Posts Tagged 'museums'

Hayashibara goodies

Long time readers will remember my worried post about the Hayashibara museum in Okayama where I have been spending my last few days catching up and working to get projects both started and completed. The good news is that the Hayashibara is no longer in any immediate danger of closure, the bad news is that it is still in danger of being permanently shut down in the not too distant future.

As I understand it, the company has not closed down the museum despite their bankruptcy, hence the immediate stay of execution. However, the company itself is now up for sale and will be sold by the end of the year. It then depends on the new parent company what happens to the dinosaur museum. Obviously they may not consider it a going concern (understandably, if unfortunately) so things are stable, but far from rosy.

This ongoing crisis in part prompted my return to the collections – a chance to see and work on them while I still could. It’s been great but stressful (too much to do, too little time), but most importantly for the blog, I’ve been given permission to publish a stream pf photos of various Hayashibara specimens. This includes a bunch of unpublished material, though as these are all of well-known taxa I’m not giving anything away.

For starters, here’s a series of casts of a lovely big Protoceratops skull. The original specimen is complete and articulated and will be coming soon.

Darren Tanke’s Gorgosaurus preparation 31: Pulling off the jacket 1.

Dave writes: I’m nearly over my jetlag and am now settling down to the business of working at the IVPP. Sadly there’s nothing on display I haven’t shown off before and I’m still behind on writing some posts of m y own. So for now you’ll have to settle for yet more Gorgosaurus prep.

Now comes the “fun” part, taking the original field jacket off. Often we use power tools such a reciprocating saws and remove large pieces of the jacket, but the specimen is too fragile and nice to risk it as these tools cause vibrations. First the bolts were removed. Usually with a field jacket, the first few layers (there are about 6-7 on this in total) come off easily by hand, so the edge of the burlap is found and simply pulled away one piece at a time. Because the pieces overlap and are covered in plaster it is hard to see where one piece starts and end and sometimes you end up pulling on a lower piece and it tears into smaller bits. On average, the pieces here came of in hand-sized bits. A couple large flat-headed screwdrivers were good to get under the burlap and lift it up and separate the layers.

All the supporting 2 X 4 timbers used as splints in the field jacket were removed and saved- they can be used in another jacket someday. Once I got down to the harder plaster I used a water spray gun to soak the plaster/burlap. This softens the plaster and makes removal easier. Many people uses water-soaked rags for this step, but the water hose was close by so I just sprayed it lightly. After soaking in for 10-15 minutes the pieces came off more easily. Removal of a plaster jacket piece by piece by hand is tough on ones fingers and hands and time consuming- the better part of one day (7.5 hours work) was needed to get this far.

Darren Tanke’s Gorgosaurus preparation 28: The plastering begins.

A very hard and strong plaster called FGR 95 is mixed up. This is incredibly strong stuff- used alot to make hollywood sets (building frontages) I’ve heard. The damp burlap is lowered into the pan of mixed plaster and dragged through the creamy mix so both sides are liberally coated. The burlap is removed and gently squeezed or wrung out over the pan- usually it is squeezed by being pulled through a hole created by the index finger touching the thumb tip.

The “bandage” is put on the toilet papered specimen and starting at the middle, the bandage pressed down into the specimen, adhering to its contours and any air underneath is pushed out to the edges if necessary. Then another bandage is put next to the first one with a good bit of overlap. Three thick FGR 95 and burlap layers (with heavy overlap) were put on the Gorgosaurus. A final coat of thick FGR 95 was put on top of that and as it cured, it was smoothed out by hand, which was frequently dipped into a pan of clean water. Plaster and burlaping took about 1 hour.

Once done the just made support jacket was allowed to sit, cure and dry. The jacket gets quite warm as the chemical reaction in the plaster occurs. Alowed to sit and dry, much water evaporates out reducing the weight of the specimen. The final picture shows the new support jacket finished; scale bar = 10 cm.

Darren Tanke’s Gorgosaurus preparation 22: trenching the skull

Yes as promised, Darren is back with more Gorgosaurus stuff! For those who are new to this a review and links to the first 21(!) parts can be found here.

