One of the oldest creatures ever to set foot in Northern Ireland will call the Ulster Museum its home for the next three months.
Dippy the dinosaur – a 26-metre-long diplodocus skeleton cast from bones dating back around 150 million years – will be on display to public from tomorrow until January 6.
The Natural History Museum’s iconic dinosaur arrives in the Province fresh from Birmingham where he was seen by more than 255,000 visitors.
The tour marks Dippy’s first departure from the London museum since 1905.
Kathryn Thomson, chief executive of National Museums NI, said: “We’re thrilled to be the only venue in Ireland to be hosting the iconic dinosaur and we hope that after seeing Dippy visitors are inspired to explore, discover and protect the nature on their doorstep.
“Dippy starts a vital conversation about the importance of understanding and caring for our natural world and it’s great to make the connection with our own unique and extensive natural science collections, some of which will sit alongside him.”
Among the first children to see the new exhibit in a special preview today were two classes of P4 and P5 pupils from nearby Botanic Primary School.
Eight-year-old Dylan, in the Ulster Museum for the first time, said he was amazed at how long the dinosaur was.
“It must have had a big heart,” said seven-year-old Lily, a P4 pupil.
Eva-Rose, also seven, said: “It’s hard to imagine how long ago he’d have been alive.”
Dippy is a plaster cast of the fossilised diplodocus bones found by railroad workers in Wyoming, USA in 1898.
The bones themselves are in Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
He took a full week to build by a team of four technicians and two conservators from the Natural History Museum in London.
At the Ulster Museum he will sit within an exhibition which also highlights some of the treasures from Ulster Museum’s own extensive collections, including fragments of dinosaur bones from 200-million-year-old rocks on the Antrim coast, the only such bones ever found in Northern Ireland.
Dr Susannah Maidment, dinosaur researcher with the Natural History Museum, hoped Dippy could inspire NI school children to pursue careers in scientific research.
She said: “Dippy is part of my collection, part of my family. It’s really lovely to spread the love and have our icon travelling around the UK.
“If we can inspire kids at a really young age by telling them about dinosaurs it’s a gateway in to a much broader field of science in general.”
She said the diplodocus genus is between 145 million and 157 million years old, and was around long before dinosaurs like the Tyrannosaurus Rex: “T-Rex is closer to us in time than it is to the diplodocus. It was already a fossil before T-Rex came along.”
Commenting on those who believe dinosaurs did not exist, she said: “There is an abundance of evidence in the form of dinosaur fossils which we can interpret with scientific techniques.
“We can date the rocks very accurately, all of which converge on the same answer that dinosaurs were around in the Mesozoic period and ruled the world for 170 million years. In my mind, there’s really no debate to be had at all.”
Dippy on Tour: A Natural History Adventure has been brought about by the Natural History Museum, in partnership with the Garfield Weston Foundation and supported by Dell EMC and Williams & Hill.
Belfast is the third stop on an eight-venue-tour over almost three years which aims to introduce 1.5 million people to this fascinating exhibit, to inspire the next generation of scientists and to encourage families to explore nature on their doorstep.
Thousands of free tickets have already been booked to see Dippy On Tour at the Ulster Museum and anyone planning to visit is encouraged to book online at www.nmni.com/dippy