Posts Tagged 'display'

Tyrrell educational displays


These are almost the first things in the Tyrrell once you have made it past the opening tyrannosaurs, and it’s a great set-up for the main exhibitions. Obviously kids will want to run through and see the skeletons, but from the educator’s point of view, you do want to maximise their enjoyment and appreciation of the material, and well, if you can get them to learn something too that’s obviously a bonus. In this case these two stands are pretty simple in design, but obviously do their jobs well – they are clear and stark and use very obvious examples which should be easy to understand for young kids, and of course lean heavily on things featured in the galleries (tyrannosaurs and hadrosaurs are plentiful to say the least), but without resorting to huge numbers of primary colours and cartoon-like illustrations which I think can be rather unnecessary. In short, great stuff!


Berlin exhibitions

I started looking through the huge collection of photos from the Tyrrell and realised that I’d never finished covering all of the Berlin Museum that I started back at the end of Jan. I really don’t want to leave that hanging on till after we’ve trawled through huge amounts of the Tyrrell, so it’s time to try and polish them off. I had planned to spin these out a bit, but with plenty more pressing, I’ll have to keep it down. If you want more, I guess you’ll just have to go and visit.


Much of the museum has been renovated and updated in relatively recent years and this was my first visit since the big update of the dinosaur hall in 2007. There are some lovely new displays and cabinets and in particular, some great little pieces that demonstrate key features of biology or evolution. Above we have a diversity wall, an increasingly common introduction to biology halls, something like this is present in many museums. Still, it is wonderfully done and well-lit and there is a lot to take in.


This case is a great one about convergence, but sadly was hard to photograph so doesn’t really show it off well. As you can see, there’s a variety of aquatic vertebrates here, both extant and extinct, and the text explains the convergences in form of both body shape and fins / flippers etc. Each skeleton is apparently backed in black, but the other side shows the ‘fleshed’ out forms, with taxidermy skins for the extant animals, and well-made models for the extinct ones.


And on the subject of taxidermy, here’s a great series of displays on the construction of museum-quality exhibits, covering all the issues of drawings, sculpture, skin preparation and the rest. While many places discuss casting and mounting skeletons, model making and the like, I can’t think of another set-up I’ve seen covering this aspect of curation. I suspect the reason may be a bit of anticipated squeamishness on behalf of the public, museums won’t want to draw attention to the killing and skinning of animals, even if it was done decades, even centuries ago, but it shouldn’t be ignored and this is a hell of a skill and should be celebrated.


Though here is that almost inevitable (but again, very well done) case on casting and replicating materials, and for once not just dinosaur bones but other hard pieces and even a mounted fish. Again, clearly laid out, but concise, and well thought out.


This one was really impressive: so simple and so effective. We have a nice relief map of New Guinea, with various skins of birds of paradise laid out, and then a map to show how the different barriers (mountains etc.) have led to reproductive isolation and the development of the different species and subspecies. It ties together wonderfully easily and it’s quite clear how they are all similar, but still different. A wonderful example of biogeography and evolution and presented very simply and clearly.


And finally yes, some fossils. This is part of the Solnhofen display and does a nice job of showing off a lot of material, but without it being too crowded. It gets across the real diversity of species there and indeed the different modes of preservation (there’s some 3D bits in there).

Overall, the new material is really pretty good. There are some niggles and inevitably compromises, but there’s an awful lot of material to see and it’s well displayed. While I do really like exhibits and cabinets that show off the mechanics of museums as it were, these are especially good here and there’s a lot to be gained from them, and in particular how compact many of them are. And of course, really quite a few big dinosaurs as well.

Horniman cabinets

Having muttered about the aquarium and some of the model archosaurs, it’s time to turn to the actual displays. I’ve mused a fair bit on the past on signs, displays and exhibitions in museums and generally advocated more information, more basics to biology and more attention to putting things in context. All of this is done superbly here (despite the rather venerable nature of much of it) and is put nicely in the context of diversity as a whole. So while there is a gallery devoted to diversity and classification, and cabinets that show key groups like parrots and carnivores, a lot of space is given to presenting fundamentals of biology.

