Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Thoughts on the American Museum of Natural History

As I recently had a chance to visit the AMNH in New York I thought I'd take the chance to post a few thoughts about it.

Firstly the big hitters; natural history museums are regardless of all else doomed to be judged on their dinosaur fossil mounts. They're the box office hitters in this environment and they get the best spots in the museum as a result. The main AMNH entrance opens into a lobby containing a couple of nice mounts - some sort of Sauropod dinosaur rearing up to defend itself against a carnivorous theropod. Its a very impressive mount but its looks out of place surrounded by tils, queues and lost tourists - I'd rather have seen a mount like this in the ampitheatre like design of the hall of African mammals where it can be viewed easily and uncrowdedly in the round.


The rest of the dinosaur fossils were quite well laid out I thought although if I had a criticism it would be that there is too much glass between visitors and fossils meaning viewing/photographing fossils from more than one angle is often impossible. Other areas were well represented. The skins of the African and American mammals for example in their dioramas. In fact if anything I felt the way the fossils were laid out suffered in comparison with the stylish ampitheatres and darkened halls of dioramas the modern skins got.

watercolour moose

I did feel the museum had a very nice natural flow to it leading you on instinctively from the dinosaurs to other prehistoric reptiles, amphibia and fish and then around to the more modern world. One thing I really liked was that the information on specimen wasn't intrusive or excessive - it was just neatly simply laid out next to the animal without massive computer displays or video commentaries. I particularly enjoyed the exhibition of Audubon's viviviparous quadrupeds of North America and the nearby extinct mammal mounts (of which more in a later post).


Similarly impressive was the space and resources devoted to hominid origins. This area is nicely presented both in terms of instructional fossil displays and imagination-catching dioramas (the Homo errectus being stalked by a giant hyena for example). Overall I have to say I really enjoyed the AMNH and found it to be a really well put together museum and well worth a revisit. I'd guess it would benefit from a midweek visit if possible to avoid the weekend crowds.

1 comment:

Patrick Belardo said...

Being rather close, I've visited a few times. My first visit was in 5th grade. I remember it vividly because the teachers wanted to show us the dinosaurs last and my friends and I wanted to see them first. So, one of the "cool dads" took us there first.