New York City’s major cultural institutions are
temporarily closed to help minimize the spread of coronavirus, but many are
making their exhibits and programs available virtually, and have websites that
really engage, that make the time spent in enforced hibernation that much
richer and more productive, and frankly, less maddening.
When the Met reopens,
it will offer a series of special exhibits marking its 150th anniversary:The exhibition Making The Met, 1870–2020 will present
more than 250 works of art from the collection while taking visitors on a
journey through the Museum’s history; The reopening of the galleries for
British decorative arts and design will reveal a compelling new curatorial
narrative; Transformative new gifts, cross-cultural installations, and major
international loan exhibitions will be on view throughout the year; and special
programs and outreach will include a birthday commemoration on April 13, a
range of public events June 4–6, and a story-collecting initiative.
galleries may be closed, but never fear! Social media never sleeps.”
Follow @metmuseum on Instagram for Tuesday Trivia, #MetCameos, and daily art
Being confined to home is a perfect time to take advantage of the Museum of Modern Art’s free massive open online course What Is Contemporary Art?, available now on Coursera. This course offers an in-depth look at over 70 works of art from MoMA’s collection—many of which are currently on view in the expanded Museum—from 1980 to the present, with a focus on art produced in the last decade. Learners will hear directly from artists, architects, and designers from around the globe about their creative processes, materials, and inspiration. What Is Contemporary Art? can be found at mo.ma/whatiscontemporaryart.
I can’t wait for MoMA to
reopen so I can see Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures,
the first major solo exhibition at the Museum of the photographer’s incisive
work in over 50 years. The exhibition includes approximately 100 photographs
drawn entirely from the Museum’s collection. Dorothea Lange: Words
& Pictures also uses archival materials such as correspondence,
historical publications, and oral histories, as well as contemporary voices, to
examine the ways in which words inflect our understanding of Lange’s pictures.
These new perspectives and responses from artists, scholars, critics, and
writers, including Julie Ault, Wendy Red Star, and Rebecca Solnit, provide
fresh insight into Lange’s practice. (Scheduled through May 9, 2020).
American Museum of Natural History while closed, the
website is a treasure trove of information and engaging photos and ways to
explore and interact on your own. At the section of its site labeled “Explore” https://www.amnh.org/explore, there are
videos, blogs and OLogy: The Science Website for Kids, where kids of all ages
can play games, do activities, watch videos and meet scientists to learn more
about fossils, the universe, genetics, and more. (Check out https://www.amnh.org/explore/ology/brain)
New-York Historical Society is closed so you will have to wait to experience “Women March,” presidential/election exhibits (take a selfie in Reagan’s Oval Office) and “Bill Graham” (phenomenal and surprising exhibit with fabulous musical accompaniment about this iconic concert impresario). Meanwhile, the N-YHS website offers sensational online exhibitions featuring some of their important past exhibits, including ‘Harry Potter; A History of Magic,” and “the Vietnam War: 1945-1975” and Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion (https://www.nyhistory.org/exhibitions/online-exhibitions). You can also delve into its digital collection, with selections from the N-YHS Museum and Library’s holdings paintings, drawings, photographs, manuscripts, broadsides, maps, and other materials that reveal the depth and breadth of over two centuries of collecting. (http://digitalcollections.nyhistory.org/). (See: Many Pathways to Mark Centennial of Women’s Suffrage)
some outdoor venues are open, as of this writing (the situation has changed
The Brooklyn Botanic Garden remains open to
the public, having implemented stringent cleaning protocols and posted new
signage on-site about best practices in personal hygiene. “We hope that the
Garden might offer you some comfort and beauty even during a particularly
stressful time.” (https://www.bbg.org/visit)
Central Park, Prospect Park and Flushing Meadows may well provide needed respite. However, the Wildlife Conservation Society has temporarily closed the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, Queens Zoo and New York Aquarium, effective Monday, March 16. Check wcs.org for updates.
We have become well aware how terrifying Tyrannosaurus rex was, but who knew that T. rex hatchlings were fluffy and gangly, more like turkeys than the massive killing machines they grow to be? Or that the mega-predator had the rare ability to pulverize and digest bones and re-grow its teeth? Or that it grew at the rate of 140 lbs. a month, weighing 6 to 9 tons when fully grown and lived no more than 28 years? That it had excellent vision and sense of smell, but puny hands that probably were vestigial? T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, the first major exhibition of the American Museum of Natural History’s 150th anniversary celebration, brings us face to face with the most iconic dinosaur in the world through life-sized models—including the most scientifically accurate representation of T. rex to date–fossils and casts, engaging interactives, and the Museum’s first multiplayer virtual reality experience.
T. rex: The Ultimate
Predator opens Monday,
March 11, 2019 and will be on view through August 9, 2020, when the exhibit
will likely go on tour.
Founded in 1869, the Museum has a long and celebrated history of international exploration and research in paleontology dating back to the 1890s, with an outsized influence in a field that sits at the intersection of cutting-edge science and the popular imagination. The Museum has a particularly special relationship to T. rex: its famous paleontologist, Barnum Brown, was the first to discover T. rex – in 1902 in Montana – and the first T. rex on display anywhere was here at the museum. This makes the new blockbuster exhibit, T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, inspired by a legacy of scientific exploration and bringing the latest science to the public, a natural launching point for the museum’s 150th anniversary programming.
more than 120 years of dinosaur research and discovery, the Museum continues to
be a leader in this field. Its paleontology collection is one of the largest
and most diverse in the world, with specimens that have led to amazing
discoveries, including the identification of the first dinosaur eggs and early
evidence of dinosaur feathers. A number of recent discoveries about the
tyrannosaur group are highlighted in this exhibition.
and Tyrannosaurus rex in particular,
are such an important and iconic part of the Museum and have been throughout
our history,” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural
History. “So it seems fitting to launch the Museum’s 150th Anniversary
celebrations with a major new exhibition on the ever-intriguing King of
Dinosaurs. This exciting and fascinating exhibition will do what the
Museum has done throughout its history and continues to do today: share the
latest scientific breakthroughs with the public, introduce visitors to the
researchers on the cutting-edge of discovery, shed new light on the great story
of life on Earth, and inspire wonder and curiosity in visitors of all ages.”
