The Giant Who Lives in the Melbourne Museum

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In a long corridor at the back of the Melbourne Museum, Tim Ziegler slides open one of many metal drawers. Ziegler, the collections manager of palaeontology, pulls out a pristine white box, and out of that box he deposits into his palm something that looks like a lump of shiny coal about the size of a standard green grape.

“This is its baby toe,” he says, holding the fossil gingerly. “As far as we know, no one has ever seen one of these before in human history — a triceratops baby toe. You are about the 50th human to have ever seen this.”

The toe belongs to a triceratops that has been named Horridus (named after Triceratopshorridus, the species to which Horridus belongs), the world’s most complete triceratops skeleton ever found, which will go on display at the Melbourne Museum sometime next year. It was discovered in Montana in 2014 and was acquired by the Melbourne Museum in 2020.

This year, it arrived in Melbourne in eight crates, and since then the team at the museum has been carefully cataloging each of the 266 bones that make up the skeleton, including the skull that is 99% complete and weighs 575 pounds. This work includes 3-D scanning of the fossils — a process that has allowed for them to make a plaster model of what would have been the dinosaur’s brain. When the dinosaur is put on display for the public, they’ll be able to touch the plaster cast, along with casts of the beast’s impressive horns. (I would personally like to request that the museum make gold pendant necklaces based on these horns and sell them in the museum shop. Guaranteed best seller.)

When the work of cataloging and studying is done, the skeleton will be displayed in the space that used to hold Wild, a beloved exhibit of taxidermy that was nonetheless extremely tricky from a curation and conservation perspective. “It was just really hard on the specimens,” said Dani Measday, the museum’s conservator and strategic collection manager. “My job is all about conservation and access, and those two things sit in direct opposition of one another, especially in the case of Wild.”

I was one of the people who was especially attached to Wild, and was incredibly sad to see it go. But now that I’ve spent some time in a room with Horridus (and seen its incredible baby toe!) I can say that it’s a welcome tradeoff to have something so awe-inspiring take over the space.

Here are this week’s stories:

The Australia Letter will be on hiatus for the next few weeks — look for its return on Jan 7.

Australia and New Zealand

Christina Southwell in Wee Waa, Australia, where floodwaters had surrounded her house.Credit…Matthew Abbott
  • First Fires, Then Floods: Climate Extremes Batter Australia. Many of the same areas that suffered through horrific bush fires in 2019 and 2020 are now dealing with prodigious rainfall that could leave some people stranded for weeks.

  • 5 Schoolchildren Are Killed in Fall From Bouncy Castle in Australia. A gust of wind swept up the inflatable on the last day of school, and the students fell more than 30 feet. Several others were critically injured.

  • How to Scare an Invasive Fish? A Menacing Robot Predator.The mosquitofish is wreaking havoc on native Australian marine life. In a new study, scientists tried to frighten it with a look-alike of its natural foe.

  • At Last, a True Millipede That Actually Has 1,000 Legs or More. A species found deep underground in Western Australia shows that “millipede” is not always a misnomer.

  • Biden Taps Michelle Kwan and Caroline Kennedy for Ambassador Posts. Ms. Kennedy, nominated to be ambassador to Australia, and Ms. Kwan, nominated to be the envoy to Belize, were prominent Biden supporters during the 2020 campaign season.

  • Australia eases restrictions even as it expects more Omicron cases.

  • Her Instagram Handle Was ‘Metaverse.’ Last Month, It Vanished.Five days after Facebook changed its name to Meta, an Australian artist found herself blocked, with seemingly no recourse, from an account documenting nearly a decade of her life and work.

  • Earth Is Getting a ‘Black Box’ to Hold Humans Accountable for Climate Change. When a plane crashes, its flight recorder is critical to piecing together the missteps that led to calamity. Now the planet is getting its own in case it self-destructs.

Around the Times

The North Korean town of Hyesan, near the border with China, is a gateway to smuggle in South Korean entertainment stored on USB sticks.Credit…Damir Sagolj/Reuters
  • North Korea Executes People for Watching K-Pop, Rights Group Says.At least seven people have been put to death in the past decade for watching or distributing K-pop videos, as the North cracks down on what its leader calls a “vicious cancer.”

  • We Asked 1,320 Therapists What They’re Hearing From Patients. Frontline mental health workers in every state say they can’t keep up with the demand from patients struggling with the disruptions of pandemic life.

  • F.D.A. Will Permanently Allow Abortion Pills by Mail. The decision will broaden access to medication abortion, an increasingly common method, but many conservative states are already mobilizing against it.

  • Let’s Look Back on 2021, When We Couldn’t Stop Looking Back. There’s now a thriving cottage industry for content that re-examines the recent past through a contemporary critical lens. Is that a good thing?

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