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RE: Sue Photos Online (Good ones!)
>It might be sincerely believed, as myths often are, particularly by people
>who run museums, and perhaps some people/institutions who give money to
>museums. Imagine trying to convince somebody to donate money to buy an
>original specimen if "all" they put on display is a cast, like anybody
>else's cast. It doesn't sound special enough. Why not let somebody else buy
>it, and then get a cast?
>For example is there anything that we would call scientific data that the
>public feels this way? Or that they can even tell what is real and what is
I am not aware of any stats, but I do have some personal experience with
this. I've personally seen people look at a mounted cast, gasp with awe,
and then shrug their shoulders and walk away when they realize it's a
replica. Virtually all museum displays will tell you when it's real and
when it's a replica. I've also seen people look at a mounted skeleton,
gasp with awe, and continue to stare when they know it's the real thing.
People do know the difference, and they respond in kind, at least from what
I've seen - and I consider myself a researcher and not a museum exhibits
person. But I've seen this in virtually every museum I've been to on three
continents. Either they recognize a cast right away, or they are told - in
either case, their enthusiasm for the exhibit wanes. Either they recognize
the genuine article right away, or they are told - and their enthusiasm
By analogy, I can have a very satisfying time reading a modern translation
of Beowulf. My experience was very different when I saw the original
manuscript on display at the British Library - it's a fragment,
fire-damaged and in a language I do not speak, but it was the real thing.
Someone actually hand-wrote it before the Norman Conquest. All modern
translations come from it. It was a very different kind of interaction. A
photocopy of the original would not have done it for me, even though my
ability to read it would remain the same and I might actually get to handle
it that way.
Fossils can represent history at two different levels. At one, they
represent the remains of extinct organisms. At another, they represent
human history. I had two warm-and-fuzzy feelings when I worked with the
Diplocynodon hantoniensis material in London a few years back - one because
it's a beautiful animal (as an alligatoroid, it is beautiful by
definition), and another because some of the most important people in the
history of my profession worked with the very same specimens, including
Richard Owen and T.H. Huxley. I was looking at what used to be a living,
breathing crocodylian, and I was following in the footsteps of Owen.
Most fossils have stories like this - including Sue, given the notoriety
surrounding its collection and subsequent legal issues. People are aware
of the history surrounding the fossil, and (from what I've seen) honestly
have a different reaction to real and replicate materials.
Christopher A. Brochu
Department of Geology
Field Museum of Natural History
1400 S. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60605