Wednesday, July 27, 2016

American Museum of Natural History Part One, The Hall of Ornithischian Dinosaurs

If you’re going to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), make sure you go there via the subway, this way you won’t miss the amazing AMNH station, with its fossil strewn walls and murals of living creatures.

The station is full of artwork, and the stairwell has been designed as though you are descending through geological time the deeper you go (81st street entrance) or diving into the ocean (79th street entrance). It’s a great way to start off your visit. The station also has its own entrance into the museum, helping you miss those nasty summer holiday crowds.
The one problem with this is you won’t walk into the museum through the main foyer, which has to be one of the great thrills of your visit, so another plan might be to enter through the front doors and use the subway entrance to leave.
A New York landmark since 1967, the Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda is a massive, cavernous hall that is so large it manages to dwarf the world’s largest freestanding dinosaur exhibit. In the middle of the room is a mother Barosaurus rearing up on her hind legs to defend her baby from an approaching Allosaurus. You can walk around the entirety of this display with its backdrop of the hall and the stunning rosette filled roof.
From the rotunda you can pass through a number of doors that will completely change the way you visit the museum, so instead of suggesting a way to go, I’m just going to highlight the displays on each floor of the museum. As this is one of the world’s major displays, I don’t think doing it in one post will do it justice, so it will likely take two or three, with each part focusing on one of the major palaeontology displays.

Hall of Ornithischian Dinosaurs

Confusingly called ‘Bird-hipped’ dinosaurs with a pubic bone that points toward the back, the museum has an extensive display of ornithischian dinosaurs here on the 4th floor, including a number of favourites, including an extensive ceratopsian collection, crowned with a complete Triceratops skeleton.
Thanks to the various expeditions the AMNH sponsored, most famously the Mongolian expedition under the command of the original Indiana Jones, Roy Chapman Andrews, there is an amazing display of Protoceratops fossils, including a growth series from in fact to adulthood. The only other similar display to this I have seen is a ceratopsian skull series at the Museum of the Rockies.
There is (or was at the time) a display about Andrew’s trip into Mongolia just outside the gallery. Along with a number of fascinating articles is the flag that flew above one of the vehicles on displays.

For me it was the Styracosaurus (a childhood favourite) that I found myself gazing at. That skull is astonishing.
Almost all the ornithischian are represented. There is a very nice Edmontia skeleton, an Ankylosaurus tail club and Sauroplotea armoured body. There is a Pachycephalosaurus, Psittacosaurus and a bipedal Camptosaurus.
The Stegosaurus behind glass...
The Stegosaurus skeleton is great, but hidden behind glass and highlights one of my great issues with the entire display….glass! There are glass walls and glass panels and glass signs and glass walls and, running along both sides of the room are large glass windows. This means that, at almost every time of the day sunlight is streaming though these windows and it is extremely difficult to get a photo without at least one glass pane reflecting the light filled window.
...and the difference without the glass.
Though not an issue for the general public, for paleo fans it can become a little annoying when you cannot get a clean picture.
The major component of the display, however, are the numerous hadrosaurs skeletons. Rising to the roof and dominating the room are the two Anatotitan skeletons. Once called Anatosaurus, Diclonius, Claosaurus, Hadrosaurus and Trachodon (to name a few). To be fair, it has been a few years since I have visited the AMNH, so there is every chance these skeletons have gone through another name change to Edmontosaurus.
These two skeletons still hide a secret from the time when these dinosaurs were being fist discovered and mounted in museums. Today we understand that bipedal dinosaurs walked with their tails hanging high, as a counter-balance, but previously it was believed many dinosaurs walked and stood like a kangaroo, with the tail acting as a third leg and resting on the ground.

Though many older museums have updated their displays to reflect this, the AMNH hadrosaurs are still standing there the way they always have, with their tails on the ground.

The gem of this hall is the fossil classified as AMNH 5730. This mummified hadrosaur fossil can be found lying just before the Edmontosaurus duo, and was unearthed by fossil hunter Charles Sternberg and his sons in 1908.

Also on display are skeletons and skulls from many hadrosaurs such as Corythosaurus, Parasaurolophus, and Lambeosaurus.

Not Dum Dum!
On the 3rd floor, after several rooms and corridors filled with OK displays, including a large north American Indian display which I personally found a little disappointing (nothing really wrong, it just didn’t ‘grab me’ is all), you will finally snake your way to a room filled with children screaming at ‘DUM DUM!’
I just didn’t have the heart to remind everyone that Dum Dum was the character played by Ben Stiller….not the large monolithic head from Easter Island that sits at the end of this room.
Be warned that many floors actually have upper and lower galleries, and these can be easy to miss. For example the 3rd floor is the only way to into the top level of the African mammal display, which has possibly my favourite exhibit in any museum, the display of African hunting dogs. I will talk more about the numerous life-like displays the museum is famous for later, but this one deserves special attention. 
The pack stands on a rise, all looking into the far distance for prey. The way this display is put together you truly feel like you’re peering of into the distant horizon, but remember, the wall is only inches in front of the dog’s noses. It is a fantastic example of false perspective and shows you the skill that goes into these museum displays.

