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Re: Museology

In a message dated 3/9/99 8:01:36 PM Eastern Standard Time, Philidor11 writes:

Dear Sir:
I sincerely believe that you have grossly misinterpreted my words here.
Perhaps I should be more explicit.

<< Be glad that before they start crawling on everything, grasping and
grabbing, they haven't been presented Mr. Varner's banana or ration of a
single grape. 
 'What's that protuberance on the pachycephalosaur skull?  A single mashed
grape.  Only one?  That's all they get.' >>

My admittedly dim view of little kids in unbelievably large numbers at museums
is not so ridiculous as that. In my many visits to the AMNH, I have seen
children literally climbing up the exhibits, a la many a television program.
These are only a few hyperactive day campers, yes, and I'm sure that many of
the children there are as genuinely interested and full of awe as I am in that
situation, but the museum's exhibits should not be forced to adapt to each
exhibit-climber's taste for hands-on release of tension. Also, I fail to see
your point about the grapes. Okay, I'll grant each child a full bunch of
grapes. Does this result in a pachycephalosaur head encrusted with fruity
goodness? While Mr. Varner's take on hands-on things for children at museums
was indeed extreme, the point was simply that if something more than what is
currently on exhibit is needed, the exhibit itself does not necessarily have
to provide the diversion. I love some hands-on exhibits, possibly because I am
still a child, but to force the complete skeletons of all real fossils that
anyone can just come up and swing on on a museum exhibit seems to be going too
far. Alright, I probably made a hasty generalization there which I apologize
for, but I think you get the gist of my point.
 <<Mr. Kammerer again:
 '... since even a skull piece can stand testament to millions
 of years and a vast group of animals.' 
 'What's that thing that looks like a squashed yogurt carton?  3,600 species
and 6 million years.  Hard living!  Must have been.' >>

Once again, I do not mean to imply that a museum exhibit should consist solely
of things that only an advanced student of osteology can recognize, simply
that museums should not shy away from including these fossils, especially some
of the less frequently seen ones, in their exhibits for lack of material. The
examples I had in mind were some of the fragments on display on the AMNH. In
the lizard and artiodactyl collections there is a plethora of impressive,
complete skeletons and skulls of ancient cattle, mosasaurs, vipers, camels and
the such, but nothing even coming close to complete was available in the
collections from the early booids and giraffids, both of which are very large,
impressive, and important families or orders from the said groups. What is on
display? A set of strangely shaped horn cores from the giraffid Honanotherium
and a positively enormous vertebra with a few rib pieces attached from the
megabooid Madstoia bai. Behold, even giraffes have a fossil record full of
fascinating creatures. Behold, if a hunk of vertebral column and ribs (all
that is known of the beast) can convey a sense of the 30+ feet of the living
monster serpent, imagine how many other creatures that people would like to
know about can be represented by fragmentary but definitely telling fossils.
Surely I would never intend to display a squashed yogurt carton, but if that
is what the skull of a plethodid fish appears like that is not the problem of
the people who would like to see that skull. You know, there are entire art
museums that a great many people hail as containing 
 "trash my 6-year old could have done", but there are those that can spend
days in one of these museums. Surely natural history should not be constrained
by having to pander to every person in the world!
<<Both Mr. Varner and Mr. Kammerer probably gain more from a museum than the
average museum visitor.  I'd suggest, though, that if the average visitor sees
nothing but fragments and the casts of fragments that not much has been gained
by the visitor and still less by the museum.
 The museum can, I suppose, recover if it has a really interesting store, with
dinosaurs and everything, just like in the movies.>>

To insinuate that I would stock a museum with nothing but fragment casts and
nondinosaurs is ludicrous. The mot juste lies within several of the other
comments I made, not the suggestions for completeness that you highlight with
such alacrity. "Its nice to see complete skeletons but too often fascinating
creatures like therizinosaurs and chroniosuchians are maligned in exhibits
because no one wants to make a cast of a fragment". There you have it!
Complete skeletons are great! Note also that I brought up the fragmentary
fossils for sake of completeness only after I said "one thing I like about the
AMNH exhibits is that though they sure as heck have some spectacular stuff,
not everything [is complete]". The fragments are subsidiary to the really
"good" displays in my scheme and would not be elevated to some velvet-based
pillar with extensive backlighting by any means! But, should the public be
denied such marvels as therizinosaurs because no complete skeleton exists, and
even if it did there would have to be extensive casting and negotiating in
China to procure all of its pieces for a US museum exhibit? I think not! Can
you honestly say that you wouldn't like to see the braincase of Erlikosaurus
or the mighty claws of Therizinosaurus itself? These are only fragments, but
they stand testament to a distinct group of dinosaurs that is maligned in
exhibits simply because of the difficulty in obtaining the few fragments that
we have. And, placed next to a great complete mounted Struthiomimus or Troodon
with other coelurosaurian pieces all around, I'm sure that the therizinosaur
fragments would create certain educational fulfillment of the group for
everyman. Or, given the extreme taxonomic tenuity of the group, you could even
isolate it at beginning of the dinosaurs and have a placard detailing how
poorly they are known. Perhaps this may  even instigate one of the onlooking
day campers to give up on his grape smashing rampage and learn some more about
the group. But don't deny their existence through extreme spectacular specimen
Also, if you think that museums need to be the single most entertaining and
amazing experience in the world for all people ever, you have a seriously
skewed view of these bastions of education. There is nowhere in the world I
would rather be than a museum, but if I want to go to a theme park or a store
I will go there and not seek cheap thrills at my local museum. 
If I have misinterpreted your words in any way, I hereby apologize in advance
for my unusually caustic reply, but I feel that my simple request for greater
variety and completeness in museum exhibits had been unjustly slighted.

Christian Kammerer

P.S. Since though I maintain that there is probably only misunderstanding of
the other's viewpoint behind this argument, I nonetheless must ask that any
extensive continuation of this thread be maintained offlist.