"Traditionally, International Museum Day is organised around 18 May. It can last for a day, a weekend or a whole week as long as the objective remains focused on the motto: “Museums are an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among peoples”.“What better way to join in on the celebration than to visit a museum today (or this week).
Courtesy Public domain via WikipediaWith this being Lincoln's, Darwin's, and even my grandfather George Hanzalik's birthday, the last thing we need is notice of yet another notable so and so born on this date. But Barnum Brown deserves some special attention. Named after the great circus huckster P. T. Barnum, Brown was born this day in Carbondale, Kansas in 1873, and grew up to be what some have called the "last of the great dinosaur hunters". Brown began his work as a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in 1897 under the tutelage of Henry Fairfield Osborn . Barnum Brown traveled the U.S. collecting and buying up fossils for the museum. He was known for using dynamite to coax fossils out of the rocks, and for being impeccably dressed while on digs (see photo).
Courtesy Public domainHis most famous discovery came out of the Hell Creek formation in Montana in 1902 when he found the first recorded remains of Tyrannosaurus rex.
Courtesy Mark RyanGood news out of Wyoming. A former University of Wyoming geology professor and his wife have contributed more than half a million dollars to an endowment created to upgrade and maintain the S. H. Knight Geological Museum on the campus of the University of Wyoming in Laramie. Matching funds from the state will double the amount. As you may recall the museum closed last July when its $80,000 budget was eliminated as part of a $18 million dollar cost-cutting effort by the university's Board of Trustees. The university reversed it decision after much public outcry, and the museum reopened seven weeks later, but with reduced hours and only a graduate assistant replacing its former staff (long-time curator and paleontologist Brent Breithaupt, and a part-time assistant). Whether there are plans to rehire Breithaupt is not known at this time, but at least it looks like the museum isn't in danger of extinction anymore.
Courtesy Mark RyanNews has come out that the University of Wyoming will close its Geological Museum in Laramie, Wyoming as part of cost-cutting measures to offset an $18 million budget deficit.
This is terrible news, and hopefully not a trend for small-scale museums. The UW Geological Museum is not only a wonderful museum and repository of many important fossils, but its link to the early days of American paleontology gives it an historical significance not found at other museums.
Courtesy Mark RyanOne of the museum’s early curators was none other than William Harlow Reed who, as a worker for the Union Pacific Railroad, discovered nearby Como Bluff, one of the richest dinosaur graveyards in the world. The quarries at Como produced a number of well-known Late Jurassic dinosaurs during the late 19th century, and served and a battleground for the Bone Wars waged between pioneer paleontologists Othniel C. Marsh (for whom Reed worked) and Edward Drinker Cope. Reed later served as curator of the museum for a dozen years until his death in 1915.
The closing doesn’t make sense especially since UW president Tom Buchanan said the decisions were made “trying to minimize the impact on teaching, research and service at the university,”
Courtesy Mark RyanI’ve personally visited the museum on several occasions and have enjoyed it immensely each time. Museum director and paleontologist Brent Breithaupt will be one of two staff members whose jobs will be terminated by the closing.
Interested parties in the earth science community have set up an online petition to get the decision reversed. Hopefully, they’ll be successful.
Laramie Boomerang story
This Friday the Houston Museum of Natural Science is opening an exhibit called Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia. The exhibit features the 3.18 million-year-old hominid skeleton Lucy, which remains the oldest and most complete adult human ancestor. The exhibit will also feature over 100 artifacts that highlight Ethiopia's rich cultural heritage. The exhibit has generated a lot of media attention, and not just because this will be only the fourth time the fossil hominid has been on display.
Some scientists and researchers fear that involving Lucy in a 6 year North American tour puts the delicate fossil at an unnecessary risk as it travels from Ethiopia, around North America and then back to Ethiopia. Some museums have refused to host the exhibit for this very reason, and several members of the scientific community have spoken out quite openly about their objection to the exhibit and the tour. Some Ethiopian immigrants in Houston are urging a boycott of the exhibit. And the exhibit goes against a 1998 UNESCO resolution, signed by scientists from 20 countries, that says fossils such as Lucy should not be moved outside of the country of origin except for compelling scientific reasons.
The president of the Houston Museum of Natural Science disagrees. “The display of original artifacts is crucial to the educational impact of museum exhibitions. Anyone can make a copy. But the experience of standing before an authentic historical artifact, whether ancient parchments or multi-million-year-old fossils, is a call to the intellect, to discover more about the world and perhaps even more about yourself. The Lucy fossil in particular evokes a strong response from everyone who sees her, and as such, she is the ultimate goodwill ambassador for Ethiopia. Lucy not only validates Ethiopia’s claim as the Cradle of Mankind, she also introduces viewers to the rich cultural heritage that has flourished in Ethiopia over the course of the last 3,000 years, and to the vibrant country that Ethiopia is today.”
Part of the reason Ethiopia agreed to send Lucy on this tour is financial – Ethiopia, one of Africa’s poorest countries, received an undisclosed amount of money to release the fossil for the tour, and also gets a portion of the ticket sales. In addition, government officials hope that people who see the exhibit and who learn not only about Lucy, but also about Ethiopia, will be inspired to visit the country.
What do you think? Does the tour of Lucy put the fossil at unnecessary risk? Or, does the value of exhibiting Lucy and allowing people to learn and be inspired by the fossil outweigh the risk?
An interesting side note: Lucy was named after the Beatle’s song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds which was playing when the researchers were discussing what to name the fossil. In the Ethiopian language, she is called Dinknesh, which means the wonderful, the fabulous, the precious. And, Ethiopia does have some really interesting stuff – check out the amazing monolithic Church of St. George, for just one example.