Lords of the Land: Science Meets Art

Our Foundations exhibit may have just opened, but the Royal Tyrrell Museum never rests in its quest to show visitors the most accurate palaeontology information in dynamic displays. In 2017, a new exhibit will replace Lords of the Land, a beautiful gallery that highlighted some of the Museum’s most remarkable theropod specimens.

Installed in 2007, Lords of the Land  was initially meant to be a simple update of an existing gallery that displayed a collection of western North American theropods (bipedal, mostly carnivores). However, the project quickly evolved into an experiment in displaying dinosaurs a different way and taking the opportunity to impress visitors with the awe and size of a fully mounted dinosaur early in their journey through the Museum.

ornitho-death-pose

An Ornithomimus in the classic death pose, with neck bent backwards over the body.

It took about a year to go from initial conception to installation. Lords of the Land is a marked departure from the interpretive strategy of the rest of the Museum. Rather than the natural history lens used in the other galleries, Lords of the Land presents specimens as works of art. The background is dark, the specimens are in gilded frames or displayed on Tuscan columns, and, if you listen carefully, you can hear classical music playing in the background. This design choice was partially made to differentiate it from past exhibits in the space. Theropods had been displayed there before, but the gallery tended to feature steel and hard lines, playing off the idea that carnivores were tough and aggressive and giving a sharp, modern feel. The art gallery inspiration gave the space a different atmosphere.

There is another innovation in the gallery: labels for the visually impaired. Not only are the labels for every specimen in Lords of the Land also written in braille, the specimens themselves were 3D scanned and imprinted on the plaques, creating extremely detailed miniature versions.

lordsbrailleplate_0016

One of the braille labels

Designing the gallery had its challenges along the way. It was initially intended to be much darker than it is now, with the only lighting coming from below. However, while atmospheric, these low light levels made reading and navigating difficult so overhead lights were added in response to visitor needs

Mounting the three raptor skeletons on their columns was also a test for our exhibits staff. While placing the skeletons on pedestals was a way to both save space and add to the art gallery vibe, there was a risk that the pedestals would wobble and damage the specimens. The solution was to mount the raptors on a skinny pedestal encased in a large column covered in shock absorbers.  No easy task!

The specimens displayed in Lords of the Land are some of the most significant and visually impressive we had in our collection at the time, including this one:

1884 Albertosaurus find-cast

This skull of Albertosaurus sarcophagus was found by Joseph B. Tyrrell (our namesake!) in 1884. Tyrrell was not a palaeontologist but a geologist looking for coal deposits in the Red Deer valley when he discovered the skull, which turned out to be a new species, one which was eventually named for this province. The species is also a bit of a special one for the Museum – it’s the first dinosaur you see when you enter and the only fleshed out dinosaur in the entire Museum.

In addition to the Albertosaurus skull, we also have the holotype of Atrociraptor (“savage robber”) on display.

AtrociraptorMarshalii0137

Atrociraptor: Dinosaur or death metal band?

A holotype is an individual plant or animal that serves as the basis for the description of a species. In other words, it’s what other finds are compared to in order to identify them. The Royal Tyrrell Museum has more than 300 holotypes but, because they’re so incredibly valuable, most are kept in a special locked storage area.

Lords of the Land also features dinosaur trackways, ornithomimids, and Alberta raptors.

If this all sounds too interesting for words or you’ve been before and loved it, don’t despair! There’s still time to visit before it all comes down. And we promise that, while the new exhibit may be different, it will be just as amazing and have just as many cool specimens.

Lords of the Land closes in late fall 2016, with the new exhibit opening spring 2017.

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