Posts Tagged 'museum'

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.

The horse (of course)

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


There are various mounts of this giant pterosaur around the world. I’ve seen versions in Germany and Mexico and I know of a couple of others that are out there. I have even managed to get one photo on the Musings before, but usually the things are so big and so close to the ground that there’s no way of fitting much into a photo. This one is nice and high up however and it’s possible to show off the whole thing (though ironically, once you do, it’s so huge that many of the bones look tiny). At the Carnegie, not only is this so elevated you can get a real appreciation of it, but thanks to the presence of a balcony, you can see it in something approaching a lateral view which is a novelty for me, and certainly changes your perspective.

A nice Nyctosaurus

I say ‘nice’, but actually this is really good. Nyctosaurus material is rather few and far between and this is certainly one of the better specimens. I’ve mentioned nyctosaurs a couple of times before and even among pterosaurs they are rather strange beasts, not least for having lost digits 1-3. The Carnegie actually has some nice pterosaur material on display (always a good thing) and having overloaded the Musings with various parts of their dinosaur exhibits, it seemed a good time to get back to some (more) of their pterosaur-y goodness.

As you can see this specimen is largely in 3D (unlike much other stuff from these beds) and the skull, while bashed up, is especially nice. Other things like the legs and wrists are rather more informative than you might expect too. One thing worth noting is that this specimen was mentioned specifically by Chris Bennett as very likely *not* having a massive head-crest. It seems not all Nyctosaurus bore the ‘antler’.

I call the big one ‘Bitey’

You wait years for a Musings croc post and then get get two withing a couple of months. Who’d have guessed eh? Well, none too exciting given the lack of scale bars and all since it makes it harder to appreciate just how big these are, but this is a dorsal and some osteoderms from the colossal croc Deinosuchus. The north African Sarcosuchus seems to get all the press, but this animal was of similar size and has a more typical (and thus likely more powerful) skull than the rather gharial-like Sarco. As noted, it’s hard to appreciate here, but the biggest osteoderm was about the size of my hand. This was a really serious animal.

Late to the party – Apatosaurus cervicals

While I have been banging out a bunch of short posts during my travels to keep the Musings ticking over, I had planned to get some longer posts done once I had the time. One of these was intended to comment on the extreme breadth of the Apatosaurus cervical series and just how broad these bones are, and thus how simply massive the neck must have been.

However, over on SV-POW, Matt Wedel has gone and beaten me to the punch on this exact subject. Inevitably he does it in more detail and with greater knowledge than I could have done, so I suggest you all pop over there to read it, though I can comfort myself in the fact that I have different pictures to Matt, so take a gander at these before you head his way.

A pair of giants

So obviously these guys got a decent look in yesterday, but this pair of photos hopefully shows off how nicely the two have been mounted and the way in which they have been matched in their respective poses to provide a nice mirror-image effect. For me though it’s nice to be able to compare them – I’ve seen mounts of Diplodocus before (indeed of this Diplodocus), and of Apatosaurus, but never the two together and it genuinely does make a difference to have them put together like this for comparison.

Cargenie dinosaurs

There is simply so much I can say about the dinosaur hall of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, but I don’t want to end up with one monstrous post so I’ll be breaking it up. There is a great deal to commend this, with details of the signs, layout, murals, dioramas and more all worthy of comment, in addition to the huge number of specimens and casts on display. So given all of the things that will be coming, for now I’ll just leave you with these two images of much of the Jurassic section of the hall featuring Diplodocus, Apatosaurus and Allosaurus.

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