“Transforming the World of Discovery” in Cleveland

In the past couple of years, there’s been a burst of large-scale museum renovations across the country. The Burke Museum and the University of Michigan’s Museum of Natural History both got new and modern homes. The Smithsonian recreated its fossil halls in the form of “Deep Time”, and Yale’s Peabody Museum is currently undergoing a similar revamp.

One of the largest of these renovations is taking place at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History (CMNH) in Ohio. A substantial amount of light about the renovation, costing about $150,000,000, has only been shed in the past year, with concept art being unveiled and projects being completed. To celebrate its centennial, the museum is adding a new 50,000-foot exhibit wing and auditorium, along with a host of other changes (altogether titled “Transforming the World of Discovery”) that’ll radically transform the appearance and presentation of the CMNH.

The new Current Science area at the Cleveland Museum of Natural replaces a dark and dreary corner of the institution's lobby. Programming will begin later this month on current topics in science interpreted by museum educators..
A new “Current Science” gallery installed in the museum’s lobby. Source

In December of 2020, the CMNH completed its ‘Gateway’ projects, a series of initial renovations that coincided with the museum’s centennial. These consisted of three additions both inside and outside of the museum. The first to be completed was a “Current Science” installation that covers the latest discoveries in the natural sciences. The other two projects were a new auditorium and an Enviornmental Courtyard based on the geology of Ohio.

Concept art of the Biological Processes Wing set to be constructed during the CMNH renovaton. Source

As one can probably observe from the CMNH’s ‘Gateway’ projects, a major goal of this centennial renovation is to bring the museum into the 21st century. That goal encompasses exhibit design as well. For instance, it seems that the CMNH’s fossil halls are being reworked into a Biological Processes Wing, presented in a continuous “walk through time (or evolution)” format. The wing will also link to the museum’s wildlife center, opened in 2017, to engage visitors with living specimens after walking among long-dead organisms.

Concept art of displays on the bald eagle and Dunkleosteus (one of Cleveland’s most famous fossils). Source

New technology is also being used to further engage visitors. One instance of exhibit innovation that the museum has revealed is the use of digital screens that display specimens. Visitors can manipulate the images of specimens to their liking, allowing for a more flexible degree of observation. In the concept art above, a glass screen with the image of a bald eagle may represent one of these new examples of specimen digitization. Additionally, the CMNH is planning on building an education wing that utilizes some of its new technological features, aiming to engage teachers and students specifically. Though programs in the wing itself will be plentiful, the museum also says that new IVC studios will allow virtual programming to take place in the exhibits as well.

The museum broke ground on its non-Gateway expansions earlier this year (in June). As of yet, it doesn’t seem that a date has been projected for when the CMNH’s renovation will finish. However, from the concepts that have already been released, this is one of the most ambitious museum expansions/renovations seen in the country in the past couple of years. So, as time goes on, the details of the CMNH’s centennial makeover should become much clearer.

References

Cleveland Museum of Natural History. (n.d.). Exhibit Design Preview: Experience the New Journey Cleveland Museum of Natural History: Transforming the World of Discovery Campaign. https://www.cmnh.org/campaignhome/newsroom/exhibit-design-preview

Cleveland Museum of Natural History. (n.d.). Q & A with Patrick Gallagher: Building the Museum of the Future. Cleveland Museum of Natural History: Transforming the World of Discovery Campaign. https://www.cmnh.org/campaignhome/newsroom/exhibit-design-preview

Litt, S. (2020, March 6). Natural history museum on track with new plans, construction, for $150 million expansion and renovation. cleveland.com. https://www.cleveland.com/news/2020/03/natural-history-museum-on-track-with-new-plans-construction-for-150-million-expansion-and-renovation.html

Litt, S. (2020, December 11). Cleveland Museum of Natural History completes $8.9M ‘Gateway’ projects as part of $150M expansion and renovation. cleveland.com. https://www.cleveland.com/news/2020/12/cleveland-museum-of-natural-history-completes-89m-gateway-projects-as-part-of-150m-expansion-and-renovation.html

The Worst of Fossil Halls: A Deinonychus at the Beijing Museum of Natural History

This is the first in a particularly lazy series of posts on some of the more egregious paleontological displays in museums. Specifically, these fossil mounts or models are so inaccurate or misshapen that they’ve reached the status of entertainment. This short write-up will cover what could be the most egregious animatronic theropod at the Beijing Museum of Natural History (BMNHC).

This Deinonychus is located on a lower level of the museum, as part of “Dinosaur Park”, an exhibit reconstructing various dinosaur ecosystems with a plethora of mediocre animatronics. IAlong with another Deinonychus, it seems to be attacking an Ankylosaurus. The three dinosaurs are located in a darkened room that symbolizes the late Cretaceous of North America (while shrunken Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops animatronics duke it out nearby).

An animatronic Deinonychus at the Beijing Museum of Natural History.
Good God.

Ignoring the demonically red eyes, completely scaly body, awkwardly stunned facial expression, and the fact that the raptor seems to be dropping a deuce on its hopeful prey, the animatronic also seems rather asymmetrical. First, the hands are painfully contorted in two different manners. Second, the foot claws appear to point away from the body, apparently shattering both of the dinosaur’s pedes. The Deinonychus viewing this scene on the side is of a similar quality, though that animatronic’s similarly shocked expression will inevitably be shared by many paleo-enthusiasts passing through this corridor of the BMNHC.

Renovated Out(ish): The Arms of Appalachiosaurus

Across museums in the southern United States, mounted casts of a long-armed tyrannosaur were installed in the last two centuries. In this case, when one says “long-armed”, the arms are nothing like one would expect from any non-tyrannosaur theropod. Instead, these arms were essentially gargantuan, nearly matching the length of the dinosaur’s legs in some displays. This was the situation of Appalachiosaurus montgomeriensis, a tyrannosaur described in 2005 from the Late Cretaceous of the southeastern United States.

Photo of a long-armed skeletal cast mount of Appalachiosaurus montgomeriensis at the Tellus Science Museum.
A mount that exemplifies Appalachiosaurus‘s arm dilemma. Source

By 2012, it became clear to museums which had installed Appalachiosaurus mounts that the arms were almost certainly inaccurate. According to Julian Gray, the then-curator of the Tellus Science Museum, which had exhibited one of the Appalachiosaurus (as seen above), an unspecified paleontologist misidentified one particularly large bone as one of the theropod’s arm bones, creating the giant arms in the mounted casts. So, the process of replacing arms began at some museums, though others seem to have kept the terrifying limbs.

Unrenovated Arms

The most well-known mount of Appalachiosaurus, with gargantuan arms. Source

The first of these Appalachiosaurus mounts is also the most famous. This cast was installed at the McWane Science Center in Alabama, where the theropod was first discovered. It stands in a display of dinosaur mounts from the region, including a nodosaur and a Deinonychus cast intended to represent an ambiguous dromaeosaur. This mount introduced the inaccurate lengthened arms. However, despite the update in 2012, the skeleton remains unchanged, as of a Facebook video from the museum in 2021.

