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.

7 Responses to “SV-POW! on tour: Oxford University Museum of Natural History”

  1. Nathan Myers Says:

    I see three stinkin’ mammals, reared up on their hind legs and with regulation-issue seven cervical vertebra apiece, who neglect their exercise to maintain the awesomest weekly blog on the net, inside a very big glass box and surrounded by smaller glass boxes full of shards of excellence.

  2. Dave Godfrey Says:

    If you haven’t seen it, I think you’ll love UCL’s Grant Museum Zoology. It isn’t nearly as big and airy as Oxford (they can only fit the skull of their beaked whale on display) but its stuffed to the gunnells with specimens.

  3. Zach Miller Says:

    This is clearly a place I need to go. Or, if possible, LIVE.

  4. […] at the end of this post).  This is so awesome that I have had to revise my previous opinion that the public gallery of the OUMNH is my favourite in the whole world.  It is now an honourable […]

  5. […] September 28, 2010 Welcome to post four of what seems to be turning out to be Camel Week here on SV-POW!.  As it happens, I spent last Friday and Saturday in Oxford, for a meeting of the Tolkien Society, and I had three hours or so to spend in the wonderful Oxford University Natural History Museum. […]

  6. […] extraordinary specimen from the wonderful Oxford University Museum of Natural History: the skeleton of a goliath frog Conraua goliath, the largest extant anuran, which comfortably […]

  7. […] let’s take a look at the skeleton of the same animal in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (downloaded from here but for some reason the photo has now gone […]

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