What is what and where

At various times in the past on here I’ve discussed the issues surrounding the use of casts, sculptures and original bones as part of the mounts. One thing that is related to all of them however is how this is presented to the public. Not that museums try to conceal this fact, but it’s rarely advertised or specified exactly how things have been constructed. I’m strongly in favour of letting people know exactly what is on show. For a start it saves confusion, and certainly I would not expect the average museum visitor to be able to spot a cast from a real skeleton, and especially pick apart which parts of a skeleton may be which. People want to know what they are seeing, and I don’t think most are put off by the knowledge that something is a cast, or partly a cast (though of course it’s nice to have real material out there too).

It is of course also a jumping off point for useful discussion and instruction with the public. Fossil bones are rare and precious and need protecting, and it’s a risk to have them on display. Specimens are rarely complete, but elements can be restored from other specimens. When there’s no other direct evidence we can extrapolate from near relatives.

It was then with delight that I spotted that as part of the touch-screen information at the Carnegie, in this case, rather obviously, with their Triceratops. It shows exactly how the specimen on display was put together. This is nice from the public’s perspective, but also that of a researcher or more keen amateur. The Carnegie also lists the specimen numbers on their signs for any material on exhibit (which is also great in itself) but of course if you don’t have the original description to hand, or know exactly which parts are casts and which are real, the specimen number alone is not always as informative as it might be.

In short, this is something I’d love to see more of and this was done well. Good stuff.

1 Response to “What is what and where”

  1. 1 reptilianmonster 03/12/2011 at 3:26 am

    This reminds me of an incident when from when I was about eight years old. My family went to a biological science exhibit that was advertised to have “A 60 ft. long Camarasaurus skeleton” on display. I was ecstatic because I thought I was going to get to see my first sauropod skeleton. When I finally saw the thing, I realized something was off. Upon examining it more closely, I noticed seams on the limb bones; upon questioning I learned the whole thing was a sculpture. I was inconsolably angry for the next two days and, upon returning from the vacation, wrote the museum the most scathing letter I could come with given my juvenile vocabulary (though I truly doubt my mother actually sent it as asked).

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