You know how I love a university natural history museum. It was Harvard‘s that started this whole Museum Tourist venture, and I’ve also reported on Yale and the University of Kansas, and oh gosh, someday I will get to the notes I took at Berkeley.
So on a trip to Ann Arbor recently, of course I had to check on the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History, formerly–and less eloquently–known as the Exhibit Museum of Natural History, I suppose to emphasize that they were actually showing things off, instead of just doing research. Research is the point of university natural history museums (and is the reason I haven’t gotten around to blogging about Berkeley–they have hardly anything on display).
Let’s look at some rocks and bones.
Does that look like any old rock? Well, it’s not. For one thing, look how pretty! For another, it’s a piece of the Acasta Gneiss, a rock formation in northern Canada. That’s some of the oldest rock on Earth, about 4 billion years old. The Earth only started to form about 4.6 billion years ago. Of course, almost everything on Earth has been here for something like four and a half billion years. It’s just that most of it has been melted down and turned into something else in the last 4 billion years, and this rock hasn’t.
The museum’s main room is about the history of life, with old-fashioned display cases around the edges and some nicely redone skeletons in the middle. I particularly enjoyed the mastodons.
This old girl was found in the 1960′s on a farm in Michigan. Mastodon bones are pretty common in Michigan, and I like that the museum features local fossils so prominently. Like mammoths, mastodons are extinct elephant relatives. You can tell them apart by their teeth and the slope of their foreheads. (Learn more from the Field Museum’s online exhibit about mammoths and mastodons.)
Skeletons of animals from 10,000 years ago are rarely complete, and this one needed some filling in. But you don’t have to guess which bits are real and which aren’t. The museum lays it out for you.
Yes, the tusks are fake, but don’t worry, the museum didn’t make up this mastodon’s differently-sized tusks; she really did break one during her lifetime. The real pieces of ancient ivory are safe in the collection.
One last thing: a little section of the carving around the door to the museum.