Indeed, while Barnum assembled the most complete collection of dinosaur fossils in the world for the museum, the museum has some 34 million specimens and artifacts – one of the most important collections of natural history anywhere. Its library and archives of research documents – like Barnum’s own field notes and letters which show how painstaking and difficult the expeditions were – are the most complete and extensive in the world.
fossils, like other echoes of ancient life, are discoveries of the science of
paleontology. But dinosaurs have a special status that transcends their
importance to science—they fascinate and inspire the masses like few other
animals—living or extinct—can,” said Michael Novacek, the Museum’s senior vice
president and provost for science. “Chief among them is T. rex, perhaps the most famous and celebrated dinosaur that ever
rex: The Ultimate Predator encounter a massive life-sized model of a T.
rex with patches of feathers—the
definitive representation of this prehistoric predator. The exhibition includes
reconstructions of several T. rex hatchlings and a four-year-old
juvenile T. rex; a “roar mixer” where visitors can imagine
what T. rex may have sounded like by
blending sounds from other animals; a shadow theater featuring a floor projection
of an adult T. rex skeleton coming to
life; and a life-sized
animation of T. rex in a Cretaceous
environment that responds to visitors’ movements. At a tabletop “Investigation Station,” visitors can explore a variety of
fossil casts ranging from coprolite (fossilized feces) to a gigantic femur,
with virtual tools including a CT scanner, measuring tape, and a microscope to
learn more about what such specimens can reveal to scientists about the biology
and behavior of T. rex.
rex: The Ultimate Predator is curated by Mark Norell, who joined
the Museum in 1989. Norell, who is the Macaulay Curator in the Museum’s
Division of Paleontology and its chair, has led and participated in a number of
scientific investigations into the biology and evolutionary history of
tyrannosaurs and other theropods—the group of dinosaurs most closely related to
modern birds. His work includes the first discovery of a feathered tyrannosaur,
Dilong paradoxus, in China in 2004. In
addition to Dilong, many of the
species studied by Norell and his colleagues and former students, and recent
research findings, are featured in the new exhibition.
“In the last 30 years, we’ve seen a huge
increase in both the number of tyrannosaur fossil discoveries as well as the
availability of technology that lets us explore complex questions about these
charismatic animals,” Norell said. “I never would have imagined that one day
we’d be able to look at the shape of T.
rex’s brain, analyze the tiny daily growth lines on their massive teeth to
determine how quickly they put on weight, or use advanced biomechanical
modeling to figure out the force of its bite.”
T. rex may have been a mega-predator, but it evolved from humble origins. The full tyrannosaur family includes more than two dozen different species and spans more than 100 million years of evolution, with T. rex appearing only at the very end of that period, between 66 and 68 million years ago. Most dinosaurs in the superfamily Tyrannosauroidea were not giants like T. rex, which, fully grown, weighed between 6 and 9 tons. Early species were small and fast, likely avoiding confrontations with larger dinosaurs.
the exhibit, we come face to face with life-size
models of a number of tyrannosaurs, including: Proceratosaurus bradleyi, the earliest known tyrannosaur that
lived about 167 million years ago and was about the size of a wolf with a crest
on its snout; Dilong paradoxus, which like many early tyrannosaurs, had arms
that were relatively long and capable of seizing small prey, and was the first
tyrannosaur found with fossilized feathers (discovered by exhibition curator
Mark Norell and his colleagues in China); and Xiongguanlong baimoensis,
a mid-sized tyrannosaur that, when it was discovered in 2009, offered a rare
glimpse of a transitional species between the smaller early tyrannosaurs and
the later giants.
The exhibit features interactive elements: visitors are tasked with placing various tyrannosaur family members in the correct time period on a magnetic wall and can experiment with a praxinoscope that animates the difference between walking and running—T. rex could only truly run when it was young. A hands-on interactive lets visitors attach the right size tail to a T. rex torso to create a balanced posture.
How did T. rex get so big when its ancestors were so small? And how did a young T. rex, the size of a turkey grow to the size of a truck? The simple answer: by growing very quickly. T. rex reached full size by its early 20s—about as fast as a human does—but it put on much more weight in that time, gaining up to 140 pounds (65 kg) per month. The exhibition shows T. rex in early developmental stages, showing how the dinosaur transformed from a vulnerable hatchling with a more than 60 percent chance of succumbing to predators, accidents, disease, and failure to find food in its first year of life, to a gargantuan predator at the top of the food chain. No T. rex has been found that has been identified as being older than 28 years.
“T. rex was the ‘James Dean’ of dinosaurs; he would have been very beat up,” said Gregory Erickson, paleobiologist from Florida State University.
of what we see in the exhibit is the result of a new approach to studying
dinosaurs – integrating other scientific disciplines, such as molecular biology
and chemistry, and comparative techniques to contemporary animals such as
crocodiles and birds, as well as new technologies like 3D scanning.
latest understanding also presents T. rex’s “arms” as even tinier than before,
suggesting that they had no function and were vestigial in the course of
evolution. Also, the “hands” have two fingers instead of three.
So far, though, the scientists have been unable to determine a dinosaur’s sex from the skeleton. “It would be nice to know the sex ratio to understand population biology, how bodies changed over their lifespan,” Erickson said. “You have to appreciate just how rare these specimens are – just 1,000 dinosaurs have been named.”
