Natural History Museum prepares for its largest-ever renovation

There’s a flurry of activity underway as the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History prepares a new presentation of the oldest things on the planet.

The construction of the Deep Time Hall, the museum’s largest-ever renovation, scheduled to open in 2019, will include a new dinosaur hall, which is one of the museum’s biggest draws and high on their list to renovate for years.

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The May donation of $35 million by David H. Koch, executive vice president of Koch Industries, allowed it to happen. His money is a major portion of the 31,000-square-foot federally funded renovation. The hall will include all five paleontology galleries: Life in Ancient Seas, Life on Land, Dinosaurs, Rise of Mammals and the Ice Age.

“The focus will be the terrestial ecosystems,” says Brian Huber, chairman of the museum’s Department of Paleobiology. “A lot of people will call this the ‘Dinosaur Hall,’ and dinosaurs will be the most visible part of this, but there will be a lot of stories through time.”

Late this month, the museum’s new director, Kirk Johnson, a paleontologist, begins, and the overhaul will be his first project. In 2014, all the paleontology galleries will close and a temporary gallery will go up. The temporary exhibits will have a fossil lab where visitors can watch scientists at work and occasional live feeds when large specimens are being conserved. Some of the large vertabrates haven’t been conserved since they first went on display in 1910.

One of the most eagerly anticipated additions will be “a beautiful new mount,” Huber says. The museum is negotiating the arrival of a Tyrannosaurus-Rex skeleton. Natural History owns a number of T-Rex bones, but their large display skeleton is a cast.

With all the recording and cataloguing taking place around the museum’s renovation, Huber almost likens it to one of those ancient earth-changing events he has spent his career studying: “We could call it cataclysmic, because it does feel that way at times.”

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