Hey there Everypeoples!
Last time we reviewed a decent museum exhibit and a sub-par one. I mentioned that I am always going to museums and how I’m always taking note of their exhibit designs. A big part of trying to start my museum is to teach about and display fossils (as well as rock, minerals, and human artifacts). But what would it all look like? I thought it might be a little fun to see what my museum could look like.
Basically, this is just one big “what if”. We won’t adhere to the cold hard ruination of reality and instead substitute an alternate reality (following my favorite Mythbusters quote) where we find ideal conditions. Here we have the money and the space to build our exhibits no problem. The other important aspect (and no doubt the far more fantastical one) is that the great fossil wealth of the Central Coast has been returned to it’s homeland. And for good measure, a good working relationship with the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. Now i only focused on fossils because that is what i know the most about (my knowledge of Central Coast archaeology and geology is pretty pathetic, nothing i could create an exhibit around) and even that is limited. Plus i am one terrible artist so please bear with me.
The first is the Jurassic display. Nothing special since there really isn’t that much to begin with. It mainly includes fossils from a deep sea vent community found in the San Rafael Mountains of Santa Barbara County. Berkeley holds two plesiosaur vertebra from a mine in SLO County. These would be displayed next to a cast skelton of one of the many Jurassic plesiosaurs from Europe.
Next up is the Eocene. This exhibit is based on the 42 million year old fauna of the Sespe formation in Ventura County. Now no plant fossils have yet been found in the Sespe. But we know that the climate was wet and hot, basically a subtropical rainforest. For some reason the mural in the L.A. Museum’s “Age of Mammals” hall depicts this as a carbon copy of a Louisiana cypress swamp. San Diego has produced numerous plant fossils of the same age and it’s only a hundred or so miles from the Las Posas Hills in Ventura County so we can probably get away with some extrapolation. So basically we’d have a large diorama, kind of in the style of museum mammal halls where it serves as a window into the subject’s world. Though this one would spill out a bit so it’s more immersive and not shut up and frammed in. The centerpiece would of course be the large brontothere or rhino who are kind of the icons of the Eocene. Teleodus is a brontothere from the Sespe, but how much of it exists to allow a full scale model is uncertain. It could very well be Amynodontopsis, an extinct rhino. The carnivore Tapocyon and the primates Chumashius (tarsier-like) and Dyseolemur (lemur-like) hang out in the trees. Meanwhile, the mouse deer Sespemeryx cautiously peeks out from behind a tree. The diorama would be flanked by cases displaying fossils from the Sespe Eocene.
Onward to the Oligocene! The Sespe has a member 29 million years old that has preserved a middle Oligocene fauna to match that of the Eocene. A large mural serves as the backdrop portraying the stark changes to the landscape from the last display. In the center is the largely complete skeleton of the oreodont Eporeodon from South Mountain. To it’s right is a slab containing the bones of 2 rhinos (Subhyracodon) and the shell of a tortoise. We see a model of the rhino to the right of the slab. In the other side we have a large outcrop of Sespe sandstone jutting out from the display, where the skeleton of the nimravid Hoplophoneus looks down on visitors.
The Miocene space would perhaps be the grandest as there is a lot of material. Here we see the Terrestrial half of the Miocene. The back of the hall features the reconstructed skeleton of Miolabis fricki and a skeleton of Gomphotherium (it didn’t show up in the scan, but in front of the gomphothere is a case housing a jawbone from Cuyama Valley). In the left wall is a large case showing numerous fossils from the Caliente formation. Because the Caliente is a continuous sequence of almost 20 million years, the fossils would be arranged chronologically, to teach visitors about biotratigrpahy and faunal turnover. In the middle we have a diorama of the giant dog Epicyon chasing the cat Pseudaelurus away from it’s kill of a horse. Ok, Epicyon doesn’t turn up in the fossil invenotries of the Central Coast. But it has been found in neighboring Kern County, so it probably did live here. We just haven’t found it yet (no one is searching the Caliente. I would, but i’m not allowed to because i don’t have a fancy and expensive degree). I guess if all else fails, i could change it to the bear-dog Amphicyon; he is known from the Central Coast
The other half of the Miocene is devoted to the many, many marine fossils of the Central Coast (see Bobby, I’m doing my part!). I read in the L.A. Museum’s collection news letter that they had excavated a whale skeleton outside Santa Maria in Santa Barbara County. That’s the row of pointy circles in the center (they’re supposed to be vertebrae. Wa wa waaaaa…). On it’s right is a case housing the skull of a miocene Sperm whale (also from Santa Maria), the skull of a Desmostylian from Arroyo Burro Beach, and the vertebra and ribs of the sea cow Dusisiren from SLO County. The aspect i would be most excited to come to fruition is the bird Pelegornis orri (formerly Osteodontornis). In a model of a rocky sea ledge lie embedded the part and counterpart of this animal’s stupendous fossil. And on top of this ledge would be the big bird itself, stretching out it’s 14 foot wingspan as if it’s preparing for take of. Finally a case would be devoted to the Central Coast’s bounty of marine invertebrates.
I don’t have one for the Pliocene, sadly. I just don’t know enough about the Pismo formation or any other Pliocene fossils from the region. At the moment all i can think of is a life sized sea cow (Hydrodamalis cuesta, basically a manatee the size of a killer whale) lazily grazing in a kelp forest.
We conclude with the Pleistocene exhibit. To one side is a diorama of Carpenteria during the last ice age. A horse and a skunk occupy the ground with the trees hosting golden eagle, stork, and meadowlark. In front would be a case housing fossils from the Carpenteria tar pits. Next to it would be a display about ice age megafauna in general, with bones of bison, horse, camel, and other animals. At the end of the row is a case with cast skulls of ice age carnivores, not just of the Big Four (Smilodon, dire wolf, American lion/naegele’s giant jaguar, and short-faced bear) but also American cheetah, scimitar cat, and Florida cave bear. Because the big four always invariably make up the carnivores in an ice age exhibit! Remember i’m all about breaking the mold and doing what’s different. Anyway, in the middle of the exhibit would be a long narrow display housing the fossils of the Central Coast’s many Pleistocene pachyderms. It would feature skulls, teeth, and bones of southern mammoth (in this case Emma, the Moorpark Mammoth), Colombian mammoth, American mastodon, and the channel island dwarf mammoth. To the right would be the skeleton of Rosie, the most complete dwarf mammoth known. Next to that would be a display about channel island fossils, with not just dwarf mammoth but also small mammals and birds. Finally, at the end of the aisle, a skeleton of Harlan’s ground sloth browsing on a tree with a case housing a couple fossils accompanying it. A teratorn model would be suspended from the ceiling.
So what do you think? Well I’m not that sure it matters since this is nothing more than a pipe dream. Seriously, I’d be lucky to see the museum advance to this stage within my lifetime. But I thought since i’m talking about exhibit and even reviewing them it might be fun to see how I’d do it. But without the fossil specimens of the Central Coast and without the assload of funding this would require, it seems this version of the Grand Vision is doomed to remain a pointless fantasy. We are working on a small display in Cambria very slowly right now. It’s not much but it is an actual display. Who knows, maybe one day when the planets align, hell freezes over, and world peace is achieved, these crappy drawings will be brought to life.
Till next time!