Titanosaur at the NHM


‘Twas the night before TetZooCon, and London was full of palaeo enthusiasts. Many of them took the opportunity to visit the Natural History Museum before the introduction event on Friday night, and indeed, so did I. I was in London accompanied by our Marc and our Agata, knowing that I wanted to see the temporary exhibition called Titanosaur: Life As The Biggest Dinosaur. The main attraction was of course a full sized mount of Patagotitan, one of the best known giant titanosaurs.

Turns out I was far from the only one. At the museum, I ran into our Natee and Andrew of Dino Dad Reviews (he’s written his own review). As Marc and Agata, who had already seen the titanosaur, went to explore the old Dino hall, I forked over the extra cash to see what was in store.

As a review, I understand this comes late in the game. As I write and publish this, the exhibition at the NHM will be on its last pillar-shaped legs. It runs until January 14th 2024, a few days from now. So take this review less as a recommendation than a commemoration of the event that was.

Before going in, I wanted to say hi to Sophie the Stegosaurus! I’d been to the NHM before but had missed this one. It’s the best Stegosaurus specimen in the world and she does not disappoint.

Like many major museums in central London, entrance to the NHM is free. However, the Titanosaur exhibit is an upcharge attraction for 17,50 pounds. Here, you can see the lovely naive Fiep Westendorp-esque artwork that styles the poster and the entire exhibit.

The introductory text.

The exhibit first leads you around the main hall where the mount is before dropping you inside. On this photo you can kind of see how it works, with screens blocking Patagotitan from view but its tail sticking out over, giving a preview of the massive animal awaiting you…

The mount itself is a cast, but the exhibition does show some actual bones of the actual Patagotitan. This is its giant femur.

The information screens and backdrops are all done in the same minimalist, naïve style, mostly in black, white and grey with the occasional splash of orange, yellow or blue. There’s sauropod silhouettes and grey trees, invoking a jungle without actually trying to look like a jungle in an illusionistic way. It gives the exhibit a childlike, adventurous and very stylish appearance. This sign shows how Patagotitan does not only dwarf an elephant, but Dippy itself, too!

Here’s a sauropod egg, my hand for scale. There’s lots of things in here you can freely touch.

A large portion of the walk up to the main hall is taken up by these interactive screens, which let you follow a pod of newly hatched sauropodlets. You can send them either to safety or to their premature doom. I amused myself playing with these for a while. Thanks to the fact that this hall wasn’t freely accessible, there weren’t flocks of children to prevent me.

Turn the corner, and there she is. What an impressive animal, in fabulous bisexual lighting. Again, it’s fully a cast, but we’ve found a significant enough portion of the real Patagotitan that she can be confidently reconstructed. Maybe it would have been even nicer if the neck was rearing up a bit more, but the limitations of the building itself prevent that. It doesn’t have the staggering verticality of Berlin’s Giraffatitan, but Patagotitan is even more massive. And you can walk underneath it! You can really admire her from all angles, which I did to my heart’s content. Again, the hall wasn’t packed (unlike the rest of the museum). I found 17,50 a bit steep, but maybe a bit of exclusivity isn’t a bad thing…

The signage is nothing short of excellent, well up to date with current science and explained in a clear, lively and concise manner. I also appreciate that the signs have a braille option.

Speaking of tactility, there’s so much in the exhibit you can touch to get a sense of its scale and feel. Here is a replica skull at touching height, my hand for scale. It should be noted that, even though we’ve got quite a lot of Patagotitan material as far as giant titanosaurs go, its skull was never found. This skull is a somewhat speculative creation based on relatives such as Sarmientosaurus and Tapuiasaurus.

Proof I was there.

Even the mount itself can be freely touched, though a good old British Health & Safety warning sign cannot go amiss. I find sauropod hands and feet so cool and interesting. That goes especially for those of the later titanosaurs like this one, which completely forego having fingers and are just these mighty vertical columns of bone. The flooring of the hall shows accurate sauropod footprints. It makes me all very happy.

Them stinkin’ theropods also need their spot in the limelight I guess, so here’s a skull cast of Tyrannotitan. This is the carcharodontosaurid from the same locale as Patagotitan and therefore its main predator. The skull closely resembles that of Giganotosaurus. Having the skull at eye height like this (again, you can touch it) gives you a nice sense of scale. I want to draw your attention also to the backdrop, again, in this very nice childlike silhouette style that carefully avoids kitsch. I’m full of admiration.

Have another look at Patagotitan, this time from its massive backside. Its hip region is particularly gigantic. Standing underneath it and having those massive iliums bearing down on you is quite the experience. Cake for the gods! I am truly in awe.

Along the side, there’s interactive displays like this that explain things such as sauropod respiration (pictured) and sauropod digestion. You have to push buttons, man pumps and put your hands in holes to get the full experience. I find sauropod (and theropod) respiration especially fascinating, with all those air sacs and pneumatic bones going on. I do wonder if the kids, at whom this is primarily directed, are truly interested in this stuff, though.

Before we leave, another nice shot of the titan from Patagonia. Few things truly match humanity’s capacity for wonder quite like a sauropod.

And that’s what it was like when the titanosaur came to London. I’d recommend it, but if you read this, you’ve either been or you’re probably too late. Patagotitan mounts are becoming more widespread, as Diplodocus casts were before it. A few have been made and grace the halls of, say, the AMNH in New York and the Field Museum in Chicago. I don’t doubt us Europeans will get another shot at seeing Patagotitan in the future. Until then, this was an excellent exhibition that I really enjoyed. I still think 17,50 is on the steep side for the amount of time you spend inside (though not for the quality), but with the crowds the NHM gets it is perhaps inevitable.

For what it’s worth, the exhibit at the NHM (a walking distance from the South Kensington tube station) runs until January 14.

Also: Bring back Dippy!

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  • Reply
    Dino Dad Reviews
    January 5, 2024 at 10:55 am

    Hahaha, I’m amused that you also noted the “bisexual lighting”!
    I perhaps should have paid a little closer attention to the side displays in my review, but I’m glad you covered them here!

    • Reply
      Niels Hazeborg
      January 5, 2024 at 12:28 pm

      I’m glad I’m not the only millennial queen whose mind immediately goes to that place 🙂
      I’ve added a link to your review as well. The fact that you saw both in succession is a great added value.

  • Reply
    January 6, 2024 at 1:25 am

    Isn’t “ilia” the proper plural of “ilium”?

  • Reply
    Jon Noad
    January 6, 2024 at 11:48 pm

    Thank you for the nice summary – I was in London in December but sadly did not have time to visit the BMNH

  • Reply
    January 9, 2024 at 1:31 am

    what may I ask is bisexual lighting?

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