April 9, 2013                       
Contact: Caroline Hanna                                                                              
Director of Media Relations

Photo courtesy of Research Castings International

AMHERST, Mass.—An agile and speedy vegan dinosaur roughly the height of a pony and the length of an American alligator will be the newest inhabitant of Amherst College’s Beneski Museum of Natural History this spring, thanks to a generous member of the Class of 1977 and his wife. John S. and Leigh Middleton have given John’s alma mater the skeleton of a Dryosaurus altus, a dinosaur that roamed North America during the Late Jurassic period about 150 to 145 million years ago. When it is installed at the end of April, the specimen—which is arguably the most complete and best preserved skeleton of that particular species in existence today—will be one of only two Dryosaurus skeletons in the world on display as a free-standing, three-dimensional mount.

“One of the things that is so wonderful about this gift is that it keeps the Dryosaurus available for research and study,” said Professor of Geology Tekla Harms, director of the Beneski Museum at the college, adding that the dinosaur’s skull is in particularly excellent condition. “Skull morphology is especially important for understanding taxonomy, and thus evolution. Dryosaurus altus has been compared to another closely related Late Jurassic species, Dysalotosaurus lettowvorbecki, that lived in East Africa at the same time. Understanding the relationship between these dinosaurs could provide clues to how the rifting continents were arranged during the opening of the Atlantic Ocean.”  

“Leigh and I are always pleased to be able to support Amherst,” said Middleton. “But this gift is especially meaningful to me personally, as it will reside in a museum named for our good friend Ted Beneski whose generosity made the museum possible.”

This specific Dryosaurus stood about three feet tall and was 10 feet long from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail. The herbivore had a horny beak with teeth only at the back of its jaw, which enabled it to pluck off and then chew plant matter quickly. Dryosaurus also moved around on two legs that were designed for speed and agility; it has been estimated that it could run more than 40 miles an hour.

When installed, Amherst’s Dryosaurus will reside on the ground floor of the Beneski Museum, beside the 10-foot-tall leg bones of Diplodocus longus, another herbivorous dinosaur from the same strata and the same region of Wyoming as Dryosaurus, but one whose legs were better suited to carrying that dinosaur’s massive weight.

“It is exciting to see this virtually complete specimen of such a rare dinosaur come into the public trust,” said David Evans, curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and an expert on plant-eating dinosaurs. “Scientific study of this exceptional skeleton will contribute to a better understanding of this small dinosaur, and to the evolution of ornithopod dinosaurs in general.”

Amherst President Biddy Martin agreed. “This amazingly preserved and rare Dryosaurus skeleton is a wonderful addition to the Beneski Museum of Natural History’s already robust collection of dinosaurs,” she said. “We are so grateful to John and Leigh for giving the dinosaur a new home at the museum, where it will be studied by Amherst College students, the residents of the Pioneer Valley and the scientific community for years to come. It is a wonderful gift, not just to Amherst, but also to the field of paleontology.”

At present, the skeleton is in Canada, where Research Castings International is preparing it for mounting and display. The Dryosaurus will be installed at the Beneski Museum April 22 to 26, and will be available for public viewing the first week of May. There will an event for the media only during the week of April 22.

About the Beneski Museum of Natural History

The Beneski Museum of Natural History’s collections date back to the earliest days of the college; today the Museum houses roughly 200,000 objects, including one of the largest collections of dinosaur footprints in the world. It is the fifth home of the natural history collection and was designed to ensure the integration of the museum collections with the classrooms and laboratories of the Geology Department. Since its opening, the Beneski Museum has proven to be a magnet for the campus and local community, welcoming more than 132,000 visitors to date.

About Amherst College

Founded in 1821, Amherst is a highly selective, coeducational liberal arts college with 1,800 students from most of the 50 states and more than 30 other countries. Considered one of the nation’s best educational institutions, Amherst awards the B.A. degree in 37 fields of study. Sixty percent of Amherst students receive need-based financial aid.