Erickson explains that though scientists know what strata to search, it has to be relatively close to the surface for paleontologists to safely extract the bones without damaging them; also, many of the sites where dinosaurs might be found are in very remote, difficult places. And it may well be true that there were relatively few of the largest dinosaurs, because of the supply of resources available.
exhibits display T. rex at various stages of its development.
We see a life-size
model of a four-year-old T. rex,
which although not yet the “king” it would become in adulthood, would have
weighed about five times more than a four-year-old boy and was as large as any
other predatory dinosaur in its habitat. Fully covered in feathers for warmth
and camouflage, this juvenile T. rex
had relatively long arms (unlike its adult counterparts), a slim body, and
bladelike teeth that could cut through flesh but were not yet capable of
encounter a real fossil of a T. rex toe bone and a touchable cast of a T. rex thigh bone to gain a sense of scale for the fully grown
giant, which stood about 12 to 13 feet high at the hip and was about 40 to 43
feet long. Fossil casts from a close relative to T. rex, Tarbosaurus bataar, illustrate that T. rex wasn’t the only tyrannosaur that looked and behaved
dramatically differently throughout its life. A cast of the youngest and most complete juvenile tyrannosaur fossil
found to date, a two-year-old Tarbosaurus,
has a delicate skull with thin bladelike teeth it likely used to catch small
vertebrates and insects, while the cast
of the huge adult Tarbosaurus skull
indicates that when fully grown, it used its heavy, bone-crushing teeth and
jaws to eat large animals.
All tyrannosaurs were built to kill,
but the biggest and baddest of them all was T. rex. With its huge size,
sharp claws, and teeth that could bite through bone, it dominated the
competition. New research shows that a T.
rex could bite with about 7,800 pounds of force—equivalent to the weight of
three cars – compared to 3,700 pounds of force of a modern crocodile.
We see a fossil of one of these huge, banana-shaped teeth, which relied on
deep roots to withstand the immense forces during a bite, as well as a cast of a fossilized T. rex lower jaw demonstrating the constant replacement cycle
of its fearsome teeth. A full-scale
reproduction of the T. rex fossil
skeleton on display in the Museum’s Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs—in a
different pose—is the subject of the exhibition’s “shadow theater,” in which the skeleton’s 40-foot shadow (somewhat
jarringly) “comes to life” and demonstrate to visitors how the animal moved and
interacted with prey and its own kind.
Scientists long suspected T. rex could bite through bone, thanks to fossils of its powerful skull and teeth. But now there’s proof in fossilized feces, or coprolites, which contain many tiny chunks of bones eroded by stomach acid. High-tech imaging tools like CT scanners, X-ray fluorescence, and microprobe analysis reveal that T. rex was one of the rare species on Earth that could pulverize and digest solid bone. In fact, some T. rex coprolites are 30-50 percent crushed bone. The exhibition features a cast of one of these telltale coprolites as well as a cast of a tail bone from a duck-bill dinosaur with an embedded T. rex tooth surrounded by new bone growth, indicating that T. rex was not just a scavenger but also attacked live prey.
We learn about the fierceness of two
other top predators in the tyrannosaur subfamily, which lived side by side in
Asia about 70 million years ago: Alioramus
and Tarbosaurus. Bulky Tarbosaurus and nimble Alioramus likely specialized in
different prey, much like lions and leopards do today.
Keen Senses of Sight, Smell
We know T. rex from fossils—but what was it like in the flesh? The exhibition’s massive life-size adult T. rex model is based on the most
up-to-date findings and represents the most scientifically accurate
representation of this pop culture icon to date. New research on this powerful
hunter’s senses show that keen vision, smell, and hearing made it very hard for
this predator’s prey to avoid detection.
casts indicate that T. rex had
excellent vision. Its eyes, the size of oranges—some of the largest eyes of any
land animal—faced forward like a hawk and were set wider apart than most other
dinosaurs, giving it superior depth perception.
can you tell the shape of an extinct animal’s brain? Soft tissues such as
brains rarely fossilize. But fossilized skulls often contain a space where the
brain used to be, revealing its precise shape. Scientists use these fossilized
brain cases to make a model, or endocast, of the missing brain. They also use
CT scanning to make a 3D printout of the brain. The exhibition includes a fossilized partial brain case of a T. rex as well as the endocast
scientists created from it for study.
By comparing the areas of the
brain that are responsible for scent, vision, and hearing in tyrannosaurs’
closest living relatives, birds and crocodilians, researchers have determined
that the T. rex brain had similar
regions. For instance, T. rex had an
unusually large olfactory region for a dinosaur, indicating it had a very good
sense of smell. Also like their alligator and crocodile cousins, tyrannosaurs would
likely have had highly sensitive faces. Visitors
can inspect the series of tiny holes on a fossilized skull of Daspletosaurus torosus, a tyrannosaur
that lived between 77 and 74 million years ago. The holes are nearly
identical in number and location to those on an alligator, which have jaws so
sensitive to touch that they can gently pick up an egg or tiny hatchling
without harming it. Fossils of T. rex
show similar rough, pitted surfaces, suggesting it also had similar sense
Technology has allowed scientists
to uncover a great deal about the inner workings of these gigantic predators,
but a number of mysteries remain. For one, what did a T. rex sound like? No one knows. But a logical place to start is to
study their closest living relatives. In the exhibition, a“roar mixer” enables visitors
to combine the calls of birds and crocodilians with the sounds of contemporary
large animals such as elephants, whales, and bison to create a customized roar
that accompanies an animated T. rex.
