Fleshing out the Mystery of Fossils: Ancients Animals Come to Life in Startling Natural History Exhibition

USA TODAY, August 2009 | Go to article overview

Fleshing out the Mystery of Fossils: Ancients Animals Come to Life in Startling Natural History Exhibition


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"FOSSIL MYSTERIES" is the largest and most comprehensive exhibit ever undertaken at the San Diego Natural History Museum. Blending traditional and contemporary exhibition techniques, it showcases the last 75,000,000 years in the Southern and Baja California bio-region known among scientists for its extraordinarily rich fossil record, which includes mammoths, sea cows, lions, dinosaurs, walruses, giant sloths, saber-tooth cats, dire wolves, whales, and predatory sharks three times the size of great whites.

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The exhibition offers new and innovative methods of engaging the public, encouraging visitors to touch, think, and discover. "We took an inquiry-based approach--meaning the visitor is presented with evidence and complex questions, then encouraged to 'solve' the mysteries themselves" says exhibit developer Nancy Owens Renner.

While nearly all of the specimens have been discovered locally, the science concepts in the exhibit are global. More than 50 scientists and 20 artists and lab ricators were employed in creating this exhibit. Climate change, plate tectonics, and evolution are the themes that string together the exhibition, which is laid out chronologically. "These themes and major regional events in time connect our present to the past and the future and demonstrate the relevance of natural history in our lives today," states Lynett Gillette, science content specialist.

"Fossils provide different kinds of information,' notes Tom Demere, exhibition curator and curator of paleontology. 'They address questions of evolution; tell us about ancient environments and ancient ecosystems. They provide direct evidence for extinction and how it occurs: Quickly?. A drawn out affair?. Selective or universal? How do you know that this was a whale, this a bat? …

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