Where the Dinosaurs Are

DINOSAUR SKELETONS AND THE OLD BONE ODORI
(or, my dance with dinosaurs)

I have been drawn to old bones for as long as I can remember.  My favorite dinosaur models have always been skeletons.  While some people may marvel at my kokkalophilia*, I am not alone.  A lot of effort is involved in researching and producing a decent kit and as much as I enjoy the fruits of such labors, it is very unlikely that anyone with the skills needed to produce a scale skeleton would do it just to make one for me.  Over the past fifty years a variety of manufacturers have made models of skeletons but it has often taken a lot of sweat, toil and tears to get my hands on those kits.  (Blood came later when I tried to assemble them.)  These skeleton-makers actually believed there would be a market for model skeletons of prehistoric beasts and that they could sell enough of them to make it worth their efforts.  Unfortunately, that that has often turned out to be a faulty assumption and the lifespan of most skeleton model production runs tends to be pretty short with very limited numbers.  What is manufactured is often very expensive and it can be tough to justify such purchases when other costs of living and raising a family are considered.  Deferring a skeleton purchase because other things in life take priority may be the right thing to do, but at the same time, such patience is likely to be punished with a permanent gap in the display case.  If a kit isn't purchased as soon as it is available, opportunities to get it in the future may be few and far between.  All of this makes good and affordable skeleton models tough to find and the hunt for them can be a significant challenge.  For decades I have been on a  quest for good skeletons. 

So why do I call it the Old Bone Odori?  The Obon (お盆)
is a Japanese Buddhist festival honoring the spirits of one's ancestors.  The Bon-Odori (盆踊 is a dance performed at the festival to welcome the spirits of the departed.  In the dance there are a lot of steps and sometimes it seems you are going in circles without getting anywhere.  But in the end, it is the experience that is supposed to be meaningful, not necessarily where you are when the music stops.  I have a desire to honor the great beasts of the Mesozoic with tangible representations of their existence.  In my attempts to acquire them, I often feel as if I am going in circles and sometimes seem to get farther away from the objects of my desire before being rewarded for those efforts.  Of course, in some cases my my searches end in frustration and in consolation I can only reflect on having enjoyed the experience of the hunt.  Old Bone Odori?  I think the name seems to fit. 

On this page I am trying to describe the history of my desire to have my own museum.  If possible, I want to communicate what it is about models of fossilized bones that is so fascinating to me as I review bone and skeleton models that I have seen as well as those that I actually have in my personal collection.  In reading this page I realize that I can get rather overblown, so if you just want to look at the pictures, then be my guest!  I will give a list of important links at the end of these pages.  Trying to insert them all over the text can be a hassle, especially as people often make changes in their websites that result in broken links and it can be exhausting trying to keep up with them.  Here then, is my dance with the bones of the dinosaurs.

  
*The Greek word for bone is κόκκαλο, hence lover of bone is κόκκαλοφιλία.  Right now, if you Google the term, you will get no results.  Just wait and try again soon.



Due to the number of images, I have divided this webpage into several smaller and more manageable sections.  They are:

PAGE 1
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BONE DANCE
OLD BONES I HAVE KNOWN
DINOSAURS: THE EARLY YEARS
SKULLDUGGERY AND SKULLS
THE ITC RESURRECTION
INVADED BY ANTS


PAGE 2
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GLENCOE AND THE PT RENAISSANCE
KAIYODO-ED
FROM A DISTANCE
SOMETHING WICCART THIS WAY COMES


PAGE 3
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SOME HITS AND MISSED OPPORTUNITIES TO COME?
THE GHOST OF ANTS


PAGE 4
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A RASH OF REXES
OZ AND ECHOES
LINKS

PAGE 5
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BUILDING A BETTER STEGOSAURUS
RESIN FATIGUE IN ALLOSAURS
TYRANNOSAURUS EVOLUTION