Skeletal cast mounts of Appalachiosaurus montgomeriensis with inaccurate long and three-fingered arms at the Discovery Park of America and the Museum of Discovery.
Two long-armed Appalachiosaurus at the Discovery Park of America (left) and the Museum of Discovery (right). Photo by the author.

Two more notable mounts of Appalachiosaurus were installed in the southeastern United States (at museums with oddly similar names) after 2012. In Arkansas’s Museum of Discovery, a long-armed cast of Appalachiosaurus was installed in the lobby as part of the museum’s 2012 renovation. Further north, in Union City, Tennessee, a similarly-posed skeleton was mounted at the newly-opened Discovery Park of America in 2013. In contrast to the Museum of Discovery’s mount, which stands among other miscellaneous scientific displays, including an installation on iron dust, the Discovery Park’s skeleton stands over the corpse of a hadrosaur on an earthy platform. However, this mount adds one more conspicuous inaccuracy to Appalachiosaurus: pronated hands. As of this date, it doesn’t seem like either of these mounts have been updated.

The Arms that Shrunk

Skeletal cast mount of Appalachiosaurus montgomeriensis with short, two-fingered arms at the Tellus Science Museum.
The Tellus Science Museum’s new arms. Photo by the author.

So far, the one set of arms that seems to have changed is at Georgia’s Tellus Science Museum (the previous, long-armed version can be seen near the top of this article). In 2012, after realizing the error made in the limbs, the museum ordered shorter, two-fingered arms from the same company that made the original cast of Appalachiosaurus. Uniquely, the museum decided to put the spotlight on this error and its update, holding a lunch program on a winter Friday. During this session, which also featured David Schwimmer, a paleontologist who helped to describe A. montgomeriensis, the arms were replaced in front of the public.

In the near-decade that’s passed since that event, new research calls the arms of Appalachiosaurus into question once again. Considering the close relationship recovered between it and the tyrannosaur Dryptosaurus in studies like Brusatte & Carr (2016) and Delcourt & Grillo (2018), its forelimbs may still be significantly larger than the archetypical tyrannosaur. However, the lunch held by the Tellus Science Museum represents a notable circumstance of a museum putting the ever-changing and dubious nature of paleontology on full display to the public, a nature that’ll have to be remembered with dinosaurs like Appalachiosaurus.

References

Brusatte, S., & Carr, T. D. (2016). The phylogeny and evolutionary history of tyrannosauroid dinosaurs. Nature Scientific Reports, 6(20252). https://doi.org/10.1038/srep20252

Delcourt, R., & Grillo, O. N. (2018). Tyrannosauroids from the Southern Hemisphere: Implications for biogeography, evolution, and taxonomy. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 511, 379-387. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2018.09.003

Discovery Park of America. (n.d.). Dinosaur Hall. Discovery Park of America. https://discoveryparkofamerica.com/exhibit/dinosaur-hall/

Gray, J. (n.d.). Biography. Focal Point Mineralogy. https://focalpointmineralogy.com/about/biography/

Jovanelly, T. J., & Lane, L. (2012). Comparison of the Functional Morphology of Appalachiosaurus and Albertosaurus. The Open Geology Journal, 9(6), 65-71. http://dx.doi.org/10.2174/1874262901206010065

Nesmith, S. (2012, December). Tellus’ Appalachiosaurus to receive shorter arms Friday. The Daily Tribune News. https://web.archive.org/web/20130228212656/http://daily-tribune.com/view/full_story/21185340/article-Tellus–Appalachiosaurus-to-receive-shorter-arms-Friday

McWane Science Center. (n.d.). Alabama Dinosaurs. McWane Science Center. https://www.mcwane.org/exhibits/alabama-dinosaurs/

McWane Science Center. (2021, May 8). Meet the Alabama Dinosaur, the Appalachiosaurus! Did you know that McWane houses the only known Appalachiosaurus skeleton in the world? [Video attached] [Status update]. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=541214383541038

Science Museum of Minnesota. (n.d.). Arkansas Museum of Discovery. Science Museum of Minnesota. https://www.smm.org/exhibitservices/portfolio/arkansas-museum-discovery

The Digitization of Fossil Halls

As fossil halls around the world have reopened, physical public engagement with exhibits has increasingly returned to normal. However, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, museums still brought visitors into their displays beyond virtual tours and online programming. Digital exhibits of various forms evolved and grew in the past year. They built on precedent, using old exhibits or designing completely new virtual spaces. This digitization of fossil halls has allowed the public to get closer than ever to some museums, without even stepping foot in one.

Before the Pandemic: Digital Museums Canada

A screenshot of the Paleontology on Vancouver Island exhibit from Digital Museums Canada, picturing an unidentified flower fossil.
An unidentified fossil on display in the digital “Paleontology on Vancouver Island” exhibit. Source

The beginnings of digital exhibits appeared as early as 2014, in the form of Digital Museums Canada. This project funds online exhibits by Canadian museums, from the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal to the Biophare. Within paleontology, Digital Museums Canada specifically funded projects by the Qualicum Beach Museum and the Musée de la civilisation in 2019. The Qualicum Beach Museum produced “Paleontology on Vancouver Island”, while the Musée de la civilisation produced “Images on Stone”.

Screenshot of Images on Stone, a digital exhibition by the Musée de la civilisation.
“Images on Stone” covers the history of rock art, including cave paintings by prehistoric humans in Lascaux. Source

“Images on Stone” covered the history of rock art in Canada, specifically regarding the culture of the First Peoples. The exhibition allows visitors to the site to navigate between five major sites: Kejimkujik, Pepeshapissinikan, Qajartalik, Áísínai’pi, and K’aka’win. In one section, it covers global rock art and its prehistoric history, including Lascaux Cave, Rouffignac, and Chaco Canyon. In another section, it shows educators how to present the exhibit and rock art to students.

On a smaller scale, “Paleontology on Vancouver Island” covered exactly what the name implies. The website housing this digital exhibition is more traditional, showcasing collections from the Qualicum Beach Museum. The page begins with basic concepts in paleontology and the history of fossil-finding on Vancouver Island. Then, it displays fossils from the island, including trilobites, giant ammonites, laurels, microfossils, and the walrus specimen “Rosie”. Going into 2020, these ideas from “Paleontology on Vancouver Island” and “Images on Stone” would be taken to an entirely new level.

Modeling the NHM Vienna

Digital model of Allosaurus fragilis skeletal mount from the Natural History  Museum Vienna, shown in a screenshot with other 3D models of displays.
A skeletal cast mount of Allosaurus, presented in the virtual realm by the Natural History Museum Vienna. Source

Earlier this year, the Natural History Museum Vienna translated the items already displayed in its halls into the digital sphere. As part of the project “MicroMus: Unlocking the Microcosm – Micro-CT Analyzes in Museum Collections”, some of NHM Vienna’s most popular exhibits were three-dimensionally scanned. These included the fossils of mammals (including Prodeinotherium and Eurohippus) and dinosaurs (Allosaurus and Paraphysornis). Other items, such as an antenna sword and meteorite, were scanned as well. Digital models were uploaded to the Internet to be viewed with supplemental information on the NHM Vienna’s website.

