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“It was an exciting opportunity to modify these for educational purposes,” says Samara Rubinstein, manager of the Sackler Educational Laboratory and the coordinator of five part-time science educators who staff the Brain Bench. Included in the offerings, which are recommended for visitors ages 8 and up, are the popular “build-a-brain” puzzle, which piece by piece conveys the evolutionary path from the reptilian brain to the neocortex unique to humans; artist Devorah Sperber’s clever installation on the mechanics of sight in which a famous painting is rendered—and disguised by—colorful spools of thread; a pyramid stacking station that looks like child’s play but requires sophisticated planning; and a variety of computer games designed to sharpen basic brain functions like focus and memory.
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Don’t miss this rare view of aspects of traditional Tibetan medicine in exquisite paintings from a set in the Museum’s collections, based on illustrations from the late 17th century. On view in the Audubon Gallery on the fourth floor, these hand-painted reproductions provide a unique and rich illustrated history of early medical knowledge and procedures in Tibet, as Laila Williamson, curator of Body and Spirit, explains in this video:
The 64 paintings on display are believed to be among only a handful of such sets in existence. Each of them was painstakingly reproduced by hand in the late 1990s by Romio Shrestha, a Nepalese artist, and his students, who followed the Tibetan tradition of copying older paintings, basing their work on two published sets of medical tangkas likely painted in the early 1900s that were copies of the original set. The originals were created in the late 1600s to illustrate the Blue Beryl, an important commentary on the classic Tibetan medical text, The Four Tantras.
The Blue Beryl was written by Sangye Gyatso, regent to the Fifth Dalai Lama, who commissioned the original paintings for use as teaching aids in the medical school he founded in Lhasa, Tibet. The causes, diagnostic techniques, and treatments of illness, as well as human anatomy, are represented in nearly 8,000 extraordinarily detailed images painted on canvas using vegetable and mineral dyes. The fate of the original paintings is unknown; Shrestha based his work on published sources.
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Each of the Museum’s treasured habitat dioramas depicts a scene from a real place, cast in the light of a particular time of day. These re-creations are based on meticulous observations of scientists in the field and the on-site sketches of the artists who accompanied them. Last fall, Stephen C. Quinn of the Museum’s Exhibition Department took a remarkable trip to locate the exact site of the Museum’s mountain gorilla diorama and record the changes that have taken place in the 80-plus years since Carl Akeley’s final visit. Below is Quinn’s article about his journey, which originally appeared in the Summer issue of Rotunda, the Members’ magazine.
When Carl Akeley—explorer, naturalist, artist, and taxidermist who created the Museum’s Akeley Hall of African Mammals—first encountered the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) in 1921, it was a creature steeped in myth and folklore. Akeley, who was researching and collecting specimens to create the now-famous mountain gorilla diorama, was among the first to accurately document mountain gorillas as intelligent and social animals that, even then, were under grave threat from overhunting. His research inspired him to dedicate the last few years of his life to the conservation and protection of the mountain gorilla. Akeley convinced King Albert of Belgium to set aside 200 square miles that would be their sanctuary, creating Africa’s first national park, which today lies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on the border with Uganda and Rwanda, and which has been classified a World Heritage site by UNESCO since 1979.
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You can now explore some of the objects identified at this year’s ID Day—including a 100-million-year-old fossilized fish and a French Navaja knife—online in the AMNH ID Day group on Flickr. You are also invited to add your own specimen photos, comments, and stories to the group. Sharing your photos is easy: just join the AMNH ID Day group and add your photos to the pool. Unidentified objects are welcome—your photo might be selected for identification by a Museum scientist in the coming months!
Click here to join the group.
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Blogging from west Kenya, William Harcourt-Smith, a research associate in the Division of Paleontology, is directing a 20-million-year-old paleontological site on two islands in Lake Victoria. One of these islands, Rusinga, is best known as the site of the discovery of the first fossils of Proconsul, an early ape. Harcourt-Smith’s multidisciplinary team includes physical anthropologists and geologists, and in addition to collecting fossils, researchers are trying to learn more about the evolutionary events and environmental conditions that may have influenced the emergence of Proconsul and other early ape lineages.