Shelf Life Launches Second Season with Adventures Around the Globe main content.

Shelf Life Launches Second Season with Adventures Around the Globe

This photo shows curator Mark Norell and other members of the Gobi expedition prepping a fossil for transport.
Curator Mark Norell and other members of the Gobi expedition prep a fossil for transport.
© S. Goldberg

For its second season, which launches today, the American Museum of Natural History’s behind-the-scenes web series Shelf Life packs its bags to travel the world. The new episodes tell stories from more than a century of field expeditions that helped the Museum build a world-class collection of 33 million specimens and artifacts—and show viewers what scientists are still uncovering about them today.

Shelf Life’s first adventure this season sends viewers across the sands of Asia’s largest desert—the Gobi—with explorer Roy Chapman Andrews on a series of 1920s expeditions that unearthed some of the world’s most iconic fossils. A 360-degree video—a new feature this season—takes viewers into the field, immersing them in a richly textured virtual world woven together from the Museum’s archival photographs, film footage, field notes, lantern slides, and illustrations using the latest techniques in 360 environment creation.

 The accompanying video episode features recent detective work on two incomplete fossil specimens from the Gobi—“spare parts,” as the Museum’s Provost of Science Michael Novacek, a paleontologist who has been working in the Gobi since the early 1990s, calls them. The fossils recently led Museum researchers to describe two new genera of ancient mammal ancestors.

Rounding out the package, a web feature traces the Museum’s field expeditions to the Gobi from the early 20th century to the present day, highlighting how such trips have become important training for graduate students who are studying paleontology at the Museum’s Richard Gilder Graduate School.  

Future episodes will feature expeditions to Cuba, where Museum researchers have been conducting research for more than 120 years, and Siberia, the location of the first major field expedition mounted by the Museum in the late 19th century.

Over the last 147 years, the Museum has assembled a natural history collection that represents one of the world’s greatest assemblage of evidence for the scope, richness, and deep history of the universe, Earth and its species, and human cultures. Built around a nucleus of 19th-century naturalists’ collections at the Museum’s founding in 1869, it has grown through thousands of expeditions, a tradition that continues today with more than 100 field projects each year. During the past few decades, new types of specialized collections—from frozen tissue to genomic data—have increased and diversified the Museum’s holdings, which are the central and indispensable resource for the scientific work of the Museum’s scientists and visiting scholars.

Shelf Life goes behind the scenes to take a deep look at the Museum’s collections—at specimens and artifacts as varied as butterflies, bats, deep-sea invertebrates and shamanic coats—many which are not on public display. The series explores the dynamic nature of the Museum’s collection and how modern tools have amplified scientists’ ability to analyze specimens and address critical questions about our planet and the universe.

Shelf Life, which premiered in November 2014, was the 2016 winner of the American Alliance of Museum’s Silver MUSE Award for Video, Film, and Computer Animation and a finalist for the 2016 Jackson Hole Science Media Award for Short Form Series.

Visit Shelf Life at