The new class of Education Interpreters of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History are training for their new positions through classroom instruction and practicing their presentations on the exhibit floors. The new name of Interpreters supersedes the language of Docents that previously described educators leading museum tours. The Interpreters are enthusiastic, eager to learn, and rely on their diverse backgrounds and experiences to find their comfort zone about natural history sciences. Their training is being coordinated by Patty Dineen and Joann L. Wilson of CMNH Education.
As the museum’s geologist and invertebrate paleontologist, I’ve been asked to help train the Interpreters on geologic time, and to expound upon some of the new science recently published on the fossils and exhibits on display in Benedum Hall of Geology. Most Interpreters have little or no working knowledge about geology and paleontology. This is not unusual in the least, as many of our patrons are not schooled in the geologic sciences. That’s unfortunate, because the scientific principles of geologic time, evolution, extinction, climate change, and biodiversity, are featured throughout the dioramas as noted in Benedum Hall of Geology, Dinosaurs in Their Time, Age of Mammals: The Cenozoic Era and Ice Age – The Pleistocene.
Andrew Carnegie’s interest in geology, paleontology and minerals is well documented. He instructed the Carnegie architects Alden & Harlow to design museum galleries to showcase the museum’s growing collections in invertebrate fossils, Vertebrate Paleontology (dinosaurs), and Minerals for his museum that opened in 1907. Some eighty years later, Alden & Harlow’s gallery opened as Benedum Hall of Geology and was recognized as the premier public exhibition to celebrate the geologic history of the state of Pennsylvania (Dawson 1988 and Harper & Dawson 1992). Even though the hall’s dioramas are more than 30 years old, most of the science concepts are relatively unchanged.
Over the last several years, publications and geology guides by section staff, research associates, and volunteers present new science on some of the hall’s content. For example, Brezinski & Kollar 2011 determined from years of field work in the central Appalachian Basin, the relationship of Pennsylvanian Age climate change events and congruent biotic responses, i.e., the evolution and extinction of the short lived Fedexiaamphibian. The fossil climate events as cited in the publication can be inferred through the content in the Pennsylvanian Coal Forest, Pennsylvanian Marine Life, and local stratigraphy dioramas – and as an extension to the modern anthropogenic climate events.
Two famous fossils discovered from western Pennsylvania, the giant eurypterid trackway from Elk County, PA (Brezinski & Kollar 2016 & Harper, Kollar & Hughes in press) and Fedexia striegeli, an amphibian skull from Moon Twp. (Berman, Henrici, Brezinski, Kollar 2010) are exciting new fossils to look at. There are several unpublished education manuscripts that address other content in the hall: What Do Fossils Tell Us– brachiopod evolution and extinction (Kollar, Carter (deceased) & Hughes), Strata Wall (Kollar), and What’s A Fossil Fuel (Kollar).
In their instruction with me, the Interpreters receive printed handouts summarizing the published citations and section geology guides relevant to the hall’s dioramas. The PAlS guides are, Geology of the Marcellus Shale 2011 (Strata Wall), History and Geology of Pennsylvania Petroleum 2012 (Stratavator), Geology of Pennsylvania’s Coal 2014 (Fossil Fuel), and The Geological Evolution of Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers (Where has the Water Gone). The Interpreters are the museum’s ambassadors to the public, our advocates of Carnegie science, collections, and exhibitions. Welcome.
Albert D. Kollar is the Collection Manager in the Section of Invertebrate Paleontology at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Museum employees are encouraged to blog about their unique experiences and knowledge gained from working at the museum.