And what about its outward appearance? Feathers are very delicate and are rarely preserved, and they haven’t been found yet on T. rex. But many other dinosaur fossils, including those from other tyrannosaurs and their relatives, preserved feathers, suggesting that T. rex had at least some feathers. Many scientists think that T. rex hatchlings were probably covered in fuzz like a duckling—but adults were mostly covered in scales, likely with patches of display feathers concentrated on attention-getting areas such as the head and tail. Nobody knows what color T. rex was, and it is often depicted as drab, like a crocodile. But reptiles come in every color of the rainbow, so T. rex could have been brightly colored. Exhibition visitors get to choose from a wide palette of colors, stripes, and spots to imagine what T. rex may have looked like in an engaging interactive experience.
the high level of scientific research that has gone into T. rex: The Ultimate
Predator, the notes that accompany the displays are designed to be accessible
especially for young people who will be enthralled.
At the end of the exhibition, there is a 32-foot long animated projection of a T. rex and its offspring in a Cretaceous-age setting. The huge dinosaur seems to react to visitors, leaving you wondering, “Did that T. rex see me?”
Engaging with T. rex in Virtual Reality
Museum’s science visualization group renders the latest scientific discoveries
in paleontology and other fields through the visualization of big
data. Using digital technologies, scientists today observe, measure, and reproduce
hidden dimensions of the natural world. From the edges of the observable
universe to the evolution of life on Earth, researchers are developing a
radically new understanding of nature that the Museum strives to communicate to
visitors in highly authentic, intuitive, and novel ways. One of these is
virtual reality: an experiential tool that uses objects, models, photos, video
footage, and other types of physical evidence of life history to engage and
part of T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, the Museum will present T.
rex: Skeleton Crew, its first
interactive, multi-player virtual reality experience, created in
collaboration with HTC VIVE. The five-minute
experience will be offered to visitors ages 12 and up within the exhibition.
reality is a magical realm in which our perceptions of time and space are
suspended,” said Vivian Trakinski, the Museum’s director of science
visualization. “In virtual reality, nothing is too small, too big, too fast,
too slow, too distant, or too long ago to be appreciated. We hope this
technology will let our visitors experience the most fantastic and inaccessible
realms of nature.”
“Through VR, visitors can engage with the subject of the exhibition in an exciting, in-depth way that enriches their knowledge and leaves a lasting memory for years to come,” said Victoria Chang, director of HTC VIVE Arts. “This remarkably engaging VR project harnesses the power of premium VR, bringing visitors closer to the anatomy, scale, and majesty of T. rex like never before.”
The facilitated experience “transports” as many as three players at a time to a space similar to the Museum’s Hall of Saurischian Dinosaurs, where they team up to build a T. rex skeleton bone by bone. Once all of the bones are in place, the players watch as the T. rex comes to life in marshland that is now Montana, its home 66 million years ago.
A home version of T. rex: Skeleton Crew will launch on VIVEPORT, HTC VIVE’s global platform and app store, for VIVE owners in summer 2019.
American Museum of Natural History, founded in 1869, is one of the world’s
preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions. The Museum
encompasses 45 permanent exhibition halls, including those in the Rose Center
for Earth and Space and the Hayden Planetarium, as well as galleries for
temporary exhibitions. It is home to the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, New York
State’s official memorial to its 33rd governor and the nation’s 26th president,
and a tribute to Roosevelt’s enduring legacy of conservation.
The Museum’s five active research divisions and three cross-disciplinary centers support approximately 200 scientists, whose work draws on a world-class permanent collection of more than 34 million specimens and artifacts, as well as on specialized collections for frozen tissue and genomic and astrophysical data and on one of the largest natural history libraries in the world. The museum is the launchpad for some 100 expeditions a year. Through its Richard Gilder Graduate School, it is the only American museum authorized to grant the Ph.D. degree and also to grant the Master of Arts in Teaching degree.
Visits to the museum have grown to 5 million, and the Museum’s exhibitions and Space Shows are seen by millions more in venues on six continents. The Museum’s website, mobile apps, and massive open online courses (MOOCs) extend its scientific research and collections, exhibitions, and educational programs to additional audiences around the globe.
Open daily from 10 am – 5:45 pm except on
Thanksgiving and Christmas.
American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192, 212-769-5100, amnh.org.
You are in a room. There’s a mural on the wall with drawings of animals. There is red light and you see a set of animals; then the light turns blue and you see a different set of animals.
In another room, you try to build blocks looking through glasses that turn them upside down. It’s disorienting, and that’s the point.
In another room, you are tricked into thinking two squares on a checkerboard are different shades of grey, when in fact, they are the same.
In another room, you feel off balance by the swiggles of black lines on the walls that don’t equate with the flat floor you are standing on.
In another, you push a button to see the vivid, fluorescent colors of a flower as a bee would see them.
In the new, highly experiential exhibition Our Senses: An Immersive Experience opening at the American Museum of Natural History, a series of 11 funhouse-like galleries dare visitors to rely on their senses—and then reveal how and why what we perceive is not all, or exactly, what’s actually occuring around us. Inspired by extraordinary diversity of sensory “super powers” in species, including humans, across the natural world, Our Senses takes experiential exhibition to a new level. Our Senses opens for a weekend of Member previews beginning on Friday, November 17, and will be on view to the public from Monday, November 20, 2017, through Sunday, January 6, 2019.
“Our senses are essential to how we live and make sense of the world around us. They provide pleasure, warn us of danger, and allow us to interact with one another,” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History. “But how exactly do they work, why did they evolve the way they did, and what things are we not able to sense or perceive accurately? In a kind of ‘sequel’ to our 2010 exhibition about the brain, Our Senses: An Immersive Experience will explore the intriguing power of our sensory perceptions, offering our visitors not only highly enjoyable learning experiences, but an enriched perspective on what makes us human.”
She adds, “Spoiler alert: we have way more than five senses.”
