30 November 2010

Scenes from the Virginia Museum of Natural History

Posted by Callan Bentley

Over Thanksgiving, my fiancee and I went down to Asheville, North Carolina, where she has family. On our way back up, we made a detour to go back to DC via Martinsville, Virginia, where the Virginia Museum of Natural History is located. I especially wanted to link up there with Alton ‘Butch’ Dooley, the curator of paleontology, and have him show me around. It was my great luck that Butch and his wife Bret were available on a post-holiday Saturday afternoon to walk Lily and I around the museum. I was really impressed with the facility. It is a real gem architecturally and scientifically, and Virginia should be proud to have funded it. I was really impressed, though to be honest I wasn’t expecting anything located in Martinsville to be worth much. It’s a stunning building, airy and light, with world-class specimens on display. I was really impressed! Even though the museum has been through several rounds of budget cuts, it’s still a jewel in the Commonwealth’s crown.

Here’s a Allosaurus cast from Wyoming, all decked out for the holidays:

Just in front of the Allosaurus is the famous Boxley stromatolite, a stunning, huge monster of a stromatolite, though not as threatening as some.

Behind the scenes, in Butch’s lab, we got to see lycopod trees, dinosaur femurs, whale skulls, little tiny reptiles that glided on extended ribs, and these cool edrioasteroids, an encrusting variety of echinoderm that I had never heard of before.

They are growing on brachiopods. This is part of a new Ordovician Seas exhibit that Butch and his colleagues are working on for next year. A closer look:

Lastly, take a peek at “Clawd,” a reconstruction of a giant ground sloth as unearthed at Saltville, Virginia (a big Pleistocene mammal fossil deposit):

If you’re ever in Martinsville (and why would you be in Martinsville; let’s not kid ourselves)… Scratch that. Tell you what: If you’re ever on an itinerary which would take an extra hour or less to detour to Martinsville (much more realistic), then I recommend you do it. Virginia’s amazing natural history museum may not be conveniently located, but it is a stunning repository of cool stuff. I recommend you check it out.