The California Academy of Sciences presents:
skulls is Science
skulls is Art
skulls is Research
Special Exhibition Opens March 30, 2002
SAN FRANCISCO (March 6, 2002) - Thousands of flesh-eating carrion beetles
are busy feasting on dead heads. 860 sea lion heads are being put in position
for a 93-foot-long display. One physical anthropologist is gazing 3.3
million years into the past at a single monkey. And nearly one million
annual visitors are about to see more skulls than they have ever seen
Beginning March 30, 2002, through late 2003, the California Academy of
Sciences opens the doors to skulls, an exhibition of almost 1,500 different
dead heads -- ranging from monkeys and giraffes to warthogs and rats to
bears and dolphins.
A skull provides extensive information about how an animal lived, how
it evolved, and what major events and physical traumas it faced in its
lifetime. Ninety percent of an animal's "economy" - how it feeds,
defends itself, communicates, mates, senses and interacts with its environment
- can be discovered by looking at its skull. Although we often associate
skulls with death, they are actually living tissue, a sort of "living
machine" that undergoes continual change from birth to old age.
"With skulls, we are taking objects about which people have many
preconceptions - skulls are frightening, skulls are ugly, skulls are about
death - and looking at them in a completely different light," said
Dr. Patrick Kociolek, executive director of the California Academy of
Sciences. "Studying skulls is a vital part of understanding the living
world; they tell us an astonishing amount about the individual lives of
animals and the collective story of the evolution of life. And when you
see skulls through the eyes of an artist, you realize they are also breathtakingly
beautiful. Our goal is to share our passion for these dynamic structures,
display some of the amazing biological treasures we have here at the Academy,
and give our visitors a new way to think about the world around - and
inside - them."
skulls follows the detective work scientists conduct in studying these
remarkable structures, and examines what skulls tell us about individual
species, the diversity of living things, and the history of life. skulls
brings the Academy's research, and striking specimens out from behind
the scenes and into a public exhibition in an exploration of the scientific
importance and the sculptural beauty of skulls.
skulls is Science
The exhibition offers visitors the opportunity to learn about the structure
and function of skulls. For example, visitors will experience the role
that skull structure plays in vision at the Predator/Prey Vision Demonstration,
where they can view the world through stereoscopic eyes like a mountain
lion or with the peripheral vision of a pronghorn antelope.
skulls also explores the development of skulls and the changes they go
through during an animal's life. Visitors will emerge knowing, for instance,
that most sharks have multiple rows of teeth so that when one tooth falls
out, another is ready to take its place.
skulls goes on to explore the diversity of different types of skulls among
the thousands of different vertebrate species still in existence and those
that have gone extinct. Visitors will have the chance to experience some
of this diversity by superimposing their own face onto the skull of eight
different animals at the Skull Carousel.
skulls is Art
From Andy Warhol silk screens to South Asian hill-tribe fertility-rites
to Tibetan ceremonial drinking cups, skulls are central to art around
the world. skulls displays images and photos of famous works of art and
the specific skulls that inspired the artists who created them.
This part of the exhibition will offer insight into the history of the
skull as an icon. Visitors will learn that the skull and crossbones began
to appear as a tomb icon as early as the fifth century; during the Crusades
it was employed on the flag of the Knights Templar.
The exhibition also features photography by David Liittschwager, whose
earlier exhibition at the Academy, Witness: Endangered Species of North
America, gained national attention and acclaim.
skulls is Research
Finally, skulls takes visitors inside the heads of living creatures: researchers
at the California Academy of Sciences. Learn about the efforts of Dr.
Nina G. Jablonski, chair of the Academy's Department of Anthropology,
to reconstruct Theropithecus brumpti, an extinct species of African monkey.
Working with a skilled scientific illustrator, Dr. Jablonski uses a single
skeleton, recently excavated on the shore of Lake Turkana, in Kenya, to
create a vivid portrait of the animal as it looked and lived 3.3 million
Visitors will learn more about the importance of the Academy's remarkable
research collection and the new information it is continuously yielding.
"The Academy has a veritable library of tens of thousands of skulls,"
said Dr. Douglas Long, acting chair of the Department of Ornithology and
Mammology, whose own research on fur seals on the Farallon islands is
also featured in the exhibition. "Researchers come from all over
the world to study these invaluable specimens."
860 skulls from the Academy's sea lion collection (less than half the
total) will be on display at the Sea Lion Wall - a beautiful array that
stretches the length of a pro basketball court. Visitors will also be
able to learn how scientists actually prepare skulls for the Academy's
collections by observing the Beetle Box, where a colony of live carrion
beetles will be eating the flesh off the heads of recently collected specimens.
About the Academy
Since 1853, the California Academy of Sciences has been dedicated to exploring,
explaining, and protecting the natural world. The Academy is the oldest
scientific institution in the West, founded after the California gold
rush to survey the vast resources of California and beyond. Today it has
grown to be one of the largest natural history museums in the country,
and is the only one in the nation to include both an aquarium and a planetarium.
The Academy has a research staff of 30 Ph.D.-level scientists - supported
by more than 100 Research and Field Associates and over 300 Fellows -
who launch dozens of scientific expeditions each year. It has eight research
departments: anthropology, aquatic biology, botany, entomology, herpetology,
ichthyology, invertebrate zoology and geology, and mammalogy and ornithology.
Its research collections, which are among the world's largest, are of
international renown and include more than 16 million examples of plants,
animals, fossils and artifacts; essential tools for comparative studies
on the history and future of the natural world.
[The California Academy of Sciences,
Steinhart Aquarium, Morrison Planetarium and the Academy's logo are registered
trademarks of the California Academy of Sciences.]
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