Exley Science Center is home to its second prehistoric specimen—a massive land animal known as a Deinotherium giganteum—or “terrible beast.” The skull cast is displayed in the hallway between Exley Science Center and the passway to Shanklin Laboratory and is part of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History. The exhibit was installed on Feb. 26.
In 2017, the Deinotherium skull was discovered in two wooden boxes by faculty and students exploring Exley Science Center’s seventh-floor penthouse. The skull was once a centerpiece to Wesleyan’s Natural History Museum, located on the top floor of Judd Hall (pictured at left). After the museum closed in 1957, the Deinotherium and thousands of other specimens and objects were relocated and displaced around campus. The skull was first housed in the tunnels beneath the Foss Hill residence hall and relocated to Exley in 1970. (Historic photo courtesy of Wesleyan’s Special Collections and Archives)
The exhibit team includes, from left, are Joel LaBella, facility manager for the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department; David Strickland, instrument maker specialist; Bruce Strickland, Instrument maker specialist; Jim Zareski, research assistant/lab manager for the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department; Ellen Thomas, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences; Freeman Scholar Yu Kai Tan ’20; Freeman Scholar Andy Tan ’21; and Annie Burke, chair and professor of biology.
During the restoration, students worked with a limited palette of six colors and applied paint with natural sea-sponges in an effort to avoid brush strokes marring the authentic appearance of the cast. This distant elephant relative would have weighed 20,000 pounds. The species became extinct about 11,000 years ago.
In 2018, students removed the skull from storage and began a lengthy cleaning and restoration project. They used gesso spray and glazes to coat the specimen. Crews from the Wesleyan Machine Shop skillfully mounted the skull on a single pole and wooden base using customized hardware. An accompanying sign explains that the “terrible beast” hails from Eppelsheim, Germany, where she lived 9.5 million years ago. Her downward-pointing tusks are located in the lower jaw and their use continues to be a mystery.
Professor Ellen Thomas and Yu Kai Tan ’20 admire the skull cast in Exley on Feb. 28. In coming months, the exhibit team will hold a naming contest for the Deinotherium.
The Deinotherium joins Shelley the Glyptodon inside Exley Science Center. This 8-foot-long fossil cast of an armadillo-like animal also was found in the Exley penthouse and was installed in February 2018, and her feet were added in February 2019. Read more about Shelley in this past
Wesleyan Connection article.(Photos by Olivia Drake)