End of part one.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Sydney Supanova Pop Culture Expo, 2016

Covering a comic convention might seem like a strange thing to talk about in a blog about natural history, but there are often some surprising things and people to be found at these events.
For example I recently attended the Sydney Supanova convention, held between the 16th and 18th of June, 2016 at Sydney’s Olympic Park.
This is a great location for a convention as it is surrounded by hotels, as well as parking and close to public transport lines. One added bonus, the ANZ stadium was just across the road from the convention and my favourite NRL team, the Parramatta Eels were playing Russel Crowes South Sydney Rabbitohs. Living in Canberra, I never really get to see my Sydney based team play, so this was a treat I was not going to miss out on (we smashed them by the way, 30 to 12).
ANZ Stadium, just before the game.
I only point this out as the Olympic complex is huge, with numerous things going on every weekend. If you do decide to visit the Supanova convention in Sydney, its worthwhile checking out what else is on over the entire weekend. There are concerts and sporting events and numerous other things going on that may well add great value to your trip.

Retailer room, there was another
room at the far end, equal in size.
Supanova itself has grown greatly since its beginnings. I used to work in comic shops and ran tables at these early conventions, which at the time were mostly about comics, collectible cards and action figures. Today it is a true media convention, with TV, movies, anime, and of course cosplay becoming a very large part of what’s going on. There was even a wrestling ring in the middle of the convention with wrastlin’ going on throughout the day.

Has anyone seen Francis?
I will admit the line was enormous to get in at the start of the day -but- that line moved incredibly quickly considering the volume of people, and as you are surrounded by hundreds of participants in costume, you will hardly notice the time as you are constantly looking in awe at the effort someone has gone to on their costume. There really were some incredible ones.
All rights remain with the
publisher.  This is only used
for education purposes.

As for all things prehistoric, there were a number of comic dealers carrying the various dinosaur comics that have been released over the year, including a great selection of the older adult comic magazines such as Eerie, Creepy and the like. These often carried great stories, drawn by artists such as Corben and Frazetta, and often contain covers of unlucky women having their clothes torn off by some out of control dinosaur. It’s truly unfortunate how often this seems to happen to time traveling ladies.
All rights remain with the publisher.
This is only used for education purposes.
The reason I was keen for this convention, however, was that one of my favourite comic artists from when I first started collecting comics was going to be doing a signing.
All rights remain with
the publisher. This is only
used for education purposes.
Arthur Adams exploded onto the comic scene with a MARVEL mini-series called ‘Longshot’ in the 1980s, which quickly grew into a fan favourite. He followed this up by a series of iconic images, including one for Wolverine, which soon appeared as a standee in comic shops all over the world.
Adams is a big fan of King Kong and dinosaurs, which explains his own series, ‘Monkeyman and O’Brien’, containing Axwell Tiberius, a 10-foot-tall super-intelligent gorilla-like being from another dimension.
Not only did I get to meet Adams and get him to sign one of my favourite comics he’d drawn, but we had time for a short chat. He mentioned he had seen The Prehistoric Times magazine and was happy to do a future interview for the mag. Me…all I kept thinking was…’Its Arthur Adams, I’m chatting with Arthur Adams’.
Also at the convention was Frank Cho, an artist that has been making a name for himself lately for his work at MARVEL (especially the Avengers), and comic book covers. For us dino fans, Cho is probably more famous for his newspaper comedy comic strip, Liberty Meadows. This strip often contained story lines with dinosaurs and Kong-like apes….and often both.
All rights remain with the publisher.
This is only used for education purposes.
I had got to meet Frank at the Baltimore Comic convention, and as his table was busy every time I passed by, I was happy to try and catch him when he had some free time and a moment to chat. Sadly (though not for him I am sure), he was busy whenever I passed, so missed my chance.
Later in the day things were quieter, and I finally got over to the Weta workshop display, and oh what a display. On either side, enormous carved dwarfs stood towering over everyone, looking as though they had just been ripped right out of the Hobbit set.
Throughout the day various artists from the production company signed the fantastic art books Weta is renowned for releasing from the various films they have been involved with, and I got a chance to chat with Daniel Falconer, a Weta writer and designer.
Daniel Falconer and myself.
I was astonished to find out the Weta crew are aware of the Prehistoric Times mag I write for, and we had a great chat about the dinosaurs and other prehistoric critters that appeared in Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Their interest in palaeontology should not be such a surprising as the name ‘Weta’ comes from a family of large, spiny prehistoric crickets that can still be found in New Zealand.
Sadly, Daniel admitted Weta is not working on the upcoming Kong film, which is a shame as the stuff they had produced for the 2005 movie was great stuff. Still, as I mentioned, many of those who work at Weta are dinosaur fans, and we organised to create a questionnaire survey to find out what prehistoric trigger helped guide so many talented artists into the field they have chosen.

Daniel Falconer's fictional dinosaur
catching a young bird
These days Supernova is more like San Diego Comic Con than the comic shows it came from, it’s now a pop culture event, drawing fans and professionals from a number of fields. As the conventions are now held in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne, as well as Sydney, you may want to visit the next one as you just never know who you are going to get to talk to.