Since its excavation in 2009, the ichthyosaur, “Gamla,” star of the National Geographic Channel documentary, “Death of a Sea Monster,” has been kept in the basement of the Geological Museum in Oslo. Now for the first time, it is being put on display in an official exhibit in the Zoological Museum at the Natural History Museum in Oslo.
The exhibit is a “best of” the Geological Museum in Oslo, as the building is now shut for renovation. The exhibit will also include the famous Kongsberg silver and the much debated early primate fossil Darwinius masillae from Messel.
The star of the show though is “Gamla,” a near-complete (missing the end of the tail) fossil ichthyosaur, Cryopterygius kristiansenae. Gamla and her kin thrived in the seas while the dinosaurs ruled on land. This specimen is the most complete ichthyosaur excavated by National Geographic explorer Jørn Hurum and his team from the Late Jurassic on the Arctic island of Spitsbergen (150 million years ago). It was prepared by and named after Lena Kristiansen, and May-Liss Funke and I later conserved and readied for display.
The custom-made case for Gamla was sponsored by the DNB Savings Bank Foundation and was designed and made by 10 Tons in Denmark. May-Liss, her husband (amateur paleontologist, Bjørn Funke), and I worked long hours for a full weekend, along with employees from 10 Tons to move the specimen into the case. The 18-foot (5.5-meter) ichthyosaur was not an easy specimen to lift, so a special cover was designed and built for the occasion.
It is not every day we get to prepare fossils under the steady gaze of a Tyrannosaurus rex, but based on the photographs, our T. rex, “Stan,” wanted to be part of the construction. He photo-bombed nearly every one. Walking around, we had to watch out for his snagging claws and teeth.
The room was particularly dark, giving it a bit of a “Night at the Museum” feeling, especially with museum visitors looking on from the balcony while we slowly but surely added each block of the ichthyosaur into the display case.
The support for the specimen consisted of paraloid pellets, which stick together after adding ethanol. Colored glass sand was added for aesthetic purposes. With all that preparatory work, a total of close to 300 hours over the course of four months was used to get the specimen ready for display.