In our 102nd episode, we had the pleasure of speaking with Peter May, President of Research Casting International.
Episode 102 is also about Edmontonia, a nodosaur found in the Edmonton Formation in Canada that had shoulder spikes.
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In this episode, we discuss:
- The dinosaur of the day: Edmontonia
- Named after the Edmonton Formation (now the Horseshow Canyon Formation, in Canada) where it was found
- Part of the nodosaur family
- Lived in the Late Cretaceous
- Charles Sternberg named the type species, Edmontonia longiceps, in 1928. Longiceps means “long headed” in Latin
- Charles Sternberg did not classify Edmontonia, and L.S. Russell classified it as Nodosauridae in 1930 (which has been confirmed)
- George Paterson, the teamster on an expedition Charles Sternberg led, found Edmontonia longiceps in 1924 (on that expedition). He found a skull, lower right jaw and a lot of the postcranial skeleton, including the armor
- Barnum Brown found Edmontonia rugosidens in 1915 in Alberta, Canada, and sent it to the American Museum of Natural History (though it wasn’t yet named). William Diller Matthew referred the specimen to Palaeoscincus in 1922 in a popular science article, without naming the species. It was supposed to name a new species, in conjnction with Brown, but the article wasn’t published. Matthew also referred another specimen found by Levi Sternberg in 1917. Then in 1930 Charles Gilmore referred both of these specimens to Palaeoscincus rugosidens, based on a type speciment found in 1928 by George Fryer Sternberg. The species name means “rough tooth.” In 1940 Lori Shano Russell referred all three specimens to Edmontonia rugosidens
- Two main Edmontonia species: type species Edmontonia longiceps, and Edmontonia rugosidens (which had its own genus for a while, Chassternbergia, named by Bob Bakker as a subgenus in 1988 based on living before Edmontonia longiceps and have a different skull proportion. Then George Olshevsky gave it the full generic name in 1991. The name honors Charles “Chas” Sternberg though this subgenus/genus name is rarely applied. Later finds have been referred to Edmontonia rugosidens)
- In 1971 Walter Preston Coombs Jr. renamed the two main Edmontonia specia to Panoplosaurus longiceps and Panoplosaurus rudosidens but the name Edmontonia was later revived
- Other species: Edmontonia schlessmani (originally Denversaurus schlessmani until 1992), Edmontonia australis (named in 2000 by Tracy Lee Ford) though now considered to be a junior synonym of Glyptodontopelta mimus
- Gregory Paul suggested in 2010 that Edmontonia rugosidens was a direct ancestor of Edmontonia longiceps, which was a direct ancestor of Edmontonia schlessmani
- Bulky and like a tank. About 22 ft (6.6 m) long, though Gregory Paul estimated in 2010 that two of the Edmontonia species, Edmontonia longiceps and Edmontonia rugosidens, were about 20 ft (6 m) long and weighed 3 tons
- Had a pear like shaped skull (when viewed from above)
- Body had many osteoderms
- Plates protected its neck and shoulders
- Had small bony plates on its back and head and sharp spikes along its sides. Four largest spikes were on its shoulders. In Edmontonia rugosidens, the second set of spikes on its shoulders split into subspines
- Edmontonia longiceps spikes were relatively small, size of spikes varied in Edmontonia rugosidens
- Shoulder spikes had solid bases
- Probably had large spikes to attract mates or defend territory, also to intimidate rivals or predators or for self defense
- Shoulder spikes wouldn’t have been great defense, since they only covered the shoulders (probably not great against large theropods liks Albertosaurus and Dapletosaurus)
- Spikes could have been like horns, where Edmontonia locked them to show dominance
- Kenneth Carpenter described traits of Edmontonia in 1990, by comparing it with close relative Panoplosaurus (snout had parallel sides, skull armor was smooth on the surface, had shorter neural arches and neural spines than Panoplosaurus)
- Carpenter also showed how two of the Edmontonia species were different. Edmontonia rugosidens did not have sideways projecting osteoderms behind its eye sockets, and Edmontonia longiceps did not have an ossified cheek plate
- Skull was up to 1.6 ft (0.5 m) long and elongated, with a horny upper beak
- Had a “paranasal” tract that ran along the outside of the nasal cavity (first time found in a nodosaurid, but not an ankylosaurid, which had more complex air tracts
- May have stayed low to the ground to prevent predators from flipping them over and attacking their underbelly
- Did not have a tail club (like ankylosaurids) and had a narrower mouth than ankylosaurids
- Edmontonia appeared in “Dinosaurs: Unextinct” at the L.A. Zoo,” a new exhibit that opens April 15 and runs through Oct. 31.
