Stones, Bones, and Feathers: Ask A Curator Day 2016

If you could ask a museum curator anything, what would you ask? How they got their job? What their favourite specimen is? The actor who should play them on TV? On September 14, 2016 curators around the world took to Twitter for #AskACurator Day to answer these questions. The Royal Tyrrell Museum’s Dr. François Therrien, Curator of Dinosaur Palaeoecology, was one of the participants. Did you miss the day itself? Here are Dr. Therrien’s answers (some even longer than the ones we posted on Twitter):

What’s your favourite dinosaur?

Ornithomimus, because it was the first feathered dinosaur discovered in North America and the specimens are in our collections.

What’s the oldest thing you have in your collection?

Oldest thing: In terms of fossils, we have stromatolites dating back to the Precambrian. In terms of rocks, I’m pretty sure we have rocks from the NWT that are among the oldest rocks known on Earth.


How do you make your museum accessible to people who don’t know much about the subject?

Our newest exhibit, Foundations, presents the basic scientific concepts required to understand palaeontology.

What’s one cool thing about being a curator that most people don’t know?

You get to go out in the field in search of fossils to fill gaps in the collections!

What’s the smallest fossil in your collection?

Fossil pollen grains.

 What’s your favourite item in your collection?

Dinosaur skeletons!


What is hardest to maintain?

Fragile skull elements.

What’s the missing “Holy Grail” of your collection?

Feathered ornithomimids.

Where would you work if not at your museum?

As a university professor!

 Who would you cast to play you in a fictionalized workplace TV drama or comedy about your museum?

I believe Steve Carrell or Will Ferrell would be AWESOME!!


Other than your own workplace, what is your favourite museum/gallery in the world? You can only pick one!

The palaeontology galleries at the American Museum of Natural History, hands down.

What’s the first assumption people often make when you introduce yourself as a curator?

That I often deal with dinosaur bones and go out on digs… which is accurate! 😀

 Any horror stories of broken objects, or is that something not to be talked about?!

In palaeontology, you often have to deal with already broken (or accidentally broken, oops!) fossils. It’s the nature of the game.

What’s the best place in your museum to take a selfie?

Probably the Lords of the Land gallery, in front of the T. rex mount.


What is the most important skill for a curator to have?

Passion for discovery and nimble fingers.

If there was a fire and you could save only one item from the entire collection, what would you save & why?

The skull of a very young tyrannosaur in our collections… but I’m biased.

What item in your collection would you long term borrow for your own home and why?

The skull of Hellboy, a.k.a. Regaliceratops. I think it would look nice as a living room centrepiece.


What is the most challenging aspect of putting a collection or exhibit together?

There’s often too many specimens to show and too much information to convey to fit in limited space.

What object do few people pay attention to, but has a great story?

In our Dinosaur Hall, a hadrosaur skeleton tangled up in a petrified tree stump, showing the carcass got stranded against a tree 75 million years ago.

Which object(s) in your collection do you wish could come to life?

The feathered ornithomimid baby nicknamed “Tweety.” It would be nice to see the colour of its plumage.


If you could ban one word of curator/museum/academic jargon from every being uttered again what would it be?

Two words: Impact factor. 😉

If you were to write a book about your life at the museum, what would the title be?

Life in Dinosaur Wonderland.

Who are some female scientists we should know more about?

Darla Zelenitsky from the University of Calgary, who studies dinosaur nests and dinosaur palaeobiology.

How much has your attendance declined due to people doing everything online? Is something lost when people don’t come in?

In fact visitation has increased over the past several years, reaching over 475,000 last year. Images of the Museum’s galleries posted online seem to attract visitors, not deter them.

Being in the presence of the physical fossils (as opposed to online images) really conveys a sense of awe that cannot be reproduced online.


Is there a fictional object that, if it really existed, you would like to have in your collection?

A feathered T. rex! Or a machine capable of detecting fossils that are still hidden in the ground.

Is there evidence that T. rex was feathered, but I’m guessing it’s impossible to ever find one with feathers surviving?

Not for T. rex but fossils of close relatives from China, both small and large, have been found covered with feathers.

Do museum-goers ever get upset over accurate depictions of feathered dinosaurs versus the images they grew up with?

Some people are still shocked to learn that many dinosaurs were covered with feathers; even 20 years after the first feathered dinosaurs were discovered.


What would a trilobite taste like? Would peeps love them like lobsters?

A recent study has shown that trilobites migrated by walking in lines like lobsters, so maybe.

Do you have a favourite piece in the gallery? (Mine’s always been the rock showing the K/Pg boundary).

Undoubtedly the Ornithomimus skeleton that shows quill marks on the forearm left by wing feathers.

How many of you have played the Jurassic Park theme walking into the galleries?

Never. I usually play the Indiana Jones theme song.


That was it for the official #AskACurator Day (save the date for 2017, September 13!) but here at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology, we like to think that every day is Ask A Curator Day. Tweet, Facebook message, or email us a question and we’d be happy to answer!


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