Augmenting Tiny Titans

Screenshot of a virtual tour of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History's exhibit "Tiny Titans", featuring a Heyuannia in the foreground.
In this enhanced tour of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History, each dot presents additional information and media to visitors. Source

Virtual tours of fossil halls were prevalent before the pandemic, experiencing a significant rise in 2020. At the New Mexico Museum of Natural History, “Tiny Titans: Dinosaur Eggs and Babies” was one exhibit that was digitized in this way. However, the NMMNH utilizes this online format to enhance the underlying displays, providing supplemental signage and media. For example, a couple of dots on the museum’s Bistahieversor skull open to reveal a description, photos of preparation, and a digital model of the specimen. These dots continue through the displays, providing online visitors with an experience similar to the physical exhibits.

And Now For Something Completely Different

Digital skeletons of Dorudon, Maiacetus, and a pygmy right whale in "Whale Evolution: From Land to Sea" from the University of Michigan.
The virtual skeletons of Dorudon, Maiacetus, and a pygmy right whale in the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History’s virtual whale evolution exhibit.

At the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History (UMMNH), exhibit staff decided to create a completely new exhibit in the virtual realm. Working with Saganworks, a software company also in Ann Arbor, the UMMNH designed “Whale Evolution: From Land to Sea”. As the name implies, this exhibit covers the evolution of whales through the Cenozoic and the corresponding transition from a terrestrial to an aquatic lifestyle. Three virtual skeletal mounts float in the center of the digital gallery, surrounded by signage on all four sides.

The University of Michigan has a robust history of research in this area, and the displays presented here reflect that. The detailed and concise signage on the walls covers the whale relation to hippos, early relatives like Elomeryx, and famous fossil whales like Basilosaurus. Clicking on the displays, visitors can view more information and media. Meanwhile, skeletal mounts of the early protocetid cetacean Maiacetus, the basilosaurid Dorudon, and the modern pygmy right whale occupy the center, roughly representing the change in whale body plans over time.

However, as museums continue to reopen from the pandemic, the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History’s virtual exhibit doesn’t represent a recreation of the physical museum. The director of the UMMNH, Amy Harris, has already noted that recreation wasn’t a goal in this virtual gallery. Instead, “Whale Evolution: From Land to Sea”, along with the exhibits mentioned previously, represent museums taking advantage of the unique capabilities of an online setting. In all of the virtual exhibits from the Natural History Museum Vienna, the New Mexico Museum of Natural History, and the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History, visitors are given experiences that could not be replicated in a physical gallery.

References

Digital Museums Canada. (n.d.). Our mission. Digital Museums Canada. https://www.digitalmuseums.ca/about/mission/

Digital Museums Canada. (n.d.). Paleontology on Vancouver Island. https://www.digitalmuseums.ca/funded-projects/paleontology-on-vancouver-island/

Hawkins, S. & Dick, L. (2021, April 6). New 3D exhibit by U-M Museum of Natural History offers up-close encounters with prehistoric whales. University of Michigan News. https://news.umich.edu/new-3d-exhibit-by-u-m-museum-of-natural-history-offers-up-close-encounters-with-prehistoric-whales/

Musée de la civilisation. (n.d.). Homepage – Des images dans la pierre. https://imagesdanslapierre.mcq.org/en/

Natural History Museum Vienna. (n.d.). 3D Museum. https://www.nhm-wien.ac.at/museum_online/3D

New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. (n.d.). Virtual Tour-Tiny Titans. https://nmnaturalhistory.org/exhibits/online-exhibits/virtual-tour-tiny-titans

Renovated Out: a Juvenile Barosaurus at the American Museum of Natural History

Today, a massive, 122-foot long sauropod occupies the American Museum of Natural History’s Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Orientation Center. Before its introduction in 2016, however, an immature, 24-foot long sauropod occupied the center. This sculpture of a juvenile Barosaurus was the modest centerpiece of the Wallach Orientation Center for most of the AMNH’s modern history. Created in 1996, the model stayed in New York for about 18 years until it was dethroned by the titanosaur, shifting it to Cleveland and back out again.

In the AMNH

Floorplan of the American Museum of Natural History's 4th floor Fossil Halls.
The modern layout of the AMNH fossil halls. The Wallach Orientation Center, which held the sauropod of focus, is in the top left. Source

For nearly a decade before 1995, the American Museum of Natural History’s fossil halls were in the process of a massive renovation. All six halls were renovated, creating a layout rooted in cladistics. One smaller hall (once the Earth History Hall and the highly bigoted Hall of the Age of Man) was recreated as the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Orientation Center. Named after businessman Ira D. Wallach and his wife, this center covered key paleontological concepts featured in the other five halls. Behind a decently-sized theater, our juvenile Barosaurus was installed in 1996.

Barosaurus, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Orientation Center, American Museum of Natural History, Upper West Side, Manhattan, July 12, 2013
The juvenile Barosaurus sculpture as installed in the Orientation center. Source

The Barosaurus model was plainly colored and posed similarly to the juvenile “Barosaurus” skeleton in the museum’s main rotunda. However, that skeleton is now thought to belong to Kaatedocus, not Barosaurus (making the actual basis of this model ambiguous). The sculpture stands in dry terrain, with footprints trailing behind it. It was relatively small, standing just higher than a person at the shoulder. According to the museum, the model’s purpose was to “suggest central themes of the fossils halls: what science can reveal about long-extinct life forms and what mysteries remain unsolved.”

Make Way for the Titanosaur

American Museum of Natural History workers taking apart a sculpture of a juvenile Barosaurus.
AMNH workers helping the juvenile Barosaurus perform autotomy. Source

In 2016, with the discovery of a new giant titanosaur in Patagonia, it was time for Barosaurus to leave the Orientation Center. To make way for a skeletal cast of what would soon be Patagotitan mayorum, the sculpture was smashed open and sawed apart. The neck and head were severed from the torso, along with the tail. This sectioning allowed it to be easily transported to other institutions. Additionally, the whole Orientation Center was redesigned to accomodate and revolve around its new resident.

Skeletal cast of Patagotitan mayorum at the American Museum of Natural History.
The Orientation Center’s new tenant. Photo by the author.

Now breaking headlines with the titanosaur, the Wallach Orientation Center was finally in the spotlight. At a length that was nearly six times that of Barosaurus, Patagotitan was too large for the Orientation Center. Its neck and tail extend out of the room, giving the center an immediately imposing presence. Displays are now more focused on the main dinosaur (which seizes attention far easier than the juvenile Barosaurus). However, our Barosaurus would find another museum to be featured in.

Into the Forest City

Juvenile sculpture of Barosaurus on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
Barosaurus, reinstalled at Cleveland’s Museum of Natural History in 2016. Source

Our Barosaurus was removed from the American Museum of Natural History at the beginning of 2016. By May, however, the three sections of the sauropod were being reattached in Cleveland, Ohio. In the city’s Museum of Natural History, a somewhat more modest display was being constructed for the sculpture. This temporary display featured the juvenile Barosaurus on a small lime platform, accompanied by simple signage and a mid-sized mural.