Much work has resumed on the Gorgosaurus. I was away on fieldwork and extended holidays and a number of other delays means most of the things covered in these new updates happened days to weeks ago. The Gorgosaurus was successfully molded in a high grade rubber material in April. The mold came off OK, then it was time to do a number of things in preparation of flipping the specimen over to prepare the other (top) side. Ideally we would remove the skull now, but we could not get the plaster jacket to really “grip” onto it properly as the original field jacket (now on the bottom) was in the way. So the skull was trenched all the way around with a small hammer and awl, just like it would be done in a field setting and newly exposed bone stabilized and glued. Small scalpels were used for close-in work. The top of the head was uncovered. The disarticulated right postorbital was found long ago, but it is now evident that the right lacrimal bone is missing too and that has yet to be seen.

The curious absence of cervical or neck vertebrae is now also confirmed, though was suspected when we were in the field. The intention with the skull now is to jacket it, then encase that within another jacket that supports the entire specimen. It is an unusual, but correct ploy in this instance- a jacket within a jacket. Future updates will detail all this work required to flip the specimen over.

The end of the Hayashibara?

In yesterday’s Tarbosaurus post I noted that the Institute housing the specimen may not be much longer for this world. This is a serious and deeply unfortunate turn of events with major consequences for dinosaur palaeontology that could last for a very long time. I’m somewhat personally involved too as I have friends and colleagues based there and have collaborated on research with them (like this famously ‘gnawed’ bone) and have more things lined up.

So what’s happening and what does it mean? (Note this is my interpretation of events based on my conversation with friends and colleagues in the know or whoa re directly involved, I may have got things wrong with the specifics, but in general I believe this is all accurate. There’s a mail archived here from some of the people involved). The short version is that the Hayashibara Museum of Okayama, Japan was ultimately funded mostly by it’s parent company Hayashibara. Despite being a multinational company (they manufacture sports drinks, medicines and other things) they have recently gone bust. The museum was founded and sponsored by the company because the chief executive / owner had an abiding passion for dinosaurs and anthropology and so paid for a museum that did just that (and in that respect it is really rather odd, they work on chimp behaviour and Asian dinosaurs and basically nothing else). Though additional funds were also present through research grants from various bodies.

While considered a museum, the ‘galleries’ as such never really materalised owing to planning issues. However, hordes of schoolchildren and other visitors were still welcomed through the doors to see various display specimens and the prep labs at work. There’s no doubt that this was a valuable educational tool, but the research side of things were especially important.

The Hayashibara had a superb working relationship with Mongolian researches that was of great mutual benefit. The Japanese provided funding and expertise and of course Mongolia (unlike most of Japan) has great fossils. Thus the Japanese teams would go prospecting in Mongolia with their local colleagues to collect material which would be taken to Okayama and prepared and studied on long term loans before the material was returned.  Thus the museum got access to great research materials and the Mongolians got funding and exhibition quality specimens. In addition, the museum was building up quite a collection of specimens of North American specimens that had been purchased.

However, with the parent company going under (and still great economical issues with the recent natural disasters in Japan) the museum is under dire threat. They are likely to have their funding pulled from a company who (understandably) don’t necessarily see the value in paying for a dinosaur museum when they are bankrupt. If they do then things get really bad really fast.

For a start the partly prepared and unprepared materials will be going back to Mongolia, but of course to a place that largely cannot afford to prepare them themselves and (I would guess) might not even be in a position to take a warehouse full of material at short notice. Then there’s the question of the North American material with a less certain fate, but it’s equally likely to be at best inaccessible for a long time and not useful for research. With that owned by the Museum (unlike the Mongolian material) it may even be sold off (there’s not much point in keeping it if the museum is forced to close).

We then risk losing specimens, outright research being put back years or even decades and the loss of a superb collection, as well as the human cost of jobs for preparators, curators and researchers. The loss of a great education tool and of course one of the few really successful partnerships between a real philanthropist and palaeontology, and a long term commitment between two countries and research teams.

