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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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
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
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.
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.
And even without all the fancy lighting, the mount looks beautiful in the completed exhibit.
Antarctic Dinosaurs has been open at the Field Museum for some time now, but I’ve only just visited it in the last few weeks. This was absolutely one of the best traveling exhibits I’ve ever seen. Two visits haven’t been nearly enough for me to admire this exhibit in full. It will be at the Field Museum until early January of 2019, so, there’s plenty of time to run on over to Chicago and experience this excellent exhibit.
Antarctic Dinosaurs is split into six sections, dubbed: “Arrival to Antarctica”, “The Origin of Antarctica”, “Fossil Hunting in Antarctica”, “A World of Antarctic Dinosaurs”, “A Transformed Antarctica”, and “Lessons from Antarctica”. As many of the section titles indicate, there is a particular focus on the actual work that experts do in the field and in the lab. This type of focus on the people behind the specimens is always a very good addition to any paleontological exhibit, and Antarctic Dinosaurs is to be commended greatly for this. On almost all signage in the exhibit, there’s a clear format, with one side holding the normal text info, but with the other side in almost a comic book format, and many times including appearances by Pete Makovicky and Nate Smith, as seen below. But, without further ado, let’s arrive in Antarctica.
Arrival to Antarctica is mainly about how people have explored Antarctica, and how exploration methods and technologies have changed from the time of Captain Robert Scott’s doomed exploration, to the modern day.
Turning to the right of that map of Antarctica, there’s a video projected on the wall, almost as a sort of “orientation” video introducing the Antarctic explorations of Scott to the visitors. Of course, it’s rather useless, since most visitors just walk right past it, especially since there’s no place to sit near the video(visitors love places to sit). Right next to this projection is a small display case, showcasing some of the first fossils collected and recorded from Antarctica.
This display case is full of fossils collected on the Swedish Antarctic Expedition(1901-1904) by Frank Stokes, an American artist specializing in Arctic/Antarctic art. These include ammonites(Harnites, Olcostephanus, and Haploceras), bivalves(Lucina), and crustaceans(Glyphaea). These fossils were donated to the University of Chicago’s Walker Museum. After several decades, the fossils found their way to the Field Museum. There’s also a vivid description of the expedition, written by Stokes himself, available online to read. To the side of this display, there’s a large timeline of the history of exploration in Antarctica, starting with the earliest explorations of Antarctica, like the Swedish Expedition, and ending with the expeditions of Bill Hammer and Makovicky. The literal centerpiece of this section sits appropriately at the middle, between two huge photo murals of recent FMNH expeditions to Antarctica.
This central display moves away from fossils, and deals with equipment and artifacts from Scott’s doomed Terra Nova expedition. The largest object on display is an original sledge from the expedition. These sledges, judging from documents of the expedition, were used to haul pretty much anything that could fit. On the other side of the display, shoes, pants, coats, medals, and even pony snowshoes are displayed.
The next display, naturally, is about modern gear used in Antarctic expeditions. This display features most prominently a full set of ECW(Extreme Cold Weather) gear on a mannequin, with each part labeled on a nearby diagram. Every person on an Antarctic exploration in the US Antarctic Program is issued a set of ECW gear. Right next to the ECWs, there’s a simulated plane interior, with a full set of red netted seats.
The next display, right next to the exit of the area, goes back to focus on Scott’s expeditions. It showcases 5 fossils collected on the expedition, including the famous Glossopteris fossils that helped inspire Alfred Wegener’s concept of continental drift. All of these fossils are on loan from the Natural History Museum in London.
The other fossils in this display case include some other plant remains and a piece of carbonized sandstone. All three of these fossils were all found left behind by the dead explorers of Scott’s expedition. They had kept them until death because they were thought to be too valuable to be left behind, even when they weighed the explorers down. The only Scott expedition fossil on display that was brought back by surviving members of the expedition is a carbonized stem.
“Origins of Antarctica” is where the exhibit begins to really get into the paleontology of Antarctica, starting in the Late Permian to Late Triassic. In this section, the lighting takes on a completely different tone, with aurora australis trailing along the walls. The first display standing abruptly at the doorway is a model of Glossopteris indica.
Glossopteris, standing in front of a mural, is a striking sight. Besides serving its obvious educational purpose, it also serves an aesthetic purpose, adding a taste of habitat immersion into the exhibit. Right next to Glossopteris sits some more…Glossopteris. This next display case is all about continental drift, showing some of the most influential taxa, comparing the Antarctic examples to their African counterparts.
6 fossils of four organisms are displayed here: Glossopteris browniana(South Africa), Glossopteris sp.(Antarctica), Lystrosaurus maccaigi, and Thrinaxodon liorhinus. The Antarctic fossils are all casts with the exception of Glossopteris sp., on loan from the University of Kansas. The South African fossils are all, as is expected, originals, due to the great South African fossil collections FMNH has. These fossils are accompanied by great artwork(don’t know the artist, help me out). While this display doesn’t convey the idea of continental drift all that well on its lonesome, it’s accompanied by a more interactive display.
Building on from the previous display, this next one encourages visitors to use the occurrences of various taxa across the world to piece together Pangaea. It also introduces Cynognathus, Procolophon, and Prolacerta as three new animals in the story of continental drift. Lines are drawn connecting the occurrences of each taxon across the Gondwanan continents, which makes it pretty easy for visitors, in the words of the exhibit, to “piece together the world”. On the other side of the room, the exhibit focuses on plants once more.
This display, aptly titled “Seeing the Forest for the Trees”, is about how taking these fragments of trees, and reconstructing the environment and climate of Early Triassic Antarctica. This display is clearly not meant to be a very interesting one by itself, as nothing accompanies the fossils other than some informative text on a sign. However, as is the case with the two displays on the other side of the room, a much more interesting display about the Middle Triassic is paired with this one.
This display on Gordon Valley offers a literal view into the environment of Triassic Antarctica, and a look at the stark contrast between modern and Triassic times. The signage here describes the situation in both areas. While snow and rock is all that covers modern Gordon Valley, lush vegetation and streams abound in the Triassic. And while researchers chip away at rock and excavate fossils, a much more different tetrapod lies on the opposite side.
The 2-metre long answer to the identity of the tetrapod is sprawled out in a similar pose, at the center of the exhibit.
Antarctosuchus is the centerpiece of this gallery, and is also prone to humans wrangling it, as clearly observed in the individual known as Phil Hore here. In the case of this model, lighting plays a great part, augmenting the presence of the giant amphibian. The terrain it lies on is also very impressive, and a very good example of habitat immersion. One thing that was especially surprising during my visit was the fact that not a single child tried to touch it despite it being exposed with no barriers of any kind. The world truly is a weird place…
Just behind the sculpture of Antarctosuchus sits Antarctosuchus itself. The partial holotype skull is on loan from AMNH. The type skull by itself is already a striking display, but a more optimal situation would be to have the teeth displayed alongside it. After all, the dental pattern and morphology is one of the main distinctive features of Antarctosuchus. Not much information is given on this Antarctosuchus display, since all the information was squeezed out by the signage near the sculpture. Next to the type specimen of Antarctosuchus sits the type skull of an even larger temnospondyl.
The much larger sterospondyl Kryostega is represented by an ironically smaller fossil. This, like Antarctosuchus, is also a type specimen on loan from AMNH. Accordingly, since Antarctosuchus‘ spotlight is in a different display, the spotlight has moved to Kryostega here, with one of those comic book-like illustrations. In the panels, as Makovicky contemplates Kryostega‘s life behavior, a Kryostega murders a fish, while what seems to be an Antarctosuchus swims in the background, and a dicynodont appears to scream.