“In a way, this exhibit is a sequel and extension of the 2010 exhibit about The Brain and cognition [which also was curated by Rob Desalle who curated “Our Senses: Am Immersive Experience.”]. While senses gather information and are highly evolved capacities, we can’t make sense of our world without the brain.” That is the role of prior learning, prior experience, culture, which prime our senses, focus our attention, and trigger the brain to interpret and perceive and combine the different stimuli into a message, idea, concept, action.
Human senses, and human brains, adapted over millennia to help our ancestors survive by shaping and enhancing their perceptions of everyday encounters. Our Senses reveals how until recently in our evolutionary history, humans have been oblivious to some of nature’s ubiquitous signals, including UV and infrared light, very high- and very low-frequency sounds, and electric fields. With the advent of new technologies, scientists now know those signals are all around us—whether or not perceptible to us through our senses alone. But detecting things is not enough, because our ears and eyes alone cannot create a conscious perception—that requires a human brain. Human sensory perceptions may seem like windows into the outside world, but actual perceptions are created in the brain.
“How we sense the outside world has been on humans’ minds probably since our species could think about thinking,” said Our Senses curator Rob Desalle, who is a curator in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology. “The evolutionary nature of how and why we sense our surroundings the way we do made this a perfect topic for our museum to explore. This exhibition will immerse visitors in galleries that test their senses, and give them some tools to approach the age-old human question of how we sense the world.”
DeSalle has overseen several major exhibitions, including Brain: The Inside Story, which explored how the human brain uses molecular, chemical, and electrical signals to interpret information and learn at every stage of life, which carry into this exhibition.
Visitors walk through 11 interactive galleries designed to test perceptions and illuminate the complex relationships between sensing and perceiving. A musical soundtrack customized for each space enhances the immersive experience. In addition, a live presenter in the exhibition gallery will invite visitors to discover why humans have senses and what’s unique about human perception—including why human beings are the only species that creates imaginary sensory experiences and shares them with others through language.
The exhibit is laid out in a way that will particularly appeal to younger people – they will particularly love the puzzles and illusions – providing an understanding of how they perceive the world that will be foundational to learning. But adults, giving more intense look, will find some up-to-the-minute research: for example, that birds can regenerate the cilia in the ear that if humans lose it, lose their hearing, so scientists are studying if cilia can also be regenerated in humans; that male peacocks don’t just use their stunning plumage to visually attract a mate, they move it so it produces a sound, imperceptible to humans, but that is attractive to females.
There is a 20-minute live presentation that really brings home the message: we have more than five senses, the ones that we use to navigate the outer world and let us know where we are in space. We also have inner senses that monitor when we are hungry, thirsty, tired, oxygen-deprived and need to breathe. Every animal – even single-cell animals – have some senses and many animals have senses that are superior to humans, humans are the only animal (that we know of) that can imagine and communicate.
“No other animal can conjure up whole scene using complex signals. Only humans can create imaginary sensory perception and share through language. For example, only humans can make up a story and share it,” the presenter tells us.
“Humans don’t’ just take information into the brain, we can send information out. We can imagine a sensory experience and make it real: create food, fashion, art, architecture, machines, melody and manuscripts.
“Most sensory experiences we have are products of our imagination. We don’t just experience what is – we create what we imagine, then share it with others.”
“Nothing makes sense in absence of evolution,” DeSalle says. He points to the fact that single-cell animals have a primordial sense of touch, they can determine where they are in space. “Our senses go back 3.5 billion years, to the origin of life.”
“Our brain and senses have evolved so that the brain can process what the senses take in with rapid response,” he says. “Because of the way brain evolved, we have some wild ways of dealing with information… Sometimes there is conflict between the brain and signals the senses receive (there are examples in the exhibit) – where we are primed to see something else, but interpret based on what we already sense. That is Evolution: to deal with rapid response.”
For example, the exhibit shows how we are primed to focus – based on internal needs, experience or habit or prompts– in order to break through the clutter of sights and sounds.
Senses are our source of information about the world, without which, we wouldn’t be able to survive. Take the sense of smell, for example, which helps us determine which food is edible, and which is rotten and could cause disease.
There is an incredible spectrum of the capabilities of senses – many animals exceed our own; humans have a particular space on the spectrum. For example, humans see only a narrow range of light compared to other animals and do not have very sensitive touch. But humans build machines that allow us to sense beyond our range – think of microscopes, telescopes, night-vision glasses, hearing aids, cochlea implants.
You need at least 1 ½ hours to go through – even more if you want to do the immersive activities. And it is helpful to go through once, but then go back and spend more time reading the explanations.
Entrance is by a timed ticket (free with admission), which you can obtain online before you come, or when you arrive at the museum.
Our Senses is open from Monday, November 20, 2017, through Sunday, January 6, 2019. (Members will be able to preview the exhibition starting on Friday, November 17, through Sunday, November 19.) In conjunction with the exhibition, OLogy, the Museum’s science website for kids, has an exhibition-related feature about optical illusions and what they reveal about the human brain and our species’ evolutionary past. Also, Our Senses Curator Rob Desalle explains the human brain for kids in a video: Why is the brain so wrinkly? What does the brain do while we sleep? DeSalle, curator in the Museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology, answers these questions and more about one of our most vital organs. (Click goo.gl/UMQw7B)
The exhibition is designed and produced by the American Museum of Natural History’s award-winning Exhibition Department under the direction of Lauri Halderman, vice president for exhibition.
Our Senses is supported by Dana and Virginia Randt.
A program, “The Neuroscience of Illusion,” with master illusionist Apollo Robbins and neuroscientists Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde will be offered Tuesday, Dec. 5 at 7 pm ($15, Seniors and Students $13.50, members $12); special access to the Senses exhibition available to ticket holders one hour prior, 6-7 pm; tickets at amnh.org.