- Also at the LA County Fair this year (ended in Sept)
- Also part of an exhibit at the NC Aquarium this year (ended in Sept)
- Nodosauridae is a family of ankylosaurs
- They lived in the late Jurassic to late Cretaceous in what is now North America, Europe, Asia, and Antarctica
- They were medium to large, and heavy
- Quadrupedal herbivores
- Had osteoderms on their bodies
- Fun fact: An homage to Dippy… Dippy has been on display at the Natural History Museum in London since 1905. A cast was ordered from the U.S. after King Edward the 7th saw Carnegie’s sketch of the original. In 2017 its 292 bones will be packed up and it will tour the U.K. for at least a few months.
This episode was brought to you by:
The Royal Tyrrell Museum. The Royal Tyrrell Museum is located in southern Alberta, Canada. One of the top paleontological research institutes in the world, the entire museum is dedicated to the science of paleontology. It’s definitely a must see for every dinosaur enthusiast. More information can be found at tyrrellmuseum.com.
For those who may prefer reading, see below for the full transcript of our interview with Peter May:
Garret: So we’re joined today by Peter May, the president of Research Casting International and they’re responsible for basically all of the big dinosaur projects that we’ve talked about recently, at least as far as museums are concerned. So could you give us a brief history of what kind of started you down this career path?
Peter May: Sure, yeah. We’ve been in business for 30 years now, and so we work for museums throughout the world. The earliest ones were in New York City with the [inaudible 00:00:28] and those in the early 90s, late 80s, early 90s. And the British Museum we were working there back then, museums in Japan.
There were those and we’re still in touch with all these museums and it’s only now some museums are coming back to us, the exhibit is old, 30 years old. They’re outdated, so now they’re calling us back to go and fix things up which is pretty neat.
Garret: So you started with the rearing dinosaurs? That’s a big start.
Peter May: Yeah, it was. It was a huge start. We started there and then the British Museum in London, the Natural History Museum it’s called now with their dinosaur exhibit with about 25 skeletons for them back then.
Garret: So did you do Dippy back then? No, Dippy was older, right?
Peter May: Yeah, Dippy was in the hall at that time. They were going back over to work on the Dippy in January this coming year.
Garret: So you’re basically making it ready to be disassembled and reassembled over and over again while it travels around, right?
Peter May: Yeah. It’s going to be a travelling exhibit. I think they are four, five venues just now, and that starts a year in January, so January 2018.
Sabrina: Is it a lot more difficult to get something ready for travel as opposed to staying on exhibitor?
Peter May: Something like Dippy is a bit tougher because it’s an old plaster now. Nowadays a lot of the work we do is in plastic, fiberglass, and things like that, and the mounts are made so they’re modular. So in this case what we’re doing, we’re taking the old mount which is then back in the 20s, and then we’ll turn into a more modern modular mount, because the parent comes together a lot easier.
Garret: Cool. So if you’re making a new one for a museum even if it’s not traveling, do you make it modular just for use in the future or…
Peter May: Yeah, in the odd case we’ll wound something up, but it’s very rare. Now we have key ways for using, we machine the joints and we have machine screws that hold things together.
Garret: Cool. So the other I think really big thing you did recently was the titanosaur for the American Museum of Natural History. What was casting that like? I saw a couple of pictures on your slide show.
Peter May: Well that was a big return to the AMNH. We went in there a long time, so that was 1992, and then we were back there last year. And then what it was, it was the biggest titanosaur we ever found and they are excavated in the field in Argentina. So, yes we see in Berlin and they asked us if we would be involved in there.
So we sent a crew to Argentina with our scanners, digital scanners and as it came out of the field we scanned it. And it was being flipped over, we’d scan one side and then they flipped the blocks, prepared the other side, then we sent the crew down again. And we went down in February for two weeks, then went down again in May, and we had everything scanned and then came back to our shop and we put that into a CAD program, we covered it up on a milling machine, [inaudible 00:03:22] access milling machine. And we carved the whole thing up and then we take molds off it. Then we mounted one for Argentina. It’s in [inaudible 00:03:30] right now, then the other one went to the American Museum of Natural History.
Garret: Cool, I didn’t realize there was one in Argentina too.
Peter May: Yeah. And that was filmed in David Attenborough’s BBC show.
Garret: Yeah, and they had [crosstalk 00:03:44] thing to go with it.
Peter May: Yeah, they were down there for all that in Argentina.
Garret: Cool. Yeah. So with a titanosaur was there some 3D printing or is that the five axis…
Peter May: That was five axis movie, because it was too big to print. The printers we have like they’re fairly small in comparison like you can print maybe a foot, by a foot, by a foot.
Peter May: And then the skull behind us there that’s a print originally.
Garret May: Oh really?
Peter: And we just printed up in section by section, assemble it and then we take the mold off of, and that’s the horned dinosaur.