BACK TO THE WHERE THE DINOSAURS ARE HOMEPAGE


BONE DANCE


The most tangible link we have to dinosaurs is their bones.  Well, there are tracks, eggshells and coprolites, but  most of what we know about about the way they looked and what they ate comes from what is left of their skeletons.  I have been fascinated by those eerie frameworks since early childhood.   As many others have noted, bones are real.  Imagining extinct animals as living things always involves a fair amount of speculation and often outright artistic license.  While a lot about muscles and diet can be inferred from bones, teeth and gastroliths, soft-tissue reconstructions  always involve a lot of extrapolation and imagination.  Even bones are not absolute truth.  Many skeletons are fragmentary.  While having the bones of the right side of an animal makes it pretty easy to reconstruct the left side if it's missing (as long as it's not a lobster), many fossilized bones are broken and incomplete.    In many cases, large proportions of the entire skeleton are missing and filled in with educated guesses.  In the early days of dinosaur paleontology, it was not uncommon to have only teeth and a few bones.  Early reconstruction reimagined theropods
as large lizards and Iguanodon thumbspikes were displayed as rhinoceros-like horns on the tips of their noses.  Poor Edward Drinker Cope put the head of an Elasmosaurus on the end of the tail and had a hard time living it down.  Often major portions of skulls are missing and they get "filled in" with speculation derived from what are probably related beasts, with those relationships determined by similarities  in the rest of the skeleton.  Of course, this can be risky... think of putting the skull of a bulldog on the reconstructed skeleton of a greyhound .  As long as you realized they are both dogs, close enough?  This sort of error led to putting the head of a Camarasaurus on the body of an Apatosaurus and calling the result a Brontosaurus for a very long time.  The old Tyrannosaurus in the American Museum had the feet of an Allosaurus for years.  Most viewers didn't know and wouldn't have cared, but once the right feet were found, it turned out that there was a pretty significant difference.   Evolutionary relationships are inferred from bony structures.  That is important when there is no DNA to analyze, but even bare bones can conceal surprises.  Convergent evolution may make apparent twins of distantly related cousins.  Embryonic bone formation may result in bones that resemble each other even when the actual frameworks for those bones came from very different pathways.   However, all such cautions aside, bones are the best we have, so in ossa veritas, eh?



OLD BONES I HAVE KNOWN

I remember being taken to the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum sometime in my preschool days and being awestruck at the skeletons on display.  In the mid-1950's, the LA displays were actually Ice Age mammals, rather than dinosaurs.  However, to a small child, the distinction was not obvious and those mammoths, giant sloths, bears, camels, rhinos, Dire wolves and sabertooth cats were utterly stunning.  During our next trip to New York, where my grandmother lived, this naturally this led to a visit to the American Museum and its famous halls of fossils.   Now those were real dinosaurs and walking into their presence felt very much akin entering a massive cathedral.  The way the scaffolds of those ancient giants towered overhead in the subdued light typical of old museum displays amid the sounds of footsteps echoing off the polished floors and the murmurs of visitors admiring those exotic remnants of the past all felt very reminiscent of the ambiance of the nave in a towering Gothic church.  Well OK, no rose windows, but I felt the tingle of adrenaline that still flows today when I enter a museum's hall of paleontology.  Of course, from an academic point of view, bones could simply be displayed in a case, but I am so glad that museums realize that assembling them into the representation of complete creatures in action does a far more effective job of conveying the size and power of those monsters of the past.   OK, it also leads to a lot of really weird dreams...

AMMUS
AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY 1950'S
(image from Next of Kin)



DINOSAURS: THE EARLY YEARS

In the late 1950's the American Museum refurbished their dinosaur displays and as part of the process of remounting their prized dinosaur displays, they had scale models sculpted from actual measurements of several of their more famous mounts.  They were released by the ITC model company and began appearing on the shelves of toy stores across the country at the same time as many other dinosaur toys and models became available in a surge of interest and popularity among us Baby Boomers.   While I had plenty of toy soldiers, cowboy hats and guns along with Davy Crockett coonskin hats, my favorite possessions were fragile, waxy prehistoric sculptures from the drugstore and the Marxian dinosaur playset that lived in the sandbox. Now I could actually have my own skeletons!  I can't remember if  I had to wait for a birthday or holiday to get one of those kits, but I may have simply made such a fuss that I was able to get it without the need for a special occasion.   My parents gave me the Tyrannosaurus and my younger brother received the Stegosaurus.  Naturally, my father had to assemble them and they promptly went on the mantle as the beginning of our own museum.  One of the coolest aspects of those ITC kits was the pictures on the sides of the box that advertised other models available in the same series.  They included a Triceratops, a Brontosaurus, a Pterodactyl, a Mammoth and a Dimetrodon.  My brother and I went back again and again to the hobby section in our local drug store to look for those other kits, but they never had them.  Eventually another company, Palmer Plastics, released a Brontosaurus and a Mammoth, which we added to our mantle museum.  Those kits were a somewhat smaller scale and lacked the finish and dynamic pose of the ITC models, but we were happy to have them anyhow.   It wasn't long before it seemed that the interest of American youth shifted to the space race and dinosaur models, especially those skeletons, became extinct as the dinosaurs themselves.