Other than another projection onto the wall of continental drift(which, again, nobody stopped to look at), that is the last display of this section. Through another yellow portal thing, the exhibit finally moves into what everybody’s been waiting for: dinosaurs.
This section, “Fossil Hunting in Antarctica”, is exactly what it sounds like. After the previous section, the exhibit focuses on the actual work of researchers once more. Across from a long seating area(never was there a time when the seats weren’t filled), four simulations of Antarctic strata stand, each symbolizing a step of the fossil excavation process. Each of these walls has a video projected on it showing the respective step, playing in order. (The videos playing are also the only time the walls get bright enough to take a photo.) These four sections are, from the entrance to the exit: Getting to the Site, Spot the Fossils, Get Out the Fossil, and another one that I might’ve forgotten the name of. Each of these walls has signage hidden among them, as well as dinosaur fossil casts(finally, dinosaurs). Naturally, as everybody is sitting across the room, nobody actually goes to look at these(it’s a pain trying to take photos of the casts while trying not to block the sitters). Near the exit, there’s are two displays on preparation tables. One is a touchable original fossil block from Antarctica, once again training visitors to spot fossils in a mound of matrix. The other display is far more interactive. That’s because it’s an air scribe, and air scribes are fun.
Grab the air scribe, and it’ll immediately start buzzing away. It’s not much of an educational activity, but it’s enough for me to stand there for five minutes holding the scribe. It was surprising to see that almost nobody actually took notice of this display. My suspicion is that they thought it was just another untouchable model, which some bigger signage might’ve solved. And after this last display, visitors go through a big yellow portal once more. This next section is actually what everybody’s been waiting for.
“A World of Antarctic Dinosaurs” starts with the star of the show: Cryolophosaurus. A reconstructed skeletal mount stands in the center of this first area, creating a cul-de-sac around which original specimens of Cryolophosaurus are displayed. This skeletal mount is a completely new reconstruction, very different from the Ultimate Dinosaurs reconstruction, which was the latest skeletal mount of Cryolophosaurus until now.
Striding across the room, this mount shows off the large size of Cryolophosaurus, and a gracefulness not seen in other, more allosaur-esque reconstructions. This mount is the first skeletal mount that fully embraces the dilophosaur side of Cryolophosaurus, with a dilophosaurid scapula, a premaxillary notch, four fingers, and longer cervicals. A good amount of this mount is also made up of non-inferred material, possibly from the undescribed paratype revealed in the 2017 SVP abstracts. The signage circling this mount also makes a good deal of emphasis on the reconstruction process, showing a rigorous skeletal. The skeleton is labeled according to the years in which each specimen used was discovered, and all missing parts are stated to be inferred from Dilophosaurus. This is the most accurate Cryolophosaurus skeletal mount out there(although the allosaur-esque reconstruction still hasn’t died, as evidenced by that new one Ohio State just unveiled). Onto the bits and pieces all around the mount.
The most significant fossil displayed around the mount is, obviously, the original type skull. While an identical cast replica is on display upstairs in Evolving Planet, the different lighting regime, and the upraised Styrofoam block holding it up make a significant difference in the feel of this specimen. First, it feels more like an actual skull now that it’s in a more vertical position, and second, details are much more distinguishable when the display area doesn’t have a lighting color nearly identical to the color of the bone. The type skull is accompanied by a display nearby about the various crests of early theropods(Dracovenator and Sinosaurus get surprising mentions here). An isolated braincase is also on display. Both of these skull fossils are illustrated on a rigorous skeletal of the skull, shown on the signage below. The braincase in particular connects to the next display, of the brain’s features. A rotatable digital model created from a CT scan is also present on a touchscreen.
There are three other displays of the Cryolophosaurus specimens around the area, each one focusing on a different part of the body. One display is all about the limbs, another about the pubis, and one about the verts. The left femur is one of the most significant finds, considering how complete and well-preserved it is, as well as being the first bone found. The pubis, on the other hand, is also remarkably complete, and is used by the exhibit to show the basal status of Cryolophosaurus. The vertebrae are used to show a variety of topics, including phylogeny and growth. The single cervical vert is used by a nearby display on pleurocoels, as a touchable cast. Moving away from the fossils, the exhibit once again delves into the world of habitat immersion.
The habitat immersion here becomes pretty good, and the models have pretty good accuracy. The Cryolophosaurus doesn’t have broken wrists, it has filaments, and the proportions are all accurate. However, it also lacks lips, which isn’t a huge issue, but it still takes down the accuracy a bit. And even then, a lipless Cryolophosaurus is still acceptable, even if it’s not what’s most preferred. The visible antorbital fenestra might be indicative of shrinkwrapping, although I’m not 100% sure on that. However, even with a pretty accurate model, it just doesn’t feel all that appealing as a model. It doesn’t feel like it could pose as a living animal. Or maybe I’m just seeing things. It’s all subjective, after all. Near the foot of the Cryolophosaurus, there are some teeth in a glass case.
These isolated teeth are claimed to be those of juvenile Cryolophosaurus by the exhibit, and according to the signage, this isn’t a dubious referral. Besides the matching morphology, the microscopic structure also matches that of the older Cryolophosaurus. These shed teeth were discovered at the same place as the Cryolophosaurus type, indicating that the owner of the teeth was feeding on it. In the mural behind, a homage to these teeth is shown in the form of a juvenile Cryolophosaurus scavenging on an an adult’s carcass. On the other side of the habitat hall, a group of sauropodomorphs browse.
This exhibit here introduces an (as of yet) undescribed sauropodomorph(referred to as “Sauropodomorph A”) to visitors. Three models in different poses accompany a mural illustrating a large herd of these small sauropodomorphs. I’m sure that these models are incredibly accurate, and, subjectively, they look much more like living animals than the Cryolophosaurus. This sauropodomorph, nicknamed the “Jolly Roger”, was discovered in 2010 by its namesake, Roger Smith, and is one of the two undescribed sauropodomorphs on display in “Antarctic Dinosaurs”. As for the signage, kudos to the exhibit for not using the term “prosauropod”. Like Cryolophosaurus on the other side of the room, another small display case sits near these sauropodomorphs.
This small display goes into the non-dinosaurs of the Hanson Formation. One of them is an isolated humerus of a pterosaur(most likely something akin to Dimorphodon) and the other is an isolated tritylodont synapsid molar. These are the only fossils of a pterosaur or synapsid discovered from the formation, accompanied by some…slightly less optimal artwork. Meanwhile, the display of sauropodomorph models serves as a prelude to the next display.
This display focuses on the fossil remains of the “Jolly Roger”, including a 3D printed skeletal reconstruction. It actually progresses in the stages of making the skeleton. Even in the immersion part of the exhibit, it still manages to emphasize the work behind the exhibit. There are three stages focused on in this display, going from the actual fossils themselves to the full skeletal mount. The first stage consists of a display case housing numerous blocks of sauropodomorph A remains, including a beautiful skull.
Along with an amazing skull, several other elements of the “Jolly Roger” are on display. One particularly large block includes limbs, ribs, dorsal vertebrae, and caudal vertebrae. A rigorous skeletal also accompanies the fossils, along with the statement that the “Jolly Roger” is in fact most closely related to the South African Ignavusaurus. The next stage, like the Cryolophosaurus display from before, is also about the digital stage. It involves a touchscreen with a rotatable digital model(created with a CT scan) of one large block. However, this time, visitors are able to distinguish the various skeletal elements encased in the block. And lastly, there’s the skeletal mount.
