Wesleyan’s Natural History Collection and Curiosities Featured in Usdan

The exhibit "Shelving the History of Life" will be featured inside the display cases in Usdan Universiy Center throughout the fall semester. The true-to-scale exhibit showcases specimens curated, restored, prepared, and documented from the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History, the former Wesleyan Museum, and other collections on campus.

The exhibit “Shelving the History of Life” will be featured in the display case in Usdan University Center until fall recess. The exhibit showcases specimens curated, restored, and documented from the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History, the former Wesleyan Museum, and other collections on campus.

In 1870, Orange Judd bequeathed Wesleyan $100,000 to build Judd Hall, which was designed as a building for the study of natural sciences. Included with this building was the Wesleyan Museum, which housed a prominent natural history collection containing over 300,000 specimens.

In 1957, the museum was closed and specimens were donated to other museums, put into storage in various places on campus, or “temporarily” loaned to local schools. In 1970, before the current museum reopened in Exley, the collection stored in the tunnels under Foss Hill was found to have been severely vandalized, with many specimens lost, stolen, or irreparably damaged.

Within the last two years, several Wesleyan faculty, students, and staff have exhumed thousands of these misplaced artifacts and are working to bring them back for public viewing. A new exhibit in Usdan, “Shelving the History of Life,” showcases many of these once-lost, and now found, relics of Wesleyan’s natural history collections.

“This exhibit is a showcase of the spectrum of natural history objects remaining in our collections, including taxidermy specimens, a wide range of wet specimens preserved in alcohol, skeletons, seashells, fossils, and minerals,” explained Andy Tan ’21, who is one of the cocurators of the exhibit.

“Shelving the History of Life,” is exhibited in Usdan to show the Wesleyan community (including those who do not commonly visit the Exley Science Center) the art and science of Wesleyan’s unique resources in natural history.

“Many people at Wesleyan, faculty as well as students, are unaware of the richness of these collections or even their existence, and thus miss opportunities for research and teaching using these amazing objects in studies,” said cocurator Ellen Thomas, the Smith Curator of Paleontology of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History and Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences.

Thomas says the collection has relevance for study at the intersection of biology, earth and environmental science, archeology, science in society, history of science (including history of science at Wesleyan), arts and art history, archival investigations, and museum science. The specimens also could be used in the Integrated Design, Engineering, and Applied Science (IDEAS) program, where ‘design’ includes both arts and engineering.

Other exhibit creators include Yu Kai Tan ’20; Wisly Juganda ’20; Ann Burke, chair and professor of biology; Jessie Cohen, archaeological collections manager and visiting instructor in archaeology; Miya Tokomitsu, curator of the Davison Art Center; and Suzy Taraba, director of special collections and archives. In addition, Jim Zareski, research assistant of earth and environmental sciences and Joel Labella, facilities manager of earth and environmental sciences, helped construct and set up the exhibit. The exhibit space was provided by Kate TenEyck, art studio technician, visiting assistant professor of art.

“Even though many specimens have lost any documentation, they are still important objects representing the diversity of life. Between the historical context of their original collection and the powerful aesthetic qualities they possess, they can be the subject of study from multiple intellectual perspectives,” said Burke.

A reception for “Shelving the History of Life” will be held from 4 to 6 p.m., Friday, Sept. 28 at the exhibit.

Additional photos of specimens and artifacts in the “Shelving the History of Life” exhibit are below:

Max F. Fischinger After Paleolithic Cave Drawing of Woolly Mammoth from Font de Gaume, France Tübingon, Germany

This painting is a replica of a Paleolithic cave drawing found in the cave Font de Gaume in France. Max F. Fischinger produced this replica in Tübingen, Germany. The drawing was found in a professor’s former office in Shanklin.

This fossilized cast depicts Scheenstia maximus Wagner, a relative of the modern-day fay-finned garfish. Found in Bavaria, Germany, the fossil is almost 200 million years old. The original was lost during World War II. The rounded teeth of this species are similar to the other groups of fish that crush and eat corals, mollusks and crustaceans.

This fossilized cast depicts Scheenstia maximus Wagner, a relative of the modern-day gar. The original fossil is about 150 million years old and was found in the famous lithographic limestones of Solnhofen, Bavaria. The rounded teeth of this species are similar to those of other fish groups that crush corals, mollusks, and crustaceans for food. “The cast was found in the penthouse of Exley Science Center,” explained Andy Tan ’21. “We took it out of obscurity last spring and we’re thinking to (permanently) house it on the third-floor corridor in Exley, alongside the marine reptiles and other fossil casts from the same locality.”

This engraving and aquatint by Robert Havell, Jr. features a Havell’s Tern and a Trudeau’s Tern. Havell’s printing plate for this illustration (Plate 409) is currently housed in the Davison Art Center and is from the first edition of Audubon’s Birds of America (1838).

This skull cast of a juvenile American Mastodon Mammut americanus Blumenbach was discovered in Albany, N.Y. The original in the Warren Anatomical Museum in Boston.

This is a cast of a juvenile American mastodon (Mammut americanum Blumenbach) skull, which was discovered in Albany, N.Y., and lived during the last ice age, approximately 20,000 years ago. The original is in the Warren Anatomical Museum in Boston.

Pterosaur: Rhamphorhynchus phyllurus Marsh. Fossil Cast. Original in Yale Peabody Museum.

The pterosaur (Rhamphorhynchus phyllurus Marsh) was a flying reptile that lived between 66 and 228 millions years ago. Pterosaurs were likely the first vertebrates to evolve flight. This is a cast made for the Wesleyan collections from the original in the Yale Peabody collections.

Another planned exhibit is that of the huge skull of a Deinotherium, an extinct elephant-relative with its tusks growing from the lower jaw. The Deinotherium, which was once on display in the Wesleyan Museum, is currently housed in Wesleyan's Machine Shop. It will soon be installed in a hallway in Exley.

The Usdan exhibit is one of several installations planned around campus. A huge skull of a Deinotherium, an extinct elephant-relative with its tusks growing from the lower jaw, will soon be displayed in a hallway in Exley. It’s currently being prepared in Wesleyan’s machine shop.

he Glyptodon, a giant fossil cast that has been in storage since 1957, is now on display in Exley Science Center. Several members of the Wesleyan community helped install the 8-foot-long cast on Feb. 26. Pictured, from left, are Joel LaBella, facility manager for the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department; Bruce Strickland, Instrument maker specialist; Jim Zareski, research assistant/lab manager for the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department; Freeman Scholar Yu Kai Tan ’20; Freeman Scholar Andy Tan ’21; Ellen Thomas, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences; Annie Burke, chair and professor of biology; and David Strickland, instrument maker. Glyptodon means “grooved or carved tooth” in Greek. The creature lived approximately 2 million to 10,000 years ago.

Shelley the Glyptodon, a giant fossil cast is on display in Exley. Glyptodon means “grooved or carved tooth” in Greek. The creature lived approximately 11,000 years ago. Her feet will be installed in the upcoming semester.

To read more about Shelley the Glyptodon, read this News @ Wesleyan article.