workers remove dinosaur skull
Alyssa Cwanger  /  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Workers begin the process of removing (or disarticulating) the skull from Allosaurus fragilis at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History on Monday.
updated 3/29/2005 7:48:05 PM ET 2005-03-30T00:48:05

Two men stood perched atop folding ladders. One cradled the skull of an allosaurus, his hands tucked behind its 3-inch curved serrated teeth. The other probed under the jaw with a screwdriver.

Onlookers stood in silence until four screws were removed, then burst into applause as the dinosaur's head was freed, taken down the ladder and promptly placed in a foam-filled crate.

The delicate task of dismantling dinosaurs, some of them assembled almost a century ago, has begun at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, which has one of the oldest and largest dinosaur collections in the country.

Starting Tuesday and for the next three years, visitors will be able to watch as five fossilized skeletons are disassembled as part of a $35 million renovation of the Pittsburgh museum's almost century-old Dinosaur Hall.

The skeletons of the allosaurus — along with a diplodocus, an apatosaurus, a tyrannosaurus rex and a protoceratops — will be reassembled in more dramatic and scientifically accurate poses.

Over the next nine months, each dinosaurs will be taken apart piece by piece, one at a time, and trucked to New Jersey where they will be repaired and restored so they will last another 100 years.

The team is led by Phil Fraley, who has been taking apart and putting dinosaurs back together for museums for the past 15 years. His job is a mix of construction and conservation.

He gave the tyrannosaurus rex at the American Museum of Natural History in New York a makeover, switching its stance from a Godzilla-like pose to a horizontal, tails-up, predatory posture. He also worked over "Sue," the largest and most complete T. rex skeleton found, at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History.

Fraley has wanted to get his hands on the Carnegie collection for at least seven years. He worked as a consultant with the museum in 2001, looking over the fossilized skeletons to see how well they fared.

"Looking at these, what you are dealing with are irreplaceable objects. Paleontologists might continue to find specimens around the world but the completeness and uniqueness of these will never be found again. This is a treasure," Fraley said.

The dinosaurs will be kept together as much as possible to preserve the original metal armatures and reduce damage. The fossils also will be cleaned and coated in shellac again and any loose parts will be re-glued.

The restoration will be painstakingly documented so one day it can be redone.

"You never do anything that can't be undone. You never know when a scientist 100 years in the future will find that anatomically, something is not right," Fraley said.

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