As the sauropodomorph is undescribed, there’s no way to actually determine if the proportions are correct. The mount also has gastralia, which is a plus. When looking at the skeleton, this sauropodomorph actually has rather weird proportions. The tail looks a bit shorter than one would expect, and the legs are also especially short(then again, according to the exhibit, this thing would have been occasionally quadrupedal). The signage here mainly dumps a huge amount of information about digital modeling into visitors’ brains. The next display focuses on sauropodomorphs once more, including a much more massive massospondylid.
A second undescribed sauropodomorph is introduced here(the green one in the photo above), referred to as Sauropodomorph B. This sauropodomorph also has a nickname: “Spence”. “Spence” is slightly longer than the “Jolly Roger”, although both are roughly the same height. Sauropodomorph B is actually most closely related to Leonerasaurus, hence its stockiness compared to Sauropodomorph A. Sauropodomorph B is much less complete, consisting only of the area around the hips, which are displayed in a nearby display case.
The signage here states that Sauropodomorph B is clearly a new species, due to these hips, verts, and limbs parts having especially distinctive features. Another question that’s also touched on is whether or not “Spence” is actually just a young Glacialisaurus. It’s refuted, noting that the bones are fused, showing the animal was fully grown. Some may wonder why that question is touched on randomly, but it makes sense in the museum context. I still remember the Tyrannosaurs: Meet the Family exhibit just a couple months ago, where everybody thought Dilong paradoxus was a baby Tyrannosaurus. Obviously, by now you’ve noticed the huge brown sauropodomorph right next to the green plaque mount of Sauropodomorph B.
On the plaque mount, casts of the limb bones of Glacialisaurus are mounted in their life positions, as the near 2-D sculpture towers over Sauropodomorph B. The holotype specimen of Glacialisaurus is displayed in the same nearby case as Sauropodomorph B’s only remains, including the relatively famous type foot. A partial femur, tibia, and shin bone are also on display. As with Sauropodomorphs A and B, the closest relative of Glacialisaurus, Lufengosaurus, is also shown. This is the last big display of non-avian dinosaurs. The end to this section is a display about the day and night of Antarctica.
This display, a rather small stand with a rotatable sun-earth model, uses Earth’s tilt to illustrate the extreme light patterns of Antarctica, both in the Early Jurassic, and all the way to now. Fittingly, this display is also in a rather dark area. As it turns out, this looks rather like an arcade game for kids, so it’s hard to even take a photo when they crowd around this thing. And with that, the Early Jurassic is done. Through a yellow portal once again, the Cretaceous begins.
“A Transformed Antarctica” has a humble start, with just a small display of Cretaceous dinosaurs. Even here, they still manage to give a good amount of information on the work behind the scenes. This display is mainly about how researchers take small indeterminate specimens and are able to determine the group it belongs to. There’s a hadrosaur tooth, a titanosaur caudal, and a foot from a small coelurosaur. For each specimen, distinguishing features are noted in the form of another comic book-like conversation between Makovicky and Eric Gorscak. After this display, the exhibit focuses on the environment once more, in the form of one more projection on the wall of the chilling of Antarctica’s environment. Once again, pretty much nobody stops to watch. Right next to the projection, the exhibit dives into the Cretaceous seas.
A modest-looking case of fish, ammonites, and shells serves as an insight into the smaller fauna of marine Cretaceous Antarctica. Not much especially interesting specimens are on display, but this, in fact, is only a set-up for the star of the section.
A cast of Taniwhasaurus antarcticus swims across the section, almost looking as if it was lunging at prey. This particular cast is based off of the 23 foot long specimen IAA 2000-JR-FSM-1 at the Argentine Antarctic Institute. This certainly isn’t the largest mosasaur out there, but in a small space such as this one, it makes an imposing sight. (Confusingly, on the prospectus for the exhibit, this display was symbolized by a Rhomaleosaurus skeleton.) The skeleton is almost perfectly posed with the mural behind it, and the dynamic pose makes it feel like this could actually be a real animal swimming through the sea. This is the last of the Mesozoic displays.
Putting aside the headless brontosaur figure that a kid must have placed on the next display(I’m questioning the kid’s sanity since the head is gone), this next display moves on to the Cenozoic, around the late Eocene. This is the time when Antarctica began to freeze.
A vision of life in Antarctica before the freeze is given in the form of six fish fossils, including the spine of a chimaera, and a cow shark tooth. These fossils were all collected on Seymour Island, and all have been dated to the Late Eocene. A great diversity of fish are shown here, but the only non-fish here is a sign of the impending disappearance of organisms. A single penguin tarsometatarsus is a sign of the changing fauna once Antarctica freezes over. This specimen, on loan from the Jackson School Museum of Earth History, shows the stubbiness of the bone that makes penguins have their waddle. Oh, right, there’s also an emperor penguin standing nearby.
From this point, the exhibit no longer has a strict focus on prehistory. The next, and last section focuses on the present and the future.
“Lessons from Antarctica” focuses on how researchers of all specialties and all nationalities can go to Antarctica to better understand the continent. It’s split into five small displays: meteorites, fossil pollen, an ice core, ice shelves, and lichens. In the meteorite section, a fragment of pallasite(a rare type of stone meteorites) found in 1961 is on display. In the fossil pollen section, it’s exactly what you would expect: fossil pollen. But the ice core is an especially interesting display.
Ice cores are simply large samples from big ice sheets that give a look into the history of the sheet, and how the environment around it has changed over time. The ice core on display in “Antarctic Dinosaurs” is only a replica, but has those distinctive bands acting as symbols of environmental changes. The next display, about glaciers and ice shelves, is just a large sign, without any actual display items. And the last display, about lichens, includes lichens using black discs as sunblock, and a lichen growing on substrates. All of these small displays circle around a single projection in the middle of the room.
In the very center, a constant projection of a map of Antarctica glows. This is a symbol of all the nationalities present in Antarctica, doing research. It’s very much a symbol for the future of Antarctic science. Antarctica is a continent for the entire world. That’s the closing message of “Antarctic Dinosaurs”.
This is a big time for the Field Museum. The museum is celebrating its 125th anniversary. Máximo the Patagotitan has taken center stage in Stanley Field Hall, accompanied by Quetzalcoatlus, Pteranodon, and Rhamphorhynchus. Antarctic Dinosaurs, one of the best special exhibits I have ever seen, has opened(be on the lookout for another blog post on the exhibit in the near future). Sue has been remounted, and is getting an entirely new exhibit built for her. And the entrance to Evolving Planet has also been remade. And yet, during my first visit to FMNH this year, only one of those things was an objective of my visit. That’s because I was actually there to visit Christopher McGarrity and Adrienne Stroup, who both showed me around the geology collections. But since collections aren’t too much of our focus here, I’ll just show some of the highlights.
The first specimen I saw was the arm of Stylinodon, lying out on a table. I was actually told that some decades ago, a cast of the arm was desired to be a backscratcher, which would have been rather effective. On my second visit to FMNH, which was less than a week from the first, this specimen was on display in the Grainger Science Hub, where specimens from the Collections are temporarily exhibited.
One of the most notable specimens in the mammal collections is the holotype skull of Thylacosmilus. This, along with the Stylinodon arm, was also displayed in the Grainger Science Hub during my second visit. The left saber in the skull of Thylacosmilus is actually a replica, since the left saber hadn’t been discovered when the majority of the skull was unearthed. But in a stroke of luck, the Captain Marshall Field Expeditions actually discovered the left saber belonging to that specimen, down a hill. Right above the Thylacosmilus, another very important mammal was hiding in a shelf.
