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Re: Museology II

Ralph Chapman wrote:
>  - Skeletons in full size are not replaceable - they are the actual data and 
> have 
their own important impact. However, I see them all being casts in the
future because exhibiting real material in that way damages the fossils
badly and we are just now seeing the result in our museum on some of our
skeletons. Some sacrificial material will be out for touching but the
real stuff out on display will have to be under vitrines and with some
humidity and air control, or else they will decompose. Casts are much
more flexible and have the same impact as mounts and can be a strong
part of an exhibit with lots of real stuff out there under controlled 

While I understand the scientific necessity of exhibiting casts, I have
to disagree that they have the same impact as mounts. Even the best cast
mounts pale in comparison to the presence of real bone on display, no
matter how shellacked, painted or plaster-filled. Real bone has a
palpability and sanctity that makes a cast seem unbelievably fake.
Compare the AMNH _Barosaurus_ cast, dramatic as it may be, to exhibits
like the _Saurolophus_ in the Ornithischian hall, panel mounted with
anatomical abbreviations *painted* on the fossil. It might be a perverse
thrill on my part, but I think it enhances the visitor's experience to
believe that, in some cases, the science of a specimen has been
sacrificed for public edification. If I can see how the researchers have
access to a fossil, knowing that someday I might come back to see a sign
that says "Specimen Temporarily Off Exhibit", even though I can justify
it in my mind I still feel somehow cheated. And even though most fossil
mounts are heavily reconstructed, I'm more inclined to believe the
presentation of real material, with plastic-looking casts I always have
doubts as to how valid the presentation is.

Before I'm run off the list on a rail, I might add that taking the time
to add depth and substance to the replicas would go a long way in
helping the casts gain some respectability. Rockwork, plantwork and faux
coral reefs in exhibits are all painstakingly sculpted, colored, and
presented to suspend disbelief. Careful painting and mounting of casts,
while expensive, would help the perceived legitimacy of exhibits and the
perceived importance the museum places on its visitors. So I'm not
totally against mounting casts, I'm just against down-and-dirty mounting
of bland, monochromatic casts. Of course, I shudder to think what
exhibits based on digitized and 3-D plotted fossil replicas will look like.

> What will separate a museum from an amusement park will be the content and 
> the presence of exhibited real material, which I believe is essential.