Saturday, November 19, 2016

Random Geology Photo - "Easy" Paleontology?

This picture was given to me from the son of a friend who had visited the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in NY. His comment to me was jokingly:

 "is this what paleontology is? Well I can do that!". 

Even though this was a joke, I think it brings up a good point. Does this make paleontology look "easy"? Or should the rest of the animal be included, even if it isn't well known?

The above animal is the Indricotherium from the Primitive Mammals Hall at the AMNH (also known as Paraceratherium transouralicum).
Original skull of the above animal with the preparator Otto Falkenback, May 1st, 1923.

 He is part of an exhibit on the diversity of early mammal teeth. Indricotherium is the largest land mammal that ever lived, weighing as much as 3-4 adult African elephants. So, it would make sense if what you were focusing on was the skull and the teeth, to just display the skull and teeth. The rest of the animal could get distracting from your point. But was it a good idea?

The animal itself, is also only known from fragmentary fossil evidence, with a mostly complete skull. By, placing the body in this context, it makes it known to the observer, that we just don't know that much about it. Perhaps this will send a young child off in the direction of paleontology, going "I want to find THAT answer".

Also, Manias, 2014, gives a good history over the construction and modeling of the Indricotherium, including the interesting fact that the AMNH never actually received a full model of the animal, only bits and pieces from various animals that were all different sizes. And due to the extreme size differences of the available bones, it made sizing up the smaller animals rather problematic, and the incomplete nature of the skeletons made filling in the gaps problematic.

So in all, I would prefer to see something like this. A skull with a vague skeletal representation, instead of something that could, in the long run, be found out to be very very wrong with increased fossil evidence being found.

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