This specimen of Morganucodon is officially “on loan” from the Catholic University of Peking. Since CUP doesn’t really exist anymore, it’s now “permanently on loan”. The type of Morganucodon oehleri is part of a cache of fossils actually smuggled out from the Catholic University of Peking. H.W. Rigney, the describer of M. oehleri, dispatched an envoy in 1948 to Lufeng, forming a huge collection of fossils. However, this collection was smuggled out of China, distributed to foreign scholars, and now resides at FMNH. Next, dinosaurs. Specifically, dinosaurs in the mammal collections.
The day I visited, there was a plethora of Cryolophosaurus verts and ribs lying out in the mammal collections. They all had that very distinct color that comes from Hanson Formation fossils, and were lying along side some other Hanson fossils, including a fibula from the undescribed sauropodomorph, one of the Jolly Rogers. But besides these Antarctic fossils, there were no other dinosaur fossils in the mammal collections, logically. The dinosaur collections are underground, in the Collections Resource Center. And as you would expect, it is full of holotypes.
The holotype of Siats, while far from eye-candy, still manages to impress, simply because of how large some of the bones are.
The size of some of the verts is almost shocking. Siats‘ reputation as a huge megaraptoran superpredator is well-earned. But there’s a far larger apex in the dinosaur collections.
There are quite a few pieces of Sue around collections. The caudal vert above is one of them. The reason it’s not on the mount is because of the fact that it’s a fused bone, and to mount it, FMNH would have to go full-on 20th century style, and drill through the bone. So, a cast is on the mount instead. There’s also a much smaller tyrannosaur in Collections, of which has much more in Collections than Sue.
“Elmer”, a juvenile Gorgosaurus that Elmer Riggs had discovered, also resides in Collections. Temporarily on display last year in the Field Museum’s Specimens exhibit, this is a magnificent specimen, especially with that excellently-preserved foot. But so far, I’ve only shown you the smaller bones. There are far bigger fossils here.
Behind Sue, the Field Museum’s most famous specimen may just be the holotype of Brachiosaurus. While only the humerus and multiple other verts are on display in Evolving Planet, much more of the holotype is here on this shelf. The femur actually looks a bit like a toy car with those wheels strapped to the wooden planks holding the bone and plaster jacket up, which I guess is conventional for moving the huge bone around.
Thalattoarchon is an interesting ichthyosaur, but the holotype isn’t great. It took longer than I would like to admit for me to realize that the skull is the skull, since it’s divided into three pieces by foam slips. However, there’s a ton of info piled around the holotype for some reason, making quite a big deal out of it. However, there’s an ichthyosaur specimen in FMNH that I was much more interested in.
The Cymbospondylus skull is, by far, the most fun ichthyosaur specimen in there. That’s simply because it’s either really concerned, or angrily disapproving of something. Obviously, it wouldn’t have that angry looking brow in real life, but taphonomy can be amazing sometimes. Slightly farther away, under a shelf, it’s the basal pareiasaur, Bradysaurus.
Not much comments here, other than the fact that the legs that aren’t under the shelf are the hindlimbs, not the forelimbs. So, if it looks headless, it’s actually tailless.
FMNH is home to the holotype of Parasaurolophus cyrtocristatus. While most of the holotype is mounted in Evolving Planet, the skull remains in Collections, sort-of hidden in the back of a shelf. This makes it so that the only really distinguishable parts of the skull are the crest and the back of the skull. Now, there’s only one more type specimen I’m gonna show, and it’s of an avian dinosaur.
In the holotype of Andalgalornis, one of the most notable features is not the holotype itself, but the armature in the jaws. They’re internal armatures, meaning they’ve essentially been drilled through, causing permanent damage(although this was the norm in the mid-1900s). Now, that’s all I’m going to cover in Collections. Let’s move on to the fossil hall stuff. After the dinosaur collections, I was led into Sue’s new exhibit, still under construction.
While pretty much all visitors are limited to seeing Sue from that tiny little window. I got to go into the little wooden box that they had built around her myself. It was extremely satisfying to walk past that little window as the crowd of people looking at Sue were puzzled by the sudden appearance of some seemingly random visitor. After going past a set of doors in what almost looked like a huge Ziploc bag, I entered Sue’s little wooden box.
In this small space, Sue is absolutely massive. And with that dramatic lighting in the wooden box, it creates an incredibly surreal experience upon entering that room. Without all those people crowding around her, and in almost-perfect silence, an imposing presence radiates out from Sue.
While it is still clear that this pose is quite similar to the old Sue in Stanley Field Hall, it has a completely different air about it. Maybe it’s the jaws, now open wider. Maybe it’s just the lighting. Maybe it’s the fixed leg. Whatever it is, I have a feeling that this Sue experience is going to be completely different from the one in Stanley Field Hall.
In her new exhibit, habitat immersion is definitely going to be put in use, fully contextualizing Sue in her 66-million year old environment. This one exhibit will recreate Hell Creek, and in center stage, the most complete Tyrannosaurus specimen ever discovered, FMNH PR 2081.
Well, guess it’s time to cover more of “Deep Time”. In this post, mounts shown on the website, video, and on social media will be covered. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the skeletal mounts of NMNH.
Naturally, the main attraction of the fossil hall will be the T. rex display. This mount is probably the most publicized display in “Deep Time” out there. It’s a spectacular mount, portraying the Nation’s T. rex(the original specimen of what used to be dubbed “Wankel Rex”) attempting to decapitate a cast of the Smithsonian’s staple Triceratops, “Hatcher”. There is no doubt that this display will be incredibly accurate. Research Casting International is at the top of their field. You can even see a scar of battle on “Hatcher”, on its left horn, where the tip is broken off. From another view, the ribs of Hatcher are slightly cracked from the foot of Tyrannosaurus One great thing about the mount of “Wankel” is that reconstructed portions(excluding the cast skull) are clearly marked out, showing visitors that complete skeletons aren’t as common as older museum exhibits would cause them to believe. For me, this is probably going to be the most spectacular mount of a real Tyrannosaurus specimen in the world.
Megaloceros is one of the NMNH’s oldest fossil mounts, having been put on display in the Smithsonian “castle” in 1872. All renditions of the mount so far have been in the standard, regal, pose that almost all Megaloceros mounts are in. Therefore, this sitting pose is a very nice change from orthodox. According to Extinct Monsters, the sitting pose was chosen because those huge antlers will now be brought down to near-eye level. This will probably offer a completely different perspective on the antlers of Megaloceros, and emphasize the extravagance and huge size of them. Next, one of my favorite mounts of Deep Time.
The Smithsonian’s new Smilodon mount has got to be one of the most dynamic and unique mammal mounts in the hall. Looking at concept art, it’s going to be in its own little glass display, and it’s going to be essentially lunging towards the visitor. The pose is also not just good for aesthetics, but also good for showing off those huge teeth better, since they’ll be much closer to the visitors. It almost feels like an accented version of the old mount of Smilodon, in which it was in a pose very much like this, but with a more upraised body, in a confrontation with a Paramylodon(which will not be returning).
The dismantling of the Smithsonian’s Diplodocus in 2014 marked the first time the entire mount was moved in 83 years. As of July 31st, the Diplodocus is under construction, with its head craning out(presumably hanging above the visitors), once again in normal diplodocid horizontal fashion(because Taylor et al. 2009 doesn’t exist). It really does look like a pretty normal Diplodocus mount, which is a bit disappointing, considering that so much other new mounts in Deep Time have dynamic poses. Oh, and there’s the little nitpick of not being able to take good photos of the entire mount without that giant cardboard-looking conifer in the way. In the background of the photo, you can see two displays completed already: the mastodon and the Xiphactinus. And so, let’s transition into those two displays a bit.
