Beyond

Interview: Máximo, SUE, Antarctic Dinosaurs and More with Field Museum’s Peter Mackovicky

The Field Museum. Photo by Marielle Shaw.

 

If it’s been a little bit since you set foot in the Field Museum, it’s likely to be a surprise the next time you do. Ahead of the museum’s 125th anniversary next year, the Field Museum has made a lot of changes that are immediately noticeable even on approach to the gargantuan institution. They’ve rebranded, changed their uniforms and banners to reflect it, moved SUE to their own private suite, and once they were out of Stanley Field Hall, set to work adding hanging gardens, giant flying quetzlcoatlus’, and a new permanent resident so big he can greet visitors on both the first and second floors simultaneously. He’s been dubbed Máximo, and he’s a Patagotitan mayorum—the largest dinosaur that ever lived, and only recently discovered. Crews have been working to install the cast of this magnificent beast and are currently putting the final touches on him, but he’s already large and quite in charge of Stanley Field Hall.  

On our last visit before the upcoming Antarctic Dinosaurs exhibit which opens next week, we got a chance to talk to Peter Mackovicky, who is a paleontologist, Department Chair of Geology for the Field Museum, research associate and lecturer. He gave us some great details on Máximo and a bit of a sneak preview of what’s to come with the Antarctic Dinosaurs exhibit that will be opening next week. 

Máximo is a cast of the largest dinosaur who ever lived, the Patagotitan mayorum. Photo by Marielle Shaw.

Tell us a little bit about Máximo and his arrival at the Field Museum! 

So—the overarching theme really is that the museum is going to be celebrating its 125th anniversary. We wanted to give people a new and exciting experience, a new feel to the Field Museum. And, we really wanted to take advantage of the footprint we have here. Stanley Field Hall is 300 ft by 70 ft—it’s the kind of space that really calls for a truly giant iconic thing. So, we were like “Let’s get the biggest dinosaur there is.” There’s no other place I can think of that you can exhibit something in this manner. 

So, we came up with this plan. We put SUE, our Tyrannosaurus Rex, which used to stand down here, in the context of other dinosaurs. We moved them upstairs. The skeleton will be in its own hall dedicated to bringing all the elements of SUE together. We used to have little bits here and there, but we wanted to have one hall be about our T. Rex skeleton, which is the largest most complete one known, and then we needed something to fill this space. So we thought of Máximo, a patagotitan, and I think it really does the job. Unlike SUE, it’s not a real specimen, but because it’s a cast, and a very robust one, people can really interact with it, and you can have your moment with it. So that’s a nice thing. 

As for SUE, that exhibit will open later, but we’ve got a whole new, more accurate look to it. One of the things we did, which you can see through the viewing window upstairs, is to actually put the belly ribs on. 

SUE’s exhibit won’t open til 2019 but you can still see them as the exhibit progresses. Photo by Marielle Shaw.

The gastralia?
 

The gastralia. Very few specimens preserve them in sufficient quantity. They’re usually the first things to break, because as animals decay, the gases bloat the body and pop out through their gut, basically, so the gastralia tend to be scattered first. We probably have the best set of gastralia for any T. Rex with SUE so we’re actually going to mount them on there. It just puts a whole different shape on the body. 

I think people will really sort of—you can actually now visualize yourself inside the rib cage. Like…how many of me would fit in? 

An interesting question, yeah? 

It’s a lot easier to see in your mind’s eye now that the whole thing is fully enclosed.  

Máximo at the Field Museum. Photo by Marielle Shaw.

Can you tell me more about Máximo—what kind of dinosaur he is and what period he would have lived in? 

Máximo is a Patagotitan mayorum, named after Patagonia where it’s from, and titan comes from titanosaur. This particular lineage of family of sauropod dinosaurs are the titanosaur dinosaurs. They lived in the Cretaceous period and were mainly present in the southern continents. For some reason, and it’s still a scientific mystery—a couple of these lineages of these things in South America got to these stupendous sizes. He’s over a hundred feet long and sixty or seventy tons.  

Máximo would have lived on flood plains that were forested. Clearly it was an herbivore. This particular cast is a combination. There’s no one complete specimen, but they actually have part of six different individuals found at slightly different levels in this giant quarry that they dug them out of, so most of the parts are represented. The skull is based on other closely related animals, because the skull is not something that we have, but most of the rest of the skeleton is actually based on real bones. 

So Máximo is from a quarry in Argentina? 

Yes, in southern Patagonia’s Chabut province—the interesting thing is that the species name mayorum refers to the Mayo family that owns the land that it was originally found on. Originally what they found were sections of leg bones that were so big that they actually assumed they were fossilized tree trunks, not dinosaur bones. 

 What would this are have been like back then? 

Right now—it’s Patagonia, which is of course, extremely dry, fairly temperate, scrubland. Back then you’d have had much more water. These things were buried by flooding events, and you have very little running water there now. It would have been much more forested. 

For all the SUE devotees—would Máximo have ever met SUE?
 

No, they’d have been separated by a continent and about 30 million years of time.  

Field Museum Scientists, including Pete Mackovicky, on expedition to Antarctica. Photo courtesy The Field Museum of Natural History.

So, we’re also really excited about the upcoming Antarctic Dinosaur exhibit—is there any exciting preview stuff you can share?  

Well—we’re going to have—we have dinosaurs so brand new we haven’t given them a name yet. You’ll be able to see the actual bones, plus copies of the bones as a mounted skeleton, and then even a fleshed-out version of the animal in its environment. We have a lot of science wrapped in there, and then we blend it with a lot of cool artifacts from early exploration in Antarctica as well as the work that we do there when we go. 

A lot of context for people throughout. 

Yeah. You should be able to see some of the Scott expedition stuff as well, from 1913. 

Do you have a favorite part of the paleontology collection at the Field?  

For me it *is* Antarctic Dinosaurs. I went and collected those, and I have a personal connection to some of the things you’ll see in there. 

We can’t wait to get a look!

Máximo is already on display in the Field Museum’s Stanley Hall, along with the quetzlcoatlus and amazing hanging gardens, which are cloud-controlled and feature 1100 specimens, and the Antarctic Dinosaurs exhibit is set to open on Friday, June 15. To find out more about these changes and what’s coming to the Field, click here. 

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