There’s still time to take in the extraordinary “Mummies” exhibit, on view until Jan. 7, 2018 (admission by timed ticket; need the General Admission Plus 1).
Visiting the Museum
The American Museum of Natural History, founded in 1869, is one of the world’s preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions. The Museum encompasses 45 permanent exhibition halls, including those in the Rose Center for Earth and Space and the Hayden Planetarium, as well as galleries for temporary exhibitions. It is home to the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, New York State’s official memorial to its 33rd governor and the nation’s 26th president, and a tribute to Roosevelt’s enduring legacy of conservation.
The Museum’s five active research divisions and three cross-disciplinary research centers support approximately 200 scientists, whose work draws on a world-class permanent collection of more than 34 million specimens and artifacts, as well as specialized collections for frozen tissue and genomic and astrophysical data, and one of the largest natural history libraries in the world. Through its Richard Gilder Graduate School, it is the only American museum authorized to grant the Ph.D. degree, and, beginning in 2015, the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree, the only such freestanding museum program. Annual visitation has grown to approximately 5 million, and the Museum’s exhibitions and Space Shows are seen by millions more in venues on five continents.
The Museum’s website, mobile apps, and MOOCs (massive open online courses) extend its scientific research and collections, exhibitions, and educational programs to additional audiences around the globe. Visit amnh.org for more information.
Museum admission is free to all New York City school and camp groups.
Pay-what-you-wish admission is available only at ticket counters, where the amount you pay is up to you.
General Admission, which includes admission to all 45 Museum halls and the Rose Center for Earth and Space but does not include special exhibitions, giant-screen 2D or 3D film, or Space Show, is $23 (adults), $18 (students/seniors), and $13 (children ages 2–12). All prices are subject to change.
General Admission Plus One includes general admission plus one special exhibition, giant-screen 2D or 3D film, or Space Show: $28 (adults), $22.50 (students/seniors), $16.50 (children ages 2–12).
General Admission Plus All includes general admission plus all special exhibitions, giant-screen 2D or 3D film, and Space Show: $33 (adults), $27 (students/seniors), $20 (children ages 2–12).
American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, is open daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas), 10 am–5:45 pm. For additional information, call 212-769-5100 or visit the Museum’s website at amnh.org. Become a fan of the American Museum of Natural History on Facebook at facebook.com/naturalhistory, follow on Instagram at @AMNH, Tumblr at amnhnyc, or Twitter at twitter.com/AMNH.
The Gilded Lady seems to be resting peacefully, her painted visage staring up to the sky. But inside this container are the remains of a real woman who lived nearly 2000 years ago, and for the first time, the ancient coalesces with 21st century scientific techniques: we actually get to peer inside, probing down layer by layer to her mortal remains, and then, at a digitally reconstructed, 3-D image of her as she lived: this middle-aged woman was beautiful.
She has already traveled from Chicago where she lives at the Field Museum, to Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Denver and now she is reposing here in New York as part of Mummies, an extraordinary exhibit featuring one of the largest collections of mummies housed in North America that just opened at the American Museum of Natural History through January 7, 2018.
The exhibit provides an unparalleled glimpse into the lives and traditions of people from ancient cultures. It puts us face to face, head to head with people who lived their lives thousands of years ago, in Egypt and in Peru – two of the many cultures that practiced mummification. The contrasts and the similarities are striking, and just as their similarities speak to a unity of humanity, this extraordinary way of connecting past to present connects us as human beings. (And to bring about an even broader connection, increasing the span from thousands to 100s of thousands of years ago, be sure to visit the AMNH’s Human Evolution wing.)
“Mummies have long been fascinating, and now the intersection of these ancient relics and cutting-edge technology is revealing new and intriguing secrets,” said Ellen V. Futter, President of the American Museum of Natural History. “For generations, the Museum has studied and presented the diverse cultures of humanity, past and present, to help us better understand one another and ourselves. Today, when such understanding is more important than ever, Mummies invites us all to consider both what may be distinct among cultures and what is universal in the human condition.”
On a special, limited tour from the collections of The Field Museum in Chicago — and presented for the first time on the East Coast (the traveling exhibition has already been on view in Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Denver), Mummies showcases the ritually preserved remains of 18 individuals from ancient Egypt and pre-Columbian Peru. The Peruvian mummies that are on display have not been seen since they were exhibited at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
Significantly, you get to discover how modern imaging techniques have transformed the study of mummification by letting researchers peer inside centuries-old mummies without disturbing or damaging them. Digital touchscreens let you “virtually” peer into Peruvian mummy bundles, layer by layer from the skin to the bones, as well as animal mummies buried as offerings to Egyptian gods. You also get to handle 3D-printed figurines of burial goods that were encased within mummy wrappings for millennia and only recently revealed.
“You may think you know mummies,” Futter said at a press preview, pointing to the most popular representations in horror movies. “That’s not what this show is about. This is serious business that simultaneously offers a window to the past – two different ancient worlds – and into the latest technology and study. You get a glimpse of actual people entombed – who they were, what their lives were like, what they looked like.”
“They are like messages from a different time – they are our sisters and brothers in a shared humanity. It may not be as sensational as a [horror] movie, but more amazing than you would have imagined.”
Indeed, most people – especially young people – have never actually seen a dead body before. The most profound experience in the exhibit is seeing the remains of a woman who lived 5500 years ago, whose bundled body was left in the Egyptian desert where it naturally mummified.
Indeed, it wasn’t just pharaohs and their spouses and other royal figures who were mummified, though their tombs and the possessions that were left with them reflected their station. This was the common practice – as people were lower and lower down the economic totem pole, the possessions that they would have been buried with were more and more modest.