The signage for this display focused on the reconstruction of this model, describing a fossilized skin impression at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum that informed the texture of this sculpture. It also covered the reconstruction of incomplete fossil taxa, noting that the skull of this model was inferred from fellow diplodocids. However, by the end of the year, the exhibition concluded, and our juvenile Barosaurus doesn’t seem to have been featured in a museum since.

References

American Museum of Natural History. (n.d.). Miriam and Ida D. Wallach Orientation Center. American Museum of Natural History. https://web.archive.org/web/20140725045141/http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/permanent-exhibitions/fossil-halls/miriam-and-ida-d.-wallach-orientation-center

Dingus, L. (1996). Next of Kin: Great Fossils at the American Museum of Natural History. Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.

Hall, L [@paleeoguy]. (2016, May 31). Our juvy #Barosaurus exhibit is done! Exhibits staff did a phenomenal job! (I helped draft the label copy.) [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/paleeoguy/status/737663888322383875

Miller, S. (2016, January 13). New Dinosaur Poses Question: Does This Museum Make Me Look Fat? The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/14/nyregion/museum-of-natural-historys-new-dinosaur.html

Renovated Out: Pteranodon at the Field Museum

Just a few years ago, the Field Museum’s grand Stanley Field Hall held two representatives of the Mesozoic. One was the original mount of “SUE” the Tyrannosaurus, imposingly capturing eyes upon entrance. The other soared above, catching glances on the same floor as “SUE”‘s portrait. This was a model of the famous pterosaur Pteranodon longiceps, hanging near a marble muse representing the dissemination of knowledge.

In 2018, however, both the dinosaur and pterosaur were replaced by one dinosaur and eleven pterosaurs. As many already know, “SUE” returned to a personalized display on the second floor. On the other hand, the pterosaur with a 25-foot long wingspan seems to have retired from public life.

A Marker for the Fossil Halls

Brachiosaurus altithorax skeletal cast on display in the Field Museum's Stanley Field Hall.
A festive Stanley Field Hall, circa somesmallnumberofyears after the Jurassic Park film. Not a single pterosaur in sight. Source

Before there was any possibility of our Pteranodon model entering the museum, Brachiosaurus held Stanley Field Hall. This replica of one of the Field Museum’s most famous discoveries arrived in 1993, foreshadowing the unveiling of “Life over Time”, the museum’s new fossil exhibit. However, in 1997, two slightly large companies (Disney and McDonalds) helped the Field obtain “SUE” the Tyrannosaurus, and reforms began.

The entrance to the Field Museum's "Evolving Planet" exhibit.
The original entrance to “Evolving Planet”. Source

In Stanley Field Hall, Brachiosaurus was replaced (and moved to O’Hare International Airport) by Tyrannosaurus in 2000. To accompany this change, the young exhibit “Life Over Time” was reformed into “Evolving Planet”, a more serious walk through evolution. Guarded by a large globe and two large display cases representing the diversity of life, it sat on the second floor of the museum. Only when “Evolving Planet” was unveiled in 2006 would our Pteranodon model arrive as the second archosaur in Stanley Field Hall.

Sculpture of Pteranodon longiceps in Stanley Field Hall at the Field Museum of Natural History.
Another holiday season in the Field Museum, but now with a toothless wing. Photo by the author.

The pterosaurian subject of this post was built by CM Studio, a model company in southern Illinois. Headed by Charlie McGrady and his nephew Brian Page, the studio had already created several models of extant mammals and extinct Mesozoic animals. With “Evolving Planet” in 2006, Pteranodon longiceps was suspended 30 feet above “SUE”.

With a brownish body, a striped orange crest, and some white undersides, the large pterosaur was a conspicuous sight. Additionally, the specific placement of Pteranodon was chosen to serve “Evolving Planet”. Hanging right in front of the exhibit, the model pinpointed the location of the fossils for any visitor in Stanley Field Hall. During its decade-long tenure, it would also be subject to a common Chicagoan practice.

Sculpture of Pteranodon longiceps wearing a Chicago Bulls jersey at the Field Museum of Natural History's Stanley Field Hall.
A snugly fitting Bulls jersey on the Field’s pterosaur. Source

Elsewhere in the Windy City, the Art Institute of Chicago’s lions can be seen wearing a White Sox cap, a Blackhawks helmet, or, most recently, a mask adorned with the city flag. In Daley Plaza, the Chicago Picasso has donned another Sox cap. Closer to our subject, the Dissemination of Knowledge statue will even toss a jersey onto its baby.

When Pteranodon came to the Field, it was also absorbed into this tradition of costumes. Despite its odd body-plan, jerseys from several of the city’s teams were shimmied onto the pterosaur throughout its tenure (sometimes resulting in the costumeless “SUE” looking like the odd archosaur out). This often made it an even more striking sight, easily catching the attention of visitors from its height. However, this series only tackles retired displays, so next, Pteranodon would be deposed by a much larger pterosaur.

Out of Stanley Field

Sculpture of Quetzalcoatlus northropi at the Field Museum's Stanley Field Hall.
Pteranodon‘s giant replacement. Photo by the author.

In 2018, another donation by billionaire Kenneth C. Griffin (who had previously funded “Evolving Planet”) sparked another makeover of the Field Museum, this time in Stanley Field Hall. The most well-known of these changes was the replacement of “SUE” with “Máximo”, a mounted replica of the newly-discovered giant titanosaur Patagotitan. Additionally, 3D-printed hanging gardens were installed on the hall’s North side.

The majority of the organisms added to Stanley Field Hall, however, were pterosaurs. Along with a flock of nine Rhamphorhynchus and a duo of Pteranodon (sternbergi, not longiceps), our lone P. longiceps was replaced by one of two Quetzalcoatlus. Though it doesn’t appear that any costumes have adorned the new azhdarchid, this sculpture of one of the largest flying animals ever certainly marks “Evolving Planet”‘s location better.

Brachiosaurus skeletal mount dressed in a Chicago Cubs jersey outside of the Field Museum.
Brachiosaurus with a rotund Cubs jersey. Source

Out of the Field Museum’s two costume wearers, one remains. Though the status of Pteranodon longiceps appears unknown, the second replica of Brachiosaurus altithorax stands tall and proud outside of the museum. Like its fellow archosaur, it’s worn oversized jerseys from the Cubs, the Blackhawks, and the Bears. So, the retired pterosaur’s secondary role is fulfilled even after its removal.

References

Blue Rhino Studio. (2018, October 11). Chicago Field Museum|Stanley Field Hall Flying Pterosaurs. https://www.rhinocentral.com/projects/10/chicago-field-museum-stanley-field-hall-flying-pterosaurs

Field Museum. (n.d.). Architecture. https://www.fieldmuseum.org/about/history/architecture

Glut, D. F. (2001). Jurassic Classics: A Collection of Saurian Essays and Mesozoic Musings. McFarland & Company.

Lelièvre, M A. (2006). Evolving Planet: Constructing the Culture of Science at Chicago’s Field Museum. Anthropologica, 48(2), 293-296.

