Chances are that if you live in Pittsburgh, you’ve driven past the giant dinosaur statue in Oakland quite a few times, and you’ve at least heard of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. For those of us who grew up here, field trips to the museum were a highlight of our youth (getting out of school to look at fossils and play inside an igloo replica all day…what could be better!?). This museum isn’t just for kids though—it’s one of the top natural history museums in the nation, so you’ll want to take some time to explore it as an adult too. Here are 10 things that you probably didn’t know about the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
Several Living Animals Call the Museum Home
It’s alive! Or to put it more accurately, they’re alive. If you’re hoping to see more animals in Pittsburgh, you can look beyond the rivers for runaway alligators. The museum has a large collection of living animals. An African Pied Crow, a sun conure, an American kestrel, a carpet python, a corn snake, a sand boa, two skunks, two hedgehogs, a Geoffroy’s cat, and other creatures call the museum home. Many of the animals were rescued from poor living conditions, like Mango the sun conure, who came from a hoarder’s house. Nowadays, they receive excellent care at the museum, and several animals also participate in a daily live animal show and are part of school and outreach programs.
The Museum Has a Podcast with an International Audience
A is for Anthropocene—wait, what’s an Anthropocene? The museum’s popular podcast, A is for Anthropocene: Living in the Age of Humanity, examines what it means to live in the Anthropocene, which is the proposed name for the current epoch in which human activity has profoundly impacted the planet. Scientists, artists, and thinkers are featured on the show, tackling issues like climate change, species decline, and innovative breakthroughs in sustainability. Hosts Eric Dorfman (the Director of the museum) and Sloan MacRae (the Marketing Director) chat with guests and walk us through what it means to be responsible and informed citizens of the Earth. Episodes have already hit Apple’s Top 100 charts in the Netherlands, Italy, and France, so be sure to tune in to this bi-weekly podcast to listen to engaging and topical discussions.
Most of the Museum’s Dinosaurs are Originals
While many museums use casts for their dinosaur displays, 75% of the fossils on display at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History are real, and the dinosaurs in the collection are the original dinosaurs that started the worldwide fascination. In the museum’s Dinosaurs in Their Time exhibition, dinosaurs and other Mesozoic animals are painstakingly displayed in reconstructions of their environments. The Vertebrate Paleontology collection has more than 460 original specimens, including Tyrannosaurus rex! Want to know Dippy the Dinosaur’s discovery story? It starts with just a toe, found at Sheep’s Creek in Wyoming on a digging exhibition financed by Andrew Carnegie. We don’t want to spoil the tale for you though, so head to the museum to learn more about Dippy and his prehistoric pals!
Real Scientists Work on Exciting Research at the Museum
The museum’s work isn’t just historical in nature. There’s also ongoing research being done on a variety of subjects behind the museum walls. Did you know that the Borneo tree frog’s survival may be threatened by traffic noise? Or that botanists and researchers at the museum and other institutions used data collected by Thoreau to uncover some of the unexpected effects of climate change? The museum’s Biodiversity Services Facility even has a $700,000 USDA contract to identify non-native insects in the United States. Over 20 researchers are on the museum’s Senior Research Staff, and the museum produces a Gold MarCom Award winning YouTube series called Ask a Scientist where you can ask questions to the research team.
The Museum’s Collection is in the Millions
What you see when you walk through the museum is just the tip of the iceberg. The 10,000 objects on display are certainly impressive, spanning over 100,000 square feet and 20 galleries. However, the full museum collection has more than 22 million items in it, which are rotated in and out of public view. These objects are from humans, dinosaurs, birds, plants, minerals, mollusks, and more. While you may not be able to see them all, you can start by visiting the museum or learning more online.
Collection Maintenance = Constant Conservation
What does it take to maintain a museum collection of millions of objects, specimens, and artifacts? At the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the conservator and exhibitions staff work tirelessly to maintain a collection that broadens our understanding of the history of Earth, evolution, and biodiversity. Collection maintenance is called conservation, and it is constant. Hundreds of thousands of visitors a year means a lot of wear and tear—and the work to clean, restore, and change the displays often means carefully handling objects that are thousands or even millions of years old. If you’re wondering how to clean a kayak that was used in the Arctic by the Canadian Inuit, watch the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s YouTube Channel!
Sustainability is Top of Mind for the Museum
The Carnegie Museum of Natural History has powerful minds thinking about sustainability and its role in the environment. Eric Dorfman, the museum’s Director, was appointed to the Earth Day 2020 Global Advisory Committee, where he’ll be joining an environmental panel with Leonardo DiCaprio, Sir Richard Branson, John Kerry, and Princess Lalla Hasna of Morocco, among other international leaders. Museum employees are also working on projects that positively impact the environment, including the installation of films on the museum’s windows to stop birds from colliding with them.
Their Scientists Have Discovered Several New Species
Anzu wyliei, a 66-million-year-old dinosaur nicknamed “The Chicken from Hell” is known for its strange features, which include four limbs, sharp, bony front claws, and a toothless jaw. It was a team of scientists led by Dr. Matthew Lamana of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History who discovered this unique dinosaur. In 2018, John Wible, Curator and Head of the Section of Mammals, was part of an international research team that described and named a new species of chipmunk-sized mammals from 126-million years ago, called Ambolestes zhoui. On the museum’s Ask A Scientist series, you can hear all about what it’s like to discover a new species.
The Alcohol House: Yes, That’s a Place. No, You Can’t Drink There.
The Alcohol House may be the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s best kept secret, but it doesn’t have anything to do with drinking alcohol or the Prohibition. Two stories of shelves with glass jars provide storage space for 250,000 deceased reptiles and amphibians, where the specimens stay preserved by floating in alcohol. The Alcohol House has been tucked away from the public since 1907, but there are plans to give the snakes, lizards, and frogs here their 15 minutes of fame very soon. The museum is still determining how they should showcase this unusual collection, but we’ve heard there will be tours of the area and a video coming out soon!
The Museum Hosts Parties, Events, and Programs
The museum has a lot to offer if you want to do more than just visit. Have you ever daydreamed about a Night at the Museum situation where you get stuck inside overnight and all the objects come to life? While this exact scenario may not be very realistic, you can at least host a sleepover at the museum and spend the night imagining that you’re interacting with a mummy. Themed Birthday Parties are also an option, the museum hosts family programs with preteens, and mobile programs can come to your party, school, organization, or community. If you’re looking for an adult-only night out, there’s an upcoming Star Wars After Dark party for guests who are 21+ on Friday, December 6th, 2019.
Next month we’ll be delving deeper into one of these topics with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, so keep an eye out for the second piece in our Behind the Museum Walls series!This content was provided by a local, independent contributor to Made in PGH, a lifestyle blog.