An unassembled Tylosaurus pembinensis waits to be put together and displayed in the museum. Photo by Erika Sherk

Ask a Palaeo: how long does it take to put a dinosaur skeleton on display?

By Robin Sissons

Once a fossil is found, it can take a long time with many people working on it before it is ready to be put on display. Small fossils can be excavated from the ground in a few days or even a few hours. Larger fossils or skeletons that require more care may require a months-long season, or even multiple years going back to the same quarry to extract.

Once the fossil is removed from the ground, it is transported back to a laboratory where it may take as little as a few hours, or as much as several years to clean up and glue back together. This depends largely on the hardness of the rock around the fossil, and how fragile or durable the fossil itself is.

If the fossil is a complete skeleton, it may be relatively easier for the palaeontologists to study it and determine what it is. If it is fragmentary and incomplete, much research must be conducted to figure out what the palaeontologist is looking at.

Once the story is known about the fossil, then it can begin the process of being mounted for display. Sometimes the original fossil is mounted, and sometime the specimen is moulded and a cast is created for display if for example the original fossil is too delicate or too heavy to put on display itself. Interpretive material is developed to pass on the knowledge gained by the palaeontologists to the public who wish to learn, and finally they can come see this ancient wonder on display!

In short, it can take as little as a few weeks from finding something in the ground to putting in in certain kinds of displays, or it can take decades or more before a fossil is ready to be shown to the world.


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