Since the launch of our Dinosaur Project Appeal, we have seen a healthy amount of debate in the press and various forums on our proposal. We have also received questions from various members of the public and will attempt to answer some of them in this FAQ. Support us at: http://rmbr.nus.edu.sg/dino/dino-online.html
1. What dinosaurs are we trying to bring to Singapore?
The dinosaurs offered to us are sauropod dinosaurs belonging in the family Diplodocidae. Members of this family typically have very long necks and tails, and are some of the longest and largest dinosaurs ever discovered.
2. How many are offered to us?
Three diplodocid sauropods and they are: 1) ‘Apollo’ (presumptive female, about 24 m in length); 2) ‘Prince’ (presumptive male, about 27 m in length); 3) ‘Twinky’ (juvenile, 12 m in length).
3. Where were they discovered?
In a privately-owned quarry located in Wyoming, U.S.A.
4. Are the dinosaurs authentic fossils?
Yes, they are real fossils, well-preserved with little distortion, which is very rare. These virtually complete skeletons have undergone a fossilization process where the bones have over time, been slowly replaced by minerals, preserving their original shape and structure. A team from the RMBR examined some of the dinosaur fossils in Wyoming and have no doubt that the fossils are of exceptional quality and of high scientific and research potential.
5. How old are they?
These dinosaurs are 156 million years old! The Morrison Formation, from where they originate, has been dated to the Oxfordian Stage, which places the fossils at the end of the Late Jurassic Period.
6. What species are they?
As all the specimens have not been studied comprehensively and compared with similar species, there is no specific name attributed to them. For discussion purposes, the paper published by Galiano & Albersdörfer (2010: 15) referred to them as Amphicoelias “brontodiplodocus”, but more research needs to be done before we know whether they are a known species or a new species. This is but one of the many interesting aspects of these specimens and highlights their importance to Science.
7. Why is this dinosaur offer unique?
These three specimens represent different morpho-types and were discovered together. They are thought to belong to not only the same species, but also to a family group consisting of a male, female and juvenile. This discovery represents a very rare occasion where three relatively complete (up to 85%) dinosaur fossils were found in close proximity to each other and are likely to be related. In addition, the discovery allows scientists to make direct comparisons in anatomical differences between the male, female and juvenile specimen. The scientific value of this sauropod collection is significant.
8. How important are these dinosaurs to science?
Despite the popularity of giant sauropods, they are also some of the most poorly understood dinosaurs, as scientists to this day have little understanding of how they grew so large, how they moved, and how they evolved. Therefore, every new discovery adds vital information towards our understanding and knowledge of this fascinating group of dinosaurs. Their completeness, older geologic age, and proper documentation places these specimens amongst the most important sauropod discoveries ever made.
9. Why do we need to purchase something that does not ever exist in Singapore?
Some 156 million years ago, when these dinosaurs walked the Earth, the world was a very different place. Singapore did not even exist then! Dinosaurs roamed on an ancient landmass called Laurasia and some were eventually preserved in a few places that were once part of this supercontinent. The landmass we call Singapore today was part of Laurasia millions of years ago. Therefore, it is plausible that dinosaurs had once roamed on soils that eventually became Singapore. Unfortunately, the geology of Singapore, like most parts of Southeast Asia, is not suitable for finding dinosaur fossils. The nearest Southeast Asian country with dinosaur fossils is Thailand. Thus, in a true reflection of the history of life on Earth, dinosaurs should not be regarded as ‘alien’ to Singapore’s history.
While we emphasize the concept of native species for modern living things, the same cannot be argued for ancient (and extinct) animals like dinosaurs that dominated the planet well before the existence of humanity. In comparison, the earliest human fossil found was dated to only 0.2 million years ago. To understand the ‘deep’ history of the island, and for Singaporeans to appreciate how evolution works, it is almost inevitable that a dinosaur exhibit should be included in the new museum. That been said, really old fossils have been found in Singapore in the past but they are mainly bivalves (shells) that date to the Triassic period (even older than the dinosaurs!). These are small and very rare. Regrettably, the museum does not hold any of these fossils that were excavated from Singapore in its collection.
The best museums in the world display and preserve treasures from other countries to reflect their shared commitment to protect important specimens and collaborate in global research. The acquisition and public display of ‘exotic’ specimens will give Singapore and Singaporeans a global perspective in the realm of science. Singapore has the rare opportunity to obtain a collection that has high research potential, excellent display quality, and are comparable to some of the dinosaurs displays in New York, London, and Paris.
10. What relevance do the dinosaurs have on our own natural history?
With this acquisition, Singapore has the golden opportunity to take its position in the 21st Century as a leader in the world of natural history museums. Scientific advancement and public education are priorities for every good natural history museum. We aim to achieve this by exhibiting the natural history wonders of Singapore, the region and the world.
Singapore’s new natural history museum will serve as a key tertiary teaching resource within the University and to present natural history to the public. We believe that these dinosaurs will inspire the public and generations of school children while, at the same time, promote scientific curiosity and education. We plan to present a narrative on the geological history, extinction, and evolution of life on Earth. We believe that the dinosaurs will be an integral, popular, and timeless centrepiece for this part of the exhibition. The fact that these once dominant and successful animals should die out in a blink of an eye in geological time should give us ample fodder to contemplate our own mortality as a species.
The popularity and benefit of big dinosaur skeleton exhibits are well known. These icons of the evolutionary past capture the imagination in a manner that will allow the viewer to gain a better appreciation of the natural world. These exhibits will serve to bring Singaporeans and tourists to our museum to view these wonders of nature.
11. We can always buy replica dinosaurs to display.
Several major dinosaur exhibitions that had been held in Singapore over the last 20 years and all of them featured large and impressive dinosaur replicas. The dinosaur displays were not only costly to bring in but also exhibited for only a few months each time. The accumulated cost of bringing in all these exhibitions over many years will eventually be sufficient to purchase real ones for permanent display!
We believe that the purchase of these dinosaurs is not only a good longer-term investment, but also one that will be good for the future of Singaporeans, particularly for the education of our children. In the end, people want to see real dinosaur skeletons and not plastic replicas.
12. Why not buy dinosaurs from other countries to display?
Contrary to popular belief, many countries do not allow their dinosaurs to be sold. For example, China has a standing policy that forbids the transfer or sale of original dinosaur fossils outside the country. The same is true of almost all countries in Asia.
Although a few institutions will temporarily loan fossils, none will allow their precious gigantic mounted skeletons to be sent on tour without monetary compensation like a rental fee. The insurance and expenses incurred would, in the end, be very high.
13. How will having the dinosaurs help the natural history museum achieve its outreach objectives?
Having participated in a very successful exhibition on dinosaurs with the Science Centre Singapore in 2006, the museum recognises the educational value and attraction of dinosaur displays to people of all ages and backgrounds. We hope that this exhibit will be the beginning of a tradition in Singapore where a three-generation family can spend a meaningful day at an educational, fun, and inspirational attraction. It is also our wish that these original fossils will also serve as a means to link generations of Singaporeans as they spend their childhood in the shadow of the dinosaurs, just as the generations that preceded them remember the whale skeleton that once graced the ceiling of the National Museum at Stamford Road.
14. Some media reports mentioned that the dinosaurs will cost SGD870 million and that an additional SGD370 million will be spent to set up the exhibition. Is this correct?
These figures are inaccurate. The cost of the dinosaurs is SGD8.3 million and the accompanying exhibition to be constructed costs SGD3.7 million.
15. Is the Government funding this project?
The entire sum required for this project will have to be raised from private donations.