ITCTR   
1957   ORIGINAL ITC TYRANNOSAURUS REX 1/25     16 1/2" (42cm)

   ITCSTEGO
               1957   ORIGINAL ITC STEGOSAURUS 1/25      11" (28cm)                                    



ITCsidepanel
SIDE PANEL FROM BOX SHOWING COMING ATTRACTIONS


PalmerBronto    
PALMER BRONTOSAURUS

PalmerMasto
       PALMER MASTODON

  While both of these kits show the skeletons in a striding pose, they built up in a very static, standing still position.

In addition to the ITC and Palmer kits I have described, there were others, even if they pretty much went extinct without a trace.  I remember having some other versions of Tyrannosaurus skeletons that came in a bag and were made of something slightly softer than the styrene I was used to gluing together.  They snapped together and tipped over as there was no base.  I have no idea who made them or what happened to them.  Through the years there have been a number of toys that bore some vague cartoonish resemblance to skeletons and even claimed educational value, but those never held much appeal for me and I don't plan to say much more about them. 


As the years went by, I managed to hang onto the two ITC models, even after many falls from their shelves and the loss of various small parts.  The Palmer kits were more fragile and somehow vanished during various purges of our collections.  My Tyrannosaurus and my brother's Stegosaurus were finally rescued from a box under my parents' house when I moved into my own place.  At that time I was rekindling my own interest in dinosaurs and tried reassembling them with some replacement parts I had to fabricate from fast-drying clay and epoxy.  I was pretty happy with them, but at times I wondered what kind of a job I could do on those kits if I were to build them as an adult and even more wistfully, what I could have done with those mysterious missing models from the sides of the ITC boxes.  From time to time I fantasized that there could be a hobby shop somewhere in a small town that had a complete set gathering dust on a shelf in the back.




SKULLDUGGERY AND SKULLS

Sometime in the mid-1980's I received a pharmaceutical-sponsored glossy bulletin about classy things that should appeal to high earners, such as doctors.  At that time I was not a particularly high earner and most of the fancy cars, luxury resorts and high-end liquor it advertised were well out of my price range and held little interest for me.  However, there was one thing that grabbed my attention.  It was a life-sized mounted skull of a Smilodon, marketed by a new company called Skulduggery.  While not quite the real thing, it was cast from a real skull and it was gorgeous.  My wife actually indulged me and bought it for me as a birthday present.  It is still a focal point of my living room decor.  Skullduggery also sold a beautiful cast of a huge Tyrannosaurus tooth which I bought, and they offered several dinosaur skulls, including a Tyrannosaurus and a Triceratops.  I was intrigued, but never felt as if I had to have them.  While nicely done, they were scaled-down sculptures rather than casts.  They were each cast in one piece, so detail was lacking in the jaw articulation and teeth, but above all, they were expensive.  The Triceratops cost more than the Smilodon.  I am not always sure why some things appeal to me and not others.  The Sabertooth looked and felt real.  It was worth the space it occupied on the shelf.  The dinosaur skulls looked nice, but at their smaller scale, nobody would think they were the real thing and yet they were still big enough to occupy a lot of room on the bookcase.  It's sort of an odd calculus, but somehow it makes some sense to me.  In the end, I decided to keep waiting for different dinosaurs.

SkullSmilo
SKULLDUGGERY SMILODON FATALIS   LIFE SIZE!
13  1/2" (34 cm)  long  Fangs are 6" (15 cm)

Skulldug Tr
SKULLDUGGERY TYRANNOSAURUS SCULPTURE  10" (~25 CM) LONG




In 1992 I bought the book DINOSAUR! by Dr. David Norman.  It was an accompaniment to an A&E show on dinosaurs.  The cover featured a Deinonychus running at the reader and its skin was transparent in places, revealing its muscles and skeleton.  So, regardless of the content, I probably would have bought it for that cover.  On one page was a small drawing of a Deinonychus skull in profile and the caption pointed out how light it was while being strong enough to handle the forces involved in biting.  I was captivated and decided I had to have one.  But how?  This was before the Internet was a readily available information source and commercial highway, and Deinonychus just wasn't well-known and charismatic enough to have an industry devoted to it.  There weren't a lot of references at my local library either.   While I didn't have much to go on, I decided to make my own.  As I didn't have images beyond that profile, I decided that it would have to be a bas-relief.  I bought an oak shelf and used a grid to scale up the picture to make a tracing.  I cut the outline with a scroll saw and used chisels and rasps to get the shape I wanted, then stained it.  It probably took me a couple of months to complete, mostly just doing a little work in evenings.  Compared to Taburin, whom I'll mention later, my pace of production wasn't just slow, it was glacial.  Still, I had a nice plaque of a dinosaur skull to display in my office.

