Arrivals at Heathrow Airport is arguably most travellers’ favourite place in the airport. It’s a signal that you’re home, your vacation has begun, or you’re collecting friends and family that you haven’t seen for a while. Love Actually latched onto this in 2003 opening with Hugh Grant monologuing against a slow-motion montage of people embracing just as they’ve come through the doors to arrivals. ‘Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world,’ says Grant, ‘I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport.’
For the next few months, however, arrivals might have to scoot over while a dinosaur named Skinny calls Heathrow’s Terminal 5 home. Skinny, a yet to be named species of dino and cousin to the Diplodocus, went on display on April 3rd and will remain at Heathrow until June 3rd when he’ll be packed up and moved to Paris to be auctioned off at Aguttes. At about 150 million years old, Skinny will be the oldest inhabitants of the airport during his stay. Thanks to a state-of-the-art stainless-steel stand, Skinny’s display can be adjusted so that he appears in a number of poses. With the base of his stand included, he is eight meters tall and 13 meters long.
Discovered in 2012 in Wyoming in the USA, Skinny has since been studied by a team of paleontologists. During that time, Skinny’s well-preserved skeleton, which is more than 90% complete, was compared to that of a Galeamopus, Diplodocus, Barosaurus, Kaatedocus, and a Supersaurus from the Morrison Formation Diplogocainae as well as a Brontosaurus and Apatosaurus from the Morrison Formation Apatosaurinae, and finally a Amphicoelias and Suuwassea. After the extensive study, it was determined that Skinny is part of a new Diplodocus genus that was previously unknown.
Skinny is unique, not only because he is the first of his kind to have been found, but also because his bones have the imprint of his skin on them, which lead to his nickname. ‘This is the first time that such skin imprints have been found directly on skeletal elements in a sauropod,’ said Eric Mickeler, renowned paleontologist and head of the exhibition. ‘Skinny is a marvellous subject for scientific studies because the presence of these “soft tissues” constitutes the only direct evidence of what living dinosaurs actually looked like.’
Diplodocus have long been a favourite dinosaur. They’re huge scale and vegetarian eating habits make them the ultimate gentle giant and have been featured in many museums (first in 1907 at the Carnegie Museum) as well as movies. Thus, the 20-ton skeleton is expected to go for around $2.6 million.
Skinny is yet another dinosaur to be sold as the market for their skeletal remains and other natural history artefacts are selling for more and more. Sue the T. rex, who got a new gallery in late 2018, sold for a whopping $8.4 million in 1997. In 2018, Aguttes sold the remains of a carnivorous cousin of the Allosaurus for more than $2.3 million at the Eiffel Tower after the dino’s skeleton had been displayed inside the monument.
According to Mickeler, ‘Skinny is probably the most important Diplodocidae specimen to be discovered since the end of the 19th century.’ For now, though, Skinny will greet about one million travelers while at Heathrow.