The Peabody Museum of Natural History welcomed nearly 800 visitors on Saturday to the public opening of the exhibit “Treasures of the Peabody: 150 Years of Exploration and Discovery.”
Peabody Events Director Josue Irizarry said the exhibit’s opening day was a success, with programming geared toward adults and children. Craft activities, a fossil touch table and a minerals and rocks table were popular highlights for kids who were curious to explore the museum through tactile means. A scavenger hunt also sent younger children on a search through both the temporary exhibit and the museum halls, while adults and older children were able to take behind-the-scenes tours of eight of the museum’s 10 collections, Irizarry added.
Through the loading dock and past the freezer holding room in the bowels of the Peabody, Public Education Senior Instructor at the Peabody Armand Morgan guided three tours, each limited to 12 visitors, into the Vertebrate Paleontology Collection room.
Morgan led the visitors into a basement storage room with dozens of moveable white collection cases, each with around 20 drawers. Morgan opened case after case, revealing hundreds of dinosaur bones, some dating back to the 1870s. Along with pointing out notable features of the fossils, Morgan explained how specimens are brought back to the museum from the field and how bones are put back together either for display or storage.
Yale sends researchers on fossil collection expeditions every year, Morgan said. When a specimen is found, a block of earth surrounding the fossil is cut out; sometimes a helicopter is necessary to take the block out of the ground. The specimen is then encased in a plaster jacket and sent back to be stored in the Peabody, he added. Once the fossils are extracted from the block, if the specimen is to be stored in the collection room, it is pieced together with a dissolvable glue, in case any future researcher wants to take it apart to look inside, he added.
Not only does the Peabody contain specimens collected by Yalies past and present, but in the 1980s Princeton gave all its fossils to Yale when the university discontinued its vertebrate paleontology studies, Morgan said.
Morgan said he hoped there would be additional behind-the-scenes tours later this year, but that the museum particularly wanted to open the collection rooms on Saturday to mark the 150th anniversary exhibit opening.
“The whole point of the museum is to save a record of natural history, whether it’s a fossil or a marine organism, something that’s alive today,” Morgan said. “I think it gives you a world view of what the history of life has been like on the planet Earth, and a place like the Peabody Museum is the source for that information.”
While more than 180 older attendees got a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of the museum, the younger children enjoyed learning more about the Peabody’s main halls and exhibits.
“Our events are targeted to make it fun and educational,” Irizarry said. “I think science [education] does get lost for many of the kids and it’s important to start them at an early age and continue the learning process, because you’re always learning and discovering new things.”
Indeed, children dominated the scene on Saturday, peering into specimen cases and pointing at the dinosaurs in the Great Hall, where toy snakes awaited them as prizes upon completion of the scavenger hunt.
New Haven public school teacher Asia Goubourn and her three children are regular visitors to the Peabody. Wearing paper hats of colored dinosaurs, the family was exuberant at the end of the scavenger hunt, Goubourn said.
“I like to find things, and I also like when there’s usually a prize involved,” seven-year-old Leah Goubourn said. “I think that the coolest thing that we saw was the Egyptian room because I really like the Egyptian stuff.”
Five-year-old Kaylah Goubourn said she preferred the birds and dinosaurs, while three-year-old Joshua Goubourn especially enjoyed the birds.
Asia Goubourn said the scavenger hunt helped engage families, directing her children to look for different specimens throughout the exhibits.
Jeff Cochrane, a volunteer at the Peabody since 1993, spent the day in the Great Hall staffing the fossil touch table. With fossils ranging from footprints to eggs to a Tyrannosaurus Rex arm, the exhibit encouraged younger visitors to get excited about dinosaurs with great success, Cochrane said.
The original Peabody museum was demolished in 1917 to make way for the Harkness Memorial Quadrangle and Saybrook College.