        Deinon skull insp    Deinon Plaque
Image from DINOSAUR! page 86             Deinonychus skull from 3/4" carved oak plank 1993

As it turns out, I was just a little too impatient.  During the second half of the 1990's a number of resin casts and sculptures appeared in catalogs and on the Internet, and many of these are still available today.  Some were life-sized and others were scaled down.  In addition to many carnivore skulls there have been complete pterosaur skeletons and even full sized mounts of complete dinosaur skeletons.   Many of the skulls tended to have a rather rough and fractured surface to give the appearance of a completely prepared fossil, although that resulted in the loss of a lot of suture and muscle attachment detail.   In a lot of the examples I saw, the mandibles were glued in an open position and it was obvious that even if separated, they would not line up particularly well with the maxillae.   These difficulties were, of course, excused as reflecting the appearance of a fossil after being distorted by millions of years of burial.  There was also a line of bronze skeleton sculptures that looked very dynamic, but given the manner in which they were manufactured with a blowtorch, it seemed that the idea behind them was to present an artful interpretation of a skeleton rather than an accurate recreation.  A significant factor for me was that all of these were made to be displayed right out of the box.  I always enjoyed assembling and painting kits rather than just buying something after someone else had done all the work.  These recreations left no real place for me to invest any of my time, effort and personal vision in how they should look.  Whatever interest I had in them was usually stifled by the price.  Most of the smaller skulls started at over $200 and larger skulls, such as an Allosaurus or Tyrannosaurus, went into thousands of dollars.  Had I any interest in the complete skeletons, they commanded prices up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.  They were designed primarily for museums, but some of the sales people I talked to said that there were private parties who had no problem springing for them.  This was the era of the dot-com bubble and apparently it was trendy for young billionaires to have a building with a Ferrari parked in front and a Tyrannosaurus in the foyer or a Tylosaurus suspended from the ceiling.  I sometimes wonder what happened to a lot of that stuff after the crash, but then I don't have the shelf space.


VALDEIN  VALHERR
DEINONYCHUS 1/1                              HERRERASAURUS  1/1

 VALALLOVALLCAM
                                                                                                      ALLOSAURUS  1/4                         CAMARASAURUS  1/3
SKULLS FROM VALLEY ANATOMICAL


BHIACRO
ACROCANTHOSAURUS LIFE-SIZE $120,000!
BLACK HILLS INSTITUTE OF PALEONTOLOGY

RHAMPHOTAY
RHAMPHORHYNCHUS GEMMINGI LIFE-SIZE ~1 METER
TAYLOR MADE FOSSILS

aNHANGUERA
ANHANGUERA BLITTERSDORFI      LIFE-SIZE ~3 METERS  $5,900
TAYLOR MADE FOSSILS

In 1998 I went to the Mad Model Party in Pasadena.  I found a bin of seconds from KronenOsteo BoneClones, a producer of resin skulls cast from a variety of species, both extant and extinct.  After some searching, I found a damaged Dinictus cranium and after a few more minutes of digging, a jaw that fit.  There were a lot of flaws that caused it to fail Kronen's usual exacting standards, but some extra Milliput and a lot of Dremel time made it pretty displayable.  It isn't a dinosaur, but with teeth like that, it doesn't have to be.

dinictus
DINICTUS

For anyone who really wants a skeleton to call his (or her) own, there is no place like the Arizona Fossil and Mineral Show, held annually in Tucson.  Dealers and shoppers come from all over the world and practically anything is available for a price.  Not all of it legal, but they keep trying to clean it up...  Many of the cast skeletons I mentioned above are available as well as many real skeletons.  All in all, it is an amazing experience, assuming you have the budget and the shelf space to display what you can haul away.

