Time to stretch my brain with a visit to the Peabody Museum of Natural History, now celebrating its 150th anniversary with 150 distinctive objects from the collection.
You know me and science. When people ask what a particular plant or tree is in the garden, I usually reply, “pretty” or “yellow.” Astute, don’t you think?
So you can imagine how accomplished I was during the behind-the-scenes tour today. My group visited mineralogy and anthropology (I thought I might have a chance with something humanish).
I liked the mineralogist, Stefan Nicolescu, short in stature, tall in passion. Fortunately, he didn’t tell us about the 40,000 specimens in the collection, but focused instead on some history of the museum and a couple of good local stories. He explained his accent, since he is from Transylvania. One of the tour participants noted Transylvania was the origin place of the Unitarians. Another quipped, “aren’t they the ones that stay up all night?” Smart group.
They tracked with Stefan on all his explanations. I played on the surface, liking the story of the meteor that landed nearby in Connecticut – yikes – which allowed Yale scientists to deduce for the first time that meteors are extraterrestrial. And the explanation that 9 new species of minerals (minerals have species? Yes!) were discovered in the nearby Branchville quarry. Each specimen makes the reference point for all other identifications!
There you go.
When you need to identify spodumene, I suggest you take your sample and compare it to this beauty at the Peabody.
How do you talk about two million objects in 20 minutes? I’m not sure, and maybe Roger Colton, curator, wasn’t either. We found ourselves deeply admiring the 1930s storage compartments, which could be a study in themselves. Dovetailed just like a good piece of furniture.
A behind-the-scenes tour that is object-based would probably last 3 hours. And that truly would be amazing here.
One fact that stuck with me is the interesting find from a nearby rock shelter–a dolphin vertebrae. Now how did that get here? Deer bones, fish skeletons, fossilized birds, yes. But dolphin? There’s always more to discover with science.
Richard Conniff, author of House of Lost Worlds, then told us stories about the museum. I liked the movie stories. How the brontosaurus at the Peabody served as the model for the dinosaur Cary Grant’s character in “Bringing Up Baby” works on for years and years, before Katharine Hepburn brings it crashing to the ground in love for him. Did I mention that Hollywood created a bone-by-bone replica?
The Peabody’s work on dinosaurs provided source material for Godzilla, Jurassic Park, and Indiana Jones, based on the Yale explorer Hiram Bingham.
Life magazine’s cover from 1953 that excerpted from the 110′ long mural at the Peabody inspired a generation of budding scientists, including Richard himself.
You can glimpse the mural in the background, by looking through the dinosaur bones.
From the exhibit, I was enchanted by Stumpy, the Archelon fossil of the largest marine turtle species ever found. Incredible to be in its presence. Richard calls this mammoth turtle Stumpy, due to that missing foot, taken off by a shark perhaps? The Archelon may have eaten giant clams that grew up to 4′ wide. Yes, the clam that ate New Haven is on display nearby. I suggest you run…
No need to run from this Olmec Colossal Head. This king doesn’t scare anybody, not even this pint-sized girl with her stuffed animal.
I have a particular fondness for statues with tongues sticking out, so you can imagine how much I like this debating stool from Papua New Guinea. Carved from one piece of wood, his eyes are made of shell.
The stools are not for sitting but for formal debates. The speaker strikes the stool with a bundle of leaves to reinforce a point. Maybe Hillary needs one.
For most of my Peabody visit, I felt just as wide-eyed as this guy!