Remember, most natural history museums aren't just for the entertainment of the public, they are also working research facilities, so the exhibits you see on display are usually just a tiny fraction of what that museum actually has to offer. A big reason why so many specimens are kept away from the public is because, especially in the case of fossils, they are safer that way. Being in a dark, cool, drawer is a lot less taxing then mounted out in the open air under bright lights all day. There is also protection against the off chance that a visitor might break the rules and try to touch, climb on, or even steal the specimen. (Which happens more often than you might think.) Because of this many of the skeletons on display are cast replicas, with the real specimens locked away safely elsewhere.
The second reason why so many specimens are kept behind the scenes is that it's much easier for scientists to work with them, like taking measurements or scanning, that way. If a fossil is on display, mounted up, or in a glass case, it is a hassle to get it safely out and into a lab for study, then put it back safely after.
As stated in my last article at the Academy, since it is so incredibly old for a museum, some of the specimens kept here have a very deep and rich history. The Academy of Natural Sciences actually has a valuable collection of ice age mammal fossils. (unfortunately there aren't many mammal fossils actually on display to the public.) The first of which was shown to me was a Mastodon tooth that originally belonged to former United States president and founding father, Thomas Jefferson.
|Mastodon teeth that once were part of Thomas Jefferson's collection. Note how worn down the one on the left, being held by Jason Poole, is.|
One of these teeth was worn down and was actually concave by the time the animal died. This tells us the Mastodon it belonged to was old when it died. Jefferson was fascinated by Mastodon, and was hoping there might still be some alive in the still unexplored by Europeans, Western part of the United States.
|Jason Poole showing us the Academy's MASSIVE Bison latifrons skull. Look at the size of that horn core! Not imagine if it wasn't broken and had a layer of keratin over it!|
Elsewhere in the fossil drawers were America's first two scientifically described non-avian dinosaurs. The museum has casts of both of them on display for guests to enjoy, but it also has the original real specimens! New Jersey's official state fossil, Hadrosaurus foulkii and New Jersey's resident tyrannosauroid, Dryptosaurus aquiluguis. In addition to the classic dinosaurs all kids know, like Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops, Dryptosaurus and Hadrosaurus have always been two of my absolute favorite dinosaurs since I was little. Knowing they existed near where I grew up made me proud to be from New Jersey, and seeing them for real and in person (their bones at least.) was a dream come true.
|The real bones of Hadrosauris foulkii. This was the start of American dinosaur paleontology back in the 1800s.|
|That's my starstruck face posing next to the real fossils of my favorite meat-eating dinosaur, Dryptosaurus.|
|Another view of Dryptosaurus' bones. Jason Poole is holding up the dinosaur's famous giant hooked hand claw.|
The Academy is also home to some more recently discovered dinosaur fossils. Scientists in association with this museum were responsible for discovering and describing the Jurassic sauropod dinosaur, Suuwassea in the early 2000s. Some of the original bones of this fascinating beast are on display, but most of the material is safely locked down below.
|Original vertebra from the sauropod dinosaur, Suuwassea, being held up by Jason Poole.|
Special thank you to Jason Poole who took us down into the depths of the museum's collection to show us all these invaluable fossils.
Our trip through the Academy of Natural Sciences isn't over yet! Join me next time for a tour through one of the museum's seasonal exhibits about dinosaurs that isn't open anymore!