Unlike it seems in the first photo, the mastodon will not be displayed alone. Two (presumably human) hunters will be tossing spears at the giant proboscidean. A human hunting scene like this is a very nice addition to Deep Time, emphasizing one main topic of the exhibit: the impact of humans on this planet. That impact is very much reflected in this display. This new mount will be much more dynamic than the rather plain standing pose it’s assumed in previous incarnations of the fossil hall. Now, moving on to the fish.
The pose of the Xiphactinus in Deep Time is identical to its pose in the pre-2014 fossil halls for obvious reasons. This specimen has technically been off-display for much longer than other returning specimens, due to the August 2011 earthquake that closed the upper mezzanine, where Xiphactinus was displayed. In the new hall, it will be brought down much closer to ground level, displayed next to what presumably is Tylosaurus. In Ed Yong’s article for The Atlantic, which the photo of the Diplodocus is from, it’s also stated that the Eremotherium, the Smithsonian’s resident giant ground sloth, is also completed. Anyway, moving on to the NMNH’s other sauropod, Camarasaurus.
The new pose of the NMNH Camarasaurus is very unique and very dynamic. And it’s a huge improvement of the roadkill-type display it was in during the age of the pre-2014 fossil halls. This pose comes at a surprise, due to the Camarasaurus not being seen rearing up in the concept art of Deep Time. But it’s a very welcome surprise, because this will very much emphasize the size of Camarasaurus, in much contrast to the old display. But…that tree is just…really poorly done. It doesn’t even seem like they’re trying to do any convincing habitat immersion.
And so, we are done. Much new details on mounts are expected to trickle through in the next year, so be on the lookout for that.
“Earth’s distant past is connected to the present and informs our future.”
With that line, the countdown to the reopening of the National Fossil Hall began. Yesterday, coinciding with the arrival of the Nation’s T. rex returning to the National Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian launched a new version of the National Fossil Hall’s renovation, starring the mount of the Nation’s T. rex decapitating the Smithsonian’s Triceratops, “Hatcher”. It is a huge improvement from the old website, which essentially ceased any activity in November. There isn’t too much new information on the website’s text that hasn’t been released already, since the text given on the website is already pretty brief. The true gold mine of this is the video on the website. A ton of information, new and old, is given on this video. The website also has released photos of many new mounts and specimens that are going to be in the exhibit. For now, we’ll just cover the information given in text and speech. But there’s one very intriguing quote from both the video and the text on the website: “Deep Time starts at the very beginning-4.6-billion-years ago. But it ends in the future.” This makes it sound as if the exhibit starts with the earliest life, and moves forward in time. Now, to people who aren’t familiar with the information on Deep Time that has been released up until now, this may seem normal for an chronological exhibit, just like Evolving Planet at the Field Museum. However, in the past, the Smithsonian has repeatedly stated that Deep Time will be an exhibit that starts at the present day, and moves backward in time. There are three possibilities that come from this statement:
Deep Time will be an exhibit that has an entrance leading into displays about the beginning of life, and will progress forward in time, to the present.
Deep Time will have two entrances: one at the present-day, and one at the beginning of life.
The quote above is not referring to the exhibit itself, and instead is implying something symbolic about the exhibit. In this case, Deep Time will have an entrance at the present-day, and an exit at the beginning of life.
Of course, if we go in the direction of cases 1 and 2, it becomes even more complicated when in the video, they once again assert that the exhibit is going to start in the present, not the past. Anyway, onto the other parts of the video. For the first part of the video, there’s a moment when they continually fortify that Deep Time is going to be a very stunning exhibit, and that it’s going to be a spectacle of sorts. In that portion, Siobhan Starrs says that visitors are going to walk in, and look up at the T. rex. This indicates that the T. rex is going to be visible from the entrance of the exhibit, which we’ll assume is from the present day. This sort of contradicts the older concept art, in which the Cenozoic section curves in a way that would block the T. rex from view. In the second portion of the video, they begin actually discussing the hall itself. One notable detail mentioned is that there’s going to be multiple touchable original fossils in the exhibit. This is a good strategy to make visitors feel more involved, and to also please kids, but there’s a reason that most exhibits only include one or two touchable fossils. But, I suppose with a collection as large as the one of the Smithsonian, you can do that sort of stuff. One part that makes me sort of nervous is when they begin discussing feeling the textures of different bones, and they mention that the visitors are going to be able to touch the bone of a skull. Now, the image they show to correspond with this moment is a Centrosaurus skull. Maybe they just chose a random skull for that image, but the idea of an entire Centrosaurus skull being touchable sounds quite risky to me. One more positive detail they mention is that there’s going to be a lot of educators and volunteers in the fossil hall, and, from the concept art featured, it seems like these educator and volunteer stations are going to have a ton of resources, definitely more than those in educating stations at other museums. The final portion of the video discusses the Anthropocene displays that will be in the exhibit, basically rehashing details that have already been given before. Anyway, soon, it’s going to be time to look at the plethora of concept art given on the website.
Rough and probably inaccurate assumptions aside, it is extremely nice to see one of the (probably)most accurate Tyrannosaurus mounts. Looking back on these photos, however, it may just be me setting my expectations too high, but, it just feels a bit disappointing(don’t murder me). It feels to me that this mount still gives off the same vibe as the old mount. They did do everything they promised. They promised accuracy, they gave accuracy. They promised a walking pose, we got a walking pose. They promised a smaller room, we got a smaller room. They fulfilled everything that they said they would do perfectly. However…
…after this concept(albeit a probably inaccurate one) was released, maybe I just expected something more different from the original mount. You have a closed mouth and a more regal, upright pose for the neck in the concept art, and then you have an open mouth(hopefully not roaring) and a more horizontal neck for the actual mount. However, without context of that concept art, this mount is great. They’ve opened up Sue’s jaws, and the sheer size of Sue will be, without a doubt, emphasized in this new space. The mount is very imposing, and, even though the Sue exhibit will only be opening in 2019, the fast completion of the mount is still great. This is because of that peephole into the exhibit near the display on cetaceans. All the kids can now see Sue once more, and all those people who were complaining about not being able to see Sue until 2019 can now be satisfied. Let us welcome the newest addition to the plethora of Tyrannosaurus mounts, the new FMNH PR 2081.
The Facebook page of the National Dinosaur Museum(located in Canberra, Australia), has just released a nice little video tour of Evolving Planet that Phil Hore, one of the main people involved with the remounting of Sue, has recorded. So, here’s Sue, as of May 12, 2018.
Big cast mounts, a world tour, and rarely displayed dinos? This almost feels like Ultimate Dinosaurs(you know, that touring exhibit with a bunch of Gondwanan dinos). However, something else is featured here. Here, it’s all about everybody’s favorite dinosaurs, the tyrannosaurs. This exhibit premiered in the Australian Museum, which produced the exhibit, and went on a tour through New Zealand, Canada, and now, the USA. Now, there was quite a bit of relief throughout the exhibit for me. First, let’s go back to Ultimate Dinosaurs, which was at the SCI a few years back. I didn’t realize it then, but apparently the SCI was too small for the menagerie of mounts that the exhibit brought. So, a lot of unique mounts, such as Cryolophosaurus, Massospondylus, and Eoraptor weren’t exhibited. Thankfully, that’s not what happened here. Every mount planned for the exhibit is exhibited, other than an Alioramus that apparently never was displayed outside of Australia and New Zealand. Now, onto the actual exhibit.
