Peabody renovations planned

The Peabody Museum will temporarily close the Great Hall of Dinosaurs while the hall undergoes a $30 million renovation.
The Peabody Museum will temporarily close the Great Hall of Dinosaurs while the hall undergoes a $30 million renovation. Photo by Kathryn Crandall.

The Peabody Museum’s Great Hall of Dinosaurs may soon receive a $30 million makeover.

In the next few years, the Peabody’s displays may be dismantled and remodeled to include new specimens and to reflect scientific discoveries that have occurred since the mounts were last modified in 1946. Although the start date of the renovations depends on funding, according to a Peabody official, dismantling would ideally begin in 2014 and be completed by 2016 — in time for the Peabody’s 150th anniversary. The hall will be closed while renovations take place.

“We have a lot more cool stuff to put on display,” said Daniel Brinkman, a museum assistant in the Division of Vertebrate Paleontology and one of the museum’s dinosaur specialists. “Just like in every science, new techniques, new interpretations appear over time. Our thinking has changed. Some of the mounts are horribly out-of-date.”

The museum’s largest mounted skeleton, the Apatosaurus, will undergo changes based on the discovery of other Apatosaurus specimens with different skeletal structures, Brinkman said. One of these planned changes includes the addition of three neck vertebrae and 20 tail vertebrae. In the last 20 years, computer simulations of the Apatosaurus — a herbivorous dinosaur that was up to 70 feet long and weighed as much as 30 tons — have suggested the dinosaur snapped its tail in a whip-like fashion to make a small sonic boom that would scare away predators, Brinkman said. The tail of the Peabody’s Apatosaurus will be lifted off the ground and bent to one side to reflect these findings.

In addition to skeletal changes, a new walkway will be constructed on the wall opposite Rudolph F. Zallinger’s ’42 ART ’71 “The Age of Reptiles,” a mural that plasters the east wall of the hall. The walkway will allow patrons to better observe Zallinger’s piece, which illustrates the evolutionary history of the earth over 300 million years and measures 110 feet by 16 feet.

“People will be able to look eye to eye at the mural, as well as look down at the dinosaurs,” Brinkman said.

The hall will change to parallel the images of Zallinger’s mural by including displays of fish, amphibians, birds, mammals and invertebrates in addition to dinosaurs, Brinkman said. Some creatures already in the hall, such as the Archelon — the largest species of turtle ever found — will be positioned to reflect predator-prey relationships, he added.

Brinkman said he sees the Peabody’s alterations as both reflective of the changing times and leading the charge in changing how schools teach paleontology.

“For some students, this may be their first exposure to this new way of thinking about dinosaurs,” he said. He said although the best textbooks today accurately describe how dinosaurs roamed the earth, many schools do not use them.

Visitors interviewed had mixed reactions about the Peabody’s renovation plans. Looking at the Apatosaurus with her grandchild, Dottie Savastano, who grew up in Fair Haven, said she visited the Peabody often during her youth. Savastano, who began a “Museum Lady” program to connect New Haven schoolchildren to the museum’s resources, lamented the hall’s potential closing.

“The Great Hall is the big attraction for the kids,” she said. “It’s been this way forever. [Two years is] excessive time.”

Deborah Macintosh of Southampton, Mass., visiting the museum with her daughter Sarah, expressed both sadness and optimism at the hall’s closing, adding that she was relieved she visited while the hall was still open.

The Peabody has over 12.8 million specimens in its collection.

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