In August, Edward P. Bass ’67 donated $160 million to Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History. His gift — one of the largest in Yale’s history and the single largest donation to a U.S. natural history museum to date — set in motion highly anticipated plans to expand the museum’s classroom, exhibition, research and collection storage spaces.
Now, the Peabody is beginning to prepare for the upcoming renovations. Staff are in the process of transferring the nearly three million specimens held in the museum’s basement to the West Campus Collection Study Center for safekeeping during construction. While the Peabody’s public galleries will remain open until mid-2020, a few fossils currently found in the Great Hall will be dismantled in May, and others will come down at the end of the year.
The Peabody’s on-site collections will be brought out of the museum’s basement and into the see-through storage cases of the Collection Study Center at West Campus. Most of the Peabody’s collections will remain there after the museum’s renovations are completed, the date of which is not yet solidified.
“It’s definitely one of the jigsaw pieces — a big one — for making the whole thing work,” said Peabody director David Skelly.
At the Collection Study Center, most of the Peabody’s cultural heritage collections from the Anthropology and the History of Science and Technology divisions will join other collections from the Yale University Art Gallery and the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage. Skelly said that the co-location of these collections is intended to create synergy between the three institutions.
The museum’s anthropology, invertebrate zoology and vertebrate paleontology divisions are currently preparing for the transfer. But moving the collections is not a simple task. The museum hired additional staff to assist with taking inventory, photographing and packing objects before they are transported by truck to the West Campus facility. Anthropology’s Senior Collections Manager Roger Colten said that the division’s collections will be unpacked by the end of 2021.
“After things are moved, the collections will be more accessible,” he said. “[The collections] will have better storage conditions and [they will be] easier to manage and easier to use for teaching.”
As the Peabody’s on-site collections are emptying, the main galleries have remained largely untouched so far.
In a few months, however, Peabody visitors will notice that the Great Hall’s Pteranodon and Triceratops skulls will no longer be on display. The skulls will be dismantled in May and prepped for display in their new home within Science Hill’s new Yale Science Building, the construction of which is expected to be completed in the fall of 2019.
The dinosaur skulls will reside in the lobby of the 500-seat O.C. Marsh Lecture Hall. Bass not only funded the Peabody’s renovation but also gave $10 million toward construction of the hall, requesting that Yale name it after one of the Peabody’s founding members, Othniel Charles Marsh, class of 1860.
“One of the reasons that he gave the gift for the Yale Science Building is because it has always been in the long-term plans of the museum to have an auditorium space where we can do programs that will attract large crowds of people,” Skelly said.
Described as “a mover and a shaker” by Skelly, Marsh pioneered prehistoric studies. Skelly said that Marsh was one of the first modern scientists who collaborated with numerous other researchers across the globe in order to hunt for fossils. Marsh described 360 new North American taxa in his lifetime, including 80 species of dinosaurs. In addition to his research, Marsh was named Vertebrate Paleontologist for the U.S. Geological Survey in 1882 and president of the National Academy of Sciences in 1883.
The lobby exhibition will honor Marsh’s legacy. Along with the two dinosaur skulls, the display will also include a dinosaur trackway and casts of two Cretaceous-era species that Marsh discovered — Xiphactinus, a 12-foot-long predatory fish, and Hesperornis, a toothed bird. Charles Darwin called Marsh’s discovery of the toothed bird one of the most important pieces of evidence ever discovered in support of evolution, according to Skelly.
“This space will honor his legacy as one of the very important early scientists at Yale,” Skelly said. “So it’s very appropriate that he is going to be honored in Yale’s newest science building.”
The Peabody was established in 1866.
Marisa Peryer | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, Jan. 16: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Marsh was named Vertebrate Paleontologist for the U.S. Geological Survey in 1822. In fact, the year was 1882.