Carnegie Tyrannosaurus pt 3: dentary

I’ve yet to have the chance to mention that in addition to all the superb specimens and mounts on display, the signs and details of the Carnegie exhibits are superb. Most mounts are accompanied by a smaller specimen of some description with additional details about its provenance or relationship to the main skeleton. This of course helps to reinforce the idea that we often have multiple specimens of given taxa and that different things can preserve or be found in different places etc. and our knowledge is built from a patchwork of material. In the case of the Tyrannosaurus display, the two adult rexes are accompanied by this rather nice dentary and a details such as an original exchange of letters about the purchase of one of the skeletons. It brings a nice touch of more recent history to things that otherwise date from the Cretaceous.

9 Responses to “Carnegie Tyrannosaurus pt 3: dentary”


  1. 1 jerrold12 16/11/2011 at 1:39 am

    However, there is not a single cladogram to be seen.

    • 2 David Hone 16/11/2011 at 2:08 am

      I don’t see the problem myself, few people really get them in any detail so you’re more likely to add confusion. I can see why you *would* put them in, but I hardly think they’re essential.

      • 3 jerrold12 16/11/2011 at 2:33 am

        Well, at AMNH they are an integral part of the fossil halls, with much explanatory material including a movie narrated by Meryl Streep, and visitors do gain an understanding, especially as there are usually staff on hand to help. Without the cladograms, they would not understand the evolutionary phylogenetics and would have a much poorer experience.

      • 4 David Hone 16/11/2011 at 2:41 am

        “Without the cladograms, they would not understand the evolutionary phylogenetics and would have a much poorer experience.”

        Well that assumes you want them too d that. Look, I’m a cladist and I respect and understand it’s importance. But I think it’s perfectly possible for people to fundamentally understand the relatedness of things without necessarily using trees and cladograms etc. I’m sure it’t doesn’t make things “much poorer” by default.

        In addition every exhibit is, by definition, a compromise of what you have for fossil material and what you can display and how and where, what story or theme you want to convey, how much you can spend, what space you have etc. etc. etc. It’s possible to do a superb entire exhibit that would deal with say, only the extinction of the dinosaurs, or excavations, or whatever. You simply can’t put in every bit of evolution, ontogeny, taphonomy, taxonomy, systemtics, behaviour, anatomy etc. in every exhibit. You have to decide what you want to convey and how that is best done with those limitations, and I don’t think that means you *have* to have trees and put everything in a phylogenetic context.

        Would this be better with trees? Maybe. It is a fundamental flaw? Certainly not.

  2. 5 jerrold12 16/11/2011 at 3:17 am

    When AMNH reconstructed its 4th floor in the mid ’90s, it put cladistics at its heart. A giant cladogram runs completely around the circular layout and there are countless cladograms on the walls and on the numerous computer stations. This was done because, to quote the Museum web site, cladistics is the “best way to reconstruct evolutionary history”. I have been working in those halls for the past four years as an education volunteer. It was made quite clear to me from the start that the Museum very much does want visitors to grasp evolutionary phylogenetics as best they can and part of our job is to assist them in that endeavor.

    Trees and cladograms are essential to understanding the relatedness of things. My job would be enormously harder if the halls lacked them. Without them, you would simply have a “cabinet of wonders”, with no context and with no connection to the entire story of evolution and the entire history of life on Earth. Before cladistics, paleontology’s vital connection to all of evolutionary biology was half-buried and it was vulnerable to the slur of “stamp collecting”. Now, you cannot envision an evolution textbook without full inclusion of paleontology.

    The AMNH Mission Statement is “To discover, interpret, and disseminate—through scientific research and education—knowledge about human cultures, the natural world, and the universe.” This necessitates making full use of the most modern and current scientific concepts in our exhibition halls. It is not possible for people to “fundamentally understand the relatedness of things” without cladistics and evolutionary trees. Take a look at the superb Springer online journal, Evolution, Education and Outreach: http://www.springer.com/life+sciences/evolutionary+%26+developmental+biology/journal/12052 (free access until 12/31/2011). It’s filled with articles on how to use trees and cladograms effectively to teach evolution at every level from K to adult and how without these essential components understanding is fatally handicapped.

    People’s fascination with dinosaurs is the perfect entranceway to a broad and deep grasp of evolution. Evolution encompasses “ontogeny, taphonomy, taxonomy, systemtics, behaviour, anatomy etc.”; it is not an equivalent component with them. As Meryl Streep says at the end of her film (I am paraphrasing as I do not have a text), referring to the floor cladogram and all the specimens on display – walking these halls is walking the tree of life.

    • 6 David Hone 16/11/2011 at 1:18 pm

      Look, like I said, that’s all good. But I still disagree that it is anything like as essential as you say. I really don’t think you need a cladogram to inform people that crocs are close relatives of dinosaurs for example, or that tyrannosaurs are closer to allosaurs that are Apatosaurus and Diplodocus. Most obviously, it is clear to almost anyone that Archaeopteryx has hands and a tail and teeth like a theropod, but obviously also has bird-like feathers. That does show the relatedness of things. Not all things sure, but this is a dinosaur hall, not an ‘all life hall’.

      Moreover, as I said, it is entirely dependent on what you want to say in your exhibit and can say given the limitations. I know the journal well, I’ve even published in it, but all the good intentions and ideas in the world about using cladistics for education simply does not mean you have to. After all, at some level *everyhting* is critical – you need to know taxonomy and systematics and anatomy and developmetal biology and geology and taphonomy and behaviour and ecology and ichnology and natural selection etc. forever to *really* understand dinosaurs. Sure, some are more important than others, but I think you can build a large, informative and educational exhibit of any clade without necessarily using cladistics / trees. If you simply want to focus on the history of dinosaur discoveries, well that’s perfectly legitimate and talking about whether or not Certosauria includes Ceolophysoidea or not and if so what does that mean for Herrerasaurs is pretty much irrelevant in that case.

      Again, are trees etc. in exhibits good? Yes. Critical? No. Is not then you’ll be very disappointed in a huge number of dinosaur halls in museums around the world, yet people seem to enjoy them greatly and come away with much knowledge as it is.

  3. 7 Mike Habib 24/11/2011 at 5:42 am

    As a point of clarification, the Carnegie Museum has cladograms in every one of the touch screens for each species. They are digital and interactive, and include explanations of how the species on display relate to those from other localities.

    That said, I agree with Dave – understanding of evolution and paleontology does not live or die on cladograms. In fact, cladograms are really quite a recent invention, much more so than the concept of phylogeny and common descent of organisms (by centuries). Cladograms do help many exhibits, but paleontology is not a matter of building lots of trees. To say that every dinosaur hall must have cladograms is a bit like claiming that every dinosaur hall needs to present bone histology, or embryological analysis. These are all major tools in modern paleontology, but you simply cannot fit them all in at once. Sometimes one has to pick and choose.

    Or, using good ol’ digital tech, one can fit in the vast majority of them in one go as the Carnegie interactives have done.

    • 8 Jerrold Alpern 02/12/2011 at 9:31 pm

      Thanks for the clarification, Mike. Matt Lamanna has explained to me the sequencing of the touch screens and just how I missed the cladograms. I apologize for my lack of observation, which started this thread in the first place.


  1. 1 Theropod Thursday 1: | dinosaurpalaeo Trackback on 17/11/2011 at 6:05 pm

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