Just like a few years back, in Ultimate Dinosaurs, an object from the exhibition is placed at the front entrance. For Tyrannosaurs: Meet the Family, it’s a one-sided model of a Tyrannosaurus head, featured in the above image. It does resemble a model that’s at the Australian Museum, which isn’t one-sided, and sometimes decides to devour John Pickrell. That makes sense, because the Australian Museum did produce Tyrannosaurs: Meet the Family. The actual exhibit starts further into the SCI near the atrium. In a rather box-looking structure, it’s a Guanlong diorama.
The best thing about Tyrannosaurs: Meet the Family is that almost all models of dinosaurs that had feathers are actually feathered. And the filament types are actually all generally right. There aren’t any over-the-top flight feathers or anything really extravagant on Guanlong, which is great. The background and diorama looks beautiful, and it actually feels like you could just step in, and be immersed in a dinosaurian world. This would probably be one of my favorite dinosaur models of all time, if it weren’t for one thing: the immensely pronated hands. Almost everything else is perfect, so, just, why?? Looking at the hands again, the hand now looks a lot like the foot. Now, let’s talk about signage.
Throughout the exhibit, there is a basic format of the name of the animal in big bold yellow letters, a size comparison next to a person(not really sure that’s necessary when you’re standing next to skeleton mounts), the time it existed, and some other info. The signage is well-placed, and is located so that you basically have to look at the signage when you get close to the display. There’s also utilization of touchscreens, which usually isn’t that helpful, but here, the screens teach stuff that the signs never could, and provokes visitors to find the distinctive features of each animal. However, the CGI models on the computer have worse pronated hands than the actual model. One thing that does feel a little weird is the little section of “Likes” and “Dislikes” on the sign. This seems to be focused on “millennials who are always glued to devices”, but it just feels weird. It is nice that they mention Yangchuanosaurus, if it weren’t for the fact that Guanlong and Yangchuanosaurus probably didn’t coexist. But, you know, they both lived in Middle/Late Jurassic China, so they must have coexisted. Anyway, the sign does mention feathers, which deserves applauding once again(although I would have preferred the use of the word “filaments”). Off to the side, in much smaller font, it describes the model itself, which is off an adult Guanlong, about 12 years of age, which is a level of detail rarely seen in exhibits with models and just museums in general. Moving on, into the atrium of the SCI, pretty much half(if not more) of the exhibit is displayed.
The first thing is a giant touchscreen with the phylogeny of the tyrannosaurs(at least a version of it). Oh, and there’s also some tyrannosaurs running amok(it’s actually just a lot of the same two CGI models). It’s in a video game style, where you have to identify the tyrannosaur(and apparently kill a bunch of crates). It’s actually just a version of the app game Tyrannosaurs: Meet the Family which released by the Australian Museum during this exhibit’s world premiere, and is currently only available in Australia. Now, this would be educational if not for one thing: little kids have no idea that this is supposed to teach them anything. So, the display is reduced to a bunch of elementary schoolers just swiping and tapping at the screen as hard as they can, and the screen being reduced to a pile of crates sitting everywhere. There’s also the other problem of the game not responding to touch half the time. Well, at least it’s an effort to teach phylogenetics to the general public. Luckily, there’s some signage nearby that explains it all, so people don’t have to kill a bunch of crates to get info. Onward, into the actual atrium. Now, there are four skeleton mounts. Let’s start with the smallest.
Believe it or not, peoples, this is not a baby T. rex, but a Dilong! In fact, it says it on the sign next to the mount! All you have to do is rotate your head a bit to the side and use your vision! All jokes aside, however, there are really a lot of adults who walked over to this mount, and told their kids that this was a baby T. rex. Anyway, it’s a Dilong mount, which is almost never seen in any museums. One reason for that is that the original Dilong fossils are all crushed(but beautifully preserved), and it’s not very easy to reconstruct a crushed skeleton, much less make a full skeleton mount. Now, some of you may be thinking, Where’s the third finger? Dilong had three fingers! If you look closely, you’ll see that the third finger is actually there, it’s just very oddly positioned, and is almost scrunched up against the second. Now, on the signage, the exhibit uses a different restoration of Dilong‘s skull than in the actual mount itself. This other restoration can be seen right here. This mount takes the more popular approach(although, there are certainly well backed-up other approaches) of reconstructing the flattened skull of Dilong after the coelurosaur Ornitholestes. Anyway, for the little “likes and dislikes” thing the exhibit’s got going on, the “like” of Dilong is “Hunting Birds, Mammals, and Lizards”. For “dislikes”, the quote is “Being Called Fluffy”. Now, the good thing here is that they actually clarify that the “feathers” of Dilong are protofeathers, or filaments(as I like to call them). It is stated that this is a cast, and says that this cast is in the collection of the Australian Museum. However, it does not say which specimen this cast is based off of. Now, when I went there, my first instinct was to lean on the sign and try to take a thousand photos of this thing. First, it’s probably one of the only times I’ll ever see a Dilong skeleton, and second, Wikipedia needed an actual good image of a Dilong skeleton mount. It was always infuriating when my camera focused on the skeleton mount behind the Dilong just milliseconds before it took the shot, producing several pictures of a blurry skeleton. Onto the next mount, the “gore king”.
First, Tyrannosaurs: Meet the Family must be applauded for including some very obscure genera in the exhibit(you’ll see more of what I mean later). Lythronax was probably chosen because of its status as the oldest known tyrannosaurid(and tyrannosaurine). It’s in a standard standing pose, yet the overall feel of the mount is still very active. Again, it’s a skeleton cast replica, just like all of the mounts in the exhibit. For some odd reason, the orbits(those little rings in the eye hole) are included in this mount, but don’t show up in the exhibit again until the final stretch or so. Of course, orbits are welcome on any mount, but here, if you look at the Lythronax from just the right angle, it becomes really derpy. One of the best things here is that even though this is a skeleton cast, the reconstructed portions of the skeleton(which is the majority) and the casts of the original bones of the type specimen can be easily distinguished. The bones that belonged to the type specimen of Lythronax are easily marked out by their much more rough look in contrast to other bones. This is especially significant in the pubic bones, which are kind of eroded at the edges. Now, looking at this mount, there is a sense of scale established between all four of these mounts. First, Lythronax looks smaller because of the size of the other tyrannosaurids featured here. It almost seems like the display is ascending in size…but that’s only if you start by looking at the Dilong mount. This Lythronax mount is also unique because it actually isn’t roaring and has an almost closed mouth for once. Now, almost every single tyrannosaur mount has either a open, roaring, mouth, or is attacking some unfortunate hadrosaur or ceratopsian(or sauropod). This is just a Lythronax casually looking to the side, living life normally. Onto signage. This sign actually goes into the finer details of Lythronax, like the specific distinctive features of the animal. (Also, in case you’re wondering, the “likes” and “dislikes” of Lythronax are “Being The Oldest Member Of My Family” and “Still Feeling Like T. Rex‘s Younger Sibling”, respectively.) One of the best things on this sign is that they actually say which parts are completely reconstructed, and which parts of the Lythronax skeleton are casts of the original Lythronax material. For me, I spent way too much time simply gazing and looking at all the bones and armature of this mount, until that field trip group showed up and started screaming, “LOOK, ITS A T.REX!” Now, onto Daspletosaurus.
