COLUMBUS — A common scene this week inside Orton Hall on the Ohio State campus: A student opens one of the two wooden front doors, walks into the lobby, stops and looks up in surprise.
Some people pull out their phone to take a picture. Each expresses a blend of admiration, confusion and curiosity before continuing on to a classroom or the library.
This is what happens when you encounter a dinosaur.
To be exact, it’s a 24-foot-long skeleton cast of a Cryolophosaurus ellioti, an early Jurassic period carnivore that roamed the earth 190 million years ago.
It was installed this week, nearly two years after the idea to bring the replica to campus was first hatched, as part of the Orton Geological Museum’s push to expand its visibility and update its displays.
“It is wonderful to finally see it in place,” said museum curator Dale Gnidovec.
The museum raised $80,000 through the university’s crowdfunding platform to pay for the plastic cast and its installation.
Cryolophosaurus ellioti isn’t the most well-known dinosaur species, but it’s scientifically significant, Gnidovec said.
It’s the most complete dinosaur to be discovered in Antarctica, he said, and it’s also one of the earliest known carnivores.
The creature looks similar to a Tyrannosaurus rex, but is about half the size and lived 125 million years before T-Rex.
The defining feature of Cryolophosaurus ellioti, which convinced paleontologists that it was a new species, is a distinctive crest atop its skull, Gnidovec said.
If students are surprised to walk into Orton Hall and see a hulking dinosaur skeleton, imagine the surprise David Elliot felt on Dec. 28, 1990, when the now-retired Ohio State professor noticed a discoloration in the large, sandstone rock sequence he was surveying about 350 miles from the South Pole in Antarctica.
Elliot isn’t a paleontologist. He's a geologist. But “any geologist keeps his eyes open for what might be there,” so Elliot was doing just that when he passed a more than 12-inch patch of gray shaped like a kitchen spatula amid the otherwise mostly white sandstone.
It didn’t take long for him to realize that it was some kind of bone. He alerted other researchers doing work in the area, including Bill Hammer, a paleontologist from Augustana College in Illinois. After Elliot showed him the bones, Hammer abandoned his other project and spent the rest of his time on the continent excavating the area.
Hammer detailed his initial findings in 1994 and returned twice — in the 2003-04 and 2010-11 seasons — to finish searching for Cryolophosaurus ellioti bones. Most of the skeleton has been recovered, except for a few feet on the end of its tail, Elliot said.
Elliot visited the skeleton cast in Orton Hall this week and said it was "rewarding" to see his discovery on display.
At the same time, Elliott said it remains strange to him that his most mainstream scientific contribution isn't in his area of expertise.
"To the public at large, the only thing they know about me is I found the dinosaur," he said, "which has nothing to do with what I do for a living."