Peabody to modernize displays

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Photo by Elena Malloy .

At the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, dinosaurs may soon strike a new pose.

The Dinosaur and Mammal Halls were last updated in the early 1980’s, and they currently retain inaccurate information based on mid-twentieth century perspectives on dinosaurs and fossils. While many museums across the country recently renovated for similar reasons, the Peabody is taking the opportunity to frame its history of life exhibits from a climate perspective. The Peabody is more than half way to its 30 million dollar goal and posed to begin construction as soon as the remaining funds are raised, said Richard Kissel, the director of public programs at the Peabody.

“Regarding the fundraising, we are currently pursuing it as a priority within the Museum,” Kissel said. “There is no date, per se, but it is a priority. Our primary goal is to ensure that the project is completed well, given the size and scope of the project, as well as the gallery’s importance to the Museum and its history.”

The museum had previously hoped to complete fundraising by January so the construction would be complete for museum’s 150th anniversary in 2016, said David Heiser, head of education and outreach at the Peabody.

The exhibit, when complete, will shift from a geologic to climate time scale and allow visitors to track the evolution of life through cold and warm eras. The exhibit will also feature a brief section about the rate of climate change today.

“We don’t use geological time periods in the new exhibit,” said Christopher Norris, senior collections manager for the division of vertebrate paleontology at the Peabody. “There is a whole nomenclature of geological time periods that we are very familiar with as scientists, but these names only act as a barrier to telling the story and reaching a wider audience.”

While the fossil halls currently feature only a few hundred specimens, the renovated space will hold 1,230 specimens, including 520 invertebrates, 630 vertebrates and 80 paleobotany fossils. Still, THE exhibit represents only a fraction of the museum collection.

Susan Butts, senior collections manager for the division of invertebrate paleontology at the Peabody, said one of the most difficult parts of organizing the renovation was choosing which specimens to show: The museum has roughly 4.5 million invertebrate paleontology specimens in its collections.

Though the number of specimens may be increasing, Kissel said the halls will feel less cluttered. A small strip of glass will replace brown bars around large displays. The display platforms will also be sunk into the ground to bring the exhibits to human scale, Butts said.

Kissel said the museum plans to make the exhibit as accessible as possible while renovations are underway and coordinators do not expect any decrease in attendance.

The renovation provides the curators the opportunity to correct any inaccuracies presented in the dinosaur constructions. Paleontologists previously believed that the Apatosaurus, the largest specimen in the Great Hall, trailed its tail out behind it; recent evidence suggests the dinosaur whipped its tail to ward of predators. The renovation will reconfigure the current model to lengthen the neck and tail to the correct lengths as well as raise the tail off the ground, Norris said.

Many dinosaurs are now displayed in isolation, while the new design will feature the dinosaurs interacting, he added.

Other dinosaurs will not survive the planned renovation. The colorful plaster model of the small carnivorous dinosaur Deinonychus will no longer be displayed because it misrepresents the dinosaur, showing it without feathers and completely covered in scales. But after the recent discovery that birds are descendents of dinosaurs, paleontologists now believe some dinosaurs had feathers. Even a young T-Rex may have been covered entirely in feathers like a baby chick, Kissel said.

“To the chagrin of many young children, we will be presenting the softer side of T-Rex,” Kissel said, adding that the museum may create a graphic representation of a feathered T-Rex.

The Dinosaur Hall at the Peabody opened in 1926.

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