McGrady, Pat. (2006, July 26). The Field Museum. CM Studio. http://cm-studio.blogspot.com/2006/07/field-museum.html

Slepicka, P. (2016, September 14). CM Studio – Where The Prehistoric Meets The Present. The Journal-News. https://www.thejournal-news.net/stories/cm-studio-where-the-prehistoric-meets-the-present,21377

Zarley, B. D. (2015, June 15). The Art And Science Of Putting Large Chicago Blackhawks Helmets on Lions. Vice. https://www.vice.com/en/article/mgyzxv/the-art-and-science-of-putting-large-chicago-blackhawks-helmets-on-lions

Renovated Out: The Monolophosaurus Holotype at the Paleozoological Museum of China

As a kid, I once found myself in the previous incarnation of Beijing’s Paleozoological Museum of China (PMC) while on occasional ventures to the home of the Forbidden City. As the exhibit space of the renowned Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP), it predictably displayed and still displays some of the most significant paleontological finds from China. The specimen of focus today was the single fossil of a single-crested theropod, stuck halfway in a reddish or orangish (or perhaps even brownish) block. Naturally, after I viewed such an important fossil, the toddler version of me promptly forgot about its existence for around a decade.

Since my toddler days, I’ve obtained the knowledge that the theropod Monolophosaurus jiangi was a thing that existed. A small handful of years ago, I also rediscovered a blurry yet acceptable physical photo of the imprisoned theropod from the IVPP. At the same time, I also came across an extensive redescription of the Monolophosaurus genoholotype (IVPP V84019) by Stephen Brusatte and his colleagues. In particular, two sentences stood out: “The specimen is currently mounted for touring exhibition (Fig. 1). It is embedded in foam that obscures the bones so that they are only visible in right lateral view, and only rarely are portions of the ventral surfaces of the vertebrae exposed.” Finally, it took a delayed glance at Figure 1 itself to realize that the trapped theropod in my shoddy photograph was IVPP V84019.

As implied by the two words and colon in the title of this post, this (hopefully) will serve as the start of an irregular series where I’ll cover any fossils or exhibits that were once on display, but have since been retired. This first topic, as should be obvious at this point, is the Monolophosaurus jiangi holotype that was once on display in the PMC. In 2014, during an extensive renovation of the museum, it (along with many similarly tragic mounts) retreated from public exhibition.

A Traveling History

The M. jiangi holotype was first exposed to human eyes at the dawn of the ’80s in Xinjiang, an autonomous region in the northwest of China. Xijin Zhao, a paleontologist working for the IVPP, was in the middle of a project with the Xinjiang Petroleum Bureau’s Petroleum Stratigraphic Team. The discovery of this skeleton in the Middle Jurassic Wucaiwan Formation (now considered to be part of the Shishugou Formation) was one major outcome of that project. At the same time, the Chinese Communist Party, now led by Deng Xiaoping, was beginning a number of economic reforms that “opened” China up to the West. For paleontology, a major result of this was the creation of the Sino-Canadian Dinosaur Project (CCDP), a collaboration between the IVPP and Canada’s Royal Tyrrell Museum and Canadian Museum of Nature to provide each other with better opportunities to study the two countries’ dinosaur faunas.

The Monolophosaurus genoholotype, which included a complete skull and partial skeleton, had already been excavated by the IVPP one year before the CCDP’s establishment. The project’s team announced the find in October of 1987, using the informal name “Jiangjunmiaosaurus”. After years of even more prosperous research and excavation by the CCDP, IVPP V84019 was described by Zhao and Philip Currie as the holotype of the new species Monolophosaurus jiangi. The same year, the foundation that had organized the CCDP created a traveling exhibit named “The Greatest Show Unearthed”, among other titles.

Hadrosaurs and ornithomimosaurs imposingly stand in the giant tent that featured the CCPD’s discoveries. Source

“The Greatest Show Unearthed” opened in 1993 inside a tent covering six acres of exhibition space. Though Canadian and Chinese dinosaurs were both featured, the highlight was clearly on the latter. A collection of baby Pinacosaurus and a giant Mamenchisaurus skeleton were just some of the novel specimens displayed in an exhibit that seemed indistinguishable from a modern 21st-century fossil hall. The Monolophosaurus genoholotype was included in this exhibit as well, encased in a large foam block. Only the right side of the skeleton was observable in this hugely frustrating form, which would impede scientific research for years to come. For the time being, however, IVPP V84019 traveled the world, meeting the global eyes of the public.

Settling Down

Monolophosaurus jiangi holotype on display at the Paleozoological Museum of China.
The final display of Monolophosaurus in the Paleozoological Museum of China. Photo by the author.

“The Greatest Show Unearthed” did not travel the world infinitely, so Monolophosaurus was put on not-so-permanent display at the Paleozoological Museum of China. Alongside it were other foam-trapped dinosaur type specimens, including those of Sinraptor and Bellusaurus. Exhibited in a gallery near the entrance, this was when I had my first (and only) encounter with the horrific display.

In 2014, however, the PMC went through a massive renovation, revamping most of their major halls. Additionally, many significant fossils and mounts (including Monolophosaurus) were taken off display. At the renovation’s end, IVPP V84019 had been replaced by either a gift shop, a 4-D theater, or a gallery for temporary exhibitions. Though it was no longer in the public spotlight, the foam remained (and still remains).

The current resting place of the foam holotypes. Source

With its foam-trapped brethren, Monolophosaurus jiangi was moved to an IVPP satellite facility an hour away from Beijing. Separated into multiple pieces, the specimens continue to reside at this warehouse, presumably being researched (though any work would be impeded by the specimens’ red encasement). The holotype that many once gawked at now lies in a humbly remote building, trapped by the same mechanisms that originally thrust it into the spotlight.

The Monolophosaurus status quo. Source

References

Dong, Z. (1993). The field activities of the Sino-Canadian Dinosaur Project in China, 1987- 1990. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, 30(10), 1997-2001. https://doi.org/10.1139/e93-175

Hendricx, C. [@Ch_Hendricx]. (2020, June 12). Interestingly, most of the cranial and postcranial material of the holotype of Sinraptor (and Monolophosaurus) is embedded in a hard [Tweet]. Twitter. https://twitter.com/Ch_Hendrickx/status/1271493772602417154

Hone, D. (2009, December 29). Monolophosaurus and Sinraptor. Dave Hone’s Archosaur Musings. https://archosaurmusings.wordpress.com/2009/12/21/monolophosaurus-and-sinraptor/

Hone, D. (2010, January 16). Bellusaurus. Dave Hone’s Archosaur Musings. https://archosaurmusings.wordpress.com/2010/01/16/bellusaurus/

Nichols, M. & Howe, J. (1993, June 14). Giants of History: ‘The Greatest Show Unearthed’ presents dinosaurs in a new light. Maclean‘s. https://archive.macleans.ca/article/1993/6/14/giants-of-history

Voell, P. (1993, August 19). Toronto’s Earthly Delights. The Buffalo News. https://buffalonews.com/news/torontos-earthly-delights/article_fb793cdf-fbd0-5e26-9bdf-0bf0b59b3856.html

