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 before.

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 years ago.
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.


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