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RE: Museology



Larry Dunn wrote...
 
< No.  Rather, there was a side-show element to nineteenth century
< scientific display.  Find the thing, display that thing.  "People have
< read about the big bones coming up out of the ground.  So let us 
< show them the bones."  Similar displays featured the bodies of 
< deformed people and severely diseased organs.  Dinosaurs, those 
< giant, bizarre bones of ancient monsters, were part of the curio 
< display.  

     People were presenting life restorations to the lay public in the 19th 
century; What do you call the Crystal Palace?  People liked dinosaurs because 
they were weird and different, not because they liked to imagine them walking 
around as skeletons.  

< "Dinosaurs were certainly not big skeletons walking around without
< skin and muscle.  So here, take a look at them walking around
< without skin and muscle."

     By the same reasoning, mounted human skeletons have no value, and we 
should cover up humans skeletons on display in museums with skin and muscle.  
Bones are as an important part of anatomy as soft tissue.  Since in the case of 
dinosaurs they form the basis of our understanding of everything about their 
soft anatomy and to a large extent their behavior, they are arguably MORE 
important.

< The masses want to see Jeff Martz.  Would they rather look at your
< dental x-rays or a restoration of your face done by an expert artist
< in close consultation with your friends and family?

1. Humans are sentimental about looking at other human faces
2. We KNOW human soft facial anatomy in extreme detail, and facial 
reconstruction of human skulls is in some circles a nearly exact science.  We 
don't know dinosaur soft anatomy in nearly as much detail.  
3. Consultation with people who SAW me and KNEW exactly what my face looked 
like will get the restoration a whole lot closer to the real thing then 
paleontological restoration ever will.

< (I actually hope this happens so I can prove my point.)

       Jesus, I don't. 

< There are definite limitations to life restorations, to be sure.  But
< I'd argue that, even within those limitations, they are far more
< useful as educational tools than a mounted skeleton.
      
       Why MORE educational?  Showing a myological reconstruction of the more 
reconstructable (based on SKELETAL morphology) muscle groups might be 
educational.  Showing known skin patches and where they are located might be 
educational. However, the closer you come to showing a complete living animal, 
in other words, the more of the less well understood muscles and other areas of 
soft anatomy you add, the further you are departing from the what is known.  
That is not "educational"; that is "conjectural".
     That might actually be a pretty neat display!  Mount the skeleton of a 
dinosaur for which some skin impressions are known. Add the more certain muscle 
groups, and show the skin patches in place; a semi-restored dinosaur.  Put a 
little fully restored model next to it.  That would nicely demonstrate the 
conjectural jump between known skeletal morphology and a fully restored live 
animal.        

< Yes, really.
  
     As popular and sexy as dinosaurs are right now to American culture, I 
think the "dusty" old bones colloquial 
is dying a lingering death.  At least that is _MY_ impression.  People are 
starting to dinosaurs with flashy colors and a lot of inferences about behavior 
and metabolism that are still debated, if not mostly conjecture.  One might 
argue that a "bare bones" exhibit reminds the public of the (admittedly 
somewhat fuzzy) line between knowledge and conjecture. 
 
< I will honestly say that precious few of the people who visit a 
< museum go to examine skeletal morphology.  An informal poll of 
< visitors the next time you go to your local museum should be very 
< instructive.

     Everybody thinks a nice life size model showing largely conjectural soft 
anatomy and coloration is neat, and yes, it doesn't hurt to have a couple in a 
dinosaur exhibit to help the visitor think of dinosaurs as living creatures.  
They just shouldn't be allowed to dominate the real deal.  The public shouldn't 
necessarily be shown what it wants to see if what they want to see will mislead 
them.
     I'm not coming down on paleoart.  I like to do it myself.  Yes, its value 
is in giving the viewer an impression of a living, breathing world.  The public 
just needs to be reminded that the restoration is largely conjecture, and what 
the solid basis for that conjecture is.      
     People know something about the bones in their body.  They can look at as 
dinosaur skeleton and make connections, and I've heard people get wowed by the 
bare bones before ("Wow; look at how many vertebrae _Diplodocus_ had in its 
tail!  Look how long and skinny they get toward the end!").  That is certainly 
an important starting step for understanding how soft anatomy reconstructions 
are done. 

< I'd argue that it's the paleontologist's job to dig deep into complex
< subjects to establish theories about these animals so that others 
< can understand them without having to do all of that work.

       Well, a paleontologist shouldn't have to worry about their theories 
being automatically comprehensible to lay public without the background, just 
as long as THEY understand them.  The building of science by people with an 
expansive technical background and trying to translate it to the lay public are 
two separate issues, although the latter is certainly important.

LN Jeff