Zhao, X., Currie, P. J. (1993). A large crested theropod from the Jurassic of Xinjiang, People’s Republic of China. Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences, 30(10), 2027-2036. https://doi.org/10.1139/e93-178

Zhao, X., Benson, R. B. J., Brusatte, S. L., & Currie, P. J. (2010). The postcranial skeleton of Monolophosaurus jiangi (Dinosauria: Theropoda) from the Middle Jurassic of Xinjiang, China, and a review of Middle Jurassic Chinese theropods. Geological Magazine, 147(1), 13-27. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0016756809990240

The Exhibits and Models of Blue Horned Odd-Toed Ungulate Studio

In 1998, Tim Quady and David Leak, two museum workers, met at a museum services company in Minnesota. Soon after, both left to create Blue Rhino Studio, starting (as many great things have) in a garage with the aim of staying in business for at least six months. Their first project was a scaled-down replica of the Split Rock Lighthouse in Lake County. Accelerating, they moved into a much larger space in Bloomington a single month later.

Throughout the 2000s, Blue Rhino Studio worked on sculptures, murals, designs, and more in mini-golf courses, restaurants, and theaters. Early in their history, their first employee, Jim Burt, became Quady’s assistant (eventually becoming Blue Rhino’s lead sculptor). Eventually, they began working on dioramas, sculptures, and exhibits for museums.

Two replicas of animals from distinctively cold environments are assembled in Blue Rhino Studio’s current facility. Source

Now, Blue Rhino Studio is focused on creating artwork and design for museums, visitor centers, and other educational institutions. Currently, their workspace is a large 16,000 square foot facility in Eagan, Minnesota. Here, they produce some of the most realistic and accurate sculptures, murals, and dioramas to date. This write-up will take a look at a few highlights from their incredible record of projects, starting with the most famous extinct proboscideans.

Mammoths and Mastodons:
Titans of the Ice Age

Columbian mammoth (Mammuthus columbi), short-faced bear (Arctodus simus), and saber-toothed cat (Smilodon) sculptures at the Boston Museum of Science.
“Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age” running at the Boston Science Museum in 2012. Source

A decade ago, Chicago’s Field Museum launched “Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age”, a new and extraordinary traveling exhibition obviously focusing on mammoths and mastodons. Taking care to explore the lives and environments of these Ice Age taxa, Blue Rhino Studio was hired to create several exquisite sculptures for the exhibit.

Gomphotherium, Platybelodon, Phiomia, and Deinotherium heads with a Columbian mammoth replica in the background in the Blue Rhino Studio warehouse.
The heads of Gomphotherium and Platybelodon (on the left) and the heads of Phiomia and Deinotherium (on the right) sit in front of a Columbian mammoth in Blue Rhino Studio’s facility. Source

The exhibit, which traveled through the proboscidean family tree and included notable fossils such as the mammoth mummy “Lyuba”, featured several busts and sculptures of prehistoric proboscideans along with other Ice Age animals. A partial circle of Phiomia, Platybelodon, Gomphotherium, and Deinotherium heads created by Blue Rhino Studio helped portray proboscidean diversification, while a sculpture of Moeritherium showed the very base of the elephant family tree.

Models of Homotherium and the short-faced bear Arctodus were also created, standing in the same room as a massive Mammuthus columbi (Columbian mammoth). These sculptures were all exceptionally detailed and accurate, truly immersing visitors around the world of extinct proboscideans.

Flying Pterosaurs and Antarctic Dinosaurs

Sculpture of Cryolophosaurus ellioti by Blue Rhino Studio at the Field Museum of Natural History in the Antarctic Dinosaurs exhibition.
Blue Rhino Studio’s model of a dinosaur with a pompadour. Photo by the author.

2018 was a stellar year for Blue Rhino Studio and the Field Museum, as they collaborated once more to produce two extraordinary projects. The first of these, ironically opening in the middle of the summer, was “Antarctic Dinosaurs”, a traveling exhibition focusing on the prehistoric life of Antarctica across the Phanerozoic (see my write-up here). It featured peeks into real paleontological work on the continent, a vision into the warmer Early Jurassic climate, and even a look at modern scientific research in Antarctica.

Sculpture of Antarctosuchus by Blue Rhino Studios at the Field Museum's Antarctic Dinosaurs exhibition.
An Antarctosuchus by Blue Rhino Studio lurches out towards visitors. Photo by the author.

Blue Rhino Studio created detailed sculptures of Cryolophosaurus, Antarctosuchus (pictured above), Glacialisaurus, a penguin, and two new unnamed sauropodomorphs. They also rigorously recreated environmental details, creating especially realistic portrayals of Antarctica’s environment in the Triassic, Early Jurassic, and even in the modern-day.

Models of Quetzalcoatlus and Rhamphorhynchus suspended in the Field Museum's Stanley Field Hall.
Quetzalcoatlus and Rhamphorhynchus fly over Patagotitan in the Field Museum’s (relatively) new Stanley Field Hall. Photo by the author.

As part of the same 2018 renovation that shifted “SUE” the Tyrannosaurus into her present exhibit, Blue Rhino Studio assisted the Field Museum in creating a new and magnificent look for their main hall. A collection of life-size pterosaur models was created by the studio, accompanying the already-stunning sight of “Máximo” the Patagotitan. Out in Stanley Field Hall, a massive Quetzalcoatlus replaced an older Pteranodon model, while a flock of much smaller Rhamphorhynchus swoop towards the North Entrance.

Standing Quetzalcoatlus model outside the entrance to the Field Museum's "Evolving Planet" exhibit, with a Pteranodon model in the background.
Pteranodon (or Geosternbergia) and Quetzalcoatlus occupy the gateway to “Evolving Planet”. Photo by the author.

In the halls behind the flying Quetzalcoatlus, another standing model of the space species was constructed, dwarfing visitors. Naturally, the size and presence of a seemingly alien creature up close turned it into one of the hottest photo spots in the museum. Flanking this second Quetzalcoatlus were two exquisitely preserved fossil slabs containing Rhamphorhynchus and Pterodactylus skeletons from the Solnhofen Limestone.

Sculpture of Pteranodon (or Geosternbergia) in a stairwell at the Field Museum of Natural History.
Pteranodon takes residence in the Field’s neoclassical stairwell. Photo by the author.

In the stairs around the North Entrance, two models of Pteranodon/Geosternbergia also soar above visitors. Like all the models covered previously, Blue Rhino Studio’s work was extremely accurate and finely detailed, creating a freshly stunning experience for the Field once again.

A Mammoth for the Bell

An Ice Age diorama featuring the giant beaver, a woolly mammoth, and a musk ox. Source

Another major project for Blue Rhino Studio was situated in their home state. The University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus became host to the Bell Museum of Natural History just two years ago, and naturally, needed exhibits. Blue Rhino Studio was hired to create a glacial Ice Age scene with another mammoth (though this time, it was the most famous species). Every hair on the giant was individually attached by the studio, a testament to their incredible scrutiny and accuracy.

