Refloating the Ark

David Gelsthorpe:

So excited the conference is inspiring people to get excited about nature already!

Originally posted on Collections in the Landscape:

Hello…again

I’m very pleased to be back at Buxton Museum & Art Gallery and to be involved once more in Collections in the Landscape. I’d only been at my desk for a couple of days last week when I was whisked away to attend a conference hosted by Manchester Museum.  Refloating the Ark explored the role natural history collections can play in engaging the public with environmental issues, and also how they can contribute to, and attract, new research.

Collections in the Landscape is all about connecting people with museum collections and the Derbyshire landscape. We want to foster a sense of place, and an appreciation and pride in our heritage. Speakers at the conference spoke of ‘Nature Connectedness’, when people feel like part of a wider, natural community. There’s much to gain from this vision, and in our project we certainly do want to connect people with the…

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Story telling at the La Brea Tar Pits

One of the reasons I wanted to visit The La Brea Tar Pits was to see how they tell the story of animals in the Last Ice Age.

Most of their displays are fairly traditional and date from the 1970s, but include some really spectacular specimens. One of the things I really liked was the wall of wolf skulls. It reminded me of Manchester Museum’s Nature’s Library gallery and really hammered home the dominance of predators at La Brea.

Mass display of Dire Wolf skulls

Mass display of Dire Wolf skulls

The really innovative thing at the museum is the ‘fish bowl’ lab. It was one of the first museums to pioneer the meet the scientist type of display. Visitors clearly found it really interesting, but it did still present a barrier between the visitor and the scientists.

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Alongside the displays were and army of dedicated volunteers and staff giving tours and doing object handling using casts. They were great at bringing the fossils to life, but I was a bit disappointed that the object handling did not use any real objects, missing an opportunity there.

Volunteer showing off her cast of a  Sabretoothed Cat

Volunteer showing off her cast of a Sabretoothed Cat

Where The La Brea Tar Pits comes in to its own is the on site excavation and interpretation. New material is being discovered every day, which is clearly very exciting. Daily tours give visitors the opportunity to meet the people excavating the fossils from the tar and make the experience really dynamic.

Project 23 excavation

Project 23 excavation

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Board detailing that day’s discoveries

This had clearly been thought through and the people we spoke to on my tour were really great at simply explaining what they were doing, what they had found and why it was important. My only slight thing was that it was a bit of a shame it was all done across a high security fence, but I guess this is an issue lots of museums in parks have to try and resolve.

The La Brea Tar Pits is an incredible place and is one of the finest places in the world to learn about Ice Age animals. It should be on everyone’s bucket list!

I would like to thank The Art Fund, Ruffer Curatorial Grants scheme for generously funding this research trip.

Migration of Bison at the La Brea Tar pits

The fossil Bison at the La Brea Tarpits show some amazing evidence of seasonal migration.

Ancient Bison

Ancient Bison

 

By looking at the wear and number of teeth, it is possible to tell that the Bison were either 2 to 4, 14 to 16 or 26 to 30 months old. There are no animals in between these ages, so Bison were only present a few months a year.

If the Bison were born at the same time of year as modern Bison calves, the La Brea Tar Pits Bison were here every year in late Spring.

I would like to thank The Art Fund, Ruffer Curatorial Grants scheme for generously funding this research trip.

Ice Age animals at the La Brea Tar Pits

Thee Page Museum, La Brea Tar Pits has an incredible collection of over five million fossils and is constantly growing as new material is uncovered.

The animals date from between 40,000 and 9,000 years ago and represent more than 600 species from the end of the Last Ice Age. The environment was similar to that in California today, but a few degrees cooler and a little wetter.

Here are some of the highlights from the collection:

Sabretoothed Cat

Sabretoothed Cat

American Mastodon

American Mastodon

Colombian Mammoth

Colombian Mammoth

Dire Wolf

Dire Wolf

Monterey Pine

Monterey Pine

Errant Eagle

Errant Eagle

Sabretoothed attacking a Ground Sloth

Sabretoothed Cat attacking a Ground Sloth

Short-faced bear

Short-faced bear

The vast stores at the Paige museum

The vast stores at the Paige museum

Box of Sabretoothed Cat skulls

Box of Sabretoothed Cat skulls

The comparative anatomy collection

The comparative anatomy collection

Ice Age animals frieze at the museum

Ice Age animals frieze at the museum

I would like to thank The Art Fund, Ruffer Curatorial Grants scheme for generously funding this research trip.

The amazing La Brea Tar Pits

I’m here at the Page Museum, La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles to look at the work they do with the public and the amazing Ice Age animals.

I would like to thank The Art Fund, Ruffer Curatorial Grants scheme for generously funding this research trip.

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The La Brea Tar Pits formed as crude oil seeped to the surface from underground oil deposits. In warm weather the pools formed hidden traps for Ice Age animals and preserved bones, insects and woody plants in exceptional detail.

The fossils preserved in the tar have been excavated since the late 1800s and are still being found today. The most recent are from blocks of tar and sediment from when they built an underground car park at the LACMA art museum next door.

One of the massive developments in understanding at the Tar Pits in the last 50 years is the excavation of microfossils from the sediment. This has yielded everything from reptile scales to beetles which has transformed our understanding of the environment.

The work is carried out by a mix of staff and a team of dedicated volunteers.

Visiting Mammoths at North Sea Fossils in Holland

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Snow spiders, shrimps and migration of Ice Age animals

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