Dippy the Diplodocus's very existence is a malicious lie: the fossil is a cast

There hasn’t been such a blossoming of shared national pain since Crème Egg-gate

Tom Mendelsohn
Thursday 29 January 2015 16:02
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Is the Natural History Museum right to get rid of 'Dippy'? We asked two writers with very different opinions to give us their views. Here, Tom Mendelsohn says yes. To read why Charlie Cooper says no, click here.

The internet has been wracked with grief this morning, with the news that ‘Dippy’, as literally no one has ever called it, the famous, enormous diplodocus skeleton that dominated the front hall of the Natural History Museum, is to end his tenure as the best exhibit in Britain.

Instead, to the unquenchable misery of so many overgrown children, the museum is preparing to hang the bones of a common or garden blue whale from the ceiling.

The people are rallying, however. There’s a hashtag, there’s a petition, and you can bet your sweet bippy that there’ll be some gratingly twee protest of some sort to follow, as a public who can’t quite ever let go has its say.

And now they’re at it again, with just as much purpose for just as pointless a cause. Old Dippy, whose dumb dinosaur brain might be turning in its grave over such an insulting name were it not stood in a giant Victorian foyer, has only even been there in for 35 years or so - it’s not like we’re bulldozing Stonehenge. Anyway, its very existence is a malicious lie: the fossil is a cast.

They don’t point this out to you, as a child, or if they do, they sneak a tiny reference into the small print, like a greedy TV lawyer, the very subterfuge proving the villainy of the act. Because we all remember the wonderment of the first time we stepped into that hall and were confronted with something that massive and alien and awe-inspiring. Nothing could touch the feeling of reaching out and touching the oldest thing you’re likely ever to have seen, and realising that once it was alive.

That feeling of wonder is polluted by the knowledge that it’s just a model, and that the real one is in Pittsburgh. Most of the others are fake too, in natural history museums across the country. Even the T-rex head I used to stand by and stare at until my dad got bored and made me look at trilobites or something.

So here’s the thing: change is good, and museums need to move with the rest of us to stay relevant. That pseudo-skeleton is still pretty great, but blue whales are even huger and just as amazing. The museum’s rationale – that we need to highlight the peril facing still-living species – is on point. Instead of wasting your energies organising protests that might preserve your childhoods in emotional formaldehyde, why not open your mind and embrace new things, like just how enormous a whale can actually get?

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