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Re: Museology

"Thomas R. Holtz, Jr." wrote:

> What would the ideal early 21rst Century dinosaur hall look like at a given
> museum?

I would like to see a dinosaur hall that emphasizes the depth and breadth of our
understanding of the dinosaurs.  Paleontology today benefits from a diverse
group of scientists studying paleolife from a formidable array of perspectives,
and I would like to see exhibits reflect this modern, integrative approach.

With an emphasis on how we know what we know, I would like to see exhibits
invite the public to use the fossil evidence to solve some of life's oldest
mysteries.  For example, a display could present a cast of the brooding
oviraptorid, perhaps accompanied by a reconstruction of the skeleton articulated
in a life-like brooding pose, or instead, a diorama showing a restoration of the
FEATHERED oviraptorid brooding its clutch of eggs.  Lift-the-flap signage could
pose questions and (under the flap) list some of the proposed answers,
particularly where there is no clear best answer.

Skeletal elements could be equipped with motors to animate them, revealing the
actions possible.  This could be used to demonstrate the kinetic action of
hadrosaur, hypsilophodont, and alvarezsaur skulls, as well as the killer toes
and claws of dromaeosaurs, to mention just a few possibilities.  Kids love to
push buttons and make things happen.

Coprolites, ingested skeletal remains, and gastroliths could present clues
regarding dinosaur digestion.  A cast of _Scipionyx samniticus_ could be treated
with paints so that, at the push of a button, its preserved organs could be made
to glow under ultraviolet light.

Casts of the feathered dinosaurs should be exhibited, and a _Velociraptor_
skeleton could stand alongside a modern bird skeleton, as internal lights
highlight the various homologous bones (with more buttons to push) as a
recording provides simple commentary.

Pinpoint laser spots could be sequentially trained on various details of
dinosaur skeletons, to show off salient features, for instance the injuries
suffered by Stan, the _T. rex_, aided again with commentary.  A _Triceratops_
femur showing tooth marks from young and old tyrannosaurs could be accompanied
with casts of various predator teeth (securely chained to the stand), to enable
the public to decide for themselves which teeth fit the holes.

Docents should be frequently available to put on demonstrations, answer
questions, and provide more hands-on opportunities for visitors.

"Dinosaur digs" with a simulated matrix which must be scraped away, simulators,
and educational interactive computer games should also be provided.  Also, as an
adult, I'd like to see no age restrictions on the dig activity!  "The Bone Yard"
at Dinoland U.S.A. at Disney's Animal Kingdom has a playground where kids can
cavort on casts of dinosaur bones.  It's a necessary release for children (and,
arguably, for adults, too) and is actually educational, giving visitors an
excellent sense of the size of prehistoric animals.

How about walk-through dioramas and conservatories with "living fossils" that
surround visitors in a prehistoric world?  Obviously, we have an unlimited
budget!  I would like to see more information presented regarding the diversity
of life in the Mesozoic, and evidence for interactivity between the various
entities making up the ecosystems.  Regarding animatronic dinosaurs, I'm all in
favor of these on three conditions: they are very lively, very up-to-date
anatomically, and they are exhibited with signage or additional exhibits which
explain that we don't know precisely how the dinosaur actually looked.  I have
yet to see a display of animatronic dinosaurs which meets all of these
conditions.  Opportunities for visitors to actually control interacting animals
would also be a plus, although I would recommend that this be done with
undersize mockups or small animals.  We don't want to knock down walls and kill

Please note that I recognize that exhibitry is not the be-all and end-all of
museum responsibilities; behind-the-scenes research will continue to be crucial,
and I think that the relatively recent practice of showing the public scientists
at work is of great value.  And there is a lot to be said for massive displays
of dinosaur fossils and big time scientific symposia, too, such as we see at
Dinofest.  Encore!  Encore!

That shouldn't be so hard to pull off, now, should it?
Ralph W. Miller III  <gbabcock@best.com>