Garret: I really like the idea of using 3D printing in all of this paleontology and casting, molding technology because it’s so accessible. And so you basically use it kind of as like a step in the process rather than doing the sculpting necessarily or?
Peter May: Well again for instance like we have two miles in front of a mosasaur and a plesiosaur, and they’re going to bring in to bring Kuwait and these are the scale models have been built out of the proxy by our sculptors and we sculpt at small scale. We send it to our client, they approve it and the approvals are at this stage and then what we do, we scan the models, and then enlarge the models to fit. Like the model here is about a foot and a half and the finished one is going to go 48 feet long, and it’s in production now in our shop.
Garret: That’s awesome; yeah those are like really cool. Is that the first stuff you’ve done in the Middle East or have you done other stuff over there before?
Peter May: We’ve done a couple of smaller projects in Egypt and we did something in Jordan.
Garret: Okay, so I don’t think of dinosaurs when I think of the Middle East really.
Peter May: No. The museum they are building is huge.
Peter May: I think it opens next fall, and we’re due to install there in March of next year.
Garret: Cool. Yeah they don’t do anything small.
Peter May: No.
Sabrina: So how many people work with you now?
Peter May: Our staff right now is probably is 35 and we have about our facility is I guess a 48,000 square feet, and there we have conservators who handle the fossil materials for the job at the Smithsonian. And then we have a mounting area just for the Smithsonian. We have a collections there, and it’s all climate controlled because they are fossils, there are no shops, so we have to look after them.
Garret: Cool. You’re actually not just mounting things and rearranging things, you’re actually preparing some of the fossils right there, some of them were still encased partially in like a jacket?
Peter May: Yeah. They’re sort of at a plaque, the one road kill Stegosaurus, that’s its nickname. And it’s a side specimen of [inaudible 00:06:20] Stenops and it was on the side and then what we’ve done we [inaudible 00:06:25] and we’ve flipped it over and it’s lying on its plates. So the backside no one’s has ever seen since 1930s when it was prepared.
Peter May: And we’re going to mount it vertically. So what people will see is both sides of the animal as it died.
Garret: That’s really cool. How is all the stuff going aside from the…
Peter May: It’s going really well. We have a camera so what we’re doing—which is also outside and that was almost completely embedded matrix on the side it’s lying on. And it’s a very, very hard side so we started to know why they didn’t proceed [crossover 00:06:53].
Garret: They did all the easy stuff but then left the rest for you.
Peter May: They went as far as they could I guess comfortably. And they probably had a deadline; it was one of those things they probably accumulated seeing it on the exhibit so they only went so far as, “Well just—we’ll put it lying down.” That’s great.
Garret: When you’re setting up a real holotype or no cast of a dinosaur skeleton, I saw that you use giant sandboxes or mobile sandboxes to hold the—how does that work?
Peter May: Well we have quite a few there. We have them in the conservation, we have in our blacksmith lab as well where it’s like a fifth hand, third hand I guess. And where they can do like you can set the fossil in the sand and then if anything does happen, it’s not going to fall very far, it will fall just into the sand. Because one rule you learn very early is never hold the fossil over the floor, because if something does—and it does happen—some fossils are very old and conserved maybe 50, 60 years ago in the conservancy, in the [inaudible 00:07:56], the old ones that they use. And that’s what we’re doing now, we’re removing as much of the old material as we can and introducing new glues as he sits on the conservancy that had been approved in the last another 150 years.
Garret: Yeah. I didn’t think about the glue failing and then part of the fossil falling, that’s got to be…
Peter May: Yeah, and it happens, and you can see this. If you look very closely, the old specimen that start to crystallize, it’s a big hand if the glue joints are crystallizing then it’s probably failed. And sometimes having a control break is advantageous to us because then we can introduce molten solvents inside the bone, then prepare it a little better.
Sabrina: So could you tell us a bit about the process you have, the paleontologists who come to you and then they already have pretty much what they want in mind and then you tell them what’s possible or?
Peter May: Yeah. There’s a whole range like there’s some paleontologists who know exactly what they want, and then what we do, we’ll get a sketch from a paleontologist and then we will do a drawing of it and also where we can do this, this and this. Then we’ll go back to them and then if they have any changes to be made they’ll make them.
In other cases we get a stick drawing, and they’ll say, “Do whatever you can.” You guys have been doing so many because over the years we’ve done—we counted up a little while ago, and I think we’re probably over 800 skeletons we’ve done in this replica.
So when we do, we go into a museum, like if they’re doing a new exhibit, the people there may not have mounted any, like they haven’t done anything at all and they have no idea what they want to do and they might have little, little experience. Then you have other museums, they have no experience whatsoever. So they look to us for a bit of guidance along the way. And then we’ll take measurements of everything before we start mounting and then we know how big this fossil will be and that is the exhibit designers.
