fashioning mirror-image bones from plaster. A skull was crafted to resemble that of a large iguana.

Scientists now know the real dinosaur had a duckbilled snout. So this time around, the skeleton features the cast of a skull from the closely related Maiasaur, another duck-billed dinosaur.

As for the rest of the body, the original bones are too fragile to be mounted, as they contain an iron compound that oxidizes when exposed to the air. A selection of the bones is on display in climate-controlled cases.

So the bones used in the mounted skeleton are not real. Like the skull, they were cast in plastic resin by a Canadian company called Research Casting International. The skeleton contains about 280 bone casts, project manager Garth Dallman says.

Some were made from actual Hadrosaurus foulkii bones, using data captured with a laser scanner. The rest of the skeleton was filled out using existing molds of bones from other duck-billed dinosaurs, Dallman says.

On a table near the mounted dino, visitors can see old stereograph images - Victorian-era pictures that give the illusion of being 3-D. One depicts the original Hadrosaurus exhibit, bearing the words "Skeleton of the Great Fossil Lizard of New Jersey.''

Back then, the animal was posed like a giant kangaroo, with front legs in the air and its big tail solidly on the ground. The new skeleton is mounted in keeping with modern paleontological theory, with the tail held in midair.

But a key element of the Victorian era science remains in favor, says Rider University geology professor William Gallagher. The study of Hadrosaurus helped bolster the now-accepted link between dinosaurs and birds.

The New Jersey fossil was found the year before Charles Darwin published his landmark theory of evolution. In the succeeding years, Thomas Henry Huxley, known as Darwin's Bulldog, cited Hadrosaurus in his defense of evolution, Gallagher says.

Huxley, whose grandson Aldous wrote the novel Brave New World, noted that the leg and ankle bones of Hadrosaurus resembled those of a bird.

Those who want more can always visit Haddonfield, where the original discovery site was pinpointed in 1984 by then-Boy Scout Christopher Brees. The location is now a national historical landmark.

Elsewhere in town, "Haddy'' has been immortalized with a bronze sculpture.

Now that's treatment befitting a rock star.

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