This is done well though, so that not just the key point is made simply and effectively, but that more information is available if you delve into the details, and there is much to look at and enjoy, even if you don’t read a word. There are displays dedicated to sexual selection, convergence (spines in one case, moving in water for another), crypsis and display colours, flight and more. Below are some of these to give a flavour of the kind of thing that is on show, though a bit of the context is lost as several of these were part of a series, the point should be quite clear.

Dogs: A clear a simple display of skulls and heads (mostly cut off). Domestic animals are a great way to introduce ideas about variation and what can happen with selective breeding as they are so familiar, and in dogs you have perhaps the most familiar and most varied animal.

The embryological sequence is superb and mapped out from a single-celled zygote upwards, showing the whole pattern and process of vertebrate embryology.

Skulls: A nice display to show the number and diversity of bones in the skull and their consistency across many differnt groups.

More on skulls: this follows the previous display and shows more explicitly how certain changes occurred and clearly the coloured bones helps show the changing shapes and emphasise the positions of the fenestrae in the skull.

Evolution of the elephant: Mammoths aside, many people might not be aware of other fossil elephants. Here we see skulls, teeth (key characters for this clade), and life restorations.

Modifications: birds are highly derived animals specialised for flight, but here we see how penguins have reversed or modified some of these traits for swimming.

All in all this is superb stuff. There’s lots of little features here which will grab attention and answer questions and prompt thought – just the kind of thing you want from a museum. Moreover, the design is superb – in pretty much every case, a 5 second glance is enough to convey the really basic and essential message (skulls have the same bones but are different, you can breed lots of variety from a stock ancestor) but that taking time will unveil greater depth and detail.

C is for Collect

This photo comes from the Carnegie’s super ‘family’ gallery, aimed at the providing interest and education for ages 3 and up. This was something unique that I have never seen before and was really well done – a simple A-Z of the museum itself and of museums in general. It included things like how to reconstruct a fossil animal (this in fact), an F for fossils, and here, C for collect. In addition to this huge cabinet of entomological specimens there was a massive pile of well, stuff, and a series of shopping baskets. Kids were encouraged to grab a basket and start their own collection from the huge assortment of things available meaning they could get all the toy dinosaurs, or all the blue items, or all the wooden ones etc. A wonderfully simple idea that would be fun, but clearly teach them about identifying things, that items can have multiple properties (you could get a wooden, blue, dinosaur) and that there are reasons a museum would want to collect them. Simple, fun, effective. Great stuff.

Taxidermic magnificence

Although the vast majority of my work involves looking at bones, I’m actually quite partial to a good piece of taxidermy. And this is nothing like a good piece, it’s actually magnificent. I’ve genuinely never seen anything quite like it and it is both beautiful and superbly executed. Two huge animals, rendered as if shooting through the water, held high off the ground (and with no massive support structures, there must be a wonderfully concealed steel support running through that branch) in a pose that’s both dramatic and realistic. This is just great, and the fact that you an walk all the way around i only makes it better.

The Carnegie had some truly superb taxidermy on show, and like this piece, not just in the sense of technical accomplishment, but the layouts and dioramas. One other memorable effort was of two adjoining displays of mountain sheep and goats. Mounted outside and between the two was a cougar, climbing around the rocks as if moving from one diorama to the next, and helping break down the barriers by being outside the glass and on the same side as the visitors – clever, inventive, worked. Brilliant.

