Posts Tagged 'sign'

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.

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