All is not yet lost. No formal decision has yet to be made about the future of the museum, and under the threat of closure, many researchers rallied and wrote appeals to the company to save the museum. However, dark clouds are hanging over it and it would be true shame if this ultimately ended the place. Even the threat is causing problems as the researchers struggle to deal with the possibility of closure and contingency plans have to be made about the removal of material when of course more research is exactly what they need to be doing right now. There is hope, but the situation is very far from rosy.

A little link round-up

One of those occasional posts where I round up a few things that probably aren’t worth a post alone, but are worth putting out there.

I’ll being with self-interest and this large article in the Guardian on a variety of Chinese-dinosaur related topics. This covers the latest discoveries from Zhucheng, the work of Xu Xing, Chinese dinosaurs in general and Zhuchengtyrannus.

While we’re on the subject of journalism, here is a frankly terrifying catalogue of misinformation and, well, what can only be blatant falsehoods, perpetuated by a single journalist. Ah the joys of accurate science writing.

Next, there is this really very long essay on the current problems in science education, specifically the lack of jobs for postdocs and young researchers and the shift away from senior positions. Much of the later half is more applicable to the US than the UK or Europe, but many of the fundamental problems (not enough jobs, more money coming from industry etc.) are universal or very similar.

Finally, with the ongoing budget cuts and the general lack of funding in UK science (and combined with the problems above) means that museums are very vulnerable. Even huge, important and venerable institutions are losing jobs. So if you have the inclination, drop over here and sign up to help save them.

More on mounts and chimeras

More than once I’ve covered issues surrounding how fossils can be displayed as casts, sculptures, real bones, or combinations of these and how these can affect research and viewing things in museums. Here is an example I snapped some time ago which obviously has some current relevance. Its designed to be mounted as part of a complete skeleton but here only the skull is visible. I’d forgotten I had this image and it was a bit of a throwaway one (or it might be in focus!) as at the time I didn’t think I’d ever end up working on this and hadn’t actually seen the original bones at that point. I’m rather looking forward to going back and seeing the whole thing at some point, however minor the contributions of a maxilla and dentary are. Still, you can see that the casts of these have been added in with some skill and the colours make it clear what has been reconstructed (right down to the tooth tips in the dentary) which is pretty cool.

Darren Tanke’s Gorgosaurus preparation: final roundup

I have been less than brilliant at cross-linking all the various Gorgosaurus posts that have been running now since December and finished yesterday with Darren’s final summary and update. It seemed sensible then to have a final little round-up on here back linking to all the previous posts and giving a central repository for everything up to this point.

I also want to use the opportunity to repost a few of my favourite images from the series which are scattered in below. Of course I also want to give huge thanks to Darren for all his work on this. I’d originally conceived of the series of being little more than some nice pictures shows the rock slowly clearing to reveal the underlying dinosaur with a few notes on what was going on. Darren obviously has gone way beyond this with a huge series of detailed posts and documenting every step of the process and every little trick and tip he has going. My thanks too, to the Royal Tyrell Museum for letting us do all of this and stick this, as yet undescribed, specimen all over the web.

Right, here we go:

Continue reading ‘Darren Tanke’s Gorgosaurus preparation: final roundup’

Scelidosaurus returns!

I recently put up a pair of posts with lots of photos of various Scelidosaurus specimens, but particularly of one incredible complete and articulated one. That is, sadly from a research point of view, privately owned but at least it’s available to be seen. And it has been cast too. Recently a donor purchased one and gave it to the St George Museum in Utah. That has now been mounted and thanks to Jerry Harris, here is a photo of it in all it’s glory.

Darren Tanke’s Gorgosaurus preparation 18: that superb skull

The Gorgosaurus skull (left side) was finished on January 27th. A very close visual inspection was made over the entire skull and any remaining bits of bone-colored glue, rock or sand grains removed with a scalpel carrying a #15 blade which I reshaped to suit my requirements on an oilstone and resharpened every 10 minutes or so.  A finger was then run over the the entire specimen. Any bumps, pointy bits, or rough patches were reinvestigated to comfirm they were actually bone. If not they were removed. Then a magnet was passed over the entire specimen and surrounding matrix. Magnets are not in a standard preparators toolbox but I use one at the end of each project. Several types of small wire brushes were used to carefully clean the bone surface over the past months and they do shed bristles, some quite tiny (2 mm). This specimen is to be CT-scanned by researchers in the next few months. I don’t want them coming back to me saying some foreign metal object compromised their CT-scan results. While I have kept the Gorgosaurus skull clean by brushing and careful vacuuming, I was still able to get about half a dozen metal brush bristles with the magnet.

