Accessing specimens

With apologies to John Cleese and Graham Chapman and following a conversation with Jonah Choiniere:

A palaeontologist enters the collections of a major museum…

Researcher: Good Morning.
Curator: Good morning, Sir.  Welcome to the National Museum Collections.
R: Ah, thank you, my good man.
C: What can I do for you, Sir?
R: Well, I was, uh, sitting in the research library browsing The Dinosauria as edited by Weishampel et al. when I realised that I really needed to see some non-avian theropodan dinosauromorphs.
C: Come again?
R: Extinct Mesozoic carnivorous bipedal archosaurs.
C: Eh?
R: Dinosaurs!
C: Ah, dinosaurs!
R: In a nutshell.  And I thought to myself, a few bones of the right taxa would serve as a perfect comparison for this taxonomic revision.
C: Come again?
R: I want to see some dinosaurs.
C: Oh, I thought you were complaining about the preparator!
R: Oh, heaven forbid: I am one who delights in the sounds of air-pen during important explorations of semi-jacketed fossiliferous materials.
C: Sorry?
R: We need it, don’t we!
C: So he can go on working, can he?
R: Most certainly!  Now then, some theropods please, my good man.
C: (lustily) Certainly, sir.  What would you like?
R: Well, eh, how about a specimen of Carnotaurus?
C: I’m afraid that’s out on loan sir.
R: Oh, never mind, how are you on Ornitholestes?
C: I’m afraid we never have that at time of year, sir, we send it out to schools as an educational tool.
R: Tish tish.  No matter.  Well, stout yeoman, how about the manus of Deinocheirus if you please.
C: Ah!  It’s been in a traveling exhibition, sir, for two weeks.  Was expecting it back this morning.
R: Not my lucky day, is it?  Aah, Gallimimus?
C: Sorry, sir.
R: Coelophysis?
C: Normally, sir, yes.  Today it’s been locked in the basement by mistake.
R: Ah. Spinosaurus?
C: Oh yes. But we don’t know where it is.
R: Baryonyx? Suchomimus?
C: They’re being reprepared.
R: Any isolated Tendaguru teeth, per chance.
C: No.
R: Neovenator?
C: We’ve got a bad cast.
R: Megalosaurus?
C: It’s on display.
R: That’s OK.
C: In a case that can’t be opened.
R: Torvosaurus?
C: It was stolen.
R: Afrovenator?
C: No.
R: Majungasaurus?
C: <pause>  No.
R: Shaochilong?
C: Yes.
R. Great.
C: But it’s being described so you can’t take photos or measurements right now.
R: Xuanhanosaurus?
C: No.
R: Alioramus, Raptorex, Tarbosaurus, Gorogosaurus, Daspletosaurus, Albertosaurus?
C: No.
R: Gasosaurus, perhaps?
C: Ah, we have Gasosaurus—yes, sir.
R: You do, excellent.
C: Yes sir, it’s, ah…it’s not very accessible.
R: Oh, I’m used to that.
C: It’s very inaccessible actually, sir.
R: No matter, fetch hither the Xinjing theropod per excellence..
C: I think it’s more inaccessible than you’ll like it sir.
R: I don’t care how inaccessible it is, hand it over with all speed.
C: Ohhhh.
R: What now?
C: The preparatory has covered the bones in paint and plaster.
R: <pause> Has he.
C: She, sir.
R: <pause again> Khaan?
C: No.
R: Oviraptor?
C: No.
R: Incisivorsaurus?
C: No.
R: Citipati?
C: No.
R: A Liaoning Caudipteryx?
C: No sir.
R: You DO have some theropods do you?
C: Course sir, it’s a dinosaur collection sir, we’ve got er…
R: No, no, don’t tell me, I’m keen to guess.
C: Fair enough.
R: Er, Abelisaurus.
C: Yes.
R: Ah well I’ll have some of that.
C: Oh, I thought you were talking to me sir, Mr. Abelisaurus: that’s my name.
R: <pause> Allosaurus?
C: Ah, not as such.
R: Er, Monolophosaurus?
C: No.
R: Sinraptor?
C: No.
R: Eotyrannus?
C: No.
R: Dilophosaurus?
C: No.
R: Harpymimus?
C: No.
R: Fukuiraptor?
C: No.
R: Giganotosaurus?
C: Not today sir, no.
R: <pause> Ah, how about Tyrannosaurus?
C: Well, we don’t get much call for it round here, sir.
R: NOT MUCH CALL…. it’s the single most well known theropod in the world!
C: Not round here sir.
R: And what is the most popular theropod round here?
C: Piatnitzkysaurus sir.
R: Is it?
C: Oh yes, sir, it’s staggeringly popular in this manor squire.
R: Is it?
C: It’s our number 1 most seen taxon sir.
R: I see, er Piatnitzkysaurus eh.
C: Right sir.
R: All right, OK…… have you it, he asked, expecting the answer no.
C: I’ll have a look sir. <looks around beneath counter> Nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnno.
R: It’s not much of a collection is it?
C: Finest in the district sir.
R: Explain the logic underlying that conclusion, pray.
C: Well it’s so clean, sir.
R: It’s certainly uncontaminated by theropods.
C: You haven’t asked me about the troodontids, sir.
R: Is it worth it?
C: Could be.
C: Told you sir.
R: Have you got any troodontids?
C: No.
R: That figures, predictable, really I suppose. It was an act of the purest optimism to have posed the question in the first place. Tell me…
C: Yes sir?
R: Have you in fact, got any theropods here at all?
C: Yes sir.
R: Really?
C: No, not really sir.
R: You haven’t?
C: No sir, not a scrap, I was deliberately wasting your time sir.
R: Well I’m sorry but I’m going to have to shoot you.
C: Right-O sir.
R: What a senseless waste of human life.

All of these excuses / situations have happened tome or colleagues at one time or another. Really. It’s a wonder we ever get anything done.

For those who don’t get this at all, try this.

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9 Responses to “Accessing specimens”

  1. 1 Michael Jablonski 12/01/2010 at 9:35 am

    ‘ow ’bout the Norwegian Blue?

    “Remarkable bird, the Norwegian Blue, idn’it, ay? Beautiful plumage!”

    Sorry to mix sketches.

  2. 3 Andy Farke 12/01/2010 at 11:19 am

    Fortunately, the vast, vast majority of collections managers/curators/researchers are wonderful and helpful people. Sadly, it’s the 0.5% who aren’t that ruin it for everyone else!

    I’m sure everyone knows of at least one specimen that has been “under study” for years, if not decades. Or the specimen that is perpetually under study, despite at least a half dozen papers already released. Sigh. . .

    • 4 David Hone 15/01/2010 at 10:01 pm

      Oh of course, still I’ve had quite a bit of this at various times and some places are certainly worse than others. Obviously pretty much of these excuses are totally valid, though when there’s an endless succession of them from a single location or with a single specimen it gets very trying very quickly.

  3. 5 Tor Bertin 12/01/2010 at 11:25 am

    5th Mr. Abelisaurus this week…

  4. 6 Michael P. Taylor 12/01/2010 at 4:41 pm

    I love the original — possibly my single favourite Python sketch — and I loved this. Nice work!

  5. 7 Sara 17/01/2010 at 12:45 am

    Niice! Now you need to get people to act it out and film it!

  6. 8 Manabu Sakamoto 18/01/2010 at 6:00 pm

    Ah – so reminds me of my costly (both time and money) trip to a certain institution…

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