At the Royal Tyrrell Museum, we are equal parts excited and nervous because we just launched our first large-scale exhibit in over five years. The exhibit, Foundations, is about everything that is important to us as a science and natural history museum, from the very beginnings of planet Earth, to the evolution of life, to fossils and their journey from living beings and into our Museum collections. With its expansive scope and mix of specimens, hands-on activities, and technology, Foundations is another step in our continued commitment to studying and celebrating the history of life on Earth.
Before we can delve into the science of palaeontology, we need to take a step back. Palaeontology doesn’t work alone, but is informed by both geology and biology. So what does the rock and fossil record tell us? Since it coalesced out of cosmic matter 4.6 billion years ago, Earth has been a place of constant change. Change can be gradual, like plate tectonics slowly moving Earth’s continents, or abrupt, like extraterrestrial impact leading to the extinction of the dinosaurs. The broadest definition of evolution is change over time and we have seen countless organisms come and go in the vast amount of time tracked and traced across the fossil record.
How do we know so much about what came before us? That’s one of the questions that Foundations aims to address. The short answer is SCIENCE!
while the long answer is a bit less dramatic. Palaeontologists use the scientific method. This involves asking questions, researching, proposing hypotheses, gathering evidence, and reporting your findings to your fellow scientists. It’s not limited to scientists though. We all use the scientific method, although less formally, from time to time. Think of the last time you had computer troubles. You wondered what the problem was, did some research, and, after a few tries, eventually figured out a solution.
Unfortunately/fortunately, palaeontologists can’t just use Google to find their answers. Although we romanticize the discovery aspect of palaeontology, much of the difficult work is done behind a desk, closely examining specimens, crunching data numbers, and writing papers for publication. Visitors to Foundations will get an up close and personal look at exactly what goes into preparing a fossil for research through interactive activities and a direct view into our fossil prep lab. They’ll also see the final results of this work: beautiful fossils and fascinating stories about the animals they came from.
Foundations opened on May 20 and is a permanent exhibit.