In Egyptian society, it was also common for animals to be mummified and buried – there is a baboon and a crocodile in the exhibit. Cats were actually popular and David Hurst Thomas, the co-curator of the exhibit, said that archaeologists found cemeteries of a million mummified cats, manufactured for sale to be entombed with the loved one.
It is fascinating to have this view to contrast the Peruvian mummies (I’m betting few people have even realized that pre-Colombian Peruvian peoples practiced mummification), with the Egyptian burial practices. The two civilizations never interacted – mummification developed independently, indeed, on every continent but Antarctica, Dr. David Hurst Thomas, curator of North American archaeology, division of Anthropology and co-Curator of the Mummies exhibit, said at a press preview of the exhibit.
In Peru, mummification was intended to enable the living to stay connected with their loved ones. The body was carefully prepared and wrapped and then a mask was placed on top the canvas.
One of the scans of a bundle reveals that it is a woman with two children. The scans also show artifacts that have been buried with the individual.
The ancient Egyptians, in contrast, mummified their dead so that they could live on – their limbs intact – in the next world. The earliest mummies, like the 5500-year old woman, were not buried in elaborate pyramids or tombs, but were put into a pit grave. Over the centuries, the mummification process became more and more elaborate – organs were preserved in canopic jars and bodies placed in magnificently painted coffins with gilded masks.
By using these new technologies – most that have come from medicine – the scientists have been able to see artifacts that were buried with them, how a mother is buried with her two children (how did they die?).
“They have so much to teach us – medical infirmities, migration, interaction of societies,”
The Gilded Lady, for example, is utterly fascinating – you see her in her magnificently decorated coffin, and on the wall are the slides that show how her hair was curled, had a damaged spine, possibly as a result of tuberculosis. Based on the scan of her skull, they made a 3-D reconstruction using a 3-D printer, and from that, like a forensic scientist, re-created what she likely looked like in life – all of this in one view.
The gilded mask that we see was not meant to illustrate how the woman looked in life, but was an idealized portrait that had a purpose: the Ancient Egyptians believed that in the afterlife, the dead would need their faculties – eyesight, hearing, taste and smell. The masks allowed them to maintain these senses. The golden skin was used to show divinity: after death, the dead would be transformed into the god Osiris, who, like most gods, had skin of gold.
The Gilded Lady lays across the room from another mummy, named Minirdis according to the hieroglyphs on the coffin. The coffin was opened for the first time in a century for this exhibition. In examining the remains, researchers discovered the teenaged boy inside was mummified around 250 BC, or 200 years after the coffin was made, construction of the coffin, indicating that the mummified individual wasn’t Minirdis after all, and confirming that coffins were occasionally recycled (though might not the inscription have been added when the boy was buried?)
The hieroglyphs on the coffin say the name of the mummy who is supposed to go inside it – Minirdis, son of a priest. Preserving the person’s name was essential for their soul to reach the afterlife. Minirdis means “Min is the one who gave him,” and Min was a god of fertility. The inscription also says that Minirdis’ father, Inaros was a priest, in charge of purifying and clothing the god’s statue. The only problem was that the boy inside was mummified around 250 BC, or 200 years after the coffin was made, indicating that the mummified individual wasn’t Minirdis after all, but also confirming that coffins were occasionally recycled.
The scans of the body show that the coffin was too large for the body inside and the bones hadn’t fused, indicating that the body was a teenage boy.
The CT scans enabled scientists to generate 3D-printed skull reconstructions of both the “Gilded Lady” and Minirdis. Then, artist Elisabeth Daynès studied the replicas and built facial muscles and skin layer by layer. The hyper-realistic portraits in 3D. we meet at the end of the exhibit let us come face-to-face with these ancient people, seeing them as they may have looked in life —while their mummified remains sleep peacefully.
Peruvian Mummies On View for the First Time in a Century
We are much more familiar with Egyptian mummies, particularly with the sensational exhibits of King Tut and the artifacts uncovered from his tomb in the Valley of Kings, as well as the scientific analysis of his mummified remains. But this exhibit goes much further in its exploration of the cultural significance of the burial practice.
The first part of the exhibit focuses on the collection of Peruvian Mummies, which had not been seen in public since they were on display in the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
People living along the Pacific coast of South America in what is now Peru began to mummify their dead more than 5,000 years ago. Scholars think that the Chinchorro culture (5,000–2,000 BC)—the world’s first practitioners of mummification—prepared the bodies of their loved ones personally, removing the deceased’s skin, de-fleshing the bones, and removing the organs before reinforcing the skeleton with reeds and clay and reattaching the skin. The mummy was then painted black or red and given a wig and an individualized clay portrait of the deceased.
In addition to the Chinchorro, dozens of societies in the region mummified their dead to remember and remain connected with the departed.
As we walk through the Mummies exhibit, we encounter a number of Peruvian mummy bundles, including the mummified remains of three children from the Chancay culture (AD 1000–1400), which placed their dead into a sitting position and wrapped them in layers of cloth.
The exhibit is very much hands-on, interactive, if you can believe it, because you get to do what scientists do, in penetrating the layers of scans to reveal the body contained in the wrappings, through the skin layer, to the bones.
There are digital touchscreens, where you can examine composite CT scans of these mummies and virtually “unwrap” them to reveal figurines and other burial offerings that are contained within, becoming surprised as surely the scientists were, when a scan reveals a mother with two children bundled together, or seeing the objects that were personal or prized which reveal so much about who they were in life.
A life-sized diorama of a Chancay pit burial demonstrates the common practice of interring members of an extended family together. These burial pits were accessible to living family members, allowing relatives to bring food or drink to their loved ones’ graves, or even to remove mummies to take them to festivals or other special events. We see examples of real burial offerings such as chicha (corn beer) pots.
