Wednesday, June 4, 2014

An Overview of Dinosaur Exhibits Part 4: The Carnegie Museum

Most times in which I hear about museums are in the context of a book or documentary. This week’s museum, however, I first learned from a series of toys.  I remember my first dinosaur toys being from the Funrise series of animal figures, and the Imperial Toys large toys. The best, however, I encountered in first grade. The classroom has a display of them, with an accompanying poster. The name was distinctive-“The Carnegie Collection”.  They were big enough to be detailed but not too big enough to effect play. They were beautiful, sculpted, and sturdy. They ranged from familiar animals like Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops to more obscure animals like Maiasaura. 

What was Carnegie? Who was it?  Dinosaur documentaries showed a large, dark hall with an imposing mural of Tyrannosaurus on it, and called it the Carnegie Museum. I looked in my encyclopedia maps; no mention of any city named Carnegie.  I finally got a clue-one documentary talked about the discovery of Diplodocus, claimed by a rich man named Andrew Carnegie who sent replicas to Europe of his find. Diplodocus’ type species was named for him, and the Apatosaurus he owned was named after his wife Louise. 

Finally, I took American history in high school. There I learned about the industrial revolution of America. The huge, smoky, miserable factories created millions of jobs for immigrants and millions of dollars for their owners. One of these industrial barons was Andrew Carnegie, who, based in Pittsburgh, became the richest man in the country from his iron and steel empire. Steel, once difficult to produce in any real quantity, was now everywhere, revolutionizing technology. Tools, buildings, vehicles all were transformed by his steel. Carnegie was a Philanthropist, inspired by the deeds of George Peabody (funder of Marsh and his museum), who believed his wealth should be used to fund art, culture, and education.  He established two adjoining museums in Pittsburgh-the Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History, both named after him, of course. 
In 2007,  the museum renovated its main attraction-its dinosaurs and fossils. This new exhibit, called Dinosaurs in their Time, is a major improvement to the old hall.  Dinosaurs are no doubt the stars of any natural history museum, and the Carnegie is not exception. As visitors enter, they are greeted by Jane (more on her later), a tyrannosaur based on the Burpee Museum’s find.  Taking Burpee’s lead, they label her as a juvenile Tyrannosaurus, which is still being debated despite a majority consensus.
Like the Field museum, they have a Carboniferous diorama-like Chicago, Pittsburgh was also a coal center, perhaps the largest in the country. Meganuera and Eryops are represented by models separated from the visitors by glass in a much smaller diorama than the Field’s.  The Fossil Lab, however, is larger. At the moment of my visit, they were examining and cleaning a complete left half of a Triceratops skull, and dinosaur bones littered the tables. A fresh specimen of part of an Albertoceratops skull was also on display in the lab, a prize trophy for the new species.

The Mesozoic is represented by three rooms, each being backed by a mural by Bob Walters and Tess Kissinger.  The Triassic features a mount of the big phytosaur Redondasaurus, for example. The Jurassic is announced by an in-situ juvenile Camarosaurs, followed by a mount showing a juvenile Ceratosaurus attacking Dryosaurus.  The small hall leads into the main Jurassic room. The stars are still Diplodocus and Apatosaurus, parallel to each other but turning towards each other as in recognition. Behind the giants, Camptosaurus, Stegosaurus and Allosaurus trail behind, the latter on the very heels of Apatosaurus. If you look carefully, you can find the type specimen of Marshosaurus.  It’s a welcome respite from the poorly-delinated time separation in the Field Museum, or the taxonomical approach of the American museum. This museum chooses tableaus, featuring a fauna representative of the period.

The Yixian specimens of Caudipteryx, Psitaccosaurus, Confusciornis and Sinornthiosaurus provide transition to the Cretaceous mounts.  As for the main Cretaceous exhibit, Henry Fairfield Osborn’s prophetic words will best describe it-

"It is early morning along the shore of a Cretaceous lake four [we now know to be sixty five] million years ago. A herbivorous dinosaur Trachodon venturing from the water for a breakfast of succulent vegetation has been caught and partly devoured by a giant flesh eating Tyrannosaurus. As this monster crouches over the carcass, busy dismembering it, another Tyrannosaurus is attracted to the scene. Approaching, it rises nearly to its full height to grapple the more fortunate hunter and dispute the prey. The crouching figure reluctantly stops eating and accepts the challenge, partly rising to spring on its adversary. The psychological moment of tense inertia before the combat was chosen to best show positions of the limbs and bodies, as well as to picture an incident in the life history of these giant reptiles."

When Barnum Brown acquired Tyrannosaurus specimens for the American Museum,  his director Osborn planned an ambitious mount. He would have the above scene of two Tyrannosaurus squaring off in confrontation.  Alas, the bones were too heavy-he was designed to a static position that has only been modified to a realistic posture.  The American museum sold their type specimen to the Carnegie in the 40s, and it was mounted in the same way. However, this renovation provided an opportunity to use modern lightweight casts the way Osborn wanted to.  

As Osborn wished, a duo of Tyrannosaurs glare at each other over an Edmontosaurus carcass. Quetzalcoatlus soars overhead. Triceratops and Anzu watch in the background.  What is Anzu? Well, I’m glad you asked.  The mount dates back to 2007, the specimen found in 1998. Utah’s Emma Schachner, the Smithsonian Institution’s Tyler Lawson and Hans-Dieter Sues, and the Carnegie’s own Matthew Lammana each gathered their own institution’s material of a giant oviraptorid from the Hell Creek formation and collaborated on describing it.  In 2014, the animal was finally described. Seven feet tall and 10 feet long, Anzu is second only to Gigantoraptor in size for the family.  Nearby is a wall of Ceratopsian heads-Torosaurus, Zuniceratops, Pachyrhinosaurus, and Diabloceratops are disembodied but still impressive.

The next room over has the museum’s marine life-Tylosaurus, Dolichorhynchops, Hesperornis, Xiphactinus and Enchodus hail from the Niobrara, swimming around the room. The Tylosaurus is especially imposing, looming over the visitors, still king.

There are two mammal rooms at the museum. Megacerops, Moropus, Daeodon, and other Miocene mammals make up one room, which also has a small pit for kids to dig up their own specimens. The other is a larger one where the northern sabertooth, American mastodon, Columbian mammoth, Dire Wolf, and Moa show Pleistocene megafauna.  The poses aren’t dynamic, and there’s no murals. However, the Moropus, Smilodon, and Canis mounts are half-flesh out, like that of the Centrosaurus at the Yale Peabody, giving a touch of life. 

The upper floor, while having mostly nature dioramas, also provides excellent views down on the Jurassic and Cretaceous rooms, as well as some displays on the history of the specimens. Pictures of Charles Knight’s paintings, newspaper clippings, and cartoons show the history of paleontology in a lighthearted, visual way. 

Overall, it’s a great museum, the best in the state in terms of Natural History. Its fossils are very-well-presented and while limited in diversity, are the quintessential American animals that have become legendary. In terms of mounts, it’s among the best, creating dynamic tableaus of the faunas rather than the more static American or Field mounts.  The amount of exhibition space is limited-it’s not nearly as big as the Field, let alone the American, but they make the most of it, especially using the giant rooms for the Jurassic and Cretaceous scenes. The Carnegie Museum is highly recommended. Their website is here:

The Carnegie Collection, by the way, is still a banner line for Safari Ltd's excellent nature figures. The name comes from the assistance of the scientists and sculptors of the museum in designing accurate renditions of the prehistoric animals.

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