Castoroides gazes across the mess that it made. Source

Two more furry members of the Ice Age’s megafauna were also featured. Castoroides, the famous giant beaver, received a lifelike sculpture in the shadow of the woolly mammoth. An extant animal, the musk ox, was also positioned in front of Blue Rhino’s striking glacier. Among the Bell Museum’s planetarium, immersive (modern) dioramas, and green roof, the studio’s Ice Age creation still stands out as one of the most stunning sights in the institution.

SUE’s Second Tour

Sculpture of SUE the T. rex, holding an Edmontosaurus carcass, being worked on by Blue Rhino Studios.
Blue Rhino Studio desperately attempts to persuade SUE the Tyrannosaurus to let go of an Edmontosaurus. Source

As the Field Museum reopened during the COVID-19 pandemic in August, a sculpture of their most famous attraction was shown on Twitter. This distinctively bulky model of SUE, the FMNH’s star T. rex, is the latest collaboration between Blue Rhino Studio and the museum. Soon, it went on display in Stanley Field Hall, opposite from “Máximo” and the studio’s previous aerial creations. The rotund replication, holding a young Edmontosaurus, also includes pathologies from the SUE specimen, such as a bone infection above its left ankle, indicated by a large scar.

Sculpture of SUE the Tyrannosaurus rex holding a baby Edmontosaurus on display at the Field Museum of Natural History's main hall.
SUE, back in Stanley Field Hall. Photo by the author.

Not long after it arrived in the Field, it was shipped off to Iowa, as part of a new traveling exhibit, titled “SUE: The T. rex Experience”. Along with updated skeletal casts of SUE and a Triceratops, the exhibit revolves around the individual’s Hell Creek environment and the specimen’s discovery. Like many displays that Blue Rhino Studio has collaborated in, “SUE: The T. rex Experience” keeps immersion as one of its main priorities.

In a little over 20 years, Blue Rhino Studio has helped to create some of the most stunning paleontological displays in recent years. Even alongside stunning fossil specimens in some of these exhibits, their models and scenes easily steal the show. With hyperrealistic sculpting and extraordinary attention to scientific detail, Blue Rhino Studio is one of the greatest presences in the modern world of fossil halls.

References

Blue Rhino Studio. (n.d.). About. https://www.rhinocentral.com/abouthome

Blue Rhino Studio. (2012, January 12). Chicago Field Museum|Mammoths and Mastadons Exhibition. https://www.rhinocentral.com/projects/10/chicago-field-museum-mammoths-and-mastadons-exhibition

Blue Rhino Studio. (2018, June 29). Chicago Field Museum|Antarctic Dinosaurs. https://www.rhinocentral.com/projects/10/chicago-field-museum-antarctic-dinosaurs

Blue Rhino Studio. (2018, July 24). UMN’s Bell Museum | ICE AGE Exhibit. https://www.rhinocentral.com/projects/10/umns-bell-museum-pleistocene-exhibit

Blue Rhino Studio. (2018, October 11). Chicago Field Museum|Stanley Field Hall Flying Pterosaurs. https://www.rhinocentral.com/projects/10/chicago-field-museum-stanley-field-hall-flying-pterosaurs

Eler, A. (2018, July 13). 11 hairy, buggy, spacey things to do at the brand-new Bell Museum. Star Tribune. https://www.startribune.com/11-hairy-buggy-spacey-things-to-do-at-st-paul-s-brand-new-bell-museum/488012611/

Rogers, M. (2001, December 16). Blue Rhino Studio thinks big. Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal. https://www.bizjournals.com/twincities/stories/2001/12/17/smallb1.html

Science Center of Iowa. (n.d.). SUE: The T. rex Experience. Science Center of Iowa & Blank IMAX Dome Theater. https://www.sciowa.org/sue/

Switek, B. (2010, October 25). Exhibit Review: Mammoths and Mastodons. Wired. https://www.wired.com/2010/10/exhibit-review-mammoths-and-mastodons/

Walley, M. (2020, August 5). Lifelike Replica of “Sue” T. rex Goes on Display. Everything Dinosaur. https://blog.everythingdinosaur.co.uk/blog/_archives/2020/08/05/lifelike-replica-of-sue-t-rex-goes-on-display.html

The Hall of Closed Fossil Halls

Earlier this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic’s extreme severity became clear, museums around the world had to close their doors to visitors. Though some, like the Field Museum in Chicago and the Museum of Science in Boston, are now beginning to reopen in safe and socially-distanced environments, museums were some of the hardest-hit institutions during the global crisis.

A survey from the American Alliance of Museums estimated that around a third of U.S. museums will never reopen their doors after the pandemic and that 65% of these institutions had laid off or furloughed over 20% of their workers. However, in these dire situations, a few museums found methods to create significant progress in a newly isolated world. This post will cover a small assortment of these efforts.

#MuseumFromHome

In March, museum workers Sacha Coward and Dan Vo started a social media trend, #MuseumFromHome, among museums to share sixty-second videos showcasing their collections. Many institutions participated, engaging and educating visitors even through social distancing. Museums of all kinds shared unique items in their collections, from radios and pianos to photographic rubbings and a coyote skull.

Many natural history museums also engaged in the trend, sharing fossils from their collections and exhibits. These specimens ranged from Abingdon County Hall Museum’s fossil gastropods to the Royal Tyrrell Museum’s Champsosaurus mount. Museums also presented more than just fossil specimens, offering various talks, walkthroughs, and livestreams regarding their collections and research.

Screenshot of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History's virtual tour of its Deep Time fossil hall.
A screenshot from the Smithsonian’s virtual tour of their Deep Time hall. Source

Virtual tours have also become increasingly helpful for visitors to experience museums from their homes. Opened last year, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History’s newly renovated Deep Time fossil hall, along with the museum’s numerous other exhibits, have all become accessible online with vivid 360-degree virtual tours. The American Museum of Natural History has also emphasized a virtual tour of their own, provided by Google Arts and Culture, along with several virtual field trips for educators.

A screenshot from the London Natural History Museum’s virtual tour. Source

The Natural History Museum in London also launched a spectacular 360-degree virtual tour on May 26 for clients looking to reserve its halls for events. Though the more limited views seem to have all been photographed at night, the NHM’s walkthrough gives the online public a stunning digital experience in its central Hintze Hall. The capability to create a virtual tour has also been obtained by other smaller museums during the COVID-19 crisis. The Burpee Museum of Natural History, which took an especially hard toll during the pandemic (the museum had to lay off 84% of its staff), has received grants to create virtual reality tours similar to the ones already offered by the Smithsonian and the NHM.

Penguins in the Field

Chicago’s Field Museum also took a heavy toll during its closure (it reopened on July 17). In that time, however, FMNH and the neighboring Shedd Aquarium were still able to uniquely engage visitors at home. During critical social-distancing in Chicago, the aquarium posted a series of videos showcasing “field trips” that a bonded pair of Magellanic penguins were taken on.

Though Shedd was the first of Chicago’s major museums to reopen, the series continued in collaboration with FMNH with a visit to their halls, as the penguins ventured around “Máximo” the Patagotitan in the empty Main Hall and explored the relatively new “SUE” exhibit in Evolving Planet.