Jim Phillips, curator of The Field Museum, tells me that the Peruvian mummies were uncovered on expeditions in the 1880s and 1890. This means they would have been recent finds – the most modern discoveries – when they were displayed at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.
Egyptian Mummies of the Nile Valley
Unlike people in Peru, ancient Egyptians believed the dead could live on in the next world if provided with a physical home, preferably within the body itself. This belief made it essential to preserve the corpse, and Egyptians used an elaborate process of mummification to halt the natural process of decay. Scholars posit that natural mummification—an example of which can be seen in the remains of a woman whose preservation occurred naturally in the hot, dry sand about 5,500 years ago—gave Egyptians the idea for artificial mummification.
Within centuries, ritual burial in Egypt evolved into a complex practice that included elaborate embalming, brilliantly decorated sarcophagi, and grandiose tombs designed to deter grave-robbers (we see magnificent limestone busts from sarcophagi that were an added layer of security to those who could afford this extra protection and would have weighed thousands of pounds). Organs that would hasten decay—the liver, lungs, intestines, and stomach—were removed, preserved, wrapped, and housed in separate containers. The heart—thought to be the source of emotion and intellect—often stayed in place, since it would be necessary in the afterlife, while the brain, thought to have no use, was removed through the nose. Forty days in salt desiccated the body, and embalmers then used resins, oils, and padding to restore its appearance before wrapping it in linen. Artifacts on view include a Ptolemaic Period mummy (332-30 BC) along with canopic jars containing the person’s organs. Here, there are stations where you can handle 3D-printed burial figurines that depict ancient Egyptian gods provide visitors with an opportunity to explore the hidden artifacts within its wrappings.
The objects found in Egyptian tombs were meant to provide for the deceased in the afterlife. Burials of wealthy Egyptians include their servants, represented by figurines called shawabti; ideally there would be 365 of these, one for each day of the year, with 36 overseers, one for each week in the Egyptian calendar. Even mummified animals were included in tombs, and archaeologists have uncovered cemeteries containing millions of animal mummies, including cats, baboons, gazelles, birds and even crocodiles, some of which are on view. Grave-robbing was rampant in ancient Egypt, and an Egyptian tomb diorama represents a type of crypt that Egyptians with rank or wealth constructed to guard against such thefts. Within the tomb, a plain stone sarcophagus contains a smaller stone sarcophagus and a wooden coffin from the Late Period (525-343 BC) covered in hieroglyphs. Most of the imagery on the coffin was inspired by scenes in The Book of the Dead, a collection of funerary texts believed to assist a person’s journey into the afterlife.
Dr. Thomas says the Gilded Lady steals the show, and indeed she does. She was mummified during the Roman Period (30 BC-AD 395), a period when we see in the exhibit the most magnificently painted coffins. There is one of a woman whose coffin is a stunning piece of artwork – it has a magnificent gilded mask and the body had pronounced breasts. Why? The anthropologists could not say, showing that there is still so much more to be learned.
Mummies is on view in New York through January 7, 2018. The exhibition is co-curated at the American Museum of Natural History by David Hurst Thomas, Curator of North American Archaeology in the Division of Anthropology, and John J. Flynn, Frick Curator of Fossil Mammals in the Division of Paleontology.
Mummies was developed by The Field Museum, Chicago, and will go back there for an exhibition after its New York showing.
Mummies is featured in the Museum’s recently re-launched Explorer app, developed with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, which lets visitors think like an explorer by personalizing their onsite experience using cutting-edge location-aware technology that provides unique journeys through the Museum’s 45 permanent halls.
When we see these fantastic exhibits, we don’t necessarily see behind them, to the fact that the American Museum of Natural History, founded in 1869, is one of the world’s preeminent scientific, educational, and cultural institutions, whose research has contributed not only to their discovery, but to the understanding of what is displayed.
Indeed, the press tour takes us behind the scenes to the institution’s Microscopy and Imaging Facility – the technology that would have been used to scan the mummies. The equipment is shared by all five departments of the institution, whether AMNH scientists are studying fossils, cultural artifacts, planets or solar systems, the cutting-edge imaging technologies in the facility make it possible to examine details that were previously unobservable. While earlier studies often required unwrapping mummies – which could have damaged them – tools like high-resolution computerized tomography (CT) scanner provide scientists with non-invasive methods to examine them. MIF technician Morgan Hill walked us through the process, along with Zachary Calamari, a Ph.D. student in comparative biology program at the Museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School, who showed us how the scans help in research of two naturally-mummified newborn wooly mammoths – one who was mummified by being frozen and the other who was “pickled.”
During our visit, the CT scanner is doing an image of a rabbit. It is this ability to understand the internal aspects of dinosaurs and fossils that have led scientists to rejigger Evolution’s schema, to redefine who is related to who and what is connected to what.
The Museum’s five active research divisions and three cross-disciplinary centers support approximately 200 scientists, whose work draws on a world-class permanent collection of more than 33 million specimens and artifacts, as well as specialized collections for frozen tissue and genomic and astrophysical data, and one of the largest natural history libraries in the world. Through its Richard Gilder Graduate School, it is the only American museum authorized to grant the Ph.D. degree and the Master of Arts in Teaching degree.
The Museum encompasses 45 permanent exhibition halls, including the Rose Center for Earth and Space and the Hayden Planetarium, as well as galleries for temporary exhibitions. It is home to the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, New York State’s official memorial to its 33rd governor and the nation’s 26th president, and a tribute to Roosevelt’s enduring legacy of conservation.
The museum gets 5 million visitors a year and the Museum’s exhibitions and Space Shows can be seen in venues on five continents. The Museum’s website and apps for mobile devices extend its collections, exhibitions, and educational programs to millions more beyond its walls.
American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024-5192, 212-769-5100. Open daily from 10 am-5:45 pm except on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Visit amnh.org for more information.