I then washed the skull with tapwater and a standard toothbrush with firm bristles. The brush was made wet, then vigorously shaken out so it was only damp, not dripping wet. The bone surface was carefully scrubbed in a circular motion. The brush was then rinsed out in a clear container of tapwater. Each time the brush was rinsed this way, it was easy to see the water becoming more and more dirty as more of the clay particles and other minerals were removed from the bone surface. When the brush rinsed clean after each scrub it was time to stop. Then the skull was put under a desklamp with a floodlight bulb to warm up and evaporate any remaining water. The skull was then allowed to sit for an hour and cool down. This is important for the next step. A heated specimen, having more glue added to it, can have the acetone solvent “boil”, ruining the effect one is now trying to achieve.

A thin mnix of Acryloid glue and acetone was mixed and a thin layer brushed over the specimen and “scrubbed” into the bone with tight circular motions so it soaked in deeply. This glue seals any microcracks and holes. This is vitally important as the specimen is to be latex molded soon. Latex, being brushed on, gets into every nook and cranny. It can be pushed through a crack where it can expand a bit. When the cured latex is removed, the expanded bits of latex “grab” onto or anchor into the bone and require more force to pull out. This pulling action can damage the area involved and compromise the safety of the entire specimen. So it is best to seal over these potential problem areas now, rather than deal with breakage later. However, it is almost always inevitable that some breakage occurs during demolding. Once the entire skull and teeth were so treated and the glue dried within minutes, I was able to step back and get that feeling of a job well done, that every preparator experiences at the end of a project (in this case the skull only)I. I still need to finish off parts of the legs and ribs before molding happens. A molding meeting is happening the middle of next week to discuss how the molding/demolding will proceed. Hopefully in about 2-3 weeks the molding will begin- that process taking about 5 days.

[Dave adds: And now, here it is. The complete and final and finished version of the left side of the skull. Scale bar is 10 cm. And just a couple of months ago it still looked like this].

All photos here and in the series are owned by Darren Tanke and the Royal Tyrrell Museum.

The imminent death of taxonomy

I’ve commented before on the slow and painful death of taxonomy in science and the issues this is likely to bring in the long run. Fortunately it seems that this is finally starting to be picked up in the wider world and that this may get a little attention. Case in point being this rather good article on the subject which I can highly recommend (thanks to Taissa Rodrigues for flagging it up).

The only thing I’d add is that they seem to have overlooked what, for me, is the biggest problem. Species are inherently hard to identify and sort out properly. And so while an absence of taxonomists does mean we can loose species without knowing they exist or have real problems understanding biodiversity and conservation, the real issue is far more fundamental. If you do not know what a given species is, or it is not defined properly then *any* research based on that in any way is fundamentally undermined. You simply can’t practice biological research effectively if your most basic unit of study is questionable. Try doing a phylogenetic or ecological analysis when it’s not certain which specimens in your lab belong to species A or B, or even Q. Taxonomy is the absolute bedrock of biology and without it, the foundations of our research are going to be awfully shaky.



Packing them in

My thanks to Matt van Rooijen of the Optimistic Painting blog for this photo from the Launceston’s Queen Victoria Museum in Australia. As you can see they have one hell of a pile of dinosaurs here and have maximised the amount of floorspace to stuff them in. From the perspective of the average museum visitor this is pretty nice – when I was young I’d have been delighted to see this many dinosaurs in one small space and I do appreciate the spectacle of things like this. However, the researcher in me is rather frustrated. You can’t see the details which have become bread and butter to me but which the average visitor would not care about, and nor is it easy to take photos of skeletons in isolation. Obviously I’m hardly suggesting that museums should lay out their exhibits to benefit the odd researcher for every ten thousand visitors they get, but it can be annoying. I (obviously) prefer the more open plan ones, but on balance I’d rather see 10 dinosaurs crammed in than 3 well spaced out.

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