Carnegie’s TikToks

One of the Carnegie’s videos on TikTok, featuring their world-renowned Diplodocus skeleton “Dippy”. Source

Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s way of participating in the #MuseumFromHome trend was particularly unique. Having started releasing regular content on the recently popular social network TikTok in January, the museum saw it as a unique opportunity for education during the pandemic. In a less serious setting, Carnegie was able to engage their public with a series of lighthearted videos about their collections, exhibits, and work. The museum reopened in late June, also premiering the new temporary exhibition “Dinosaur Armor”.

Outbreak

Six 3D model cross-sections of viruses.
Three-dimensional viruses from the Smithsonian’s “Outbreak DIY”. Source

Coincidentally, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History’s temporary exhibition “Outbreak: Epidemics in a Connected World” was running at the time as the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. The exhibit was designed to communicate the risks and origins of epidemics in the modern world, soberingly relevant during the current pandemic.

An additional aspect of the exhibition is becoming increasingly important in places with reopening museums. In 2018, the Smithsonian also released a do-it-yourself version of the exhibit, which would allow institutions around the world to communicate to and engage visitors like the original exhibit has. With this, hospitals, schools, and other museums are all able to further educate their local communities about the origins of epidemics and responses against them.

City Nature Challenge 2020

A photo of a red fox in London taken by wildlife photographer Louis Guillot for the City Nature Challenge. Source

Since 2016, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, in collaboration with the California Academy of Sciences, has organized the City Nature Challenge, a competition between cities to document as much urban biodiversity as possible. Since 2018, the event has expanded to the international stage. However, the City Nature Challenge, like everything else, had to adapt to COVID-19.

Interestingly, the NHMLA was able to keep the challenge safely running, even throughout the pandemic. This was achieved by taking away the competitive aspect of the City Nature Challenge, focusing on collaboration across the online community to document biodiversity. From April 24 to April 27, the event was able to engage more communities than ever before, as 244 cities from 40 countries collectively documented 32,600 species. This year’s challenge was a unique demonstration of a museum’s ability to unify the public even while isolated in a pandemic.

The Evolution of Whiteside

A massive skull replica of Sarcosuchus, one of many new additions to the Whiteside Museum of Natural History. Source

The Whiteside Museum of Natural History, a Texas institution much younger than the museums covered so far, also shut down for an enormous duration earlier this year. However, the WMNH’s employees utilized two months of its shutdown to vastly improve their exhibits, offering returning visitors a new and unique experience.

One of the major projects during the museum’s shutdown was the development of a new exhibit, the Science of Skulls. Displaying around 55 skulls, including extant and extinct taxa, the exhibit shows off the huge diversity in animal skull form and function. In particular, the new displays feature a replica of a Sarcosuchus imperator skull, displayed alongside crocodilian skulls that seem tiny in comparison.

Having reopened on June 2, the Whiteside Museum’s incredible renovation during its extended closure is a great example of improvement during extremely difficult times. The COVID-19 pandemic’s closure of museums was an ultimate test of their roles as public educators, and, across the globe, many institutions passed. Providing engaging virtual experiences and creating improved in-person exhibits, many museums were able to evolve in increasingly deadly situations.

References

American Alliance of Museums. (2020, July 22). A Snapshot of US Museums’ Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. American Alliance of Museums. https://www.aam-us.org/2020/07/22/a-snapshot-of-us-museums-response-to-the-covid-19-pandemic/

Boston Museum of Science. (n.d.). Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update. Museum of Science. https://www.mos.org/coronavirus

Bowman, E. L. (2018, November 7). ‘Outbreak’ exhibition connects world in fight against disease. ShareAmerica. https://share.america.gov/outbreak-connects-world-in-fight-against-disease/

City Nature Challenge. (n.d.). Frequently Asked Questions relating to COVID-19. City Nature Challenge 2020. https://citynaturechallenge.org/covid19/

Field Museum of Natural History. (2020, July 9). Field Museum reopening July 17; tickets on sale now [Press release]. https://www.fieldmuseum.org/about/press/field-museum-reopening-july-17-tickets-sale-now

Gary, A. (2020, July 2). Burpee Looks to Roar Back After Shutdown. Rockford Register Star. https://www.rrstar.com/news/20200702/burpee-looks-to-roar-back-after-shutdown

Garza, J. (2020, June 2). Whiteside Museum Of Natural History reopens to public with new expansion. Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. https://www.texomashomepage.com/news/local-news/whiteside-museum-of-natural-history-reopens-to-public-with-new-expansion/

Jackson, C. (2020, July 27). Whiteside Museum gets complete overhaul after being shut down for months. Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. https://www.texomashomepage.com/news/local-news/whiteside-museum-gets-complete-overhaul-after-being-shut-down-for-months/

John G. Shedd Aquarium. (2020, July 8). Famous Shedd Aquarium Penguin “Field” Trips Continue [Press release]. https://www.sheddaquarium.org/about-shedd/press-releases/famous-shedd-aquarium-penguin-field-trips-continue

Natural History Museum, London. (2020, May 26). Natural History Museum Launches 3D Virtual Tour Technology [Press release]. https://www.nhm.ac.uk/press-office/press-releases/natural-history-museum-launches-3d-virtual-tour-technology/natural-history-museum-launches-3d-virtual-tour-technology.html

O’Neill, J. (2020, March 31). The Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s #MuseumFromHome Strategy: Funny TikToks. American Alliance of Museums. https://www.aam-us.org/2020/03/31/the-carnegie-museum-of-natural-historys-museumfromhome-strategy-funny-tiktoks/

Sholts, S. (2020, February 26). How Museums Can Help the Public Make Sense of Pandemics. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/how-museums-can-help-public-make-sense-pandemics-180974281/

Susa, M. (2020, June 25). It’s a reopening weekend for many museums. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. https://www.post-gazette.com/ae/art-architecture/2020/06/25/Museums-reopening-green-phase-exhibitions-art-Carnegie/stories/202006180111

Damn.

The media launch for the Tyrannosaurus specimen SUE just happened at the Field Museum, and for those of us that weren’t able to attend the launch(which is probably most people), Phil Hore has provided some great looks into the finished(?) exhibit. And… damn. This exhibit is a work of art.
I’m not going to touch too much on these details, as I should be going to visit FMNH PR 2081 sometime in the following weeks. But anyway, there’s a series of splendid video screens set up showing Hell Creek as it was in the latest Maastrichtian, a genius light show featuring the specimen itself, and some shadow displays.

Sue animation panels from Phil
Multiple video screens form one single story from the right perspective. Source

Triceratops SUE from Phil
A Triceratops skull, once set among the other ceratopsians in Evolving Planet, peers out. Source

Screenshot (91)
A light show creates animated shadows on the wall and even highlights specific bones on the mount. Source

And even without all the fancy lighting, the mount looks beautiful in the completed exhibit.

SUE August-December
The space around Sue has changed dramatically in just four months. Photo on the left by author, and photo on the right by Hore.