When I first saw photos of this mount, I thought, Wait, that’s a Daspletosaurus skull? Really, that’s probably only because I’m most familiar with the FMNH Daspletosaurus, which has become the staple image of Daspletosaurus for me. Anyway, the mount is posed in one of many standard roaring poses, with this one being reminiscent of that T. rex roar in Jurassic Park. It also looks quite similar to the FMNH mount, but with open jaws instead. One thing to note is the presence of gastralia(which I’ll leave to others to decide if they’re placed correctly). Next to the Daspletosaurus are two tibiae from Daspletosaurus. They represent a juvenile and a “near-teen” Daspletosaurus, and are meant to show the growth rates of tyrannosaurs. Personally, I would have rather seen one of these displays, but next to the T. rex, as the growth rates of T. rex are far more dramatic than the growth rates of Daspletosaurus. However, the fact that they even touched on growth rates is good enough. Now, onto the sign. First, it seems that they made a little boo-boo. This mount is labeled as a cast of an original specimen mounted at the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center in Colorado. The thing is, the RMDRC’s website gives no mention of any Daspletosaurus mount, and if you do search up “daspletosaurus rocky mountain dinosaur resource center”, it does come up with a skeleton, but one that looks very different.
So, where is the original specimen. Well, we’ll get back to that on the next mount. Let’s look at the other parts of the signage for now. For “likes” and “dislikes”, they are “Ruling North America’s Food Chain”, and “Being Mistaken For Gorgosaurus“. The second one is a nice nod to the original status of Daspletosaurus, when Charles Sternberg assigned specimens from Alberta as a species of Gorgosaurus. Daspletosaurus wasn’t erected as a genus until 1970, when Dale Russel reassigned these specimens. The first one, however, isn’t really right. First, Daspletosaurus is known from two places, Alberta, and Montana. Montana has only yielded the much more recently erected species D. horneri, while the species this mount is from, D. torusus, is only known from Alberta. In fact, it coexisted with the much more common and similarly sized Gorgosaurus. Due to the fact that Gorgosaurus was so common and that it thrived in Alberta, D. torusus probably was not the ruler of North America. One cool thing about the original specimen(that this is a cast of), is that a tyrannosaur tooth(probably Gorgosaurus or another Daspletosaurus) was found embedded in this specimen’s hip, and a part of this specimen’s hip seems to have been “chomped out”(in the words of the sign). Onward we go, to the fourth(and last) mount, Albertosaurus.
My initial reaction at seeing this mount was, Holy crap Phil Currie was right. What I mean by that, is that Gorgosaurus and Albertosaurus are really different. Currie clams that there are as many differences between Gorgosaurus and Albertosaurus as there are differences between Daspletosaurus and Tyrannosaurus. The reason he says this is because there are quite a lot of researchers who do believe that Gorgosaurus is a species of Albertosaurus. However, looking at the skull shape of this Albertosaurus sarcophagus, it becomes clear that they are in fact very different animals. Now, the mount itself is obviously posed to emphasize the legginess of Albertosaurus, as that’s what basically is always used to define Albertosaurus. It’s definitely one of the most dynamic mounts of any tyrannosaurid. The mount, like the Daspletosaurus, includes gastralia, which seem a little more well-placed this time. Alright, let’s go back to the little mistake on the signage of Daspletosaurus. On the signage under the Albertosaurus, it states that the original specimen is owned by the Museum of World Treasures in Wichita, Kansas(yes, owned, the museum is a private organization). However, when you look at photos from the Museum of World Treasures, two tyrannosaurs show up: their Tyrannosaurus specimen(nicknamed “Ivan”), and a Daspletosaurus. Any albertosaurines? No.
Now, so, where is the original specimen of this Albertosaurus? Why, at the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center, of course!
Anyway, the “likes” and “dislikes” of Albertosaurus are “long-distance running” and “sharing name with a word used for ‘coffin'”. The second one is a nod to the specific epithet of A. sarcophagus, which simply means “flesh-eating”. The sign also refers to the famous fact that a large group of Albertosaurus was discovered in Alberta, implying, but not confirming, that tyrannosaurs gathered in packs. It also gives a rather negative(but subtle) criticism of Henry F. Osborn, noting that he studied skulls by “cutting skulls open with a saw”. Hey, you can’t criticize Osborn the giant bigot like that! Anyway, moving on. Let’s talk about the giant display of skulls.
Now, let’s talk about each skull here, starting from the left. This is actually a skull of one of the most under-represented tyrannosaurs in museums, Appalachiosaurus. Now, I took great delight in viewing this skull, as it’s not likely that I’ll ever embark on a trip to the McWane Science Center in Alabama, where a full skeleton is displayed(albeit with hilariously oversized arms). Now, Appalachiosaurus was that one tyrannosaur that people looked at, and said, “Hey, look, it’s a long-armed tyrannosaur for once.” Unfortunately for the McWane Science Center, Appalachiosaurus likely had short arms like its relatives. Appalachiosaurus is also the only non-tyrannosaurid tyrannosauroid skull on display in this space, as all the other skulls are of more derived tyrannosaurids. Here, the signs are mainly replaced with screens, which actually work better in this case, since they save space and can cover all the taxa represented here in one screen. However, the teeth of the visual of this Appalachiosaurus skull are unusually colored a shade of red, for some unknown reason. Anyway, the next skull is another cast of the Daspletosaurus mount already in the exhibit, which is kind of a waste, really. Why would you choose to display two of the exact same thing in the exhibit? Why not go for a different tyrannosaurine, such as Bistahieversor? Not only did they display the same object, but they literally kept the same open-mouthed roaring pose. It really is just a big lack of creativity. Anyway, moving on, we have the skull of Teratophoneus, another genus of tyrannosaur rarely displayed in museums. Teratophoneus looks really small next to the giant heads of the other tyrannosaurids, which makes sense, since Teratophoneus only reached about 20 feet in length. The signage here shows which parts of the skull are reconstructed, and which parts are casts of the original fossils of Teratophoneus. The one thing I must nag on is that they use that evolutionary term…what was it again? Oh, yeah, the term is “primitive”. Now, calling anything primitive in evolution is basically saying there’s some hierarchy in evolution, which isn’t true at all. Now, the next one is a giant skull, it’s narrow, and it’s not T. rex. So, what is it, kids?
This is a skull cast of Tarbosaurus, which was a first for me, although there are quite a few Tarbosaurus casts and original skeletons on display throughout the world. One of the good things about this display is that the variation of binocular vision can be easily seen throughout these groups. For example, Appalachiosaurus has almost no binocular vision, but Tarbosaurus, has very good binocular vision. This cast is of a specimen collected in Mongolia during the days of the Soviet Union, and is currently owned by the Paleontological Institute in Moscow. The signage addresses the “Tyrannosaurus bataar” debate, and seemingly puts it to rest, with the mention of the great difference in neural pathways of the skulls of both Tarbosaurus and Tyrannosaurus. Anyway, onward, to another redundant skull.
First, let me tell you a story. In the not-so-distant past of 2014, the Smithsonian fossil halls closed for renovation. There were three sloths on display: Eremotherium, Paramylodon, and another Eremotherium. One Eremotherium and Paramylodon will not be returning when the new fossil halls open, in 2019. This cut was made to reduce redundancy. People obviously criticized removing these original specimens. However, here, the exhibit has ascended to a new level of redundancy: displaying the exact same specimen two times. And doing this not just once, but twice. They could have simply replaced the Daspletosaurus skull, with, say, a Gorgosaurus, and replaced the Albertosaurus skull with that of Alioramus or Qianzhousaurus(both represent a truly unique branch of tyrannosaurs, the alioramins), but no. Also, they also made the same boo-boo they made on the signage of the Albertosaurus mount, labeling it as coming from the Museum of World Treasures. Let’s now talk about the display on the other side of the atrium.
