The conservation of a Plesiosaur skeleton and adjusting the metal mount - for the Hunterian Museum, Glasgow University.

This 3.5 metre long plesiosaur skeleton (Apractocleidus teretipes also known as Cryptoclidus eurymerus) was excavated by Alfred Nicholson Leeds from Jurassic clay deposits near Peterborough. It has been on display in the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow for many years, mounted from the side and projecting into the display area from a wall. As part of the redevelopment of the gallery in 2011 it needed to be moved from the side wall to the centre, right at the front of the gallery. It was to be the first thing visitors saw as they entered the museum.

Nigel Larkin was asked to adjust the old mount to make it self-supporting from underneath. The first part of the project entailed three days of photographing, labelling and cleaning all the bones (see image to the left - note how the skeleton is mounted to the 'wall' of MDF to the side). This was followed by demounting the bones and packing them away, then transporting the bones and metal mount to the conservation studio.

Many elements of the skeleton are resin or plaster casts, but most are real bone. However, all the bones and casts are fragile, and many bones are made up of many pieces glued together. A few were already broken and required repair (see the pelvic bone in pieces to the left, and vertebra to the right without its neural spine or transverse process). Some were scuffed and required touching-up with paint. Old ‘intervertebral disks’ had been made many years ago from a non-archival foam and were degraded. These had to be replaced with an archival foam, each individually carved to fit.

New metal supports had to be made so that the structure was self-supporting from underneath with as minimal metalwork as possible, and the old metal side mounts needed to be removed. Also, the head and neck were to be lowered and the tail raised higher. It was also to be tilted even more to one side to be in a more dynamic position. This meant extra supports were required to hold the bones in place as they were now at a more extreme angle than they were, in two planes. Also, the neck needed to be straightened a little as it had a bit of a kink. Three weeks of blacksmithing, welding, bending, cutting and grinding provided solutions to all these requirements.

The specimen was returned to the Hunterian Museum where it took three days to remount the skeleton. Below are images of: the newly modified mount being worked on; the finished mount; the mount being prepared for transportation; remounting the skeleton; and the finished specimen on display in the Hunterian Museum.

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