GRAD SCHOOL DIARIES
animals bones museums anatomy summer postcard

All My Friends Are Dead - A Day in the Museum Basement

For an anatomist, museum basements are a magnificent scientific wonderland full of skulls, bones, and biodiversity!

To-
That’s Life [Science] Headquarters
1 Science Communication Drive
Science Internet, Earth

From-
Abby “Bone Whisperer” Vander Linden
12th Specimen Cabinet on the Right
Mammalogy Collections
Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University
Cambridge, MA

sheep-box


Fig. 1 Skeleton of a sheep from a museum collection of mammal bones. Sometimes finding the bones I need to measure is like sorting through puzzle pieces–only better, because I hate puzzles but love skeletal anatomy. (puzzle lovers, don’t @ me) (Image by Abby Vander Linden; specimen copyright Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University)

Dearest TLS,

Forget going outside–I spent a summer day in the most magical place on earth, a.k.a. a museum basement full of mammal bones! I was there to collect data for a research project looking at whether animals with horns and antlers (sheep, goats, antelopes, deer, and friends) have specially shaped neck vertebrae to help them 1) hold up that fancy headgear and 2) hit competitors in the face with it during the mating season. I spent my day in the museum twirling through specimen cabinets like Belle in the Beast’s enormous library, pulling out drawers full of amazing bones and skulls and taking them to my measurement station.

horn-drawer


Fig. 2 Amazing diversity of antelope horns, skulls, and jaws! Did I need these specimens for my research? No. Did I waste 15 minutes checking out all the different horn shapes? You know it! (Image by Abby Vander Linden; specimen copyright Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University)

While I had a list of mammal bones I needed to measure for my project, I spent half my time distracted by other fascinating skulls and horns (some of them over 100 years old) that I just had to pick up and look at. Oh, and I constantly talked to the specimens as I handled them, like an actual mad scientist. The biodiversity in these cabinets is breathtaking, and I can’t wait to go back for to collect more data. If you get a chance to visit a museum collection behind-the-scenes, you absolutely should!

With love + bones,

Abby

musk-ox-skull


Fig. 3 My new plan to get rich quick in grad school is to design football helmets that look like musk ox skulls. Check out that protective horn growth over the top of the head! I’m sure my helmets will be shockingly popular with both players and fans. (Image by Abby Vander Linden; specimen copyright Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University)

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