Thursday, September 23, 2010

My cathedral (part II)

Following on from yesterday's post some more of the actual carvings of London's Natural History Museum.....


Clearly a very long-toothed mammal and presumably therefore either Homotherium (scimitar cat) or Smilodon sabre-toothed cat) although the really cool thing to note about animals with big sabre-teeth (or dirk teeth) is that cats are not the only animals to have evolved them. Dirk teeth evolved a number of times. The animal above could just as easily be interpreted for example as the Miocene nimravid species Barbourofelis fricki (also known as Barbour's cat even though it isn't a cat) were it not for the fact that species wasn't named til 1970.


I was thinking this was a canid or bear. The head looks kind of wolfish to me but the feet look kind of bearish. I'm pondering if it is maybe a dire wolf, a species described in 1858; 20-25 years before the carvings were done. Julia noted that it too has big teeth though and suggested it was Smilodon. I think she's right - it does look like it has broken off dirk teeth. The claws fit cat better than canid too. If so its kind of a shame - I liked the idea of Smilodon on the roof with the dire wolf just below.

So what would I put up there if the choice were mine? I think I'd keep the separation between extinct species on one wing and extant species on the other; not as a statement about evolution but as a warning of what may still be lost. The shape of the plinths rather rules out a lot of extinct species which would have to be shown in the reliefs either side - I think Steller's sea cow would fit rather well in profile and the story of its rapid extinction is one worth commemorating.

I think on one of the plinths I'd go with a lost pleistocene giant; megatherium, megalonyx or one of the other ground sloths - their uniqueness and the who's who of scientists involved in their discovery (including Cuvier and President Jefferson) mean they'd earn a place. On another plinth how about not one animal but many - a colony of Great Auks standing side by side like modern day Guillemots?

What else should the perfect NHM have? Here's my wishlist:
- easy navigation;
- spacious well-lit galleries well arranged for both viewing and photography;
- a sensibly priced cafe serving good coffee and ethical delicious food;
- lots of really cool displays and dioramas and not lots of crappy tv displays.

What would you commemorate in stone and what would you put inside? Lets hear it!

1 comment:

Tony Wildish said...

I used to walk past the Natural History Museum, many years ago, on my way to college. I went in a few times, but I never looked closely at the building itself. I never knew how interesting it was, thank you for sharing these photos and the story behind them.