No bones about it: Air casters are the best way to move delicate, priceless fossils

In our decades of experience, AeroGo has seen more than its fair share of interesting and unusual moves. One of our favorites: a priceless, 77-million-year-old, 6.5-ton dinosaur fossil.

On July 20, 2000, fossil hunter Dan Stephenson found one of the most amazing dinosaur discoveries ever: “Leonardo.”

Leonardo is a baby Brachylophosaurus (a type of Hadrosaur, or duckbilled, dinosaur) named for some graffiti found on a rock near its discovery site (“Leonard Webb loves Geneva Jordan 1916.”). Leonardo has been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the best preserved dinosaur remains in the world because the dinosaur was actually mummified with its skin intact, which in turn preserved its internal organs. That makes Leonardo a goldmine of information for paleontologists.

“When I saw Leonardo for the first time, the fossil skin was bathed in light washing over the beast from the side,” says Dr. Robert Bakker, a renowned paleontologist with the Houston Museum of Natural Science. “The ribcage was so beautifully preserved you might imagine the animal breathing, the chest rising and falling. And you see inside! There were windows into the great machinery of digestion, views never before available for any creature of the fabulous duck-bill clan.”

That’s what makes Leonardo so invaluable but also what makes moving it so fraught: a single mistake would destroy an irreplaceable opportunity to understand and appreciate the mysterious dinosaurs.

So, in 2014, when Leonardo went on display at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis on a long-term loan, they selected AeroGo’s air caster rigging system to help them move the fossil through their facility and into its final display case.

This was no small task. As Dr. Bakker says, “Moving a fossil is like moving a piece of art.”

They first had to identify the move path and prepare the floor surface (where needed) to work with an air caster system. The move path included tile, carpet, linoleum and concrete and faced the additional challenge of tight clearances through doorways.

Overlays were used where appropriate. Overlays create a smooth and sealed surface path over steps, gaps, and unsealed or uneven surfaces. In some places, a high-density polyethylene (HDPE) membrane was used that would roll easily over the travel path temporarily. In other spots, particularly around corners or in tight spots where it would be difficult to unroll the membrane, they used thick, flat cardboard pieces that had been duct-taped together.

From there, it was simply a matter of guiding the fossil down the right path. Because friction is virtually eliminated, the air casters enabled easy and smooth omnidirectional movement. This helped in areas with tight clearances but also meant the platform needed multiple guides to ensure it didn’t inadvertently hit a wall, corner, or other structure. Along the way, the low floor surface loading of air casters helped to protect delicate flooring surfaces, so not only would the fossil be kept safe, so would the museum’s infrastructure.

In the end, the fossil made its way smoothly and intact into the large display case that would serve as its final resting place at the museum.

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