Then they know how big the cases have to be because there have been cases, like in the history of the company where things have been measured and gone to construction for the cases, when the case come back they don’t fit. And the bigger one is a horse exhibit where they went to the exhibit research company and they made all the cases and they sent the cases to us and all the cases were vertical instead of horizontal. So you think, well they should have known it was a horse exhibit, horses don’t sit vertical but they had four cases, everything was vertical, the legs. So whoever did it got the length with height mixed up.
Sabrina: Oh no, so what did they end up doing?
Peter May: They had to make brand new cases.
Sabrina: Yeah, that makes sense.
Peter May: The width became the height, so like it’s all unusable.
Garret: Well it’s nice that it wasn’t your mistake at least.
Peter May: Yeah, but it should occur well ahead of time. That’s one example we use when we do go to museums, like to make sure the measurements are okay and it’s usually better for us to do it, because with the exhibit designers at times it’s just an afterthought, like they’ll be at the museum having a meeting, so well I’m there, I’ll make a measurement and then we go down and measure something in the gum when we go, and that’s our focus, then we’ll make sure it’s accurate.
Garret: You know what you’re looking for whereas they’re just going to eyeballing.
Peter May: Yeah.
Garret: Cool. Do you have a favorite project that you’ve worked on so far?
Peter May: They’re all exciting I think, because they’re all new. The big titanosaur was great, it didn’t quite fit in the room, and we had to make it fit in the room. That was exciting, and it’s always—I know for us I think it’s all about the opening, because we work, like in our shop right now, we probably have 20 skeletons on the go.
So it was building skeleton, then when they move away from our shop and they go into a museum then the opening—and it’s always the children, they come in and, “Look at that.” I just light up and they are so happy and then you feel that. We try to get as many staff out to an opening like that as we can just so that they can see their work on display, and then realize that it’s not just a job gluing bones together, it has another purpose.
Garret: That’s great. So do you have a background in blacksmithing or how did you…
Peter May: No, I don’t, Guth does, who’s here, and Matt here, he’s got some blacksmithing. My background is mainly molding and casting side. That’s going to be a sculpture so it’s all around molding and casting and welding armatures and things like that.
And now we’ve brought crew in like [inaudible 00:12:16] a master blacksmith and Matt is a [middle line 00:12:19] so he knows his way around the machines and the engineering drawings and all that sort of stuff. So we have a very good crew of experienced people now.
Garret: Cool. I saw on your website too, you also have a thing for sculpting and it’s a lot of artistic style sculpting so that kind of makes sense with your background.
Peter May: Yeah.
Sabrina: So other than the Smithsonian new exhibits coming on 2019, what else can we look forward to seeing from you?
Peter May: We have the project here, the models here. We are doing it for the Naturist Museum in Kuwait.
Peter May: That’s next year and then we’re doing the blue whale skeleton for Natural History Museum in London. And then we have Dippy that’s going on in conjunction, one goes in, one goes out sort of thing. And then we’re doing two blue whales, one for the [inaudible 00:13:06] in Toronto, another one for Memorial University in St John’s Newfoundland, so they’re pretty big, like 80 foot blue whale in the shop, and then we have two of them. Then we do another one in England and that’s all by spring next year, so there’s a lot going on just there.
Sabrina: There is yeah, busy.
Garret: How big is your shop that you can fit a blue whale and all these dinosaurs and everything in?
Peter May: I think around, well we have a 40,000 square feet. We’re probably 200 feet wide and 800 feet long.
Peter May: Yeah, so it’s pretty big.
Garret: So it’s basically a warehouse?
Peter May: Yeah.
Sabrina: Actually we saw a video, was it ABC or something? ABC News did like a two minute video of your warehouse?
Peter May: Yeah.
Garret: Cool. Outside of dinosaurs and prehistoric and things and blue whales, are there any other animals that are really popular?
Peter:May Well we delve into other areas like we’ve done coral reefs and we’ve done hydro thermal events, the planets, and the planets [inaudible 00:14:07] with ANMH we’ve done them.
Peter May: So we do, do other work but I mean bread and butter extinct animals and was on the verge of extinction like the blue whale. So yeah was revolving around that sort of thing.
Sabrina: So one more question we ask everybody this, what’s your favorite dinosaur?
Peter May: Probably the Brachiosaurus [ph] in Berlin, yeah that’s a nice thing. Well it’s not as big as the [inaudible 00:14:34] compared to these new ones coming up. It’s sort of the ears have shrunk a little bit, but it’s still my favorite I think.
Sabrina: Yeah, that’s a good one. Well thank you so much.
Peter: Okay thank you, it was very good, thanks.