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Skeleton of Dryosaurus altus donated to Amherst museum

John Middleton, a 1977 graduate of Amherst College, and his wife, Leigh, recently acquired the Dryosaurus altus, which will be one of just two such species on a free-standing, three-dimensional mount display anywhere in the world. The other is at Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh.

Tekla Harms, a professor of geology and director of the Beneski museum, said the dinosaur is a gift that will be enjoyed by the public and researchers alike.

“A gift of this importance and magnitude, we’re certainly going to say yes,” Harms said.

The Dryosaurus stands about 3½ feet tall, roughly the same height as a pony, and is 10 feet long. The animal, which moved on its hind legs, was a vegetarian with teeth at the back of its jaw to pluck and then chew plant matter quickly. Harms said the Dryosaurus altus ran a fleet 40 mph to escape predators.

The exhibit is expected to be installed at the end of April and be open to the public in May.

Harms said there are concerns when remains of this nature go to auction and end up in private collections.

“One of the things that is so wonderful about this gift is that it keeps the Dryosaurus available for research and study,” Harms said.

The skull is in good condition and skull morphology will help in understanding its taxonomy and evolution, she said, including its relationship to the Dysalotosaurus lettowvorbecki that lived in East Africa at the same time.

The dinosaur was already assembled but is being remounted by Research Casting International in Beamsville, Ontario. It will join two significant sets of dinosaur remains and be placed beside the 10-foot-tall leg bones of Diplodocus longus, coincidentally found in the same location in Wyoming,

Harms said she expects the Dryosaurus altus to be an attraction, paraphrasing Kirk Johnson, chief curator and vice president of research and collections at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, who said dinosaurs are the gateway drug to natural science.

“There’s something that captures the imagination. They’re big, bold and just very different from us,” Harms said.

The 55,800-square-foot museum has 200,000 objects, including one of largest collections of dinosaur footprints.

Middleton said in a statement that he and his wife always support the college “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.”

Amherst College president Carolyn “Biddy” Martin said she is pleased with the addition to the collection.

“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,” she said in a statement. ”It is a wonderful gift, not just to Amherst, but also to the field of paleontology.”

An estimated 132,000 visitors have come to the college’s museum since it opened in spring 2006.

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