Models on show

Fossils, casts and murals abound in the main exhibition hall of the Carnegie, but there is also a small number of life-sized reconstructed models of a number of taxa (such as this wonderfully bristly Psittacosaurus above), especially around the small ‘Jehol’ section.Here we can see a fully feathered Caudipteryx, a deinonychosaur (I think it’s supposed to be Sinornithosaurus, but can’t remember) as well as a lovely swimming choristodere.
I really do like these kinds of thing and they seem to be rarely used in museums (I can sympathise, they can’t be cheap) and this is a great little set, that in particular complements the often 2-D nature of the Jehol preservation. Nicely done.

Reconstructing Fedexia

Today’s sign is a bit of a different one. It comes from the Carnegie’s superb family gallery that lays out a fun and informative A-Z of museums, what they do, how they work, and why they are important. Here is a lovely display about the reconstruction of a fossil taxon by noted artist Mark Klingler.

While I have seen a number of signs and exhibits about producing like reconstructions of fossil animals, but these tend to focus on fleshing out skeletons and issues of colour patterns, but here it’s devoted more to the art itself. Sure those issues are present here as well, but there’s things about composition and structure. It’s a level of depth I don’t think I have seen before for this subject and it was well presented, especially in a gallery of the museum focused at a younger audience.

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.

On screen

I am 100% behind Mat Wedel’s famous rant about computers in museums. People got to natural history museums to see natural history. But of course that doesn’t mean that a good computer display etc. cannot enhance what is already there in front of you, providing details and layers and depths not available with a traditional static sign.

And here is an example of this being done well, it’s a single page about the Allosaurus display the the Carngeie. The image is crystal clear and it’s of the section of exhibit right in front of you, so no confusion over where to look or in identifying things. It clearly identifies the dinosaur and the Morrison Formation, but also reveals that all those lovely plants around the skeleton are not just set dressing but actual representations of fossil plants that were around at the time, and have names and are known from specimens etc. It helps bring things together and for people to see an appreciate the depth on dispaly and learn more from it than they might otherwise. All in all, great stuff.


Quarry Map

One thing on display at the Carnegie was something I’d never seen before – a complete quarry map for a major dinosaurian bone bed that yielded numerous fossils. Here they all were, catalogued, labelled, and colour coded, and with reconstructions of the animals (at the time) put below. This was part of  much wider series of signs about the history of excavation of the Morrison and recovery of dinosaur material (including those in the exhibition halls below – this is on a balcony overlooking the Jurassic section) which couldn’t really be photographed becasue of the layout. Still, it was very good (as far as I could tell, I didn’t have time to read it all sadly, but what I saw was detailed, interesting, well written and well illustrated) and it was nice to see a sign with real detail – this is something, if you had the time and motivation, you could read for probably 20 minutes and learn a great deal, and it’s nice that you *can* do that, even if few people ever will (though i appreciate it’s position is near perfect, out of the way enough that several people really reading the whole thing won’t obstruct the crowds where it would in other places).

It is, of course, also nice to put a historical spin on things, though again the Carnegie collection has rather more history than many collections thus in part perhaps why this works so well here. It’s easy for us to focus on the science when it comes to science in a science museum (and you can see why!) but there are other aspects to our field like history. It’s worth remembering that other people may be interested in things like this, and it can be a window to drawn them into the subject and get them more interested and involved when otherwise they might not.

T.rex to explode in 5…4…3…

This ‘exploded’ cranium is a Tyrannosaurus on display in Toyko. It’s a really nice idea as I suspect quite a few people (understandably) tend to think of the head as just a couple of bones – the skull and jaw, when of course there are a great many components, and often of course these are rather more complicated than they appear from the outside with all the grooves and interlinking parts that fit them together. So this provides a nice exposition of that issue with the parts laid out in a such a way that it’s quite clearly a rex (and there is a mounted one just a few feet away) there’s obviously rather more complexity to it.

Incidentally the odd angle of this photo is because this is lain out on the floor with a clear walkway over it, so you can actually walk over it as it were (which kids seem to love), but scratches on this make a ‘straight down’ photo impossible.

The practice of palaeontology 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.

@Dave_Hone on Twitter

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 503 other followers