Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Recently, I got to visit the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and spent a number of hours there.  It is a great place to visit if you like natural history museums.  The displays of dinosaurs and minerals are excellent.  They have a transparent wall where the fossil preparers can be observed working in the PaleoLab.  During my visit, they appeared to be working on a dinosaur from Argentina and another group was looking for teeth in gravel under a microscope.

Museum policy allows visitors to take pictures but not post them on the Internet so while a lot of pictures were taken none can be posted for this entry except the outside shots.

The area that leads into the PaleoLab is the Benedum Hall of Geology.  This room contains geological information about Pennsylvania including a Strativator (not sure of spelling) helping visitors under the stratigraphy of the area, a recreation of a Pennsylvanian Coal Forest, plant fossils from the state, large coal specimens, an educational exhibit on radiometric dating, and a "Which is a Fossil?" quiz.  One can learn that the Pittsburgh is Late Pennsylvanian in the Conemaugh Group.  The marker beds are Birmingham shale (Casselman formation) and Ames limestone (Glenshaw formation).

The next museum room contains a Herrerasaurus ischigualastensis dinosaur from Argentina (Triassic Period).  A cast of a Dunkleosteus arthrodire is also on display.  The entrance to the Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems can be found here.  A number of minerals from Kentucky and Indiana were on display.  The opening displays a large honey calcite mineral from Indiana and in the systematic display section were a pyrite ball listed from Indiana (probably an Indianapolis quarry) and a open geode with millerite listed from Kentucky (probably Hall's Gap).  The fluorescent display was nice as it was computer controlled lighting with commentary.  Minerals selected for that display calcite/willemite (Franklin, New Jersey), scapolite (Canada), fluorite (England), tugtupite (Greenland), ruby (Pakistan), aragonite (Italy), calcite (Florida), halite (California), manganocalcite (Russia), adamite (Mexico, scheelite (China), fluorite/celestine (Ohio), fluorite/oil (Illinois), zircon (Russia), hyalite opal (Czech Republic), and fluorapatite (Pakistan).

The radioactive display was good with 4 minerals on a rotating wheel that passed near a Geiger counter.  The radioactivity was weak (100-400 CPM).  Two beautiful cuprosklodowskite and torbernite specimens were on display there from Zaire, Africa. A very nice autunite from Washington state could be seen as well.

Individual locality displays could also be seen highlighting minerals from ancient England, Herja mine Romania, former USSR, India, ancient Greece, and Pennsylvania.  A large exhibit of native gold specimens was another highlight of the gallery.

After the mineral gallery there are the fossils with exhibits for Lyme Regis, England and Holzmaden, Germany specimens.  A large case of fossils from the Solnhofen quarries of southern Germany are on display.  If I remember correctly what the guide said, the collection was bought by Carnegie for about $4000 from an Austrian collector who wanted to use the money to build a villa.

The star attraction are the dinosaurs with the larger ones from Wyoming from the late 1800s.  The Diplodocus carnegiei was copied in plaster casts and those sent to museums in London, Berlin, Paris, Mexico City, La Plata (Argentina), Bologna (Italy), Vienna, Madrid, and St. Petersburg (Russia). One could consider it a fossil ambassador from the United States.

Other dinosaurs that can be seen Marshosaurus sp., Psittacosaurus sp., Protoceratops andrewsi, Tyrannosaurus rex, Triceratops prorsus, Stegoceras validum, Camptosaurus aphanoecetes and Pachycephalosaurus wyomingensis.   Another section profiles mammals from the tar pits of California, Ice Age animals, and an exhibit on marine reptiles (Mosasaurs) plus invertebrates of the Western Interior seaway.  On an upper level there is the Hall of North American Wildlife with some stuffed polar bears and a seal.  Next to that is the Botany Hall which has some interesting exhibits.  Ones showing fauna found in Pennsylvania: nuts, mushrooms, poisonous plants, yard plants, and trees.

The dinosaur Diplodocus carnegiei was found in the Morrison Formation of Sheep Creek and Powder River, Wyoming in 1899.  Since the researchers who found it were sponsored by Andrew Carnegie it was named after him.  A metal casting of it resides outside the museum and the original is assembled inside.  It is known by its nickname "Dippy".  Another dinosaur is assembled beside it and is name for Mr. Carnegie's wife.

If you like minerals or fossils, you will enjoy this museum.  The assembled dinosaur fossils are most impressive and the mineral displays are set up to allow close inspection of minerals and are well lit. While there, I visited the mollusk collections area and a curator showed me some of the Asian snails and also showed a live snail where one could see it breathing and its heart beating.  My regret is I did not have enough time to see all of the museum as there is a connecting art area plus sections dedicated to African wildlife, ancient Egypt, polar world, birds, and American Indians.

Across the street from the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Pittsburgh Board of Education building has on display a very colorful dinosaur.  In addition, the surrounding architecture on the University of Pittsburgh campus is a visual treat.