Again, just like what happened with Guanlong, even though the models had feathers, they had immensely pronated hands. Also, the presence of pennaceous feathers on the arms of Dilong is a little erroneous, as Dilong probably only had primitive filaments. This display is called “Beware the Cousins!”, and is interesting, because Dilong is presented as a “cousin” of the tyrannosaurs, when actually it is more tyrannosaur-like than Guanlong, which is presented as a tyrannosaur. The models themselves don’t look as spectacular as the Guanlong display, but I imagine that they would look a lot cooler in the halls they were meant for. The signage here introduces coelurosauria, and a skeleton of a phylogeny relating tyrannosaurs to avians. However, the presence of the now-dubious genus Troodon is probably not the best, but that may just be a product of the fact that Tyrannosaurs: Meet the Family probably was produced before Troodon as a genus was name dubious. Now, going out of the atrium, and turning to the left, the exhibit continued. Remember that the atrium wasn’t the intended display space for Tyrannosaurs: Meet the Family, and the entire exhibit was intended to be in a single large gallery. Unfortunately, the SCI has nothing of the sort, so half of the exhibit is split.
First, it took a heck ton of time for me to get in this place. That was because a whole elementary school of kids chose to take a field trip to SCI. Luckily for me, they didn’t invade the atrium, so I was free to take photos(until 5 kids come over and start screaming like a group of 15 kids). Unluckily for me, half of the school chose to spend an hour inside the actual space intended to house the exhibit. So, first, I walked into the corridor leading to it, where yet another tyrannosaur phylogeny was hung. 5 kids ran out, and one of the teachers ran after them, yelling. So, I waited a while, and then finally went in the space. First, there is a timeline of the history of tyrannosaur discovery, with everybody’s favorite bigoted curator, Henry Fairfield Osborn. Anyway, I turned to the right, and the sound of kids screaming became increasingly deafening. I still got a faraway look at the mounted skeleton cast of a T. rex, which was a cast of the massive specimen nicknamed “Scotty”.
First, it was exceptionally dark, so not really that optimal. Second, at first, for some reason I didn’t know at that point, there were a thousand kids sitting in front of the T. rex. Then, they started screaming and running around. This was because the exhibit chose to animate the shadow of the skeleton, making it look like the skeleton had a living shadow. Once all the kids left(finally), I could finally get closer to the skeleton. This mount felt really big in this exhibit. In fact, it felt quite a bit bigger than the dismantled mount of “Sue”. This is due to how this mount is displayed. The Tyrannosaurus is stretched to its full height here, and the space here is a lot less than the giant main hall of FMNH that “Sue” was displayed in. I suppose another reason that this mount feels larger is that it’s a cast of the Tyrannosaurus specimen “Scotty”, found in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, and currently displayed at the T. rex Discovery Center. It’s well-known for being possibly more massive than “Sue”, in terms of weight. For better or worse, they scarcely actually talk about Tyrannosaurus rex as a species, and instead give lots of good info about “Scotty” the specimen. For size, however, the size range of T. rex is apparently listed as 12-14 metres(39 feet to 45 feet). 14 metres is definitely on the high side, unless they’re referring to that stupid UCMP 137538 toe bone. Anyway, the main reason that there is a lack of material on the signage under the mount is that basically half of the exhibit(in this designated display space) is dedicated to “T. Rex: The Ultimate Predator”, as the exhibit likes to call it. One cool thing from FMNH is a small game where you’re supposed to piece together a T. rex skeleton, namely that of “Sue”. It’s not a complete copy, as the screen is considerably bigger. There’s also the darkest display in the world, where there’s supposed to be a brain cast of a Tyrannosaurus braincase. Unfortunately, it’s literally impossible to see this thing.
In this horribly dark section, however, there was one thing that shone out for me. They actually addressed the “Nanotyrannus” issue, and “settled” it, although a lot of people would love to argue about that. They display a cast of the skull of “Nanotyrannus”(the Cleveland specimen, according to the labels).
Now, this is not the Cleveland specimen of “Nanotyrannus”. This isn’t the skull of the “Jane” specimen, held at the Burpee Museum of Natural History, either. This is in fact a skull cast that the Australian Museum has purchased from Triebold Paleontology Inc, a for-profit organization that specializes in providing casts, fossils, and mounts to museums around the world. Again, this is probably another mix-up on the wording of the sign. Let’s now delve into the most deafening noise in the world: elementary kids running amok in front of a projection screens.
First, let me say one thing: projection screens, where you can see AR dinosaurs running around, are stupid. There is absolutely no use here for any education at all. It’s just there for the sole purpose of entertainment. Sure, you could argue that it gives a sense of scale, but that’s not needed when there are literal skeleton mounts right behind you. Here, it plays a constant recording of some Guanlong and Dilong running around the room, and then a Tyrannosaurus stomping in and roaring, provoking kids to scream. It’s honestly weird to see these kids all sitting in front of the screen, and barely paying attention to anything else, including the literal mount of Tyrannosaurus rex. Moving on from all that screaming, there is a table of touchable fossil casts. These include multiple skin textures, which are simply reconstructions of what the skins of various dinosaurs may have felt like, not casts of actual skin impressions. There is also a massive Triceratops tibia, which is nice to see, because it means that they’re giving attention to dinosaurs outside of Theropoda. Of course, it’s expected, since Triceratops is the ever eternal enemy of Tyrannosaurus. There’s also a giant cast of a tyrannosaur coprolite with bits of teeth visible, and a touchable brain cast, which is great, considering the other brain display is too dark to see. The next display includes three mounts, the star of which is a skeleton mount of a chicken.
First, this display is obviously about bird evolution, going from Avimimus to the chicken. It shows a evolutionary diagram which is kind of disappointing, considering the phylogenies built earlier in the exhibit are very good. This phylogeny uses the old term “carnosaurs”, and is a single line directed towards a high point of finally evolving into birds. The mounts however, are a lot better than that weird phylogeny. Parts of the arm and the hip are colored yellow, showing the transition from dinosaur to bird. Meanwhile, Avimimus is a very famous dinosaur that is rarely displayed in museums. It’s crucial to the story of feathers in dinosaurs due to the early discovery of attachment points for filaments on its bones, even before the famous Liaoning discoveries. Dromornis, on the other hand, was a giant flightless bird from the Miocene epoch. This is a clear choice for the exhibit, as it’s one of the most famous prehistoric icons of Australia. Now, the rest of the space in this display area is occupied by something that is a little less childish, but still pretty much meaningless in terms of education. It’s a long hall with screens showing tyrannosaurs running throughout Des Moines.
Anyway, this leads into a smaller, much brighter, hallway. The area right before a turn tells about paleontologists and researchers that have been especially influential to tyrannosaur research, such as Xu Xing, O. C. Marsh, and Phil Currie. After the turn is a long hall with many movie posters and toys, all tyrannosaurs living in pop culture.
This is actually one of the most important things about tyrannosaurs that this exhibit touches on. It is crucial to explore why the tyrannosaurs became so iconic, and how much they have dominated pop culture in the last century. After all, the popularity of tyrannosaurs is one of the main reasons that this exhibit was made, to show people the tyrannosaurs beyond the infamous T. rex. In fact, the logo of the exhibit is a Guanlong, far from what normal people imagine when they think of tyrannosaurs. It is a nice display to cap off the whole exhibit. Initially, I almost missed it, due to it being so hidden. At the very end of the hall, there is a small voting station where you’re supposed to vote on your favorite tyrannosaur(guess who won).
Overall thoughts? The main problem I had with this exhibit was just the whole way it was organized. The exhibit was intended for a large special exhibit hall, but that’s just not what SCI has. It’s too small, in many respects. So, you have displays displayed where they’re not meant to be displayed, and the intended story that the exhibit’s producers is mixed up. However, it’s still a lot better than what happened with Ultimate Dinosaurs, and nothing was cut from the exhibit specifically for the SCI’s available space. Although I do wish that Alioramus mount was never taken off exhibit once the exhibit hit North America…