Sometime ago I covered the fantastic series of whale skeletons in the Tokyo Museum and how useful they were to show such a classic evolutionary series as forms adapt and change from an ancestral animal to one far more familiar to people that exists today. The Carnegie has a different version, but one no less often used in text books and websites to illustrate evolution, the origins of the modern horse. Here are a selection of skeletons and with some excellent signs pointing out key transitions etc. and showing how various features have changed. This is rather less dramatic than the changes undergone by whales of course, but then the increased familiarity of the subject makes it perhaps the better study. Either way, it’s great to see.
Incidentally, I’ll be talking museum signs and displays over the next few days. The Carnegie (yes, still) had a plethora of excellent signs and many of them covering things I’ve discussed before and so I want to revel in their excellence and make note of it all. More to come therefore, but in the meantime, here’s a couple of previous posts about museum signs and the like which might be of interest, and especially the comments in the first one:
An inordinate fondness….
National Museum of Science and Nature
The practice of palaeontolgoy encapsulated
This sign / collage sits in the doorway of the dinosaur gallery in the Tokyo museum and it is a truly superb summary of the art and science behind a dinosaur discovery. In a few quick moments, you can grasp what it really means to discover a dinosaur and give it a name. What actually happens from the moment there is bone seen on the surface through to an official name being published in a paper and a new entry being added to the roll-call of Dinosauria.
It is, is short, brilliant. Clever, succinct and important, it also helps give gravitas and explanation behind what the academic side of this is actually about and that these huge monsters in the next room are not just cool, but fascinating animals about which we have learned much, continue to learn more, and that this is all based on bones and scientific discovery, and not guesswork. The gallery illustrates what dinosaurs are all about, in addition to being a simply entertaining display of big dead lizards.
I’d love to see more of these kinds of signs in museums. People can always not read them if they are not interested, but for those who are, it’s a massive boon and really helps sets the scene. I’m sure large numbers of people simply don’t realise there are such things as academic papers, or what is required to officially name a new species, or quite how you get from ‘field palaeontology’ to ‘this animal did X’ which are the only two things you tend to see in documentaries. This is however, an especially nice and fundamentally clever display to have got this in such clarity in such a small space.
While we’re on the subject of signs and notices, this one especially caught my eye. While it’s obviously in Japanese, it’s clear than it labels all the major bones of the skeletons. This is great for several reasons. First off it shows people are interested in anatomy and that using technical terms is not going to put people off. Moreover it shows and helps people to grasp that for all the differences between these species they are at a fundamental level built to the same plan, obviously with four legs and a neck and ribs and tail etc. but with things like lacrimals and frontals too – there is a lot of things in common and the pattern of bones is effectively identical. You can really appreciate the similarities and differences and follow that while they must have much in common (a common ancestor in fact) they have also diverged from that. Finally, it does provide a frame of reference for people as a whole – I’m sure many of the people reading this sign had been told by a doctor they’d broken a humerus, or their child fractured a tibia, had a malformed metatarsal or needed to see a maxillary surgeon or whatever. These were uncommon terms to them in a hospital, but I bet they remember those words and will see the link to the signs on the wall and thus the beasts in front of them. It’s an excellent little reminder and display of how all vertebrates are linked together.