Tucson Show
IN THE BALLROOM AT THE INNSUITES HOTEL 2005

TUCSON 2
MY CHIHUAHUA WONDERS HOW LONG IT WILL TAKE HIM TO CHEW THIS STUFF  2006



  THE ITC RESURRECTION

In the spring of 1992 I was browsing in a local hobby shop and came across a Glencoe Tyrannosaurus rex and next to it, a Stegosaurus.  I quickly recognized them as re-issues of the long lost ITC kits.  As I already had both of the models, I didn't feel compelled to buy them, but it occurred to me that if those were available, I might actually have a chance to get the rest of the kits in the series.  I asked the clerk at the hobby shop if any other dinosaur skeleton kits were available and, to my delight, he looked in his catalog and told me that there was a Brontosaurus. That was the one that had eluded me as a child!  He said he would order it and it should come with his next shipment in a couple of weeks.  It didn't happen.   After a couple of months the guy at the shop gave me the address he had for Glencoe and told me to contact them myself.  I sent a letter asking about the Brontosaurus and also inquired about the other models in the series.  In a few weeks (this was still in the the days of snail mail) I received a reply from Glencoe saying that while they did indeed make the kit, they didn't sell directly to the public.  They suggested that I could buy it through the Squadron mail order catalog.  Sadly, however, they told me that those other models had never been produced.  That portion of my dream flickered and dissolved like a mirage.  My grief was assuaged when Squadron came through with the long sought Brontosaurus and after more than thirty years I finally had my hands on that prize!   I carefully assembled it, cleaning molding seams and avoiding the glue burns that afflicted my childhood efforts.  Instead of the kit-supplied base, I mounted it on a rock my wife found in Moab and I proudly put it on display in my office.



INVADED BY ANTS

In the early 1990's there was somewhat of a harmonic convergence of dinosauria.  Jurassic Park was published in 1990 and while I didn't read it right away, others did and a groundswell of interest in dinosaurs developed in popular entertainment, books, and magazines.   Then Ants invaded my life.  One evening in late1992 I glanced at the classified ads in Natural History and to my amazement saw an advertisement for an Allosaurus skeleton kit.  While growing up, I had always considered Tyrannosaurs cooler than Allosaurs as they were bigger and more advanced, occupying the crown of dinosaur creation, as it were.  The Allosaurus was more my brother's type of beast, somewhat smaller and more lithe and in any case, he was usually willing to pick something else as a favorite just because that's what he did.  (He could probably cite other reasons.)  When we played with our Marx dinosaur set, I always gravitated toward the Tyrannosaur and he usually picked up the Allosaurus.  Nonetheless, the picture in the ad definitely grabbed me.  It was a very dynamic looking pose and I began to think that even if I already had a Tyrannosaurus, an Allosaurus would be great.  I sent a letter asking for more details and the reply was a bigger picture of the model and a brief note explaining that it was a resin kit with around 150 pieces produced by a dentist who made the original as a hobby.  I'm not really sure what I was asking for except for a reason to spend almost $200 on a model, which seemed like a lot of money for a kit, not to mention one made by a company I had never heard of before.  Still, the idea of having a skeleton model in which every single bone was a separate piece was intriguing and I decided to go for it and sent a check to Albuquerque.  In a few weeks I received a letter telling me that demand was higher than expected and there might be a delay in getting the model.  After the Brontosaurus I had become used to waiting, but experience didn't make me any happier about it.  Still, I was busy with a lot of other things, so I didn't mind waiting all that much.   But when a year passed, I finally wrote a somewhat cranky letter asking how many times the inland ocean would rise and recede before my Allosaurus would arrive.  Within a couple of days I got an apologetic phone call and a few days after that, the kit landed on my doorstep.  Ants was a small operation and someone assumed that my early order had been filled a long time ago.  In apologizing for the delay, they offered me a free kit of the next skeleton they would produce.  At the time, Ants was considering a whale, a modern horse and a couple of dinosaurs, including Stegosaurus and Deinonychus.  Over the next few years, Ants made a lot of interesting hominid skulls and produced a line of dinosaur skulls, but I kept holding out for the next skeleton.  Unfortunately, it was never made.  I'll say more about the skulls a bit later.  The Allosaurus was a fabulous model.  In assembling it I learned a lot about theropod anatomy and gained a fair amount of experience in dealing with the assembly of a resin kit.  Actually, it gave a false sense of security in dealing with resin as every piece fit perfectly, an experience I have rarely had since with resin kits.  The kit was molded in a bone-ish off-white color and I left it that way.  It is interesting how the mind works.  The real skeletons I had seen in museums and books were heavily stained fossils, mostly shades of brown and black, but somehow in my mind I always saw them as white, just like my old ITC models.  At that time, even my recently acquired Brontosaurus was still white.  Whatever color it was, I was delighted with my Allosaurus and hoped that more model skeletons were on the way.  By the end of 1993, with Jurassic Park as one of the most successful films in history, there were a lot of dinosaur models hitting the shelves in local hobby shops, but despite the drama of the movie's climax when the Tyrannosaurus and raptors battle it out in the Park Museum's displays, none of them were skeletons. 

ANTALLO
ANTS ALLOSAURUS 1/12  26" (66 cm)

ANTALLOCOMING

ANTALLOBACK
DETAIL IN SPINE, RIBS AND SACRUM IS VERY IMPRESSIVE






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