SV-POW! on tour: Oxford University Museum of Natural History
August 21, 2008
It’s very rare that all three of us SV-POW!ers get together: in fact, until Tuesday this week, it had only ever happened once, at SVPCA 2005. But as Matt was spending nearly a fortnight with me (Mike) in England, far from his native land — an unholy blend of Oklahoma and California — it would have been stupid not to have all got together. So we did, on the 19th, at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH).
The public gallery of the OUMNH is my favourite in the whole world, despite its inexplicable failure to exhibit so much as a single sauropod presacral. That’s because it is just so darned full of stuff. For example, here is Darren, with me, trying to figure out how ventral compressing-bracing of the neck is supposed to work in crocodiles:
Above our heads is a sequence of whale skeletons; to the right is a cabinet full of stuffed crocodilians; in the background, poking its head over the cabinet is a cast of the T. rex “Stan”. Further cabinets in the isle we’re in contain turtles, bizarre fish skulls, giant frog skeletons, and much, much more. Turn a corner and you’re confronted by a vampire squid; face the other direction and there’s a giant Japanese spider crab, or an absurdly oversized pliosaur mandible, or a cast of a Bernissart Iguanodon, or the skeleton of an echidna, giraffe or juvenile gorilla — or any one of a hundred thousand other fascinating exhibits. What you won’t find is “interactives” (i.e. the low-rent video games that infest nearly all museums and which are embarrasingly lame compared with what the kids can play at home on their X-boxes.)
Does this mean that the museum has made itself interesting for clever, sophisticated adults at the cost of being too “difficult” for children? Not a bit of it: Fiona and I took our three sons to the OUMNH a couple of months ago, and I have literally never seen them so excited about anything. Ever. All three of them were running from exhibit to exhibit for two solid hours, constantly calling each other and us to Wow! Come and see THIS! Guess what? Turns out that, when people go to Natural History museums, they like to look at Natural History. So OUMNH is a salutory lesson to every museum whose public galleries have been ruined by people who have, somehow, failed to understand this very, very, very simple principle.
Anyway, sorry for the tangent. What I wanted to show you was The Three SV-POW!sketeers, together at last! So here we are, in front of a bunch of awesome artiodactyl skeletons. From left to right, Mike, Matt and Darren.
(In case you’re wondering, those four grey blobs on my T-shirt are dorsals 8 and 9 from Migeod’s Tendaguru brachiosaurid, BMNH R5937, in posterior, right lateral and anterior views. One of these days, I’ll show you those properly.)
Anyway: packed though the museum is with wonderful things, there is one particular exhibit that stands head and shoulders above every other — a specimen so literally awe-inspiring that, wherever you are in the museum, whatever you’re looking at, you can hardly help but be aware of it, lurking in your peripheral vision and ready to command your full attention. We’re talking about a dinosaur so iconic that it needs no introduction: so, here we are, studying an anterior caudal vertebra of Cetiosaurus oxoniensis:
And finally, here we are having torn ourselves away from the Caudal Of Awesomeness, facing the camera for your pleasure:
That’s all for today — hope you can forgive the “lite” nature of this week’s post: we’ll get back to your usual hardcore action real soon now (though possibly not before a few more OUMNH pictures).
And, yes, we did also visit the collections at OUMNH; and, yes, we did find something absolutely fascinating. But we won’t be saying much about that on here, because we want to Wait For The Paper.